Jay Farrar, whose birthday was yesterday, was a main factor in Uncle Tupelo, along with co-leader Jeff Tweedy, who went on to bigger things with Wilco. Farrar formed Son Volt which released one must-have album, Trace (1995), and then a couple other lesser records. Farrar put the band on hiatus and then made two very interesting solo albums, Sebastopol (2001) and Terroir Blues (2003); the first of these was the first I heard of Farrar, c. 2002, when my friend Emmy mentioned Sebastopol in passing. I picked it up and it was one of the albums that dominated that period of my listening. Kajsa and I saw Farrar live—in Towson, MD—somewhere after his second solo album came out, and the live album he put out of that tour is a lot like what we heard. It was a great classic rock show.
Farrar is a good songwriter, if maybe a bit more old school with Son Volt than his former bandmate Tweedy is with Wilco, though the latter can be too. In those early-in-the-century years, Farrar was a nice shot in the arm, blending in well on tapes with songs of early-in-the-century Dylan and end-of-the-career Johnny Cash. Farrar, of late, seems to be on a mission to recreate a voice in music, via Woody Guthrie as model, that reflects his commitment to what music can be. All through those dark W. years Farrar was clearly looking for a way to signal opposition to the powers and culture that be. The problem is that Farrar can often be a bit lugubrious. Invective and satire and pithy political apothegms don’t exactly fly from his pen.
Which is one reason I prized Sebastopol so much. As a kind of “experiment with the basics” album, it gave us songs and created a sound that felt right in those up-for-grab times. It had glimmerings of joy, but it was all under a dark cloud. When I went back and picked up the Son Volt albums, I found on each some gems that increased my sense of Farrar as a voice of morose reflection, and that’s what today’s song is. It feels to me like the right choice for this post late in the series because it’s sort of addressing the very thing I’ve been addressing all through this swiftly ending year.
No conspiracy to deny you / Or push you astray / You’ve withstood the streets that time walks / Still treading on a hallowed, gone heyday
I certainly take to heart now and did then, c. 2003, that there was no conspiracy denying me whatever it is I wasn’t achieving, and as for going astray, well, that’s between me and me. But that bit about withstanding the streets that time walks? I liked to think, back then, that perhaps I had, that the past was past and something different would come. Now, I think that the pastness of so much of what I’ve posted about shows me to be once again on those streets, “treading on a hallowed, gone heyday” indeed.
Likewise “the promise of days gone past / Is a foregone situation.” Who would argue with that? If the promise is foregone we can trust that he has not nor will come to fruition. Other cheery formulations, like “A one way talk with only the darkness” and “Fleeing ghosts for all the wrong reasons / With apathetic eyes to the future,” capture some of the feeling here as we wind toward another winter, trying to dispense with some obligatory ghosts.
And at this very moment, on the point of departing where I’m from for where I live (approached by degrees via PA), I can note as apropos: “Homesick along with a hometown stay / Pack it up or pack it in.” I should be packing up soon enough before packing it in. But the idea that a “hometown stay” can be accompanied by homesickness is rather good, showing that our man Farrar knows how little what's actual matches what's virtual.
Let’s just say that the song is a prime example of the Jay Farrar Blues, full of a certain ripe and rueful regret. That sensation rang true to me then and it rings true to me now, though with some attenuation. I suppose that change comes from the feeling that the streets of time I walked then are not the ones I’m walking now. Still, it’s a resonant song to post on as yet another “time” ends.
Somewhere between “the big dream is hollowed” and “just take it for another spin” is the situation of this particular street.