Acid Tongue, Jenny Lewis
Warner Bros., Rough Trade, September 23, 2008
Track Listing: 1. Black Sand, 2. Pretty Bird, 3. The Next Messiah, 4. Bad Man’s World, 5. Acid Tongue, 6. See Fernando, 7. Godspeed, 8. Carpetbaggers, 9. Trying My Best to Love You, 10. Jack Killed Mom, 11. Sing a Song For Them
Sometimes “unexpected” is too superfluous a term to be taken seriously, as if the events leading to its precipice do not deserve monikers of “sneaky” or “unforeseen” at all. And yet, I use the term—unexpected—to describe my reaction to a Jenny Lewis CD that manages to catch me off-guard. Like the arrival of below zero wind chills in November, it is quite a surprise.
“I have this dream where
I’m down on my knees on the black sand
I’m facing the sea as the wind pushes me down to my hands”
-from “Black Sand”
Some things just shouldn’t surprise us. Pothole-induced rim destruction hits Chicagoans every year by December. Funeral processions have a way of popping up in January. Love can be lost in any month, even February (reservations for a Valentine’s Day dinner at Spiaggia be damned).
“Pretty bird, pretty bird
Why you so still?”
-from “Pretty Bird”
Surprised? Get on with it. But why be surprised by Jenny Lewis? That truth is, drum roll. . . .
It was all about me. Ha! No surprise there! Me, me, me! Nevertheless, it stemmed more from where I was at when the CD came my way than anything having to do with the music itself, per se. (For the record, I was in the headlights of winter, with 5 to 10 inches more snow headed this way by morning.)
“Now he’s living in the woods
the dark and dank woods”
-from “The Next Messiah”
So what if the surprise quotient had more to do with me, my surroundings, and a malaise resulting from a Seasonal Affective Disorder than it had anything to do with the music itself? No apology was needed. A general lack of sunshine never ceases to jar and depress no matter how many Chicago Januaries you have endured. Walking home from work in the early evening black hole of post-apocalyptic-daylight-savings nights, you cut straight into the teeth of a slice-’em-up-dice-’em-up-45 MPH wind tunnel, and feel the burn of icicle tears on your cheeks that prick as smart as bee stings. A long laboring thaw at home under blankets is hours of Oolong in the making. The time of year finds you in a perpetual deep freeze. You throw another log on the fire and listen to the crackle of wood in order to drown out the howling bitter hiss of winter.
“We build ourselves a fire
We build ourselves a fire
But you know I am a liar
You know I am a liar”
And you don’t know what I’ve done”
-from “Acid Tongue”
In keeping with a promise to stray from comparisons, I will steer clear of any references to punk rockabilly right here and now. I choose to sway instead inside a creamy warm-cake-battered daydream at Golden Gate Park, so many miles away from the black ice reality on I-90.
“I beg your pardon
I’m not looking for a cure
Seen enough of my friends
In the depths of the Godsick blues”
-from “Acid Tongue”
Happy New Year! The final countdown—8, 7, 6—seems somehow unexpected and quick—2, 1—and curiously anticlimactic in comparison to the clutch of the departing year’s crawl. 2008: The End. A September train wreck in Los Angeles plays tragic metaphor to the year’s grim, descending realities. But hold that thought, Sister Christian. The calendar is not a suggestion box and is not interested in your complaints. It simply does what it does: marches on with a steady, unbreakable pace. It’s your job to keep up.
“What are we going to do with you?
You don’t make it easy on me”
The overhead camera shots (Winter Classic: Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks) of Gotham reveal—even in HD—little more than a dank reality: miles and miles of smog-stained, crisscrossing grids of gray-stained concrete. Indeed, if there was ever a time to be dreaming about spring, this was it. And so, the fantasy of winter’s end was alive as the music played on. Besides, even if winter has a long way to go, it’s best you find a way to grab hold of whatever fantasy you can. Before it snows again.
And so, this winter—January, 2009—I am unabashedly thankful for a Jenny Lewis album. It is a pocket of warmth, unexpectedly nestled along the fringe of a hard charging front coming down like gangbusters from the north.