Five Great Jason Isbell Songs

Welcome to a blog post about Jason Isbell.  This will be kinda short and it will kick off with some “stipulations.”

Stipulation I: Luna is the best “active” band, and “Malibu Love Nest” is their best song.

Stipulation II: Craig Finn is the the best active rock star, and the live version of “Killer Parties” on A Positive Rage best exemplifies this.

Stipulation III: Jason Isbell is the best active songwriter, and “Different Days” is his best song.

Suggestion I: I don’t know who the greatest band of all time is.  There are a lot of options.  The Beatles is not the right answer.

Suggestion II: Mick Jagger is the greatest frontman of all time, although Chuck Berry is still the purest rock star that will probably ever be (man I would love to play the keyboard like the dude in this video!)

Suggestion III: Townes Van Zandt is the greatest songwriter of all time, although Dylan’s high points are higher.

We shall explore all the above stipulations at some later date.  Today we are looking at Isbell.  Today on the Periscope there we said we might do a post here about “Different Days.”  Well, that’s going to be a little too much work for today.  So instead we’ll do a little top five.  These are not necessarily my favorite 5 songs from Jason, but pretty much.  So, “in no particular order”:

I. “Danko/ Manuel,” from The Dirty South.  2003.  On the Periscope I was a little inaccurate–Isbell was 24-25 when he wrote this one.  It’s about the band The Band, and about emulating one’s heroes and the pros and cons of that action.

First they make you out to be/ the only pirate on the sea/ they say Danko would have sounded just like me/ “Is that the man you want to be?”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zaWkvqah9W8

II. “Goddam Lonely Love” also from The Dirty South.  2003.

So I’ll take two of what you’re having and I’ll take all of what you got/
to kill this goddamn lonely, goddamn lonely love

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before/ a man walks into a bar and leaves before his ashes hit the floor/ stop me if I ever get that far/ the sun’s a desperate star that burns like every single one before

Dude was 25 years old.

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The Ump

well it’s always been my nature
to take chances
my right hand drawing back

while my left hand advances

Bob Dylan, Angelina.  Circa 1981, A.D.

Preface: This little piece alighted on the author a few weeks ago when he was undergoing a bit of a midlife re-orientation.  The piece is presented as it presented itself, with edits for cleanliness only. 

Karma is simply the field of what you put in place in your last lifetime.  As a person you arrange your life in such a way that it leaves clues as to the road you took.  When it’s time to switchback, all you have to do is have the courage to take the turn.  After the turn, it’s basically just a matter of reading the tree markers in the forest.  The challenge is, some of the tree makers have fallen in the leaves, been washed out by rain, or moved by the wind.  So you are in new territory.  The map, the degraded set of markers you left behind, is not the territory.  However the last path was so densely specific that we keep trying to use our old map on the new path.  We need that old map for a bit because those markers are the only ones we have.   However we need to find our footing pretty darn quick in order to learn to navigate the new territory.  Otherwise, we follow the markers and mistake them for fresh signs.  Very quickly, the old signals become noise. And then we are in a deep dark wood and are in danger of over-exposure, or, worse, pure confusion and terror about where the path may lie.

The individual is mortal, and beyond mortality is the mystery.  Tribes and societies are forms of collectives, and collectives form a spiral pattern that we call a system. Collectives, and spirals, are mortal as well, and when a spiral approaches its switch back point, the map begins to degrade and the particles of the spiral, the people in the current incarnation of the pattern, must attempt to discriminate the signal from the noise.  Of course this is a much more difficult task than it is for an individual because there are many more tree markers and the winds and rains are howling all about.  This is simply because the field is larger to accommodate so many souls.  So instead of just having to read a few old tree markers, folks must try to receive the field.

To receive the field you have to read the field, and the only way to read the field is to be looking right at it.  In baseball, there is only one position that can see the field and this is the catcher.  That’s why catchers are said to be good management material in general. Another way to say this is they have a wider view of the constraint set.  However, although the catcher can see the field and understand the constraint set in front of him, there is one variable he cannot control.  And this is, of course, the umpire.  The ump.

The ump calls the balls and strikes and the ump is a court of no appeal.  After all, he has the power to toss you from the ballgame altogether.  The only way to deal with this particular variable is to hone the craft of a catcher.  The first piece of craft is the act of framing a pitch.  Here the catcher subtly adjusts his glove in order to obstruct the ump’s view of the location of the pitch.  It is easy for the catcher to whip his glove on a ball in the dirt back to the strike zone, but the ump will spot that in a second.  So a catcher, if he wants to be any good, has to learn a little guile.

This guile can taken pretty far; and there are other ways to work an ump as well.  The classic, “ah come on ump,” is OK, but it’s the same as whipping the bill out of the dirt really.  A more effective trick is chatting the ump up.  Becoming his friend and letting him think you are actually on his side.  This is effective to a point as well, and extends the craft.   However here is where we need to remember our Dylan.  From “Just Like the Tom Thumb Blues,” we learn the following:

I started out on burgundy, but soon hit the harder stuff/ everybody said they’d stand behind me, when the game got rough/ but the joke was on me, there was nobody even there to bluff/ I’m going back to New York City, I do believe I’ve had enough.

Dylan is saying that though the use of guile helps you work the ump, you can start to mistake guile for the deeper craft.  You start to fall into your own trick.  You start to think you are the ump.  And these are deeper waters indeed.  In fact, this is the most dangerous game.  And in this zone, we need a secret weapon.

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