The Freelance Mentalists.
Wednesday, November 30, 2005
  Louisville Lip Pfart 2

Louisville Lip Pft. 2

by Don Allred
Oh yeah, speaking of "Cheap Watch, " that's where Freakwater might be
thinking of your pocket: "Wound up, tighter than a cheap watch, wind it up, and
watch how the time flies. Little white teeth, wound around what sounds like
more cheap lies, li'l black clouds, suck us up to the sky." Those little black
clouds, like Woody Guthrie's "Little Black Train," which they also sing, will
show up, but on their own schedule, like needles and everything else. And not
necessarily in a good way. On Cut yourself A Switch, Irwin's 2002 solo album,
there's a song called "Cry Your Little Eyes Out," in which a grieving mother
feels the "blue sky, like a slap across my face." The Southern sun beats down,
the roses by her gate grow too tall, sporting their "crown of thorns." She
prays for "the dark clouds to roll in, but the Devil is a fairweather friend."
"Louisville Lip" is the true story of how young Cassius Clay threw
his Olympic medals off Louisville's Second Street Bridge, into the Ohio River,
after one racial insult too many. Voices point out "a big man crying from where
the bee stung" (crying from the wound itself!). So they take the line toward
compassion, via gut irony, though basically, of course, they're taking on what
they might've heard older people say. ("Loserville," a local name for
Louisville, is another anthem of sorts, a raised glass of mixed feelings, as a toast
to anyone's hometown should be.) An oblique stroke at redemption of misused
words, wasted breath, slighted youth, but ultimately, they seem to identify with
Clay's frustration, the feeling of being trapped in Southern history, of "My
History,"(an End Time song), anybody's.
As for the comforts of art history, on the new Thinking Of You, "Cathy
Ann" is about Woody Guthrie's daughter. It pictures her life on Coney Island's
Mermaid Avenue, rising and falling like painted waves, "born by the sea, born
for the fire, that was borne by the spark, that was blown by, a wire." Then
there's that chorus, knocking hard once more: "If your father didn't love you,
there's just no good in men." The verses don't describe or suggest in any way
that he didn't love her, or is at fault for her death. (Unless you count the
frames that slide forward a little, to where he's not only "shaking like a leaf,"
but also "shaking like a flame," and even then he's being "bitten by the
wind, that stole down from his brain.") There's been speculation that Cathy Ann
Irwin is willfully, cryptically projecting onto her subject. Maybe, but there's
another artist involved: Woody. (A few years ago, a whole book of songs and
pictures for and of his daughter was published.) "Your father always drew you,
in a sky of blue." She's trapped too, trapped in that same damn blue sky that
lashed the grieving mother in "Cry Your Little Eyes Out", trapped in dead old
Woody's songs, and/or their historical context, trapped in Freakwater's song.
Tough shit. You work with what you've got. Also on Cut Yourself A Switch,
Irwin sings about a Christmas Day long ago, on which she and her brother sang
with their family about baby Jesus. Then the two of them wandered off, where
"the snow would not cover the ground," it being in the South and all, and they
built a "Dirty Little Snowman." And he kept trying to fall apart, despite
their best efforts, but his "dirty mouth smiled," and also "three worlds
collided, on the day of his creation, his head and his heart set on the arc of his
foundation." Three worlds, colliding, set, and ready to fall apart, just as
everybody's basic elements are. In the path of the three wise men, who either did
or didn't or might've come looking for the baby Jesus, who the dirty little
melting snowman either is or isn't or might be a stand-in, though not a shoo-in,
for. (It sounds like a carol that's determined not to be a hymn, although it
almost could be.)(Oh,is this paragraph another spoiler? Listen, they've got
like nine albums, counting the two solos. And not counting Janet's songs
performed with Eleventh Dream Day, whose new one comes out in the spring of '06.)
Freakwater's new Thinking Of You is a little more overtly electrified
than previous albums. Cut to the part where the old gray tunewagon cuts through
the thicket of images, and the yellow flower shines down, watching tall
growths, maybe even taller than the roses that lorded over the "Cry Your Little Eyes
Out" mother's gate. They stretch their long necks up and gape, greedy for
more light, more life, ever more.
But all that greed could make you too fat, so once again, Irwin and Bean
call out their marching orders, to all thangs great and small: "Hi Ho Silver,
high on pills, use your hands, and tell me how I feel. Higher power, higher
hands up mine, tell me why your God is so divine." It's a challenge, but an
invitation too, like all their songs, so come along if you can.

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