Archive for August, 2008

Articles: A legend’s final bow

August 31, 2008

By Bobby Gilles

Johnny Cash wrote his first song in 1955, a song about a train called “Hey Porter.” His final composition, released in 2006 on the posthumous American V: A Hundred Highways, is also about a train. The Delta blues-inspired “Like The 309” shows that he remained a master storyteller to the end.

“Hey Porter” heralded the sound of a young man arriving — an eager, brash hipster who couldn’t wait to get off the train, to reach his destination, to smell the frost, to breathe the air. The narrator of “Like The 309” isn’t daydreaming about breathing fresh air; he just wishes he could breathe freely. It’s the song of a man waiting, this time, to board a train — one that stands as a metaphor for dying.

The rhyme scheme is simple, the lines concise. The train is all the more real to us because he’s given it a specific name: “The 309.” Then he starts the first line with, “It should be awhile before I see Dr. Death,” personifying death (that is, turning it into a character) and giving it an ironic title: “Doctor.” Death as a healer.

Humor keeps this song-meditation on death from becoming maudlin: “Take me to the depot, put me to bed / Blow an electric fan on my gnarly old head / Everybody take a look — see I’m doing fine / Then load my box on the 309.” This humble, tongue-in-cheek look at life and death permeates the album and enables him to include more stark fare from writers like Hank Williams, Bruce Springsteen and Larry Gatlin. It’s a lesson that many a weepy, young neo-folk singer should heed: unrelenting lament creates melodrama, not gravitas.

Cash draws the listener into the story by telling us what to do for him with strong, direct action verbs that need no modifiers: kiss, draw, sweep, write, tell, load.

“Give a drink of my wine to my Jersey cow / I wouldn?t give a hoot in hell for my journey now.” Wine is a symbol of affluence, worldly success. He is saying “My trophies, my hits, my possessions – I can’t take them with me so give ’em to the cow.” In a similar way he blows to pieces the notion that his talent makes him worthy of adoration in his cover of Don Gibson’s “A Legend In My Time:” “If they gave gold statuettes for tears and regrets / I’d be a legend in my time.”

Back on the 309 we have more humor: “Asthma coming down like the 309.” Asthma as a locomotive – one that symbolizes death, at that. Fresh imagery, yet anyone who has ever suffered an asthma attack could say, “Yep, that’s what it feels like.” Cash sings the line and then he exhales, wheezes into the microphone. One more second, a little more effect, and it would become a kitschy moment, but his comedic timing is impeccable.

One final verse, a statement of assurance in the face of temporal judgment: “Write me a letter, sing me a song / Tell me all about it – what I did wrong / Meanwhile I will be doing fine / Then load my box on the 309.” It makes sense in the context of the album and works with the other Cash composition therein, “I Came To Believe,” his statement of salvation.

One last exhortation to “load my box on the 309” and the music fades out. “309” won’t be remembered as a towering masterpiece in the order of “I Walk The Line,” or “Folsom Prison Blues,” and future generations won’t regard it as the major artistic statement of the final leg of his career (that honor belongs to his cover of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt”) but it is a satisfying denouement to a legendary career. One final sojourner’s song, one more train to write about, sing about and board. He came to us on a literary train; he left us on a train. And he taught us a few things in between.

This article was reprinted with permission from

News and Notes: Pre-order new Jurado record

August 30, 2008

Damien Jurado is returning with his eighth full-length release in less than two weeks now and if “Gillian Was A Horse”–the free track available on the Secretly Canadian Web site–is any indication, it’s one that’s going to be worth pre-ordering.

Click here to pre-order Caught In Trees and mark your calendar for Sept. 9.

Elsewhere: Company profits from waste

August 29, 2008

Have you ever wondered why all the leftovers from big city parties and conferences can’t be given to the hungry instead of being thrown away?

The Chicago Tribune has a profile of a forprofit company that does just that.

News and Notes: Ordinary Radicals doc to debut

August 28, 2008

If you live anywhere near Philadelphia you won’t want to miss the world premier next weekend of “The Ordinary Radicals” see trailer above. The film was directed by and produced by Jamie Moffett, co-founder of The Simple Way community in Kensington.

The premiere will be held at the Bryn Mawr Film Institute on Sept. 4. Visit the film’s Web site and blog for more details. Screenings are also scheduled for Sept. 23 in Kansas City and Oct. 11 at Eastern University.

Photo: Crown Fountain

August 28, 2008

Photo of the Crown Fountain in Chicago taken by Jeremy Brodt.

Elsewhere: Yet another Friedberg-Seltzer movie

August 28, 2008

In honor of the new Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer spoof Disaster Movie opening in theaters this weekend, Slate has recycled Josh Levin’s hilarious take on the prolific film-spoofers called “Bring on the Charlatans.”

Here’s a taste:

Friedberg and Seltzer do not practice the same craft as P.T. Anderson, David Cronenberg, Michael Bay, Kevin Costner, the Zucker Brothers, the Wayans Brothers, Uwe Boll, any dad who takes shaky home movies on a camping trip, or a bear who turns on a video camera by accident while trying to eat it. They are not filmmakers. They are evildoers, charlatans, symbols of Western civilization’s decline under the weight of too many pop culture references.

News and Notes: Asthmatic Kitty giving away music

August 27, 2008

Ashmatic Kitty is going free album crazy this week (their words not ours) with free legal downloads on their site of Grampall Jookabox’s Rill Bruh EP and an eight-song album of I Heart Lung remixes.

Here’s a press release with tour dates of the Grampall Jookabox freebie, which is a primer for the Indianapolis-based ghetto-folkster’s (their words again, not ours) Nov. 4 full-length release on Asthmatic Kitty and Joyful Noise Recordings:

Asthmatic Kitty is pleased to offer the masses Grampall Jookabox’s Rill Bruh EP, which is now available on the Asthmatic Kitty website for free download. Rill Bruh, released in collaboration with Joyful Noise Recordings is the most convenient and cost-effective way to become familiar with the sound of ghetto-folkster, Grampall Jookabox. This free digital EP contains several remixes and out-takes from two or so years of musical development leading up to Grampall Jookabox’s second album Ropechain.  In addition, Rill Bruh also contains one compelling selection from the said album, titled a “The Girl Ain’t Preggers.” Possibly more than any other track on Grampall Jookabox’s Ropechain, “The Girl Ain’t Preggers” has the absolute sincerity and unselfconscious authenticity of an old time blues song, yet somehow regurgitated in a way that sounds more akin to the club music of the future. The elusive tribal, trashcan-banging musical accompaniment to the song’s story smacks of raw, primeval tang. Old time handclapping, hip-smackingly drive the percussion over which the strings and vocals flow and flower in unpredictably pleasing harmonies.


Saturday 2008-09-06    Indianapolis, IN – Spin w/ Mudkids, Twilight
Sentinals, and Christian Taylor of AOTM))
Monday 2008-09-08    Chicago, IL – Hideout w/ PWRFL Power
Tuesday 2008-09-09    Dekalb, IL – House Cafe w/ PWRFL Power
Wednesday 2008-09-10    Iowa City, IA – Public Space One w/ PWRFL Power
Thursday 2008-09-11    Grinnell, IA – Gardner Lounge w/ PWRFL Power
Saturday 2008-09-13    Morisson, CO – Monolith Festival w/ PWRFL Power and More!
Sunday 2008-09-14    Morisson, CO – Monolith Festival w/ PWRFL Power and MORE!
Monday 2008-09-15    Stillwater, OK – The Vault w/ PWRFL Power
Tuesday 2008-09-16    Kansas City, MO – Record Bar w/ PWRFL Power
Wednesday 2008-09-17    Columbia, MO – Mojo’s w/ PWRFL Power
Thursday 2008-09-18    St. Louis, MO – Billiken w/ PWRFL Power
Friday 2008-09-19    Madison, WI – Forward Music Festival w/ PWRFL Power
Saturday 2008-09-20    Urbana, IL – Pygmalion w/ PWRFL Power
Sunday 2008-09-21    Louisville, KY – Skul Alley w/ PWRFL Power
Monday 2008-09-22    Bloomington, IN – Cinemat w/ PWRFL Power
Tuesday 2008-09-23    Pittsburgh, PA – Brillobox w/ PWRFL Power
Wednesday 2008-09-24    Washington, D.C. – The Hosiery w/ PWRFL Power
Thursday 2008-09-25    Philadelphia, PA – The Green Line w/ PWRFL Power
Friday 2008-09-26    Brooklyn, NY – Death By Audio w/ PWRFL Power
Saturday 2008-09-27    New York, NY – Cake Shop w/ PWRFL Power
Sunday 2008-09-28    Boston, MA – PA’s Lounge w/ PWRFL Power
Thursday 2008-10-02    Montreal – Canada – Pop Montreal

Quotations: The 15,000

August 27, 2008

Whenever I hear the figure 15,000 cited as the number of journalists covering the DNC in Denver, that “What exactly would you say you do here?” line from Office Space comes to mind. Justin Peters of the Columbia Journalism Review fills us in with this humorous account. Here’s the lede:

There are apparently 15,000 journalists attending the Democratic National Convention. Here is what some of them are doing: 14,000 are wearing terrible suits. 7,500 aren’t doing much at all. This isn’t surprising. Only a small number of reporters actually have a reason to be here.

Video: Donald Miller prayer

August 27, 2008

As Christianity Today’s blog has already well documented, Donald Miller was chosen to replace Relevant Magazine Editor Cameron Strang giving a benediction at the Democratic National Convention Monday night. While it’s a little awkward watching the best-selling author of Blue Like Jazz pray with his eyes open using a teleprompter, the prayer itself and the conversation its created are worth checking out. Here’s the video of the prayer:

Elsewhere: New stadiums raising price, outrage

August 27, 2008

My uncle and my dad, both long-time season ticketholders at Yankee Stadium, say they are going into full Yankee boycott mode next year when the new stadium opens. They and many other New York sports fans are outraged and for good reason considering their ticket prices are in many cases doubling.

This article explains all of the gory economic-downturn-be-damned details.