A light country song, so close to being disposable that I
nearly forgot to do an entry for it. Henneman’s lovelorn narrator addresses the
moon on the subject of the end of a relationship; they guy from “Got What I
Wanted” had a few drinks and went outside to talk to the moon.
The instrumentation is crisp and the harmonies are nice, but
this is fundamentally just the Bottle Rockets in “unusually good bar band”
mode. A very nice John Keane pedal steel part is pretty much the only special
Going back to listen to the song for this piece, I was surprised how fast and produced it is. Not that, in an absolute sense, it’s very much of either; but the version of it that exists in my memory is just Henneman’s voice and guitar creeping along at a carefully-controlled tension-inducing glacial pace. Those are the parts that stick with the memory, at least for me. The surrounding material that enables the effect just got edited away.
It’s not that the back half of The Bottle Rockets is bad by any stretch; it’s just inessential.
And so, “Rural Route,” a bar-band rave-up so similar in form and content to “Manhattan
Countryside” that it once again could be a continuation of the same song. Maybe
there’s an argument to be made that proximity strengthens the two songs; “Manhattan
Countryside” is a guy getting fed up with what’s happening in his town, and “Rural
Route” is him convincing himself to leave.
Of course, the two aren’t one extended song. For one thing, Route is, for the first time we’ve encountered, a Bottle Rockets song not written by Brian Henneman. Instead, Route is the handiwork of Robert Parr, brother of the Brockets’ rhythm guitarist. If the lyrics aren’t as witty as a typical Henneman joint, their description of rural disillusionment is very much in the Henneman wheelhouse (it strikes me now that the two dominant themes of this album are lust and rural disillusionment, sometimes at the same time), and he sings it as fervently as one of his own.
But really, there’s not much here. A great lead guitar part, more fun drum work by Ortmann, and some sentiments we’ve heard before. This runs into the same problem Chad and I discovered on We’ve Been Had as we got mired in the repetitive Uncle Tupelo songs on the back half of Still Feel Gone; there does come a point where even the most intensely-sung complaints about small-town ennui become just the same old thing.
“Manhattan Countryside” is a straightforward bar-band rocker, an extended cry from Henneman’s heart against small-town sprawl. It’s a good song but not a great one, missing some of the weight that elevates the standouts on the first half of the album. The song seems to acknowledge its own minor-work status, hustling on and off the stage in the space of two minutes.
As late fall settles onto Minnesota like an unpleasantly weighted blanket, the natural inclination is to watch some TV. Rebecca and I realized that, while we’d watched the first season of The Office (US) when it aired, we’d drifted pretty quickly. With binge weather upon us, and the clock ticking for the show to leave Netflix, we decided to go in hard on it, and powered through several episodes a night.
And: The Office is
fun! The characters are relatable and human. The writing is sharp, and knows
where to poke at the oddities of spending your days in badly-lit spaces with
other people who don’t want to be there. The observations can be apt: one of
the show’s central (maybe accidental) theses is that often the worst people to
work with are the ones who can’t just let a job be a job but instead have to turn
it into either their family or a crusade that gives their lives meaning (this
is Michael Scott and Dwight Schrute, respectively). The show can also be a
fascinating timeline of cultural change, as with the way the show handles Oscar
being gay moves from turn-of-the-century kid gloves to a more current “so
what?” attitude. And the show gave us Creed Bratton, maybe the most
consistently surreal sitcom character since Andy Kaufman was on Taxi.
But as fun as it was to binge on The Office, I couldn’t help but notice that however sharp the
writing was, it pulled punches. And if you stepped back and looked at the show,
its point of view was weirdly constrained. There’s some value, I think, to
taking a closer look at that.
To this point, a full 50% of the songs on The Bottle Rockets have been about being horny, either in a silly or a desperate fashion. “Got What I Wanted” flips the script, checking in on a man glumly realizing what all these hormones have gotten him; this song could easily be the narrator of “Trailer Mama” waking up the next morning hung over and full of regret.
In the house in Blair, NE, where I grew up in the late 70s and early 80s, our next door neighbors had a son named Sammy. He was maybe 8 years older than me, so we weren’t exactly pals, but we were friendly and he’d occasionally come over and slum it with the younger kid; the two things I particularly remember were him helping me build an elaborate Ewok village on the side of a tree for max DIY Star Wars guy fun, and him proudly showing off the new set of nunchucks he’d just gotten.
(Look, I recognize that it’s confusing that this is the one where the song title is the same as the series title; sorry)
We kick off with twisting, insidious guitar parts that weave
into each other for several bars before the rest of the band comes in. The
narrator—and it feels very much like this one is Henneman is speaking as
himself—is somewhere in town and sees something he doesn’t like: