Pigshit & Glowing

Pigshit & Glowing is seven stories-just Steve and a piano. Featuring six original songs and a National cover, Pigshit was released on this website, one song per week, in March-April 2011. Each song release included a digital collage by the EP's producer / web designer Blade Barringer and a brief interpretive essay by Steve. Pigshit covers faith, doubt, sex, grief and family-so, the Youngest Son usual. You can listen to the EP and read the liner notes here:






Derek

Boy
Who are you?
I see you

Boy
Who am I?
I want you

When I see you, boy
What I see is static
Broken lines
When I hear your voice
All I hear is feedback
Squeal and whine
I want to feel you near
But boy, we're nowhere

Boy
What is this?
And who in the hell am I?
And who in the hell are you?
And who in the hell left us alone?
I don't know where I am now
Or where I'm gonna go
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home

When I see you, boy
All my saints adore you
Casting down
All their shining crowns
To the glassy sea before you

I came, I saw, I wanted
I wanted, I saw, I came
I came, I saw, I wanted
I wanted, I saw, I came
I came, I saw, I wanted
I wanted, I saw, I came

This song is, without a doubt, the second-gayest thing I've ever written.

Which is funny, because it was my attempt at something like what Nick Cave pulls off in his Grinderman side project, and there's nothing less gay than Grinderman. For a couple weeks I listened to Grinderman 2 nonstop for a review I was writing and by the end of it I had pretty intense guitar envy. I wanted to write a song with a ton of energy, I wanted to spend no more than an hour on the lyrics, and I wanted it to be horny, loud and ugly. I went to the piano and banged on it so hard I got callouses.

That's the kind of experiment that's doomed to fail, but I really like what happened with Derek. I think it even kind of works as a Grinderman tribute, in a hilariously Busby-Berkley kind of way. Maybe if Nick Cave were going through puberty, liked guys and listened to Elton instead of Iggy Pop, this is what Grinderman would've sounded like.

Craters of the Moon

I drove with you through Craters of the Moon
We fought about the air conditioning
We didn't know your time was comin' soon
If we had we might have acted differently
Well anyway, we had the windows down
And the lava rocks were sharp against the sky
I couldn't tell pahoehoe from a'a
Looking back on that I can't imagine why

All the while
The ground itself had bubbled
Beneath our feet
A hundred miles down
Eight hundred thousand years ago
Its molten heat
Had burned a steady pilgrimage to Yellowstone
Having lifted up the Cascades and melted Idaho

Where you and I, we fought about the radio
At Craters of the Moon

I knew I'd have to tell this to you soon
I still tell you things, even though you're gone
It's Spring, I'm driving back across the moon
As I make my way without you to Oregon
I think how we were never close nor really far
Though I was sitting right beside you in the car
Yeah, I was horny, lost and self-effacing
You just stared, slack-jawed at God's creation

We didn't know
--Lord, how could we have known?
That death was bubbling up from underneath your skin
And we didn't know
--Lord, how could we have known?
That love could make me a stranger to my own blood kin

No, like everybody else, we drove to Yellowstone
To see the
sleeping giant for five minutes and go home
And then you went home to North Dakota
And so did I, was sittin' right beside you
And now I drive West to Portland, Oregon
Cos there are things you just beat up until they're gone
Like how you went home to Heaven without me
And how I'm driving in a car that is empty

When I was thirteen, I took a road trip with my dad through Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and North Dakota. Dad and I planned trips like this every year, and we were serious. This year we visited no less than five national parks and drove nearly 2500 miles. We'd drive ten hours one day and hike ten hours the next. We made tracks; we covered ground. We took hundreds of photos, none of one another.

About a year and a half after Dad died of cancer in 2007, I drove back through that part of the country on the way to Oregon and all the memories of that trip came flooding back. Soon afterward I started writing this song.

Dad would do this infuriating thing when we were hiking where he'd read every damn trailside park service infographic he saw. I'd be half a mile down the trail before I'd realize I'd left him behind. He'd stop by the sign, and then read it through, carefully, and then take a picture of it, and then on the way back he'd read it one last time for good measure.

Then, months later, I'd be zoning out during one of his sermons (my dad was a Methodist minister) and there it'd be: like, the different root systems of deciduous trees vs. conifers as an analogy for Christian prayer life. He was using those stupid infographic photos as sermon notes.

Anyway, I think he'd be proud of this song and all the geeky details that worked their way into it. I made fun of him for his infographic analogies, but they worked-I can still tell you, ten years later, the difference between a birch tree Christian and a Ponderosa Pine Christian.

When I was writing the lyrics to this song I spent hours researching little facts we'd learned ten years ago-like the different types of lava and the way hotspots work-and it triggered deeper, less idealized memories of the trip than I'd had before, not to mention a whole boatload of regret. I realized that-awesome as that trip was-parts of it really sucked.

That taught me something about metaphor and memory that I didn't know before: it works in reverse. Even way back in 2001, "Yellowstone" already rhymed with "How could we have known?"

Corpus Christi

Washington, D.C.-based writer Eve Tushnet wrote a fascinating essay1 in Crisis Magazine (formerly Inside Catholic) last year inspired by the coincidental overlapping of D.C.'s Gay Pride weekend with the liturgical feast of Corpus Christi. In the essay, Eve quite beautifully articulates what might be the single least viable position in the whole gay / Christian culture war: that the Catholic church is the best place for gay people to be, offering a history of 'shockingly chaste same-sex love' and a 'unique opportunity to celebrate gay humility.' In the pages-long comments section of the article, Eve defends her ideas against her myriad opponents, including Catholic scholars, gay activists, ex-gay therapists and nuns who claim to want to have sex with her.

Anyway, this song's for Eve.

read more about her here and here. I like her because she pisses nearly everyone off: gay people are appalled by her rejection of gay sex; Catholics chastise her for embracing gay identity and desire. I don't even really agree with her, and I'm one of her biggest fans. Outside her blog's niche readership of a few hundred, there's little fertile ground for ideas like hers. In the culture war, she's defending turf nobody really seems to want.

Which is a shame, because I think there's something incredibly important about what she's saying--that the desires of our bodies are good and important, that they point to something bigger than us, and that we have agency over them. There's something there that's more traditional than many of Eve's conservative peers, and is miles more progressive than her gay activist opponents.

The real reason why Eve rocks, though, is that she totally embodies the choices she's made and the beliefs she holds, even though she doesn't fit anywhere. Her life is joyful, her love is deep, and her writing is hilarious, yet those things are predicated on a worldview that many call delusional, or even dangerous. Being obsessed with her for two years has taught me that the best ideas are always dangerous to somebody.

So I tried to write a song from the perspective of a person kind of like Eve2. And then I sang it with feeling. I sincerely hope I sound like a crazy person, because you'd have to be crazy to believe in this stuff.

1. (awesomely titled 'Romoeroticism')
2. (she's actually a composite, comprising Eve, another blogger, and a couple friends of mine)

Baby, We'll Be Fine

Since the late '90s Tori Amos has had a habit of performing unacceptable covers of rock songs--"Whole Lotta Love", "Losing My Religion", and "Smells Like Teen Spirit", to name a few--alone at the piano. They're cool and novel for the same reason they're unacceptable: she somehow turns every damn one of those rockin' songs into a spare, traumatizing ballad, hysterically choking out the lyrics over hauntingly dissonant, faux-minimalist piano accompaniment. I tried to do pretty much the same thing here.

"Baby, We'll Be Fine" is from The National's album Alligator, and it's the only song I can think of where Matt Berninger tells a directly linear story3 . I think that's why I liked it enough to cover it, even though there are National songs I love more. It's crammed with cool, specific detail, and it's absolutely no fun, both of which make it fit perfectly on Pigshit & Glowing.

Now that I've played it for a couple years, I think there's a lot about the narrator I identify with. I don't know if that comes from owning the song or from interpreting it in the light of how Berninger's ubiquitous über-narrator has evolved in the last two years, across Boxer and High Violet. It's always startling to hear Berninger sing in his baritone about being delicate and fragile, and it's even more startling when you're at a show surrounded by 20 beer-chugging, fist-pumping bros, singing along with lines like, "I'm afraid of everyone." His narrator is a regular dude, a hard-working, well put-together dude who mumbles all this brilliant commentary on male weakness.

And in this song, he shatters into about a million pieces. It's an emotional extreme the band doesn't go to often, and it's one that scares me, because I could see myself there.

3. Am I wrong here? Argue with me if you think I'm off base. I'm a fan, but not an expert.

Hands

Love, lay your hands on me
Do not leave me alone
Love, lay your hands on me
Do not leave me alone
I need to feel you near
Do not leave me alone
I need to feel you near
Do not leave me alone

Come, Holy Spirit, come
Press your words into me
Come, Holy Spirit, come
Press your warmth into me
I've got such thick skin
Press your warmth into me
I've got such thick skin
Press your words into me

Friends, lift me up so I
So that I can see light
Church, lift me up so I
So that I can see light
It gets so dark in here
Lift me up in the light
It gets so dark in here
Lift me up in the light

I spent about nine months receiving healing prayer every Monday night at my church. While this was happening, I was unemployed and broke and confused and generally pretty unimpressive. Going to church once a week for prayer was just about the only thing that got me out of my house.

The first verse of this song came to me while I was being prayed for one evening. 'Hands' has come to embody those nine months, which is helpful because I still don't understand them. There was a lot about the healing prayer gig that really frustrated me and that I question now. Really, though, it was one of the richest, weirdest times of my life and I'm thankful for it.

UPDATE: Soon after we posted this song, a massage therapist friend of mine suggested I target it toward the American Massage Therapy Association. Sounds like a good idea to me!

Untitled Memory Song

Brother, I miss you tonight
I remember nights in the city
We walked with Jeff
Through Boystown to iO
You read a sonnet about Kant on the mainstage
Del Close's ashes laughed the loudest
You solved the problem of evil
the next morning at breakfast
And nobody noticed

Well, brother, we need you tonight!
I remember you comin' in from the fields
Covered in pigshit and glowing
Jody was pregnant, it was weird
You still looked twelve
And Jody looked maybe fifteen and a half
But her belly could've passed for 20
Dan made the joke
But you made it funny

Stephen, I need you tonight
No one else thought this place was as crazy
We lay with Jeff on the floor on your birthday
All night
Lay for hours and talked about
How things would never be
All right
Lay for hours and talked about
How we would never be the same
Then we talked about a man
Who kneeled down in front of a train

The month we were born
It made us angry
Why would you do that? We said.
He had the same name as us. That's weird.
Birthday balloons were sinking softly all around us
It was 6AM, Jeff got up and made breakfast

Christopher
We miss you tonight
Every relative here looks just like you
Dakota does too
He's almost two
Jody still looks fifteen and a half
She's still pretty and smiling
She's smiling, I promise
In fact
Everybody here is smiling, look at us
Dan just made a joke
That wasn't very funny
Well, brothers
Brothers, we miss you tonight

2007-2008 was a rough couple of years. In addition to losing my Dad to cancer, I lost a close friend to suicide and a cousin in a farming accident. This song's for those last two.

Stephen was brilliant and hilarious. He was also depressed for years, and when he was 21 he stepped in front of a train in Germany. Christopher was a smart-alecky 24 year old with a beautiful smile that we made fun of him for; he'd been married two years and he had a ten month old baby. He was crushed by a piece of equipment while he worked in the fields alongside his grandpa.

About nine months after Christopher died, I woke up in the middle of the night and wrote the lyrics to this song. It took about 20 minutes. The next day I didn't eat or get dressed; I spent the whole day putting the lyrics to music. It wasn't until I finished the song that I even gave a thought to what I'd written. Really, I haven't changed much about it since.

Every story in the song is true-a verse about Stephen, a verse about Christopher, another about Stephen, and then another about Christopher. I like that humor is the common thread in each story-Stephen getting pulled onstage at an improv club, Christopher rescuing his brother's lame jokes. I like the fact that it was so urgent and important to my body, or God, or whatever, that I wake up in the middle of the night and remember that these guys made me laugh. That is all I ever wanted them to do while they were here.

We Heard the Voice Sing

We knew it wouldn't last forever
We knew it all along
We said that it would last forever
When we started
But we knew that we were wrong

It didn't take long
Twenty years
Eyes shut tight
Fingers in our ears
And they were beautiful years:
Cause you and I
We were different
Yeah, you and I
We were strong
And you and I
We were different
Yeah, you and I
We were strong

We were sittin' in church
Our tiny Liberal Methodist Chicago church
With the rainbow on the door
Holding hands
Like always
Leaning in close
Like always
Andrea made fun of us at the passing of the peace
Like always
And every single one of us had a smile on our face
Like always
We sang, "In Christ there Is No East or West"
Then Pastor Denise
With her purple sweater vest
Said, "Please get to your feet
for the reading of the Word."
The reading of the Word
That's when we heard

But you and I
We were different
Yeah, you and I
We were strong
And you and I
We were different
Yeah, you and I
We were strong

And our bodies floated
Like a ribbon
Like single ribbon
In the air
And our bodies floated
Like a ribbon
Like a fine, silk ribbon
In the air

And it didn't take long
Twenty years
Strange gifts
Faithfulness brings
And they never told us
Not for twenty years
That God
Would give and take so many things
Would give and take so many things
Would give and take so many things
Like the green from the trees
Or a sparrow's broken wing
When we put silver on our ring
That's when we heard the voice sing

Part of the fun of Pigshit & Glowing has been trying to tell stories that are incredibly hard to tell, either because of all the details involved, (like Craters of the Moon), or because of weird, specific emotions, (like Untitled Memory Song), or simply because (like Corpus Christi) they're stories nobody wants to hear. This song falls in the last category.

There doesn't seem to be a way to explain the story without over-explaining it, so I'll let the song speak for itself. Suffice to say, it was a story even I didn't want to hear, so I made myself tell it.

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