Album: East Nashville Skyline
. . .
This is where I came back in with Todd Snider. Or maybe came in at first. All I know for sure is that I haven’t left. And East Nashville Skyline — I just now got the Dylan reference — was the album that got me hooked enough to become a fan for the rest of our mutual lives.
The story goes that Snider’s various addictions had gotten the better of him for awhile, and maybe the fear gave him a bit of focus, though it didn’t even remotely mean that he got serious, as his wicked sense of humour remained unscathed, to the point where he closed the record with the hoary standard “Enjoy Yourself,” which had been done by countless artists from Guy Lombardo to the Specials.
But his politics also sharpened, and there are a pair of songs on the album that are as sharp as anything released during the second Gulf War. The first one, “Conservative Christian, Right-Wing Republican, Straight, White, American Males” is, sadly, totally apropos to this day. Maybe even more, because when he sings “Following leaders up mountains of shame / Looking for someone to blame” you can see the straight line to the fascism threatening to take America over today.
Funnier, but no less incisive is “The Ballad of The Kingsmen,” a twinkling real folk blues which starts talking about how The Kingsmen couldn’t really play until they could at least play, well, you know what:
Now, I don’t know the words to that song “Louie, Louie”
And I’m pretty sure the singer for the Kingsmen didn’t know ’em either
If he did know ’em he didn’t get ’em right on the record
‘Cause on the record they sound jumbled in his jaw
Says, “Me think of me girl oh so constantly
“Ahmayaaah makaaaah aahh ooohoooh aaaaah”
From there Snider words and words some more about how authorities always censor art “for the chilllllldreeeeeeennnn” and/or blame bad behavior on art, citing the FBI investigation of the so-called filthy lyrics of “Louie Louie” to the blaming of Columbine on Marilyn Manson, instead of, you know, easy access to guns for high school students, punctuating the song occasionally with a sung chorus.
It’s the feel good hit of this endless summer
It gets these kids out of control
Singin’ along to that star spangled bummer
Hail, hail, rock and roll
Near the end, he points out the hypocrisy in the stance, given that the same kids could turn on the TV and see the results of whichever war we’ve involved ourselves in, pointing out:
And when people get shot they show it on TV a lot
Every night at six o’clock
And you don’t even have to be eighteen to see it
You don’t even have to be in first grade
First grade, where they teach the kid the pride
They tell him he’ll need to thrive
In a world where they say that only the strong will survive
Eventually the song peaks with his righteous anger before he pulls it back with a “I’m just trying to sing to ya too, you know, string a few words together” and closing it by quoting the chorus of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s get it on.”
And sure, while the specifics of his defenses of Marilyn Manson — who was the bad guy he said he was — and, later on, Eminem, fall somewhat flat on 2023 ears, his overall point remains pretty solid in the anti-woke, book-banning, don’t say gay era in which we live.
“Ballad of the Kingsmen”
“Ballad of the Kingsmen” live in San Francisco, 2007
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