Stronger Loving World

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Sunday, November 02, 2003

We Don't Live Here Anymore

"What more can a Poor boy do?", Dock Bogg fills out in the most soulful, rhythmic cracker drawl I've ever heard-over a tightly strung, sharp banjo in "Sugar Baby", Dock Boggs is, as I so often explain him, the only folk singer to sound consistently like he was about to die from a crack overdose. It's obvious by the baby-like wah wahs in his brittle, southwestern voice that his teeth aren't all there, so when I listen to Boggs I instantly form a mythology of the man's mouth. He lost it in a bar brawl, he chewed on too much beef jerkey, he gnawed his mother to death for sleeping with his sister. It doesn't fucking matter. What matters is that when i listen to this music the story of a mouth, the story of a voice occurs-distant embodiment, an imagined parallel universe that soaks us in and drowns us like the muddy corpses of battered wives thrown into the Mississippi River. Or was that just a story? I can't tell with the man who wrote "Pretty Polly", a first person romantic tragedy about a psychopathic lover who leads his wife to a shallow grave he dug the previous night, then, after she has exhausted herself weeping in pure terror and heartbreak, buries her alive. Boggs shifts to the third person as the song drawls to a close and the murderer walks away, "He poured the dirt over her, then he began to go". Are we here, in the moment, killing eachother out of pathos and confusion, or are we all the ghosts in the background of our favorite songs, that omniscient musical narrator who manages to wail melodically despite the emotional intensity of the universe they inhabit. (The most frightening character in a campfire ghost story is, of course, always the subject, the narrator, the storyteller. Yes, a girl and her boyfriend were murdered by a man with a hook. But what is more frightening is that a storyteller, a ghost remained in the background of this drama to narrate it to us.) It helps when these stories of a tragically upended world are narrated by cultural heros, rogues, those romanticized conservative upkeepers of culture we call "cowboys".

There are no cowboys here.


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