If I had any talent whatsoever I'd probably be John Hiatt. While listening to his newest CD Beneath This Gruff Exterior I kept thinking to myself how most artists would love to write just one of his lesser songs. Music seems to flow out of him like water from a leaky tap and the opening track "Uncommon Connection" has a reason why. "Some people call it depression/I call it a song/Don't worry about me/I'm not going to be around all that long."
The CD asks the musical question, "How many times can one dog pee?" and it opens in with a typical Hiatt smart ass line, "Well I do my best thinking sitting on my ass/Sittin here waiting for things to pass." Indeed the word "ass" appears in a couple of songs and one gets the impression many of the songs were written sitting down. This is Hiatt's blues album as his backing band the Goners rip through the music like they really mean it. Musically it sounds an awful lot like Hiatt's wonderful 1988 CD Slow Turning (perhaps his most consistently pleasing release). Themes of depression differentiate Beneath This Gruff Exterior from that earlier effort however. While Slow Turning was about the warmth the love of a family provides the new CD is about isolation and a paralyzing notion that things may never get better.
"The Nagging Dark" is as dark a song as this often dark songwriter has ever written. Thankfully "Almost Fed Up with the Blues" answers much of the inner turmoil. "I wake up with my head in hand/I wish I was another man" the singer sings. "I'm almost fed up with the blues/If these blues don't stop hurtin' me/It's curtains for my misery."
My favorite new song is "My Dog and Me" one of the best pet songs ever written. It's odd to contrast the tone of this song with one of Hiatt's greatest songs ever, 1995's "Dust Down a Country Road." That song's refrain was about the sadness of watching a dog watch a dusty trail waiting for the singer's woman to come back and how miserable they both are feeling- one out of loyalty one out of loneliness and both out of remembering how things used to be. The stanza "If I had a bullet I'd put it in this gun/And I'd catch that old dog napping/And I'd shoot him before he runs/'Cause he ain't much good for nothing/Except for staring at the dust/Lord I wonder what he's looking at sneaking up on us" always brings a tear to my eye.
The new dog song also suggest the pain of someone leaving but this time the company of the dog is enough. "Buddy I could've gone that extra mile/For an extra bark or an extra smile/'Cause I never felt so free/It was just my dog and me." The cure for the blues is love but this time it doesn't have to come from the love of a woman.
And at the risk of turning this into Kitty Korner, (and why not? Should we not all be thankful for that great big litter box in the sky?) "My Dog and Me" struck a familiar chord within me. Memorial Day weekend my special friend assisted me with what she dubbed Max's Meowrial. We drove to the various places that Max and I had lived over the years. I spread a pinch full of his ashes outside the windows he used to spend his days taking it all in from. "A broken glass and a heart gone wrong/That's my window on the world/A cup of coffee in a shaky hand/Wakin' up in a foreign land/Tryin' to act like I got something planned/That's my window on the world..."
At our first stop on Goodrich Avenue near Victoria Crossing, I walked up near the window to my small efficiency and as I was letting the ashes go, a small grey kitty came over to me from next door and rubbed up against my leg. Egads. After the Meowrial was complete I actually felt a little better. I always felt bad knowing Max wanted to be outside more often than our less than frequent walks. Whenever I dug out his harness and his leash he immediately ran over to the front door, nose pressed right up against the wood. Spreading his ashes outside where his gaze remains (at least within me) felt right- free at last, free at last...
So yesterday I was sitting with the new kitties. I was a bit concerned about Diego-san who had excess fluid in and around his eye. Thompson sat on my legs as we prepared to watch the Belmont Stakes to see if Funny Cide could complete the third leg of the Triple Crown. I was getting a bit annoyed at how hard the NBC announcers were trying to tie it all in with 9/11 because the horse was from New York. I asked Thompson if he considered himself a Minnesotan and he didn't bat an eye. Then the pomposity continued as the horse strode up to the starting gate and the announcer said he was approaching "the doorway to destiny." Again I posed a question to Thompson: wouldn't it be nice if some day someone said he was approaching that same doorway and what would it take for that to happen? Still I was sad when Funny Cide lost. I remember watching way too long ago the last successful Triple Crown winner, Seattle Slew long before many a great John Hiatt song existed and a lot of other stuff too. Dust down a country road indeed.