Funeral Bonsai Wedding – lyrics and notes

EZRA POUND AND THE BIG WOOD RIVER

I sat in the front room for hours and hours
With Tiffany the one-handed cheerleader
Her long red hair tangled with mine
The moon shone through her living room blinds

She stood on her tip toes and kissed my cheek
I could not breath I could not speak
I sang that song at the top of my lungs
Ah, but sooner or later the ending comes

and it’s too late, too late we’re strangers now in time
It’s goodbye goodbye, I loved you, I can not say why

A 3 year old boy with pencil and paper
Up to his knees in the Big Wood River
A fascist a poet a critic a mentor
counting the clouds in that mountain water

Where Hemingway blasted off his own head
Caddisflies creep through the riverbed
When we smashed the slime heads on the rocks
I felt a part of my soul got lost

Your father kicked you when he got drunk
You raged through the mountains alone in your truck
I didn’t reach out and I’m sorry for that
Tonight I’m drunk and I’m looking back

but it’s too late, too late we’re strangers now in time
It’s goodbye goodbye, I loved you, I can not say why

we lay in the sun on the wet grass
laughing like children while summer passed
sparrowhawks, grasshoppers, flickers, mayflies
your skin was warm, It was mid July

A sagebrush path to the giant rock
To watch the river push at the banks
Overhanging cottonwood trees
Shading the shallows, dropping their leaves

but it’s too late, too late we’re strangers now in time
It’s goodbye goodbye, I loved you, I can not say why

Ezra Pound was locked in a tower
Blood still flush with that Big Wood water
Tiny white beard, lead from the mines
Raving on behind enemy lines

High on skunkweed we skipped out of school
To watch Mariel swim in the Sun Valley pool
Her grandfather’s name a useful scar
At 17 years old she’s a movie star

but it’s too late, too late we’re strangers now in time
It’s goodbye goodbye, I loved you, I can not say why

I drove in from out of state
I was tired it was getting late
You asked how long I planned to stay
I through down my bag and I kissed your face

The Big Wood River runs south from the Sawtooth Mountains in central Idaho, through Hailey, where I grew up, into the Snake River in the southern part of the state, near the site of Evel Knievel’s failed jump in 1974. I spent many, many hours in the water and on the banks of the river, fishing, watching birds and insects, listening. I feel like it’s a permanent part of who I am. When I went to college and started studying poetry seriously, Ezra Pound’s name kept coming up. At some point I read that he was born in Hailey, Idaho, and I was stunned. It was never discussed or mentioned in Hailey. Ever. Then I learned that he had been a Nazi sympathizer during World War II, living in Italy and doing propaganda broadcasts for Mussolini. His family moved away from Hailey when he was very young, but the thought occurred to me that he’d probably dipped his toes into the Big Wood River. He was indicted for treason by the US government and that, I’m sure, is why there is no mention of him anywhere in Hailey. I found this to be a profound example of how complicated people are. In addition to being a brilliant and influential poet, Pound was a fierce advocate for writers and poetry and without him many important works probably wouldn’t have been published or even written, including works by T.S. Eliot, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and many others. Interestingly, Ernest Hemingway also lived in the Wood River Valley late in life and it was there that he committed suicide. His granddaughter, the actress Mariel Hemingway, is a few years older than me. She grew up in Sun Valley, Idaho, and I would see her occasionally. Most memorably I saw her swimming in the pool at the posh Sun Valley Lodge around the time she was in the film Manhattan. That had quite an impact on this teenage boy.

All this stuff made me want to write a song about my own memories and feelings about the river, mixed in with all these strange connections and complicated facts. I mixed in many of my own teenage friends and early girlfriends, including Tiffany, a very sweet young woman who was born was only one hand and yet had the guts to become a cheerleader. She was pretty awesome. The river was ever present though all my memories. The last verse is me arriving in Chicago and meeting Diane.

All of that is back-story to this song. I think you can enjoy the song without knowing any of this stuff. I hope so! But maybe this information could make you enjoy it more.

THE NIGHT OF THE LIQUOR STORE FIRE

I didn’t realize til I spoke the words that it would break her heart
But I’d made up my mind that it was time to leave
Where the little green trains filed with college girls brake and stop and start
I held out my arm to catch her tears with my sleeve
And the sparks tripped the wire and we stood like strangers
The night of the liquor store fire

A line formed around the ice cream shop desperate to beat the heat
As sirens split wide the late august air
In a doorway on a dark side street she pressed herself into me
And whispered things that I couldn’t hear
And some freshmen formed a choir by the barricades
And sang to the liquor store fire

A polish girl with big green eyes and a distant sense of fear
We’d spent that whole summer in her room
Playing her husband’s 45’s And drinking dollar beer
A pause in a life now ready to resume
And so I became the liar and I saw it all clearly
In the light of the liquor store fire

Crates of whiskey, rum and wine exploding in the flames
The sky was sick with sweet ash and booze
And over in the haze of lights the owner sobbed and prayed
his face surrounded by mic’s from the TV news
And as the flames were rising higher
That girl disappeared
The night of the liquor store fire

This song is based around an actual event. I was living in Boston in the 80’s, going to college and dipping my toe into the folk music world. There was a giant liquor store on the corner near where I lived that burned to the ground one summer night just before I moved to Chicago. It seemed appropriate. I really did break up with my girlfriend that summer, and not in the kindest way. I used to be kind of an asshole. I hope that I’ve made some progress toward being kinder over the past 30 years. There were a lot of good things about living in Boston, but for me it felt like a holding station – a place where I was waiting for my life to begin.

The brilliantly talented Robbie Fulks was kind enough to sing the harmony vocal on this track. He probably agreed to it just to stop my begging.

IN THE VALLEY OF THE WHALE

Sweet mystery
Back now from the dead
Unlock the dreams
stuck inside my head

My back against the car
By the fence
In the Trees
With a grin I don’t own
The crush of the leaves
The smell of the rain
As it soaks our clothes

Sweet Bitterroot
River underground
My soul has been moved
By that whisper sound

Together again
In the valley of the whale
In the long dry heat
I bury my head
in your chest
And I sing
til I fall at your feet

Cruel chemistry
Dust to dust
Hand to hand
I still believe
but I don’t understand

Sweet mystery
Back now from the dead
Mine could be the light
In the lamp beside your bed

This one came out of nowhere. I picked up the guitar, started singing and it poured out. The line, “together again in the Valley of the Whale,” came right away and I thought, “well, that’s a weird line…” It sounded cool and had a certain Jonah and the Whale thing going on. I thought about changing it but it stuck. Later I found out that there really is a Valley of the Whales in Egypt, where there are a bunch of prehistoric whale skeletons in the middle of the desert. Cool. After learning that I named the song after the line. I don’t remember ever hearing about the place. So how did it show up in the song? Sweet mystery.