Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Sound engineering by Patrick Stolley
Oh, the verbosity that Jesse Elliott brings to the dinner table, when he slams down his frosted mug of drink and opens his mouth to reveal the twinkling and gaping smile of Dr. Teeth, a sly bit of dimple beneath an ever impressive growth of beard and an imparting of magniloquent wisdom as he plays it. It's enough to fill a novel, something that could have been turned into Lonesome Dove, or something that could have been turned into The Great Gatsby with more riding, more trespassing, more spurs and saddles and more fresh air penetrating into the clothing on their backs. He misses not a detail - made up or there - giving them all the ability to choose their own colors and their own adventures, only insisting that they be held accountable to the bigger structure that's going on around them. They must - they simply must - adhere to a bigger feeling that's not the easiest thing to replicate.
This bigger feeling is a faint sliver of an even bigger feeling and the maze of these things goes on and on into some foreshortened tunnel, but they stick out when they seem to belong to something that is held together by those various things that aren't of anyone's control. Elliott grew up in suburban Chicago, roundabouts, and he's been reared on the Midwestern diet of humility and easy charm, personableness. Growing up where he did, so close to a wide swatch of land that stretches for hundreds and hundreds of miles in a shape that you can get happily lost in if you don't take any of the main roads, can make you start thinking of the Oregon Trail - ferrying your horses and cattle across rivers and defending your body against potentially fatal strains of disease that weren't able to be combated. It can get you buzzing through the glories of Buffalo Bill Cody and Jesse James and Wyatt Earp and all of the sooners and settlers. It could get you thinking about a past that, if it weren't for the proliferation of chain stores and capitalism, could still be imaginable without movie stages and a major dressing up. It could get you thinking about Guzton Borglum setting out to put four presidential faces into the side of a mountain in South Dakota against any good judgment. It could get you to worship all of that, all of them.
Elliott and the music of These United States challenges you to look to a time and a sensibility that was not made of litter and ambition that was not made out of compost and apathy. It challenges us to look past all of these people that we see around us who are made out of metal, bolts, rusty thoughts, rustier kisses and hugs and cold handshakes. It challenges us to search for loves in the first degree and mostly for any chance that we can be alive again - breathing fire and sucking in the kinds of massive air that might just make us dizzy with the kinds of inclinations that could get us started doing things that we never dreamt of doing. We could get fat on these possibilities, on the resting, inactive ball of yeast in our souls, just ready for us to toss ourselves head-first into an oven to get bloated and golden crusted. It could make us all into bigger men and bigger women - not just in the mid-sections - but in the spots on our bodies and inside our bodies that we could use the enlargement. We could use some bigger things in life that would give us pause to not just get led around through the suns and the rains and the blowing trees as if we were kites or dogs.
Elliott and his country-time band of homies suggest that there are oceans in our shoes and there are many instances where we can't help the earth from moving, we can't help the people around us from doing what they do, but we can help ourselves from becoming the sacks of potatoes just living it off. There was something about all of the people who were going to the West for the first time, thinking that they were seeing the skies differently every time they were awaking in the morning, to new things and new possibilities. They were emboldened with that untainted idea that a better life existed out there beyond the Sierra Nevada. There was gold and not only that, but it was there where you could do it right, again for the first time. These United States still find gold in this tapped out country, in the countryside that's still there.