The A-side is a cover of a Lynyrd Skynyrd song, a band I’ve never listened to. Just took a listen online now to their version of this song, and thought they sounded like early Grateful Dead, a kind of laidback but earnest American vibe. From observing his buddies through life, the songwriter realizes that any man who thinks he’s got it made because of money or a pretty woman is sadly mistaken. He’s gonna fall. That’s the wisdom here. But there’s a funny line in this song; “I’m not preaching to no one, to no one at all.” Why does he say this? It’s a sort of pre-emptive self-defense. “Hey man, you preachin’ in that song?” “No way man, didn’t you hear the line that goes, ‘I’m not preaching to no one’?” “Well hey, man, that’s a double negative. If you say you’re not preaching to no one then isn’t that an admission that you are preaching to someone?” “Aw man, you know what I mean.” “Well hell yeah I know what you mean, but I reckon your subconscious mind used a double negative because deep down you knew you was preachin’ in that song.” “Aw shucks man, well yeah, maybe I was and I didn’t even know it.”
Every Mother’s Son… the title comes from Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Oldham’s penchant for changing the words in his cover versions was held in check here, except for one word in the first line: “Well, I’ve been riding a winning pig for a long, long time.” The original is ‘horse.’ Oldham’s voice is razor thin here, kind of like one of those lonesome Neil Young vocals, and given that he’s backed by piano and the occasional country slide, it sounds even more like Young. Furthermore, it has to be said that the similarity in melody between this and CSNY’s “Helpless” is uncanny. Inter-melodic references aside, the singer of “Every Mother’s Son” first considers his own situation, wondering when his good luck’s gonna ease up: “No man has got it made, if he thinks he does, he’s wrong.” The chorus: “Every mother’s son better hear what I’m sayin’ / Every mother’s song will rise and fall someday.” Sounds pretty preachy to me. One wonders why Oldham chose this song to cover. Maybe it amused him. Maybe he just liked it. But there’s something about his one word change that alters the song’s angle. “I’ve been riding a winning pig for a long, long time.” I mean, what? Now, if one rides a winning horse for a long time, sure, then he’s making money, he’s onto a good thing. But what’s a winning pig? Isn’t that like saying you’ve backed a lemon, a turkey. Or does it mean, that while you’ve been doing well, it’s at the expense of your dignity. The image is comical—Oldham (old ham?) on his winning pig. This upends the lyric thereafter, turns it ironic, and possibly takes the piss out of the whole preachiness of the song. Suddenly the questionable verity of a line like “Every mother’s son will rise and fall one day” seems completely undermined. It still means the same thing, but the rise and fall are leveled by the notion that if you’ve been riding a winning pig, who gives a shit if you fall off, or it dies? Oldham has said that every musician dreams of being a comedian, while every comedian wishes he were a musician. Not true of course, but true enough to trick the eye and quiet the stomach. The great thing about Oldham’s brand of irony is that it lies in the eye of the perceiver. He seems to sing the song with believable conviction, even if he sounds like a singing cat, as the combination of deepening piano chords, louder strumming and increasingly histrionic vocal points to seventies rockstar profundity—not something we associate with Will Oldham.
No More Rides… in context of the full lyric this phrase seems to signal the end of a relationship. Unusual for a Palace song, but Oldham crafts the first and last verse and the chorus as a single line repeated four times. “And I asked could you work it out” becomes “And I asked could we leave it out,” by song-end. When he sings those repeating lines, he never sings one the same way twice. His voice is fragile here, sad, sorry, hurt, like a butterfly with its wings ripped off. “Oh my friends, shall we shed a tear? / Pale saint is fading fast.” In between we get two other verses and a chorus of “No more rides” during which you can hear the clicks and clatters of people doing background things in the studio. The singer asks, “Will our friendship see another year?” and then, “O my brother, is your lover dead?” There’s odd syntax used just before that line; “Wrote a letter it has always said / I admire but I’ll stand on the scene.” This could only make sense considered in light of the music and Oldham’s vocal style. The music is a shifting, tentative unstable thing; “Ever whacked out, ever green.” The song sounds like a broken clock. There’s more of that piano, crisp acoustic guitar, and Oldham’s voice wavering like a flag in the breeze, like two separate flags in the breeze. This is deeply complex stuff, mercurial, like something you can’t quite pick up and hold (water), and it’s proving difficult to describe. The best reference I can think of is a band I once liked called Shelleyan Orphan. Both music and lyrics register that frail, hopeless moment between grasping at straws and missing; when one realizes for certain that there will be no more rides. While it’s a pretty thing to listen to, I can’t imagine that I’ll ever find myself humming it along the street by chance one day. This is one of those ‘in the moment’ pieces.
Both of these songs appear as they are here on Guarapero: Lost Blues 2. “No More Rides,” is Oldham’s own version of a song he’d given to Sally Timms (of the Mekons) for her 1995 album, To The Land Of Milk And Honey.
The next single was Oldham’s tribute song to the Mekons, “For The Mekons, Et Al/Stable Will.”