Lyrical Miracles: Jim White

We all like things (like art, commerce and Pop Tarts) but why we like them specifically is not so simple a fit. You may like Pop Tarts because they are toasts slutty cousin. You may like art cause it allows you to view nudity and stare at it like its gonna spit money… but still come off as cultured. I don’t know why you like commerce. That is soooo you.


So….Music. I like music and likely a lot of the music you like. But we may like it for different reasons.


Some people hear music and sway their hips to the ‘to’ and back to the ‘fro’. They call it dancing, I guess. Crazy kids.


Some people like swishy, swirly sounds and endless jams to make their drug taking seem reasonable.


Some people like it loud. Some like it quiet. Some like it by Billy Joel. I don’t understand people.


And some prefer good diction (or great slurring) so they can get to the heart of what the hub bub is about for 3 minutes and 33 seconds. That’s me.


That is what this blog is / was / will be someday, Johnny….about: Words on Lyrics. Sometimes I even do it. Sometimes….well…. I got kids to feed (by kids I mean addictions and ego). This blog is almost a year old now. I started it to keep from losing my mind while I made a record. My mind never recovered, but the record sold.


So I decided I wanted to get back to the garden (as it were) and talk about some songwriters who really move me. I will avoid well trodden ground (Costello, Cohen, Dylan…the subject of the very first blog) and pick out some smaller stars that are the suns of my personal planet. These are my Lyrical Miracles.  These are the artists whose work keeps me ever into the fray of trying harder to reach deeper through words.


I don’t know where I first heard his name but I know where I first heard him. As is my habit, flea marketing and pure grace of good luck. I found his first record, the impossible named ‘Wrong Eyed Jesus! (The Mysterious Tale Of How I Shouted)’. The record LOOKED weird. And it was. Brilliantly so.


Contemporary Southern Gothic, using all the ghost and strings of the American Folk Tradition, but in the hands of a mad King. A visionary, though I doubt he would cop to it. A swirl of styles from crazy funk to ghost whispering.


What really got me was the writing. The words he chose. Many writers set themselves a high p[lace at the table, high enough that you can see the trials and tribulations of your fellow guests and can pontificate, even if for the greater good. Jim’s words were eternally from a different place: defeat. He gets killed every other song. He mourns his killers.


Not to portray this record as a downer. It is absolutely life affirming. I don’t say that simply. It was for me.


Jim Whites work went well beyond this record, so far just this far from mainstream. His next records as solo artist were equally effective (‘No Such Place’ & ‘Drill A Hole In The Substrate And Tell Me What You See’ as well as his work with Johnny Dowd in Hellwood and with Mama Lucky on the ‘Mama Lucky’ record.


That is who he is. This is what he does.


I leave you a link to a video, third song off of the ‘Wrong Eyed Jesus’ record called ‘Still Waters’:


This is a story about a cursed man, dressed in Appalachian folk attire but clearly from today and perhaps tomorrow. Certain lines within this song slay me. The first verse ghost story, where the NY Girl sees the shadow watch him as he sleeps and disappears. But the shadow stays. It’s a very small, very brilliant bit of Poe, this whole track.


The second verse where he ‘tangles with some sailors’…. and brings about the end of every soul on board. This is a story that just drips with dread. It is the protagonist…who feels in every way like a doppelganger of the one singing it….


This song…to me…is weighted with regret. It is not simply horror. You can see deeper past the folk tale trappings to see feel that this curse was earned, and in this world, not some lofty creative one. It is also completely sold by Jim weathered vocal on the song….almost sleepwalking through these scenes as it becomes obvious that he owns this fate.


The last two verses bring us back home to the South and a door opens and one closes. And we have learned nothing.


Well I was shacked up down in Mobile
With a girl from New York City.
She woke me up one night to tell me
That we weren’t alone.
She said she saw the ghost
Of a woman staring at me.
I told her not to worry,
But in the morning when I woke up, she was gone.

So I headed on to Florida where
I tangled with some sailors.
And as I lay bloody on the wharf,
I cursed the ship they sailed on.
Wouldn’t you know, twenty four hours later
That ship sank into the ocean
Disappearing like an unwanted memory
Beneath the waves.

I guess it’s ’cause, still waters run,
Run deep in me
‘Cause I got this crazy way
Crazy way I’m swimming in still waters.

And I was woke up just before dawn
By an old man crying in the rain.
He was drunk and he was lonely
And as he passed by he sang a hymn.
And as I lay there listening,
Well I almost joined him in that song
But instead I just held my peace,
And waited ’till that old man moved along.

Then later on that day about
A quarter mile out of town,
I found his body hanging in
A grove of pines, swaying in the wind.
And as he swang that rope sang another hymn
To Jesus,
And this time though I don’t know why,
I somehow felt inclined to sing along.

I guess it’s cause, still waters run,
Run deep in me
‘Cause I got this crazy way
crazy way I’m swimming in still waters.

Yes and there are projects for the dead
And there are projects for the living
Thought I must confess sometimes
I get confused by that distinction
And I just throw myself into the arms
Of that which would betray me.
I guess to see how far Providence
Will stoop down just to save me.

And it’s all because, still waters run,
Run deep in me
‘Cause I’ve got this crazy way
Crazy way I’m swimming in still waters.


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