“Whether writing is knowing or whether it it singing, the love remains, the joy, the daring, the exaltedness when one approaches, at however far a remove, perfection. Shake the greatest Art ever, and dross will come out. But honest effort for its own sake is beauty. If the writer is talented and lucky enough, then the result may be beautiful too.”
-William T. Vollman, “Writing”
Eric Taylor is the kind of artist who feels like he’s read every book and heard every songwriter worth hearing, and lived everywhere with this amazing storehouse of experiences, all of which he’s remembered perfectly. And it doesn’t come off showy, he reaches through everything he’s built up and pulls out the perfect image, the decisive moment, le mot juste, and then he makes it rhyme.
Crammed in the back of a Grandview bar chasing red wine with Dewar’s on ice, he spun these monologues, with flexible rhythms and room for improvisation, that were fascinating in their own right, and you hit a point where you, the audience, are sure this doesn’t relate to any song, he’s just going off, but all of a sudden his perfect William Burroughs impression leads into “Whorehouse Mirrors and Pawnshop Knives” which he wrote based on his conversations with Burroughs, the story about a knife-thrower writing hearts on a bag with crayon then throwing knives into them because “He know that me and her.. .well, he knew,” turns into the version of “All So Much Like Me” that’ll make you give up making art forever or go right home and paint another canvas. “Billy’s got a girl as cold a switchblade / She walks the wires at night / She was born and raised on a Carolina midway / And she likes my songs all right”. The only time I’ve seen a singer-songwriter get a round of applause for the spoken word section of his set.
You’ll never see a better songwriter who has a more assured grasp on repetition. His lyrics sound purely conversational, but its deceptive in its seeming simplicity, as in the perfect version of “Prison Movie” he introduced with the story that Johnny Cash told him he really liked it and he made the mistake of asking why. “It’s got my name in it!” The song rotates on the axis of memory, dream, and banal existence, and where most songwriters, a lesser talent would certainly place the dream in the chorus, with the lilting music, but Taylor has the chorus reinforce the daily life of the protagonist, “In a line / We all walk in a line”. And it opens with memory, “You learn how to cry in the cradle / And you learn how to lie in jail” and slowly moves towards dream, where he’s sure he’ll be when he gets out but not sure at all, the dreams are impoverished, weak things, “I’ll steal my Mama’s station wagon / Fill it full of whiskey and gas / Drive on up to Macon / And sit in front of Rachel’s house” and even the delusions of grandeur don’t pay off, “They might write a book about me / I could sign a movie deal / And the lawyers can take all the money / Just as long as Johnny Cash plays me” and then it’s back to “In a line”.
If I see a more moving or enthralling performance this year, it will be a great year. Which is saying something in a year that’s pretty great already, with Larkin Grimm and Sarah Borges and Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Leonard goddamn Cohen. Thanks go as always to Chip Kobe and Bob Teague for brining this to town.