Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
Doug Paisley ends this session with an ancient bluegrass song by the Stanley Brothers, a journey song of a boy leaving home to get out there and discover himself against his parents' pleadings, which turn to warnings to be careful and not to go astray. They hope that he'll come back to see them, that he won't stay away too long and that he'll watch himself when he's gone. They seem to expect that he'll get his nourishment somehow and that he'll stay out of trouble. The boy at the beginning of the song sounds as if he's not a bad kid, but he's bucking, trying to get the rope off from around his neck and to bust away from the post that he's tied to, or thinks that he's tied to. Once he gets out into that nasty old world that he thought was made of opportunity and gumdrops, he realized quickly that friends, colleagues and love were damn hard to come by, but he kept trying to drum them up, believing that if he kept rambling just a little bit longer, he was bound to break the dry spell. It never happened and the protagonist sings that for years and years, he's "traveled in sorrow." The sorrow deepens near the end of the song, when the boy, now a man gets a delivery from the postman and he explains that he's missed his chance to see them again, he's missed all of his chances and he sings, "But now they're both gone, this letter just told me/Four years they've been dead/The fields have turned brown." He's a person who can go ahead and go home, but there's nothing reminiscent to a home there any longer. It's just a place that used to be home. Paisley, the country songwriter from Toronto, Canada, is an extraordinary writer who takes pains to take us into those gray spaces, those zones where a man knows not where to turn to find his salvation. He looks to the left and he looks to the right and cannot for the life of his figure out what to do to achieve the least amount of hurt and what usually keeps him locked in that one spot is the knowledge that either way he chooses, he'll encounter pain of some degree. Sometimes, it seems that sticking in the current spot is at least tolerable and the hurt can be managed, or easily swept under the rug and contained. Paisley makes us hurt for his aching. It's a beautiful aching, one that you'd trim your tree with, one that you'd say a prayer to at night. He sings as if the yolks of the eggs he just ordered are running all over the place, causing tributaries to spider across his plate, making his toast mushy in the way that he loves. The wonderful thing about the hurt in Paisley's voice is that it doesn't weep. It knows that it's that special kind of hurt that just burrows and turns a man quieter, not sadder. He's already come and gone by that hurt. It's been transformed into the sensation that burns your eyes old and sets in most permanently when your knees have begun to creak, your hair's turned silver and all of your loved ones have started to pass away at an alarming rate. It's the kind of hurt that you've already learned to live with. It's the kind that keeps a man going, wearing the wedding ring he's worn for the last 50 years of his life even though his bride's been in the earth for years already. Paisley's ache is one about perseverance, as he sings on "End Of The Day," "Gonna get by/Gonna get through/When the well runs dry/I'm gonna cross to you/There's no up, there's no down and there's no way around/At the end of the day/Your heart, it is worn/You're a bleeding machine/A ghost hand lifts you up out of your dream/See the sunlight combed on the shapes at the fray/At the end of the day." Sure, this shit hurts, but everything hurts a little as long as we remain right here.
Doug Paisley Official Site