Get ready for some serious liner notes below. :)
For a long time I wanted to write a series of songs about where and how I grew up. I wasn't sure if any of it was all that earth shattering, but I wanted to document my impressions of it if only to exorcise some demons and recall some of the good stuff as well. Growing up in a small town in a rural rust belt state isn't that interesting, but it is a very American experience. For a lot of people who still live in those small towns, they never wanted to be anywhere else, and their existence was idyllic. They fit in and were assimilated. There's nothing wrong with that alone, but of course this kind of thing becomes fairly exclusive at times, and if you're one of the odd ones out, you know it quickly, and you are taught that lesson over and over.
It reminds me of the Bob Dylan quote: "Sometimes people are born to the wrong parents. It happens." I never felt that way, and figure I probably got the right parents, but the wrong place. I knew there was more and I wanted more. It didn't help that much of my childhood summers were spent at our run down old farmhouse as an only child out in the country. Only when I got older and could ride a bike far (and later when I got a car) did I really get some kind of social life and see a bit more of the area where I lived. That clinched it, and I've had a serious case of wanderlust ever since.
Being the odd man out, you become an observer. You don't have a choice, really. If people don't talk to you, you need something to occupy the time, and so I started to study people. I also started to study them because I was so clueless socially that eventually I got the clue that I had to have some semblance of normal social interaction to have friends. So I paid attention to what they said, what was acceptable and what was not, and even copied mannerisms once in a while, such was my desire to fit in. Most people saw right through that, and as people do, still sensed the difference, the "other" in me. This really isn't all that remarkable, either, since it's the story of a lot of kids growing up in such environments. Such kids usually grow up to form rock bands. There aren't a lot of popular kids among the music I love.
In the last couple of years, I also started remembering the bullying and other crud of my childhood. I'd kind of forgotten that stuff, but it really never totally leaves you, and so I started talking about it a little and processed through it in a healthy way. It's way too late to be doing that at my age, but there it is. And of course, that came full circle as I started writing songs about being the backward, unpopular kid.
I also found some serious corollary between being that kid and what's going on right now in 2017. There's a clear push to homogenization that we haven't seen in a while, and although I think most of us who pay attention realize these things come in waves, I don't think we figured on it really happening again (although we should have known). We didn't think we'd have to defend Jewish cemeteries or Muslim doctors coming into our country legally. We probably didn't count on having to comfort middle school kids in schools when their dads get deported. We probably didn't envision an even more divided America than we already had, and a dividing between race and economics that isn't even demarcated along the same old lines. And yet, as they say, here we are. And so "Once Upon a Time in the Midwest", even though it's about a fantasy time, could be any time that some people wish for: a very milquetoast culture where nothing bad ever happens (at least in public or that can't be pushed down) in a ultra-controlled Stepford Wife milieu. Some people now are yearning for that time, a time that never really existed, although they believe that it did. I can say that I caught a slice of both sides: a small town upbringing in a town that really wasn't all that interested in having me. At least that's how it felt. Who knows how much of that was me or it, or what portion of blame should be shouldered by whom. I'm sure I pushed myself out of whatever loop there was simply by not conforming and not knowing how to do so.
I do remember some great times, like getting lost in cornfields or playing in the chicken coop with the one or two friends that I had. Picking raspberries off the bush or peas out of the garden; imagining that our yard was laid out like a town with streets (because it was actually big enough to do that); going up to the second floor of our house that was all painted black and spooky at night; pretending I was a DJ for hours on end while playing my stacks of old records that I got at garage sales. That stuff that you do when you're a kid manufactures you more so than school or even your parents in a lot of ways. Your mind itself makes and remakes you. My imagination was always my best companion.
And that's what I think of when I hear some of these lyrics: the really good stuff. And there was some. There was enough, anyway, to get me by. Enough to get me to hope for other stuff, the stuff I instinctively knew was out there, and eventually found.
And, really, songs like this are for people who know, who grew up with dads who fixed everything because you never had the money to hire someone, or had moms that would make whatever you had work because there wasn't any choice. And if you're in the know, if you lived it (and lot of people have), you remember all the times plans changed because the cash ran out, when the dreams were dashed, when you got a little bit of luck but knew that they universe was going to balanced that out, and something bad was coming your way. There's a thinking, right or wrong, that permeates when you continually get by, but just only. It conditions you long after your situation changes.
My favorite line is in "50's Comedy Film": "Oh I was thinkin' I was in the big time...with my Dollar General shoes, and my Big League Chew". When I was in grade school, Dollar General got in some shoes with Velcro. They were five bucks, and I had to beg my mom to get them for me. And although they were hideous and no other kid in school would have been caught dead in them, Velcro was in and I just had to have them. Not only did I get the shoes, but my mom bought me a pack of, you guessed it, Big League Chew, and I went home on top of the world. I didn't foresee the verbal thrashing I got when I wore what admittedly were pretty ugly shoes to school the next day, and it only got worse when I revealed where they had been purchased. It was my "Coat of Many Colors" moment. But for a little while I was some permutation of cool, at least in my mind.
And that's the whole record in some way: trying to fit in but always missing the mark. But fitting in isn't all it's made out to be in our own thoughts. Like a puzzle piece, you realize it's far better to fit where you go than where you want to go. I didn't write a song about that, but I probably should have. Then again, who wants to end on a happy note?
released March 12, 2017
Lloyd did it all. Recorded at the Lazy Nomad, Aurora, IL from January-March 2017
All songs written by Lloyd Evans © 2017 (ASCAP).
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