Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Low Hanging Stars

Erik Lundy is a stand-up comedian, cartoonist and crime writer… Hold on, I think I hear Anthony Neil Smith climaxing. Could be why he's one of the new assistant editors for Plots With Guns, (new issue features Jonathan Woods, Matthew McBride, Jason Duke, Bryon Quertermous, David James Keaton, Steven Torres, Chris Benton, Nathan Cain, Matthew C. Funk, Tim L. Williams). That means, he’s busy. Real busy. But he took the time to write a piece for the Narrative Music series. He also writes about one of my favorite types of fictional characters - those Tom Waits might refer to as, "Nothing wrong with her a hundred dollars wouldn't fix," but who still take on the world like everything's at stake. Those with no sense of proportion. Those who reach for the stars, but their own lack of grandiose vision limits them to liquor store hold ups, cheating on their spouses with meth dealers who have a nicer truck... you get the picture.

After you dig this piece, go check out Erik's stuff at Workplace of the Damned.

A Front Row Seat to Hear Old Johnny Sing

I know, I know, you’re sitting in a bar, sucking down a brewski, and your buddy pipes up, “Hey, crime fiction and music?” You slap your head and say, “Well, shit howdy. Shel Silverstein, of course.”

Okay, maybe not, but the dude who wrote Where the Sidewalk Ends also happened to write some of my all-time-favorite story-songs. He won a Grammy for A Boy Named Sue, was responsible for the harrowing story of a prisoner counting down the minutes to his execution in another Cash song 25 Minutes to Go, and told us of a girl, Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout, and her refusal to take some garbage out. You could practically put together a late night commercial shilling two-disc sets of Silver-songs. And, that’s just the ones sung by other people.

My favorite from The ‘Stein is the story of a young man who has almost completed his very own American Dream – he’s got a TV set, and a wife, a truck, but it just isn’t enough. He has to have a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing, damnit. He’s went through all the proper channels in his life, getting the TV and truck on credit. And, what would be more Americana than purchasing a wedding ring at Woolworth’s?

And, the more he risks to achieve the goal (pawning his wife’s wedding ring, selling his own gold tooth, and even mortgaging the farm), the further it’s pushed away from him just a teensy bit more. From being turned away by Johnny’s wife at their door, to being laughed at when trying to buy tickets that have been sold out for months and months at the Opry box office. To the point that it’s downright normal for him to fight his way into a concert, and even get tossed in the penn for his trouble.

What I love most about this song is the simplicity of the goals. I’m a sucker for characters who, “shoot for the lowest star.” (I’d love to take credit for that phrase, but Amy Sedaris used it in reference to an actor friend.) Ya know, they long to make it to the sky, but they’ll settle before they get all the way to the moon. I understand Breaking Bad’s Walter White slinging meth for the good of the unborn child, wife and disabled son he’s leaving behind. But, the guy that makes me giggle ‘til I tinkle in my Fruit of the Loom’s a little is the one that foregoes fertility drugs in favor of snatching one of local furniture maven Nathan Arizona’s quintuplets.

The guy in this song, he didn’t dream of being a star on stage himself. Hell, he wasn’t even asking to meet Johnny, shake his hand, or get an autographed headshot for the living room. No, he was just happy to have a front row seat in the audience with all the other regular Joes who paid for tickets. And, by the end of the song, despite his travails and current state of confinement, it’s all worth it when The Man in Black sings a tune in his prison yard.

A Front Row Seat To Hear Ole Johnny Sing:

Now you know some fellahs, they want fame and fortune
Yeah, and other fellahs they just wanna swing
But all I wanted all my life
Was a TV set and a truck and a wife
And a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing.

Yeah the TV and the truck I got on credit.
And I got that girl with a little old Woolworth ring
And life was warm and life was sweet
But still, it was kinda incomplete
Without a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing.

Hey, John you walk the line,
Do "Deelia" one more time
And when you do them Cottonfields
You warm this heart of mine.

So, one day I thought, Hey, I'm gonna do it!
(That's what I said)
So, I mortgaged the farm and pawned her wedding ring.
I sold the gold tooth out of my mouth
And jumped in the pickup and headed South.
For a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing.

I hit Nashville cold and wet and hungry.
I said, "I'm here, bring him on let him do his thing."
But they told me down at the Old Pit Grill
I'd have to go all the way to Andersonville
For a front row seat to hear ole Jonny sing.

I found his house knocked on the door and it was opened
By a brown-haired girl and a baby with a teethin' ring.
I said "I seen you somewhere before
but don't stand there and block the door
I want a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing."

She said I'd have to go down to The Opry
And the feller there said I'd have to wait till Spring.
He said, "We've been sold out for months and months
And this poor insane fellah wants
A front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing."

Well, he said a couple more things, and I started cryin'
And then he laughed at me and that's when I started to swing.
Well I bust through the doors in a roaring rage,
Crawled over the crowd till I reached the stage
For a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing.

Then some crazy guard started shootin'
I shot back, and the next thing I know I was winged
and on the floor
When a guy in a voice kinda deep and low
Says, "Boy that's a mighty long way to go
For a front row seat to hear ANYBODY sing."

And I guess that judge, he weren't no music lover.
I got fifteen months but that don't mean a thing.
Cos' yesterday in the prison yard
A show come through and HAR! de HAR!
I had a front row seat to hear ole Johnny sing.

1 comment:

Scott Phillips said...

one of my favorites from old Uncle Shelby. You should bring this up with Sarah Weinman sometime, she's a bigger Silverstein fan than me, even....