Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Birds & Batteries' "I'll Never Sleep Again" is the part of the evening when those at the dinner party are gathering their coats from the bedroom, where they were tossed onto a bedspread hours earlier, and are lingering near the doorway, thinking that it must be time to get going only because everyone else is shuffling so. It's also that part of the evening that feels as young as it ever could be, ripe with the flickering, rare magic that could turn it into a long one, one that would require a hearty sleeping off and nursing the following morning.
The empty glasses are being clinked around in the kitchen and leftover food is starting to be wrapped up by the hostess. Michael Sempert is singing, with his Tom Petty-meets-Randy Newman-meets-Michael Stipe way, "I'm not tired/I'm alive/And I'm wonderin'/How to stay that way/Cause I was young once/I could be young again/I'll cast out in a small boat with wooden fins/I'll never sleep again/I'll stay up all night, just to stay alive/And I could take a late walk to soak in the country sights/Past the old docks/Past the harbor lights/And under rusty fishing boats, rocked through the night/I'll never sleep again," giving us a frozen moment where a lot is coming up all at once and he's staring into one of those ungodly long/ungodly short evenings and thinking to himself, "Let's see what's inside the ribcage of this thing. Hand me my knife, if you would."
He claims that the song is a "post-flood ballad about insomnia and loneliness," and yet, it's seems to be about so many more things, including mortality and maybe how immortality is kinda like insomnia. He doesn't go directly to that line of thought, but it's something that Sempert could easily connect the dots on and if he did, there would be all kinds of new worries and theories associated with it. Would that be something that anyone would want to be involved with or would you just abort in your 80s or 90s like the many others, feeling that you had gotten your money's worth? One of the San Franciscan band's songs, "Strange Kind Of Mirror," came as a reaction to watching a best friend at his wedding and taking a close look at how similar they were. Sempert sings, "We can only see ourselves and it's a strange kind of feeling/…You remind me of how bad I can be/And it's a strange kind of mirror/…You remind me of how good I can be/And it's a strange kind of mirror." It's an ode to friendship and the peculiarities involved with what bring and keep people together through the years and Sempert, along with bandmates Christopher Walsh, Jill Heinke and Brian Michelson, take such great care with the presentation of these ideas. They sound as if they've been quietly waiting to speak, whenever they felt that the room was listening, that things had died down enough to be appreciated.
*Essay originally published September, 2010