Friday, April 29, 2016

Hippies vs. Punks: Richmond Fontaine's You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To (2016)

Sometime last month I noticed that someone had clicked on one of the nihilism posts I had written a couple of years back. Not recalling its content, I reread it. The post is devoted to a song, "Allison Johnson," off Portland alt country band Richmond Fontaine's 2004 album, Post to Wire. If placed under erasure, "Allison Johnson" perfectly encapsulates nihilism.

Richard Fontaine's principal songwriter is Willy Vlautin, an award-winning novelist, sort of a Great Basin Bukowski minus any good cheer. Vlautin's musical specialty, an example of which is "Allison Johnson," is the ability to capture the nirvana of intimate female companionship. (Doing without this companionship is the primary burden of a bachelor.)

Struck by the power of "Allison Johnson," I checked to see what Richmond Fontaine has been up to -- it has been a while since the logging opera The High Country (2011) -- and come to find out the band has just released a new album, You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To. I downloaded it and have been listening to it repetitiously ever since.

I also went back and audited all of Richmond Fontaine's recordings. I have been a big fan since my friend and coworker Tony turned me on to Lost Son (1999) probably in 2001. (Lost Son I think is the finest cowpunk album of all time.) This sent me off on a reverie of my failed loves of the aughts, the soundtrack to which was provided by Richmond Fontaine.

We'll have to return to this topic another day. For now, I would like to draw your attention to the YouTube at the top of the post. "A Night in the City" is the second-to-last track on You Can't Go Back If There's Nothing To Go Back To. It is Vlautin's masterpiece statement; his answer to his own "Allison Johnson" and "Making It Back."

A middle-aged guy goes to a strip club with a coworker, ends up leaving but decides to stay out all night drinking by himself. He ends up puking and sleeping in a bank parking lot. But he grabs breakfast in a doughnut shop and makes into work on time. Then Vlautin delivers the coup de grace:
I got sick behind a car, slept against a bank wall 
Ate at Annie’s Donuts and made it to work on time 
Is this all there is? Is this what life is? 
A job that means nothing 
A woman who sleeps right next you but she ain’t yours at all 
A one night rebellion that ends up just being a drag 
Like a weight around your feet that ain’t heavy enough to     send you down 
I remember in the back of a bar called the Blue Sea 
My wife sitting on my lap whispering, “You and me, only you and me”
A night in the city 
The city at night
What makes "A Night in the City" amazing is the combination of those last two lines before the refrain with the bleak narrative of a middle-aged man trying to break free of his cage -- "Is this all there is? Is this what life is?/A job that means nothing/A woman who sleeps right next you but she ain’t yours at all." But he can't do it. The "Allison Johnson" memory of intimacy, when his wife whispered to him "You and me, only you and me," still haunts him.

This is our human condition: Forever trying to restore a lost intimacy that won't reboot.

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