The Accompaniment of Trashcans and Ashtrays
I love a million things about my wife, Katie. Here’s one: a few days ago, over morning coffee, she asked me, “So, what’re your favorite records of the year?” She knows I love list-making, as silly as it is. She also knows I’m tangling with this novel I’m working on, and it was almost as if she were giving me permission to take a break from it and think about music.
Katie and I had our twelfth anniversary yesterday and many of my earliest memories of our relationship circle around music, the tapes we played in my Volkswagen Fox as we drove from Brooklyn to Austin in 2001, five years before we were married. No More Shall We Part by Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and Ease Down the Road by Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy were our constant companions on the road. Then there were the CDs we played on the cheapo boombox we kept in the window of our first Austin apartment: Tom Waits’s Alice and Blood Money had just come out; we’d discovered Songs: Ohia’s Didn’t It Rain at Thirty Three Degrees; and we’d checked out our first Townes Van Zandt disc, No Deeper Blue, from the Austin Public Library. We listened to those albums as we sat down by the creek in the yard under a big live oak, smoking hand-rolled cigarettes and talking about places we’d like to go and things we’d like to see. “Lover’s Lullaby,” track 11 on that Townes disc, was our wedding song in 2006, and we danced to it again in our kitchen in Mississippi yesterday, as our kids—seven and four—blew raspberries and made fun of us.
Afterward, Katie fixed the sink in our new old house, and after the kids busted our chops about brushing their teeth and brushing their hair and about getting dressed and finding their shoes, we drove from Oxford to Water Valley for lunch at a diner. On the way there, we listened to Teardrop City’s It’s Later Than You Think. It’s my favorite record of the year. It’s Katie’s, too. It was our version of church, a short service in the car where we sang along and tried to brainwash our children into believing what we believe: that this record is a masterpiece. Also: to forget how they feel about Panic! At the Disco (has an exclamation mark ever been more annoying?) and Lovelytheband and to just generally get right with the gods of taste.
Teardrop City is an Oxford super group, featuring Tyler Keith of The Neckbones, Laurie Stirratt and George Sheldon of Blue Mountain, and drummer Wallace Lester, who has played most recently with Reverend John Wilkins and the Como Mamas. A classic the first time you hear it, It’s Later Than You Think walks the line between punk and classic country and girl group underground, the kind of record that can take an old song like “You’re Running Wild” (made famous by the Louvin Brothers, written by Donnie Winters and Ray Edenton) and make it feel like a Jim Thompson novel in miniature. Keith, Stirratt, and Sheldon trade off singing duties, allowing for the album’s drunken tenderness. This is a band that bundles up their desperation and gets to work. The cover photo, by Lester, is a parking lot seen through a cracked windshield. It’s an image that amplifies the album’s concerns with breaking your ass just to survive.
Over lunch, Katie and I talked about It’s Later Than You Think, which was just released in early December. It’s a perfect record for now—it is later than we think, in every way. We talked about how we couldn’t have seen this future in our early twenties in Austin. We talked about how it’s crazy that we’ve lived in Mississippi for a decade, about how quickly our kids are growing up. The Jim Ridley line that I wrote about in a previous column, his beautiful notion that “you can find your voice by loving things”—that’s absolutely true. What’s also true is that you can build your history by loving things. We’ll always have Townes and the little creek in our Austin yard and those hand-rolled cigarettes and the dream of what was to be. We’ll also always have this, the car ride and the lunch and the good sweet talk; this album will always, forever, mean that. It’s fitting that Teardrop City covers Jim Mize’s knockout “This Moment With You” as the second-to-last track on the record, Stirratt’s voice aching in a way that sounds like how these very moments feel.
On the drive home, we listened to songs from Alejandro Escovedo’s The Crossing and Courtney Marie Andrews’s May Your Kindness Remain, two of my other favorite records of the year. Katie’s spent less time with these records, and I was playing her some of my favorite songs. When Escovedo’s “Silver City” came on, my son asked if it was Bruce, and Katie and I felt true happiness. Bruce. He couldn’t have known of the link between Escovedo and Springsteen. It must’ve been intuitive. He’s been listening. I stopped playing the songs that I wanted to hear, that Katie wanted to hear, and I put on the station that the kids like, the one that plays today’s hits. The kids knew the words to the song that was playing. It was terrible, and there’s joy and wonder in that, too.
Here’s a playlist I made with some of my favorite songs of the year. (Teardrop City isn’t on Spotify, but you can find their album here.)
“The Accompaniment of Trashcans and Ashtrays” is a part of our weekly story series, The By and By.
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