SOME SONGS ARE GREAT SHORT STORIES (Chapter 19)

A GUEST POSTING by SWC

from The Sound of Being OK

Hamilton Leithauser has been in two of the greatest bands that have ever been. Firsty he was in The Recoys and then when they disintegrated into ashes he formed The Walkmen and changed rock music for ever.

Then in 2013 he announced that the Walkmen were going on an indefinite hiatus (this was November 2013). Leithauser was never one to rest upon his laurels and decided to record some solo material. Then a few years back he teamed up with Rostam Batmanglij from Vampire Weekend (another band seemingly on a hiatus) to make an album of lofi torch songs. This appears to be a marriage made in indie heaven. One of the one side you have Rostam, who is one of the most talented and innovative musicians around. On the other hand you have Hamilton Leithauser, one of the greatest lyricists of the modern age. He writes tremendous songs, in his early days they were bitter and angry tales of rejection (see ‘The Rat’), isolation (See ‘While I Shovel the Snow’) and love (see most of the ‘Lisbon’ album).

The album Hamilton made with Rostam is called ‘I Had a Dream That You Were Mine’ which is utterly wonderful. It has brilliant songs written in Rostam’s bedroom (the same one he has had since he was a teenager). The plan was simple to take Hamilton’s voice, that distinctive raw croon of his and his incredible lyrics and set them loose on a range new styles. It has songs that are sad, songs with characters, songs that are happy, songs about love, songs about life. The pick of the bunch if you ask me is ‘You Ain’t That Young Kid’. A song so steeped in storytelling that you may as well put a cowboy hat on it and call it ‘Dylanesque’. You get a harmonica, then a slide guitar, then a choir of voices, then a harpsichord and a steel drum. Its utterly marvellous, and it tells a story that is highly visual and full of sentimental filters.

‘You Ain’t That Young Kid’ tells a story about a man and a woman whose relationship has just ended. The man is with a band and he is struggling to perform a certain song that he wrote for his girl

On the first night in June
In a very crowded room
The band was going on
When you told me we were done
So I couldn’t play that song
Cause I wrote it about you
Yeah it always seems to come back to you

(You see, here within seconds of the song starting there are strands forming. We know its June, the year is unknown. They are in a crowded room and a band is coming on – his band – but she has just told him that they are over and now that song, probably their best song or most popular song is meaningless.)

But I don’t have to tell you
Cause you’ve heard it all by now
I’m just one single voice in a choir
You won’t hear me anymore
Just a bassist thumbing a tune
But that rumble reminds me of you

(There’s the rejection and loneliness I spoke of, but that line about the ‘bassist thumbing a tune’, man that’s evocative, and even then the ‘rumble’ reminds him of everything that has been lost).

All the flash, all the fire
All the foggy drinks perspired
We were tucked into a booth
In a far corner of the room
And the music is loud
And it’s just bringing me down
Cause I know that I lost you

(and then we are in the corner of the room, the music is loud, so they are in a booth – I mean I can see them, I can see the bar, I can see hear the music, I smell the smoke, and the taste the foggy drinks. The mood of our hero is getting worse, everything is getting him down. So he does the only thing he can – he leaves).

The parking lot was dark
And I walked out of the bar
Found some folks hanging around
And we’re on some highway now
And the windows are down
And I never felt so sad
So I just tried not to think about you

(so he is out into the parking lot – that’s a car park – and into his car – and now I’m thinking should he even be driving? His drinks have been foggy. But hang on, ‘we’re on some highway…’. Who is he with. Has he hooked up with the folks he found hanging around. What has become a song about a break up is now all about something totally different. This is about forgetting everything. At least we know now he isn’t driving.)

Oh the final spot of sunlight
Is dying on the dash
On some way too long road with some way too young folks
If the man that you knew
Honestly wasn’t me
Tell me honey: who could that be?

(That line about the final spot of sunlight is wonderful, you can see it. The horizon with the speck of sun, you can picture him, probably in a 4×4 or a truck, him in the back with people who he doesn’t feel comfortable there is probably some beer in cans of course. The road to reflection via rejection. )

There’s a letter I wrote
That I’ll never send
Where I admit my weakness
And I ask to see you again
Yeah I heard you were sorry
By someone you call a friend
In a letter I wrote
That I’ll never send

(The song sort of takes a different route here, even the singing is different, the beat is slower – we are going into memory territory here, dreamlike almost. He’s reflecting about the past and previous mistakes – but here’s the clever thing – he sounds like he is drunk when he’s singing it. That’s really clever because we’ve all sat down and written drunken letters to lost loves and the ripped them up again in the morning)

Cause there’s ash in my heart
Where I used to burn
The young voices have vanished
The old whispers return
But there’s no one to hurt me
And there’s no one to hurt
Cause there’s ash in my heart
Where I used to burn

(The little mandolin (is it a mandolin?) that tinkles away through this bit is marvellous, as Hamilton continues to croon away, about voices and whispers, I think this is just a metaphor for the flame of love dying or something but the significant thing here is the drum and the way that pounds in, like the dreamlike bit is finished )

Pictures of us dancing
From a lifetime, a lifetime ago
You in a green dress and I in a tweed vest
In a blurry gang of ghosts
Pictures of us dancing
From a thousand years ago
Late enough to kiss you
Still too early to go

(I see an attic and Hamilton hunched over an old suitcase and sunshine fills a bit of the room through a small window which is probably cracked. We get this scene of him holding a picture when the lady is wearing a green dress and he is wearing (and its wonderfully rhymed) a tweed vest, in much happier times).

mp3 : Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam Batmanglij – You Ain’t That Young Kid

Outstanding.

SWC

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