Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Not quite sure what's worse, are you? Dealing with a life as it stands or the anticipation of pre-birth, when there's this naiveté that there's a 50-percent chance of good or bad things there to greet you with a cookie bouquet and an energetic slap on the ass that, after the sound has died down, takes on a crisp sting. You're here and there's no going back. No one's been put back in yet. Florida songwriter John Ralston takes us into the birth canal, into the waiting room, on "When I Was A Bandage," one of the numbers from his 2007 released Sorry Vampire and gives us a snippet of that "waiting to be born," that "can't wait to be born" perspective that's been utterly lacking for far too long. He doesn't stop there though, deciding to chronicle the entire way, like the man who started a journal when he was a day old and entered something meaningful every day on like clockwork, whether he had anything to write or nothing.
Some find it extremely difficult to write anything when they've got starry light in their eyes and their heart's filled with cheery laughter. The good times are rotten for prosing productivity. They're just good for eating cake - as much cake as you'd like - but writing songs or passages for the printed page takes an extra dimension, some dark matters. Ralston finds them, pinpointing them and then finding good uses for them in his straight-ahead rock and roll. It's rock and roll that should be emanating from the Heartland, not the swampy marshes and sandy beaches of Florida. It's all worn out lumber and rusty nails. It's about driving over one of those rusty nails with a car, not once, but twice in the same week, cussing under your breath as you patch another one in the work shop.
He probably hasn't bothered to memorize all of the commandments or the Bill of Rights, but I'd bet the farm that Ralston could recite all of Murphy's Laws. Those are the ones he's intimate with. They are code and there's honor in surviving them time and time again. On "Fragile," the first song of this session, which was recorded late last year, he uses the line, "Little baby birds are weak and dumb," and we're immediately given the privileged view into a gloomy outlook that doesn't even stop at the things that people have to deal with. It's okay to not think on the lighter side of things. It's easier too. He never comes across as being heavy or depressed, just jilted by a world that maybe was promised as something more there in the delivery room or when he was first learning to walk. It's okay to be tepid when it comes to optimism.
Ralston admits later on Sorry Vampire - (and is that title supposed to be an apology to a Bela Lugosi-type for there not being any or enough blood in him for a meal or a snack?) - his thesis: that it's hard work being a human being. He uses those works exactly, so you know exactly where he's coming from. It's hard work for the birds, for the people, for masses. It's just the way luck has us - in a noose. That's perverse, but Ralston might nod and what would make the response so interesting is that we couldn't be positively sure if it was agreement of just his way of coping. If he had a guitar in his hands while doing the motion, it would just be his way. It's how he gets by.