David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 143: Dr. Dog (The Rabbit, The Bat, And The Reindeer)

May 9, 2022

Pop music should encourage nostalgia. If it is any good, it automatically takes us back in time. Few bands cook that belief into their DNA, however. The Band did it. And as fate would have it, I accidentally stumbled onto a more modern artist, Dr. Dog, who did it. I can't remember why I bought their 2008 Fate (still the only music I have ever purchased from them), but I quickly played the CD to death.

I was immediately hooked by what seemed like a feel-good aura steeped in nostalgia.  The song titles themselves lent themselves to nostalgia: "The Old Days, "Army of Ancients," "100 Years," "The Ark," and "Uncovering The Old." The cover depicts Bonnie & Clyde in an old-time woodcut one might find in every Old West tourist trap across America. A 19th-century newspaper serves as the lyric sheet, with the band photographed in black and white in front of a train engine. It's as if the band is, well, The Band.

The catchiest of all the songs was "The Rabbit, The Bat, And The Reindeer," an apparent signature fuck-off to a relationship. Behind the clinking high range piano is some dark bitterness: "well, I don't want a thing to do with your kind," sings Scott McMicken, in the opening, "and I ain't got time to kill on your dime," he continues, voice cracking. "You ain't what I call a friend/I wouldn't even if I could pretend," he proclaims at the end of the initial verse. If this CD had been released in 1985 instead of 2008, who knows how devastated the song might have left me?

As it is, the song initially scampers about, like a rabbit in a field, accented by crisp plucked guitar chords and delicate background "ahs," sucking the listener in with a breezy melody that obscures the recurring dark lyrics. "Should we pretend that it's the end/Are you my curse or are you my friend?" asks McMicken. With wonderful wordplay, the song turns on the old-fashioned word "hitch," "And if we got hitched to the end of the road/Will you be there to carry my load?"  Marriage as destination? Divorce as dead end?

Whichever, it is a hell of a load. As the tempo increases, McMicken unloads his baggage with no intention of giving it away, each line spilling out of his hobo's knapsack faster than the previous line:

"I'm getting it back with that terrible feeling/

My vision is cracked but it looks like it's healing/

I'm getting it back like it's four in the morning/

When the sun only shines 'cause it's been given a warning/

I'm getting it back with the rest of the leap year/

Keeping the rabbit, the bat, and the reindeer/

I'm getting it out whatever I got to keep in."

The potential symbolism of these three animals leads to some humorous discussion on Dr. Dog fan sites (the prevailing sentiment seems to be that they represent Easter, Halloween and Christmas, given a post-Valentine's Day, leap year associated with the extra day in February, break-up). It's as good as any explanation I got (and like any smart song-writers, Dr. Dog ain't explaining it).

Still, I like a simpler interpretation: watch me pull this rabbit out of my hat, Rocky. Now a bat, now a reindeer.  What kind of circus has stopped at the end of this road?

Levon Helm told us to "put the load right on me." McMicken unloads so that he can reorganize his baggage. You have the feeling he found his dignity somewhere there between the reindeer and the rabbit.  Probably right around St. Patrick's Day. Is it any wonder the song ends with a shower of applauding hand claps? 

Dr. Dog. "The Rabbit, The Bat, And The Reindeer." Fate. Park The Van, 2008. Link here.

Day 142: The Cure. "Disintegration."

Day 144: Tom Jones. "Delilah."

See complete list here.