Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley and Shawn Biggs
Listening to "Sierra," a deep but arching cut from Cursive's 2003 album The Ugly Organ, on obsessive repeat for the last four days, culminating with a couple more plays on this year's Mother's Day, it lends itself to thinking about moms and pops in a less than greeting card way. It's about joint custody or no custody, irresponsible behavior that leads to permanent responsibility. There are people out there, who no matter how sluggishly and inadequately they trickle through their own sorry lives, when a child comes into the equation, they try to fail less and their general concerns are shifted slightly into the favor of selflessness - again, just sort of.
The estranged father of young Sierra (Cursive lead singer and chief songwriter Tim Kasher bellows it like a huffy dragon impersonating fellow Omaha, Nebraska native Marlon Brando, playing Stanley Kowalski, shouting STELLA in "A Streetcar Named Desire") seems desperate to have more of a relationship with his baby girl, but he's also a man willing to ask the kid - hypothetically maybe - if her mom drinks when she thinks of him. If that's his way of ironing out his troubles, then it also explains fairly clearly how he got into this hot water to begin with. The next line in the song is rather telling though and brings the narrative into a more reformed sort of dressing - to a point that makes the dude not so much of a foolish monster. It still makes him a drinker, but that can be tougher to extinguish. Kasher sings, with slight indignation and some awe, "Or doesn't she need to drink," as if it was part heroism and partly insufferable at the same time. So many of the Saddle Creek crew have opened their mouths to what many a good, hard drink can do for a soul. Their hearts beats aren't muffled thuds beneath a plate of rib bone, skin and chest hair, but the clinking of empty wine bottles and the glug of a pull of whiskey racing the open space and air to get to the opening. They are men who drink - or think and write about the men who drink. There are two sides to all of the stories that Kasher tells in his dark, tumbling way. He's an impartial jury - just a man with a keen set of eyes, a thorough imagination and justness for all parties. He gives the man and the woman, and there are always one of each involved, as much shading and details as he can.
The stories are continuous, related and full-circle, most of the time, taking us around the bends, but rarely into calmer waters. There are few clouds clearing moments when Kasher writes. He has spent a career with Cursive and another, ongoing career with The Good Life, developing so many different biographies that it's hard to keep track. He's taken on the Catholic church and its whole priests touching boys episode, along with a generally atheist take on the blind extent of the belief system. He's taken on the actual songwriting process and how selling personal sadness makes dollar signs. Most of all though, he's made a feeling that could be described as the Midwestern apocalypse. It's not as disastrous as a real apocalypse, because sometimes it's already here. We're always looking at the coasts as the places that are going to be torn to bits first. When global warming really starts to get its teeth and the glaciers are all slush, Omaha is going to be one of the last places swallowed under. At the same time, when the World Trade Center was attacked, the president was hiding out in one of the most secured underground bunkers in the country, right there in Omaha. When terrorists strike - and this could be anyone now - perhaps they will take out Omaha and Minneapolis first. It's not this kind of apocalypse that Kasher and Cursive are all about, just the slow moving one that robs little bits of light and little bits of people every day. It's like slowly making everything seem unsound and risky - even made up. It's having people look down and notice that they're missing a shoe, shrugging it off and going on because there's no way they're going to find that original shoe. There are people in Cursive songs who carry some resentment with them - always some of that - but they cope with the shortcomings. They don't fight $4 gas any more than they fight being completely abandoned by love and stricken sickly by the people who should still care about them. There are copious numbers of people who fight all of that business, who understand that the storylines and rules are thankless and cold, but they don't clear all of the worst. They play Russian roulette with themselves, always, until something finally fires, but they seem to catch enough empty chambers to keep the game going.
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