“Hey Self-Defeater”

(This is the final part of a series of essays on the songs from ‘The Apothecary EP

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OK, first off, we put “Celebration, Florida” (apparently a pre-fab community) into this song well before the Felice Brothers titled their album that. Second of all, we didn’t know about the Mark Mulcahy song (which actually uses the term in the refrain unlike our song).

All of the mid- and early-20th century imagery denotes a guy left behind. His touchstones have aren’t relevant anymore. And who knows if that girl he pines after even thinks of him at all or if she’s moved on. He doesn’t relate to her intellectual pretensions or her sense of hopeful adventurousness. I hope that, like a lot of our music, it asks questions about authenticity of experience in a world of irony; the divisions between people, both real and artificial; and absurdity to the point of existentialism. (I hope.)

This song has undergone different guises from garage rocker to folky ballad. As my friend and sometime tour partner Will Levith has pointed out, the main riff could fit in on a Son Volt record. I had the music well before the lyrics, when I was listening to quite a bit of early Farrar and Tweedy.

An earlier version of the band worked on this one. We had laid it down in the studio with a distorted Stratocaster as the rhythm guitar but that didn’t leave any room to breathe so we stripped it away again. Thank god that we recorded the electric rhythm guitar direct, to kick off the song. I knew this song needed to have layers and new instruments coming and go to keep it afloat, so we added the banjo (on one that barely stays in tune) and I sat on the floor and did about nine overdub takes on the Rhodes, which really ties the whole thing together. Joe Lops created a genius electric guitar part that hangs there in a fog of reverb.

About some of the details in the lyrics:

• The Chanticleer Motor Lodge is a real place in upstate New York, near Lake George, with an amazing ’50s-era sign. I didn’t stay there but did take a picture.
• The frozen turkey comes from Woody Allen’s “Broadway Danny Rose” and I always found it so sad when the main character microwaves his Thanksgiving dinner.
• My friend Alex actually used to own a French car.
• I never saw the world’s largest banjo but I briefly lived a few blocks from the country’s second biggest chair in Aniston, Alabama.
• The curly-haired boy that all the folk-singing girls love came from a combination my thinking of another friend and sometime tour mate, Dan Kaplan; and a New York Pinewood Folk Music Club concert where a young fiddle player stepped out and one could see all the girls sit up a little bit straighter looking at him. It was at church basement in Manhattan and was a memorial for a longtime member and father who passed away.
• Nelson Street is in Greenville, Mississippi and was a center for blues playing and juke joints. It’s largely shuttered now.
• The 2:19 is a reference to “Trouble In Mind,” in which the narrator pledges, “I’m gonna lay me head; on some lonesome railroad line; let the 2:19 train; ease my trouble in mind.”
• “Creole Belle” was a song that I first heard sung in Aniston, Alabama by a marine dropout alcoholic with whom I played cards. He didn’t know a lot of songs but this Mississippi John Hurt classic was one of his favorites. It’s become one of mine too. He had one of those epic southern names but I can’t remember it now.
• Where the ferry used to stop is a reference to Greenpoint, Brooklyn, though there’s a new ferry now. Greenpoint Coffee House (which closed a few years ago) had a copy of the article on the wall about when the ferry stopped running to Greenpoint before World War II.
• Red Hook, Brooklyn has a loading dock with a sign that reads, Welcome to American Stevedoring. I hadn’t heard the term until Gregory Mulkern explained it to me. Seemed like a good profession for this character.

We don’t play this one live anymore but it could be due for a revival at some point.

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