One of Mockingbird’s deepest wells is the life-giving fount flowing from all forms of American music, from Elvis to Johnny to Michael to Axl. From the folk-lineaged prophecies to the jukebox-empty-bar country confessional to the anthemic rock-throb of a power ballad, to the synthy-moog-loving distortions of desire, American music has had a something in common, and it’s why we can’t help but keep writing about it, looking to it, singing it in our cars. It’s not that it just so happens to be what we love to listen to, but also what indicates (so powerfully!) where our heart’s loyalties lay. We hear songs of the brokenhearted, the left and leaving, the open road, the dreams dashed, and the freedom of a new start. But, really, if we’re honest (and isn’t this conference all about honesty anyways?) it all comes back to the Scorchers liner above, that full-throttle love that’s there, or isn’t there at all, that makes it all go ’round. For Billy Joe Shaver, love is a “Restless Wind.” Love is also why he’s “Going Crazy in 3/4 Time”. For Kristofferson, it’s the wild visitor from “Just the Other Side of Nowhere.” Without love, says Elvis Presley, “There is nothing.” Without love, says Elvis Perkins, it’s “123 Goodbye”. With love, though, says the Beach Boys, it’s “I Can Hear Music,” or, says, Beach House, real love “finds you somewhere with your back to it.” It’s all about love–freedom, addiction, dreams, leaving, lostness, it’s all about love.
In this breakout session we’ll be taking a look at American music young and old, to see what it has to say about who we are, what our deepest love-hungry lyrics look like, and how those yearnings mesh with our lives lived. Because my most time-tested fascination is with the Country-Outlaw-Americana side of music, we’ll pay visit to it’s predominant love languages, and its descendants up until now. This particular branch of American music is fixated on freedom and, interestingly enough, on human love’s failure to give that freedom. In other words, human love not coming in 200-proof form. And for that reason, you find all sorts of fear-ridden lyrics of being tied down, of “Why Do I Have To Choose?” (Willie Nelson), or of being “The Same Fool” (Dwight Yoakam) that you don’t want anymore. In short, the Highwayman line of music is a category (still very much alive today in the indie scene) fixated on love’s curse, on love as freedom longed-for and forsaken, and thus offers itself as a beautiful presence by way of absence. The Gospel speaks in as Waylon’s lover in “The Door is Always Open,” as Merle Haggard’s Father God in “How Did You Find Me Here?”
More than this, we will look at where this tradition has carried into the last decade, in both Americana-influenced bands and artists such as The Sadies, The Jayhawks, Slaid Cleaves, Bill Callahan, Richmond Fontaine, and Chuck Prophet, as well as its mimickings and sprawlings into the world of independent rock’n’roll music, with bands such as Wilco, Phosphorescent, The Walkmen, The Antlers, Dawes. The depths are endless…
Join us at 2:30 (Breakout Session B) on Friday, April 20, grab a Bottom Dollar Honkytonkicana Mixtape, and listen with us to some of the songs from this tremendous legacy. We will talk about how they evoke for us the honest constraints of human love and the wild freedom which we so heartily long for–and those selfsame ones graciously given us in Christ.