Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
I've slept a night in Chris Bathgate and Graham Parsons' lake house when neither of the Ann Arbor-based songwriters were there. It was in late April of this year and both were out on the road playing shows, as they're likely to be doing most of their time - wearing their tires and themselves down in equal measures. The house sits on the back of a glorious lake, in a neighborhood that's squirreled away off a gravel road that's got no streetlights jammed into its sides. It's a little speck of a place, in a dinky town just outside of the city's limits. We happened upon this abode when another of their roommates, Jeremy Quentin of Small Houses (who you'll be hearing here in a few months), invited the entire Barnstormer posse by for meals and sleeping. There would have been canoeing had the weather been less brisk, but we knew that there was a canoe there and there were threats of jumping into the lake at one in the morning, but nothing ever came of the threats, likely because of the incredible late night pasta feast and all of the Labatt that was happening. There were men sleeping in every corner of the place -- in every spare bed there was, on cots set up in the living room, on a van seat in the same place, on couches and floors. The kitchen was overflowing with used spoons and forks, the plates piled high and over the sink, the cupboards wide open, as if the place had been raided by bears in the night. It was a cozy place to rest and too soon the morning came along with Quentin's French Toast and breakfast potatoes -- all served on the newly rinsed off dishware, accompanied by some freshly brewed coffee. It was in the morning that you could tell some things about this house and what it might do to influence two songwriters like Bathgate and Parsons. It also could go so far as to make clearer how such different writers could get such different things from their different spots in the house. In the bottom level of the house, where the kitchen and den are combined, there is a wide look at an awe-inspiring body of water. This early morning showed the surface of the water to be as calm as could be and the sun shone lovingly down upon it, throwing silent massages into the cold drink. There is a banged up old piano in the corner of the room -- something that might have been rescued from a crumbling schoolhouse that had been deemed unnecessary -- next to a turntable on the floor, with a small stack of old vinyl records leaning against a modest bookcase. This morning brought the playing of Joni Mitchell's "Blue," as folks stirred to the arousal of their noses and a need to piss somewhere. It seems that this is the sort of morning that Bathgate would rise to, or choose to if there was any choice to the matter. He would stretch and itch the places that needed to scratched, or vice versa, as he gingerly grabbed one of those cups of coffee, cupping it with both hands, and then standing by those windows in the back of the house for hours maybe, just looking. He'd curiously wonder what was going to be made of today, what kinds of things he was going to have to deal with that he wouldn't want to have to deal with. Within those thoughts would come the needling fears of inadequacy and not being able to handle whatever the next 16-20 hours might have in-store. It all might be too much to bear. Bathgate reasons within himself with a melancholy that burns of the pain that comes with skinned knees, but which lasts for decades, like last kisses and the smell of her hair, the scent of her walking by. The characters in Bathgate songs are wounded and they've swelled with moonlight and cheap wine. They've been questioning themselves and where they fit into the whole scheme. It's contemplative and arduous. It's necessary and it comes and it goes in regards to severity. Parsons' music comes from inside that man who seems as if he's pleased to find a fishing or swimming hole, wherever he may be, a man seeking out ice cream on every single hot day. His room is where I crashed and his mattress lies on the floor of his small room, with some Tom Robbins books and empty, letter-pressed CD sleeves scattered off to the side. It's the room of someone who's not there that often, doesn't really give a shit about sleeping too much or a little of both. Parsons, with his Go-Rounds, makes music that feels inspired by the Byrds, Pink Floyd, Freddie Mercury and the feeling of driving down a slick highway at 70 miles per hour in a pouring rain and suddenly feeling your vehicle start to hydroplane. We're not really sure where he sits in the lake house to write. If there's a haunted woodshed out back, that might be the place or else he might just be one of those people that could have been talked into jumping into the lake at one in the morning, with the air temperature resting at a chilly mid-40s-degrees -- with the ideas coming to him during those rushes, during a fight against hypothermia. Then again, we could have everything completely backward.