Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Josh Niles at Big Light, Nashville, Tennessee
There are too many ruinous elements of life for men to keep track of. The list goes on and on, though the abridged version of the list is easy enough to comprehend. Still, most men choose to skim over it, ignoring most of it or just letting it all slide enough times that it always catching up with them and they take their licks, knowing that they deserve all of the burns their hide takes. The men that Bobby Bare has written about for decades, are the kinds of men who can't help themselves, or so they convince themselves. They insist that they're at the mercy of the fates - the devil and God tempting and fighting over them eternally. They are almost certain that they're completely screwed in this exhibition, this cruel display of gamesmanship. It never seems to end well and Bare is all too familiar with the results and the aftermath that it brings. He's aware that most of it's a load of shit and you either make it or you step in it. You can try to avoid it, but the ground's covered. The easier way to go is the way that his characters tend to lean and that's attempting to fight fire with fire and try not to get chewed up too badly, the way the devil chews his cigars to death. It's not an effort to sidestep anything, but rather to meet this booby-trapped life head-on and be blown to bits, if that's the way the cookies are going to crumble.
A wonderful take on this effort is in "The Devil and Billy Markham," a song whose words come from Bare's old friend Shel Silverstein and which appears on his excellent new album, "Darker Than Light." Bare sings, "There stood Billy Markham/He'd been on the scene for years, singing all those raunchy songs that the town didn't want to hear/He'd been cut and bled a thousand times and his eyes were wise and sad/All his songs were the songs of the street and all his luck was bad/Now I know you says Billy Markham from a dark and funky place, but you alwas spoke in a different voice and wore a different face/While me, I've gambled here on Music Row with hustlers and with whores/And hell, I ain't afraid to roll those devilish dice of yours/Well, then get down says the devil, just as if you's gonna prayAnd take those dice in your luckless hands and I'll tell you how the game is played/You get one roll and you bet your soul and if your roll thirteen you win and all the joys of flesh and gold are yours to touch and spend/But if that thirteen don't come up then you kiss your ass goodbye and will your useless bones to God cause your goddamned soul is mine."
Markham loses, as we all knew he would, and yet he does so smiling, to the devil's amusement, earning his respect. Everyone knew that the deck was stacked, that the odds of ever rolling a thirteen were non-existent and yet, Markham felt he had nothing to lose. It's the make of any good Bare man. They all feel as if they've got nothing to lose, but they all know that they couldn't be more fucking wrong.
Who ain't afraid to say words like damn and shit and fuck.
Ass on the line.
I've played in tougher games.
I've loved ambitious women and I've rode on wheeless trains.