Friday, November 25, 2005

The Mortician's Daughter

I got a chance to see Freedy Johnston live the other night. I had seen him once earlier, playing with his longtime lead guitarist Cameron Greider about six or seven years ago; this time he was on his own in a small club.

The show was a little ragged at times. He began it distracted by his dog, who was just outside the door, started playing with the capo on the wrong fret once or twice and had to start a song over, forgot the lyrics to “Dolores,” and at one point stopped the show for about ten minutes while he replaced a nine volt in his electronic tuner. But he was relaxed and in good spirits and eventually hit his stride.

On his records you don't at first notice how effective a guitarist Freedy is, although it's there if you listen carefully. As he's made clear in interviews, he doesn't pretend to be a accomplished lead player, but his playing is original and assured; he makes the most of a few well-chosen, deceptively simple-sounding licks and strums neatly tailored to his own compositions.

I've always liked this song from its original appearance on Can You Fly in 1992. He played it live this time, with a somewhat different, freer arrangement starting at the beginning of the second verse. After the show I bought a copy of Freedy's self-issued CD Live at 33 1/3 from his wife. The version there is very similar to what he played the other night, and I think, even better than the one originally recorded. If you don't realize that the first two lines are supposed to be funny you're not getting this song, but for all that it's a sweet, sad, and I think very canny and beautiful piece. A little mysterious too: has the girl died? If so, it neatly folds together the song's little ironies of sex and death.
I used to love the mortician's daughter
We drew our hearts on the dusty coffin lids
I grieve tonight over this letter
My tears dissolve an image from the careful ink

Her father stands in the open door
He's waiting for her
There's a storm blowing across the lake
It's late summer
On the broken step is a cardboard box full of wilted flowers
She whispers in my burning ear
It doesn't matter

I used to love the mortician's daughter
We rolled in the warm grass by the boneyard fence
Her skin so white
The first leaves falling
This long forgotten night I am there again

Her father stands in the open door
He's waiting for her
There's a ribbon printed with last respects
Blowing down the gutter
And the rain comes in, she drops my hand, she's turning, laughing
And I used to love the mortician's daughter

I used to love the mortician's daughter
We drew our hearts on the dusty coffin lids
There's a lonely dove out on the telephone wire
I turn my head and she flies away

Monday, November 07, 2005


Whatever things this notebook may be, at various times, and despite the title, it certainly is not a dream journal, an undertaking that would be of little interest to me and almost certainly of even less interest to anyone else. But from time to time material from dreams — much transformed — does find its way into these pages. It receives no special privileges, it has to wait its turn like everyone else, but I don't refuse it entry if it has something to offer. (Mostly, it doesn't.) My rat dream had no special merit other than being bloody and vivid, but bloody and vivid ought to count for a little, at least, especially at the end of a night of insomnia due to coffee consumed too late in the afternoon, so here goes:

We were in a house and the rats were trying to join us, which was not particularly acceptable as far as we were concerned. There were a great number of them, and they were making their way in by wriggling in through open windows and under doors. A good many had already gotten into the house and were scrambling around and engaging in the usual rat pastimes, mostly unpleasant ones like looking for infants to eat (we didn't have any) and spreading epidemic disease. We were beating them back with brooms and shovels, all the while trying to close up the gaps that were allowing them entry, and they were just as energetically fighting back, biting and scrambling and leaping onto our shoulders. The battle seemed to be going our way, at least in the room we were in. There was a good deal of rat blood spraying the windows and upholstery and our clothes (I did warn you it was bloody) and there were crushed rats falling out the windows and scattered underfoot on the carpet around us. We hadn't suffered any significant casualties, so the dream ended on an upbeat note.

I actually have nothing whatsoever against rats, as long as they stay out of the house.