… “I’ve never been one to have the lightbulb go off, write it down and finish the song in an hour. When I have something good, that’s when I have to be my own boss and say, ‘Take this further, make it better.’ I have to twist my own arm. Maybe the chord needs to change; maybe the story needs a new scene. It’s almost like writing for the screen; you ask yourself, ‘What do you see? What’s she wearing? Is it sunny? Is it hot?’ I answer those questions and then I’m off.”
This resulted in songs like “Primer Coat,” the story of a factory foreman, a Southerner, sitting by his pool and thinking about his twentysomething daughter leaving home. This is an unusual subject for a rock ‘n’ roll band, which is more likely to focus on freewheeling characters in the no-man’s land between school and marriage/career. But the Truckers have always specialized in characters with jobs, spouses, little glamour and lots of debt.
This song is sung by the foreman’s son, who knows more than he’d like about painting houses. His mother may be as plain as a primer coat, he realizes, but there’s a clarity and necessity in that undercoat of paint that shouldn’t be underestimated. In four minutes, Cooley lets us know all four members of that family, while his Keith Richards-like, just-ahead-of-the-beat guitar riff and Morgan’s Charlie Watts-like, just-behind-the-beat drumming supply all the tension the story needs.
“I had this image of this guy, middle-aged and working class, sitting by his swimming pool,” Cooley explains. “I didn’t know what he was thinking about, but I liked that image. I thought he might be thinking about politics and how working class families can’t afford pools like they used to. But that wasn’t it; he was thinking about his daughter. The mother of the family’s almost always stronger, especially when it comes to things that kick you in the gut. She’ll do what she has to do; she won’t be moping by the pool.”
Saw this video in the No Depression email yesterday morning, and it gave the day a real jump-start. So, I used it to start our biweekly demo for our meeting-busy senior managers yesterday afternoon. People were into it. Ladies and gentlemen, Glen Campbell.
I enjoyed and related much the other day to Australian reporter Rick Morton’s “The Quiet Reporter: On Being an Introvert and a Journalist.” It’s basically why I’m in journalism but quickly left reporting. The whole essay is here, but Morton’s lead explains it all.
Some days, when the phone rings, I feel aggrieved. Which is not at all ideal because I am a reporter and my job depends on it. Those are the days when I turn to a colleague and muster all the despair at my fingertips: “I am in the wrong line of work.” It’s not that I am articulating my unhappiness with journalism. Quite the contrary; I don’t know how to do anything else. It is my one true love affair. The comment springs from incredulity: How on Earth could someone so exhausted by interacting with people choose a career which turns only on your ability to deal with everyone?
I am yet to find an answer.
Friend Scott and I had fun recently talking about NPR’s redesign and Web rethinking with the always-inspiring Karen McGrane and Ethan Marcotte on their Responsive Web Design Podcast. The episode came out this morning. I occasionally said things like “We’re always looking to serve as many people as possible and serve the public service that we see our mission as.” But! Most sentences came out okay.
Canal Park, down near Nationals Park, turns out to be a great place to skate when the winter weather is bearable outside. Yes, the skates chopped off my ankles at the knees, and I hobbled more than skated. But Lori’s fit well, and temps crossed 40 even. The zamboni driver was an artist on the figure-eight rink, and Park Tavern next door hit the spot: warm, excellent chicken pizza and a friendly Gonzaga alum behind the bar. Walked home happy.
This is hopefully my last obituary-ish post for a while, but I couldn’t pass up remembering voice actor Gary Owens’ contribution to my childhood.
Owens, who died Thursday, was the announcer for the Garfield and Friends theme song, which was as weird as the show, which was as weird as me.
Journalism had too many sad moment this week. Along with David Carr’s death, the profession lost 60 Minutes‘ Bob Simon. The CBS collection of tributes to him was fantastic. And they dug up a piece that won a Peabody for Simon several years ago and stands up well today. Thanks to my mom for pointing it out. CBS hasn’t posted “Joy in the Congo” at full length, at least not anywhere I can find easily, but a YouTuber has uploaded a copy.
The CBS transcript is here.
The piece got me listening to Ode to Joy after Ode to Joy.
He was one of my favorite reads every Monday morning — and one of my favorite reads overall. Apparently at The Times today, an editor called him their spirit animal. And that was true, for all thoughtful, tough journalists.
The best links about his life I’ve seen today:
- Friend Dave Weigel remembering Carr’s coverage of him
- A.O. Scott in the Times
- His one-paragraph preview of Elvis tribute artist El Vez
- His “36 Hours” travelogue about his Twin Cities hometown
- His 1996 (!) piece on how hard it is for a paper to win digitally
- His long-read on the morally bankrupt Zell Tribune culture
- “Me and My Girls” about his addictions, from his book
- Erik Wemple’s remembrance of Carr’s City Paper days
- Carr’s father’s obituary, which, in its own way, said a lot
More great memories out there will surely follow.
Oh, and I remembered a favorite Carr moment from this blog. In a podcast friend Meghan sent me, when he dissed NPR and praised Gaslight Anthem.
MELISSA BLOCK: I wanted to ask you about the song “Boxer” and the character here, the character who has tattooed knuckles, and he’s taking it on the chin. Who is this guy?
Mr. FALLON: Oh, who isn’t that guy? I think that it’s just about a lot of people that I’ve seen who’ve kind of, you know, found some sort of thing that has kind of crippled them or knocked them down and that they’ve had to be picked up from and find you have to find something that kind of carries you through your days. And a lot of the time, people find that that’s just hearing something on the music and remembering what you started when you were, you know, kind of finding your place in the world.