Witness

By  |  January 14, 2019

A lyric essay supplement to our North Carolina Music Issue


 

God is right there, in the brier. Turn the rows, change the tires, bow the heads, feed the mouths. Only the rhythm will yield the harvest. Go on, now. Shoot the hog between the eyes. It’s easiest that way.

Serve them all.

Just like your grandmother’s mother, hunger for the next revival. For white tents and folding chairs. For the anthems and the stillness. For the moment, in reprise, when the organ changes key and everything lifts. For a house not made with hands.

Ache for them all.

Hewn pillars and let the houses hold the secrets. Plug the baseboard holes with Brillo pads. When the pine planks bow, nail them down again. Smoke the raccoons from the chimney. Shoo the blues like mosquitos. Take the paint off with turpentine.

Fix them all.

The body is the temple and you are the living stone. Epsom salt. Horse liniment. Sassafras tea. Camphor. Sweet oil. On your own, you cannot heal.

Prepare them all.

The eager hummingbird and the calm blue heron. The nervous squirrel and the elusive hawk. Even the circling vultures, even the fire ants. Even the black snake coiled around the weed-eater.

Invite them all.

The black walnut husks, soaking. The diligent honeybee hive, bloating. Even the empty

rain barrels. Even the frozen field. Even the starving pack of mangy cats.

Wait for them all.

Cornmeal and buttermilk. Raw okra in bushels. Cellar full of sweet potatoes. Roll the bills and fill the Ball jars. Keep the Bible by the bedside.

Stow them all.

Say to the land for which you are but one of many stewards: Nobody’s free, until everybody’s free. 

This time, the plow will be ready. This time, you will save them all.


Today, Merge releases H. C. McEntire’s recording of “Houses of the Holy,” above, her first new music since 2018’s LIONHEART. About her decision to cover the Led Zeppelin classic, the North Carolina musician writes:

The song is quite divisive in its listener interpretations: some believe it’s simply about Led Zeppelin’s relationship to venues (concert halls, arenas, theaters); some feel there’s subtext referencing more abstract notions of sexuality, innocence, power, and fan worship; some believe it carries a nod to Jimmy Page’s fascination with nineteenth century occultist Aleister Crowley. Certainly it has a mysterious power. Perhaps I was persuaded by the lore surrounding Led Zeppelin—of womanizing, excess, adulation; the song feels very masculine and domineering. I wanted to play around with gender roles a bit so I sang it in a gentle, pure tone—even keeping my original demo vocals recorded years ago. I liked the supplemental context of having a queer feminist (me) as the narrator. In fact, in the instrumental section I buried a talky bit lifted from the song “Stand By Your Man” by Tammy Wynette, which, although an incredible song in emotion and arrangement, comes off as an over-the-top patriarchal endorsement of misogyny. I sent an earlier version to my friend Kathleen Hanna, a feminist activist and artist with whom I frequently collaborate, and she encouraged the lo-fi pop nuances. In an effort to retain its scrappy energy, I kept the vocals fairly raw and the mix as straight forward as possible. I also want to thank Philadelphia-based sound engineer Tommy Joy for planting the initial seed for this cover back in 2012.


Find more writing by and about North Carolina musicians in the 20th Annual Southern Music Issue.

H. C. McEntire is a musician and writer who grew up in the foothills of western North Carolina near the little town of Tryon. She received her B.F.A. in Creative Writing and Women’s Studies from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and currently lives and works outside Durham, North Carolina, by the Eno River with her hound dog, Lou.