As testament to the power of internet radio, I recently bought Courier, by Richard Shindell. Radio Paradise played a song called “Transit” which caught my attention more than most songs do. Something about the voice: round and full, but with an edge to it, Shindell has a voice that feels like the truth should feel. There was also something about the song structure, unlike most songs this was no A-B-A-B-C-A-B pop song. “Transit” tells a story, one that you don’t necessarily understand the first or even second time around, but one a powerful story nonetheless. So I recently bought Courier, a live album that has some incredible songs, all of them stories that ride the fine edge between joy and sorrow. From the opening song “Courier,” that explores the singular role of a man charged with delivering messages and never asking questions, to the chilling story about an interrogation that plays upon it’s title “Fishing,” to the dangerously pretty song about infidelity, “A Summer Wind, A Cotton Dress,” Shindell tells stories that you may recognize, but have never experienced in quite the same way. I am trying very hard not to go out and buy the rest of his catalog in one fell swoop.
You see RI-fucking-AA, internet radio is good, internet radio exposes people to artists, internet radio sells albums.
Sorry, mini-rant is over.
Anyway, here are some lyrics to serve up just the barest hint of how good Shindell is:
“The Courier” I am a courier Crawling in the dirt Toward the front line As the crow flies A note stashed in my shirt From the Prince of Wales Far above the field With his marshalls And their chain-mail Their banners taut and high I did not ask him what the note said He did not offer to explain It’s not my job to ask the questions I’m just the courier A flare shot leaves a scar Burning in the dark On my forearms Toward the front line Then another fifty yards Crouching in the trench Clutching bayonettes A hundred men All knee-to-chest A hundred marionettes I am the string pulled by the sure hand Animating what was still I am invisible and faithful I am a courier The Captain breaks the seal And quickly reads the note On your feet boys Make you peace boys Pass those letters down To this courier Guardian of the word Hand him all you’ve seen Hand him all you’ve heard Hand him all your pearls And he’ll go back to where he came from He will deliver each by hand He takes this as a point of honor To be a courier
Fishing (from the album Blue Divide) Please have a seat. I’m sorry I’m late I know how long you’ve had to wait I did not forget your documents No time to waste, why not begin? Here’s how it works, I’ve got these faces You give them names and I won’t deport you Make sure you face my tape recorder Make no mistake, this fountain pen Could put you on a plane by ten And by the way, your next of kin I know which house she’s hiding in So now that you know whose skin you’re saving In this photograph, who’s this one waving? I think you know, so speak up, amigo It says here that by trade you were a fisherman Well I’ll bet you Indians can really reel them in And if you get the chance You should try to get up to Lake Michigan Well maybe, but then again…. Where were we then? Is he your friend? Well I recommend that you look again Where does he stay? What is his name? There is no shame. He’d do the same So what do you say? I don’t have all day It’s up to you. Which will it be Good citizen or poor campesino? My dad used to rent us this place in Ontario He showed us how to cast the line and tie the flies He used to say that God rewards us for letting the small ones go Well maybe, but I don’t know Anyway, it’s easy to bite. You just take the bait You can’t fight the hook Hurts less if you don’t try to dive Senor, as you know I was a fisherman And how full the nets came in We hauled them up by hand But when we fled, I left them just out past the coral reefs They’re waiting there for me Running deep
Here’s the cool thing – if you go to his website, he has a number of song that you can listen to in their entirety. Just go to RichardShindell.com and click on the “lyrics” link. I highly, highly recommend you check them out for yourself.