Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording by Mike Gentry
Late this last winter, I found myself down in Austin, milling around on a Sunday morning, finding a newspaper and a tube of toothpaste. It's always a bit strange and crooked to see 6th Street not swollen with an unfortunate mess of soused people littering, recreationally cussing and sometimes listening to music as it is during the one sure time that many of us visit the city. While killing the last few hours before heading to the airport, brunch seemed like a good idea and so I called up Joe Pug and his manager/Cubs fan Don Bartlett to join me. We got a table at a diner inside the hotel and each ordered coffee and a cheeseburger. The coffee was fine, but the cheeseburgers were exceptional. These cheeseburgers and coincidentally, or anecdotally, the company kept during the consumption of these cheeseburgers will be remembered many years into the future. It will be a little, "Remember that brunch, dude?" or, "How about that autographed Ryne Sandberg book? So generous, right? And those cheeseburgers and that sassy waitress? It was a good morning, wasn't it?" right on down the line.
You'd think that none of this would be pertinent, when looking at, or close listening to the words and music of Mr. Pug, but it seems that it would be foolish to not consider such cursory events and minor details, even when the man tends to be so set in the serious journeys of himself and others. Without question, Pug is an intellectual thinker and a guy who needs to reach all kinds of clarities before he's able to rest properly. What he may be seeking is unreachable, but, for him, that might be all the more reason to keep reaching for it. The rough road doesn't seem to be a barrier to what he wants to do with his life. The thing is that the rough road is only tenable when there are great cheeseburgers, slow, but steady Sunday mornings, kind hands and sweet-smelling hair placed somewhat evenly along it. He sings, "Here's what I learned from the file and rank/It's a road of bones and you get no thanks," on "Those Thankless Years," a song that could either be taken as discouragement or tough fucking love and appreciation. It's an acknowledgement that everything's hard. You're going to lose money and you're going to hold money - and the same thing goes for love and health, but it will always find a way to get back to the tracks that have been worn into the center of the road. It WILL even itself out and you'll just have to know what to do about that. You're just going to have to know how you want to feel about it.
Pug writes the way we all would like to feel. We all want to feel like passionate beings, like we have something to stand for and something amazing to come home to - those loving arms and those bright little smiles that we made. He writes in a way that moves you to be a better man, to enjoy things more fully and completely - to refuse to get bogged down in the dumps that are so easy to get bogged down in. We'll be thrown from many horses, many bulls, out of lots of houses, many lives, but it's all part of the patchwork that's great seeing from afar, when all of the stitches have been placed where they're bound to go. Pug sings, "It takes all of your devotion to have courage for a moment/The world has bested better men than you/Oh, the world has bested better men than you," on "Hymn #76," from his new record, "The Great Despiser," and it's as if he just handed us one of those aforementioned cheeseburgers and threw an arm around our shoulder.