Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
The Jenny Owen Youngs that writes about being down on scabby knees begging a lover to change their mind about some aspect of fizzling shared love when she sings, "My name spells emergency/Quick darling make me hurt/I'm begging you on scabbed knees/And swallowing your dirt," is absolutely the same woman whose introduction to us was to express her mutual admiration for the way that Ian McShane curses the dandies as Al Swearengen in the late HBO series "Deadwood."
She loves the worst curse words, loves the grit of his character, of their characters and maybe that's what's actually coming out in those previous words about a woman willing to toss away some dignity before another, to grovel a little and bleed and swallow mouthfuls of the dirty earth. It seems to be below anyone to feel the need to do such a thing, to lower themselves to the floor, where the soles have left behind their muddy markings and their smears. It seems that there are less demeaning ways to take care of those matters, but then again, the heart gets completely messy and violent - and that's when things get out of control. People will do the damnedest things to find control, to stop a nasty spiral from scratching and busting too much apart. It's better if the crescendo is still something that can be listened to and talked over, but that's just not the way it all happens in the songs of Owen Youngs.
It's there where oaths of love and fidelity are sometimes never more binding than two people spitting into their palms, extending them outward and saying, "Let's shake on it. We'll be good to one another." When the chips are down, neither of those people will think back to the night when they slid those mushy and slimy hands together and shook. They'll simply stray, unfaithfully and brazenly, losing themselves in someone else without too much loss of sleep. Owen Youngs goes in-depth in sussing out the bends and bows, the odds and ends of the ways that two people erroneously try to give of themselves, while still keeping the singular person as safe and sound, as protected as can be. There's never any sense in just lying down on the train tracks if the needs not there or that's not what's being asked.
She shows any number of examples of the thin threads that keep so many people together - weak pieces of string that can't survive one half-hearted snip of a scissors' bite. It outlines the difficulties that so many have with figuring someone else out. It's only natural to keep much of yourself in reserve, to dole it out with fearful caution and hesitance. It's also only natural to want to see what lies in those reserves if you're on the other side of mouth, the one pretending to offer his or her all in exchange, while analyzing all of the tells and signs and confounding drifts that are given out. No one's an easy explanation and that's why so much ripping, stomping, snorting, cussing and yelling goes into the beams and walls of relationships started on heavy breathing and no conditions, just feel and trust that we're out of harm's way here. She sings so frequently on the record about many of the physical wounds that are going on, even when they're really just mental and psychological - everyone knows that the difference really is just in the syntax at that point. Mental is physical and there is real blood and pain of crippling proportions.
She sings, "Here is a heart, here is a heart, I made it for you so take it/Battered and braised, grilled and sautéed, just how you like it," on the song "Here Is A Heart," and everyone can feel the black marks from that grill and the rejection - all of it able to be seen and felt from a mile away. The offering and the shun (or acceptance) are doomed to be unhealthy and nasty. She later sings, "There are a lot of words in the English language and I'm just getting started baby/We could be here all night. You sigh. I don't want the pieces, I just want the break," and we're right back where we began, with people never figuring each other out, but still getting sick satisfaction in trying and trying, leaving the wreckage for the street sweepers and the suckers.
*Essay originally published June, 2009