Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
There's a great sense of loss in the songs of native Iowan Dan Bern. The losses that he seems to sing about are monumental though. He's not hung up on the littlest of things that amount to nothing more than nagging absences. They're not going to find their ways into obituaries. They are not substantial enough. They pack very punch. The things that Bern deals with are those aspects of life that you get wired to. They are the token moments that you find yourself thinking about when you have no right to, when you don't need them around, when you thought they were gone for good, swept away with the rest of the mites and the cornered fur. They are those times, as a happily married man when you think about that girl you thought you loved as a younger man. It's the guy that you were mad for when you were a sophomore in college, but then you got pregnant and, well, things have worked out alright that way too, but there's that weird sensation that is always lightly throbbing and it will peek out every once in a while, just to give you a charley horse when your back is turned. You find that you've not shaken any of it. Or, it's not shaken you. It's making all of the calls and you are nothing but a pawn. Bern sings about a girl named Lucille, whom he just has to know about before he dies. It's this tremendous need that he can't get around. Something was suspended or taken away from him there, to the point where he feels as if he's an incomplete man.
Elsewhere, he sings about the Midwestern dirt that he used to play in when he was a kid. California's his place now, but you don't sing about a thing unless you kinda sorta want it back, right? It's the Iowa dirt and that childhood that are mostly gone forever and there's nothing doing getting it back. Bern presents these yellowed snippets of life that's still kicking, that's still tearing, that might need a shower. These are old parts of time living out some overlapping hours in the now, amongst people who aren't sure what they're going to do with them, just knowing that they're here and they seem to care. Bern sings on "Sky," "All of us are gods or none of us are gods or neither or both or sometimes or sometimes not," and it's an oddly shaken and unpleasantly open-ended thought that keeps us on our toes. It's about all we know that we can believe in.