‘Til Your River Runs Dry
songs and music by Eric Burdon, 2013
I’m neither a musician nor a music critic so that’s not what any of this is, or about to be. That is to say, my word-swirls and reflections about this CD are gratuitous and unprofessional. I am an amateur, in the best sense of that word. A lover of the genre. The CD came into my hands serendipitously. I was at Silver Platters looking for a movie, not music. But then I saw Burdon’s face with its haggard wrinkly leathery joy and desert wisdom and bright fiery eyes and knew I had to get it, get this CD, and take it home and play it. So I did. And my reaction to it was such that I felt a compulsion to push it all into words, words as they came to me, words as they splashed or floated up to me, drifted down the river of my mind, bobbed and twirled and eddied, so that I might take a stick called a pen and guide them to shore, which is what these marks in the mud are about, and frogs and reeds.
Burdon’s burden is emerald and old and circles the globe. The sky is old and lets drop its water. Water milky with ice and deadly cold and water warm as blood behind the eyes. Water is blood, blood is water. Water tumbles through ravine and canyon like blood flows through arteries and veins. The swimmers pause and leave the water to get some sun. Their bodies gleam. This is water in summer. Water in winter is still water but water that is prone to ice and snow and numbness and death. The sky is old and gray and full of jingling and friction. Thunder rolls over the hills of Greenland and Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land. Control yourself, they say at the office. People go crazy in confined spaces. Water is fluid and has the need of movement. The sheen of water in movement through Wyoming and Blackhouse Burn and Charleville-Mézières. The shine of water in a dream of movement over rills of sand. The shine of water in a glee of dissemination. The shine of water swelling over stone. The shine of water in the eyes.
War is a chronic reality. But it needn’t be. Though weapons feel good in the hands, skin and clay and fur and feather feel better. Wars begin with a line. This land is mine, someone declares. But someone else needs that land to live. They stay. They get killed. And so war is forever the whisper of a frightened man in a ditch or submarine of shell of concrete. The hearts of men beating fast behind the ribs. The excitement of the kill, the terror of being killed. It’s a drug. It’s money. It’s an addiction. Rockets flaring, bombs raining shrapnel. Heads blown off. Arms blown off. Legs blown off. Women and children running in a panic down a street raked by machine gun. A boy drops, bleeding. There is a bright red hole at the back of his neck.
Devil and Jesus
Mike Finnigan of Crooks and Liars plays organ here and the sound has a playful lilt that is a bit off, a bit macabre, a bit wobbly, a bit eerie. That species of giddy disquiet like the way the moon looks when you’re driving late at night and the moon is full and bright and you glance to take it in take your eyes off the road for a second and the next time you look it’s behind a cloud glowing and opalescent. It makes you go funny inside and feel scribbled and weird. That which was lucid and straight is now murky and vague and fugitive. Life is a tumble like that a bumble rumble jumble like clothes in a dryer. Desires for things we know mean trouble but are so strong, so wrong, so magnetically maniacally transgressive they have to be wrestled, worked hard, tied up or tied down or just plain crammed to the back of the closet where nobody can see this worrisome mess. Conflicts so keen, so exquisite, so harsh to soul and bone we hardly know whether we’re coming or going. Is there a yardstick for evil? Burdon’s voice rises to a falsetto, a subtle balancing act. The Devil and Jesus / Controlling my soul / They fight with each other / But I pay the toll. What is the texture of the devil’s skin? Is it like butter? Is it like rain? Jesus walks in the rain. He is followed by a mule. They arrive at the gates of Jerusalem. There is the smell of lightning in the air. Something burning. Something churning. Something wicked this way comes.
This has a slow tango rhythm, maracas and Argentinian romance. Man is an ape in conflict with his own inner stew. Grace does not come naturally to a man. It has to be studied. Seduced. Lured. Carried in his arms, spun, hooked, thrown out. Grace comes naturally to women, but it’s hard for men. So is waiting. Waiting is hard. True love comes to those who wait. But waiting is an art that requires adhesion and faith.
Old Habits Die Hard
The ache of life gets tattooed to the heart. Pain comes in increments, silently, in stealth, during times of intense pleasure. Sneaks up on you. You don’t know you have habits until you try to quit them. Then you know how solid those bars can be. Not all prisons are made of concrete. Some of them are made of meat. Hunger and pain and fear and cocaine.
Bo Diddley Special
Now let me tell you what was so special about Bo Diddley / He had a hand like a plate of fish and chips / He dressed in the most romantic style / With a tartan jacket and pin stripe polyester pants / All the way down the aisle / He rode with his motor scooter around Clearwater, Florida / With his guitar on his back / You know it was square and it was red / And the last thing was the first thing he ever said
Which is an open invitation to ride that Bo Diddley special.
In the Ground
The river gets a little dizzying in its prospect and spirals like a strand of hot DNA into a void carved out of space with a blade of hunger and handle of hard endeavor. No one wants to die. But you can’t live fully without knowing how to die. And that’s the charm of the river. Even when it ends it doesn’t end. The end of the river is the beginning of the river. And thereby hangs a waterfall.
This song has a haunted feeling and melody. The drumming is soft and drools consideration like an eye within. No one is ugly at 27. The mind and body are beautiful. The body accommodates the mind. The mind accommodates the body. But when a certain inexplicable hunger arises, look out. Life dilates into pins and needles. Things get shouted. Things get ruffled and dangerous. Jimi and Jim and Janis and Kurt and Brian and Amy all know. There is a fog that sings in the morning on this old rock of a planet, and Thanatos heals the pain of the albatross.
River is Rising
This has the sound and feel of gospel. The touch of exemption, the search for benevolence. There is a sparkle in these words, and a sense of impending improbability. We are braced for a clash with apocalyptic forces. White water and whirlpools pulling at our inflatable philosophies. Don’t muzzle the river. It may bite you in the ass. Just ask it to carry us into another world. Just let it take us wherever it’s going.
There should never be a punishment for seeking salvation, even in a drug. The road has its severity, its detours and bumps, but no chimera cured a fever, and the spine will tingle as the body turns toward the light. The heart expands when the mind is calm. The milieu of music is a soothing force, and the antidote to crawling is the gallop of a horse.
Invitation to the White House
I’ve heard it said that there is power in powerlessness. One can dream, in other words. The president is an apparition. He is only an apparition of power. The capital is a slash of white on a background of slavery and chains. There is no savior. The saviors are all gone. All murdered and dead. True power resides in not living a lie. “There are times,” observed Václav Havel, “when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight.”
Before You Accuse Me
This song is self-explanatory. But I will explain it. I will accuse it of percussion. I will accuse it of repercussion. I will accuse it of stimulation. I will grant it flotation. I will call it tangential. I will call it quintessential. I will call it providential. I will call it existential. I will bathe it in paregoric. I will construct a metaphor of thread and water. I will hem it with aberration. I will sew it with silk and silver. I will be particular. I will be testicular and perpendicular. I will curl into a river. I will be curricular and droll. I will flail my arms. I will move my legs. I will hew to a wheel, and roll.