Friday, October 23, 2015

$200 --- a guitar or a gun?

This is a chilling question.

I'm off to a local folk music festival tomorrow and so it is likely I won't be finishing this post until Sunday. I know where I'm heading and hopefully it involves no guns but plenty of guitars. Both it and this post will continue my theme of listening to music from 2015.
Also, for the first time in ages or so it seems to me, this post will address a song lyric in detail. Not however that of a song I am likely to hear tomorrow.


It took me a couple more days than I intended before continuing but that is how it goes sometimes. On the other hand I have expanded the scope to include two songs: Both include at their heart internal contradictions. The concepts that are boiled-down here are much to do with recent events in the US and in particular the issues both addressed or avoided by the various candidates, of any particular persuasion or none, who are pitching to become the next President of The United States. It is not, I don't hesitate to add, a situation in any way unique to the US. It is just that it is sometimes easier to focus on the bare bones of the matter from a more distant viewpoint.
The first comes from Will Hoge's 2015 release 'Home Town Dreams' and a very fine album throughout. 
It is sung in the first person from the viewpoint of a teenage man looking for a taste of the larger world.

Guitar Or A Gun

A cool September morning, waitin' on the pawn shop to let me in. 
$200 worth of summer yard mowin' that I just had to spend.
I had my eye on two things, but I could only pick just one.
A young man's first decision; is it a guitar or a gun?

I can still hear daddy's voice say "now think about it son.
One of these will last forever, and the other's just for fun.
One can feed your family, and one will end you up in jail." 
And he seemed to know which one was which, but me, I couldn't tell.

I could learn to shoot like Jesse James, out there on the run, 
or play guitar and be a Rolling Stone, now that just sounds like fun.
A rock star or an outlaw, well either way I've won, 
when I walk out this door with a guitar or a gun.

I've thought about it long and hard, as I held 'em in my hand, 
standin' at the crossroads, still deciding who I am.
They're both just wood and metal. Six bullets or six strings?
Whichever choice I make I'll leave here feeling like a king.

Will I learn to shoot like Jesse James, out there on the run, 
or play guitar and be a rolling stone, now that just sounds like fun.
A rock star or an outlaw, well either way I've won, 
when I walk out this door with a guitar or a gun.

A cool September morning, waitin' on the pawn shop to let me in. 
$200 worth of summer yard mowin' that I just had to spend.

Should I learn to shoot like Jesse James, out there on the run, 
or play guitar and be a rolling stone, well that just sounds like fun.
A rock star or an outlaw, well either way I've won, 
when I walk out this door with a guitar or a gun.
when I walk out this door with a guitar or a gun.

With a guitar or a gun.


The protagonist admits that while his father, who is offering the advice, seems to be clear about the correct option to choose he himself is quite unclear about it all. You could say that this is an example of the wisdom that simply accrues with age and experience; even if that experience is only that of observation of the behaviours and outcomes of others.

This post was going to be about that alone until I was listening to this next song. I was really listening yesterday evening when I realized that this contained a lyric that encapsulates another more subtle contradiction - in this case one person, an adult, worrying about one problem while either oblivious to or wilfully ignoring the flip-side and that it is an attitude that is in large part driving the former.

Dry County Blues

There's a car full of pillbillies looking to score
From one of them trailer-court front-porch drug stores.
And a tired coal miner on a long West Virginia beer run.

Dry county blues, not a beer joint in sight.
Half the county's laid off, laid up or gettin' high.

At the head of the holler there's a makeshift casino
with a rusty pool table and blackjack and bingo.
Ain't nothing illegal as long as the sheriff gets paid.

There's good Christian women locking their front doors,
Praying their daughters don't turn into meth whores,
While their sons are out drinkin' and drivin' and trying to get laid.

Dry county blues, not a beer joint in sight.
Half the county's laid off, laid up or gettin' high.

Nowhere to go, not a damn thing to do.
So you turn a blind eye, and barely get by.
Dry county blues.

This is from Angaleena Presley's 2014 (in the US) and 2015 (in the UK) LP 'American Middle Class'. It is her d├ębut solo album and another cracking record. It is not even half as good however as seeing her play live so here she is doing just that.

Cambridge Folk Festival, 31 July 2015.

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