|Day 201: Mark Olson & Gary Louris (The Trap's Been Set)
November 18, 2022
The spoken interlude inserted into a rock song is delicate territory, fraught with pretentiousness and chorus-interruptus. (I know, I hear your groans.) For the record (how many times can I work that pun into this series?), I am not talking about verses spoken/choruses sung (as with Nada Surf's "Popular") or a kind of low-key spoken intro (David Bowie's "Modern Love") or the whole song "spoken" not sung (the weirdly, wildly awesome "No Anchovies, Please" by The J. Geils Band). No, I am treading into "Nights In White Satin" territory, where a poem attached to the song somehow elevates it to something else, good or bad, but often bad. I suppose in the case of The Moody Blues, the poem adds a dream-like element to a song about nights (and not Knights, as some clueless kids may have thought at the time), but how many times did pop radio cut that section when playing it?
Mark Olson & Gary Louris, founders of The Jayhawks, on their 2009 non-Jayhawk CD, Ready For The Flood, add the risky spoken interlude to "The Trap's Been Set." As if that isn't bad enough, they elevate its risk to put off listeners by adding to the lyric sheet a mid-song parenthetical explaining the spoken part, including where a line may have been missed. There's a tad too much "cuteness" to this printed disclaimer: "the following passage will be rendered in the spoken word, making it hard to believe or hardly believable to the consumer--you decide."
Honestly, since only fans of the duo would probably "consume" this CD, the risk is non-existent. But, they don't make it easy. The disclaimer goes on to tell us that the band shared memories of first kisses because of the spoken line "I saw her first in the cattails." The mix-up in pronoun between the disclaimer and the actual lyrics seems the least of my concerns. After all, there is something more sinister than the euphoria of a first kiss: "'Cause I saw you first in the cattails/and then hate and fear/I never knew what hit me."
Really, guys, the damn disclaimer on the lyric sheet is much more irritating than the spoken interlude. Without it, we are left to connect the only "refrain" of any kind, "I'm an old and angry man/can't you see the trap's been set," sung with Louris and Olson's spectacular harmonizing, to the spoken interlude. Because of that minimal association, Olson's sermonizing sounds like the reverie of an old man, a memory of youth, love, and regret.
I include a live version of the song at the bottom, in part because it is hard to find the CD version on YouTube, but more so because it showcases their incredible vocal talents. And maybe because you can see the "old" men. (For the record, Louris always looks like that; it is Olson that appears older at this point).
I wish the spoken interlude would clarify the trap, unless Olson's monologue is the trap. Coming at the end of a CD full of crisp songs that remind long-time Jayhawks' fans of the duo's chemistry, the trap may have been to keep leading us to these cattails, to the "minefields that shout," and a "great speckled bird," hearkening Johnny Cash, George Jones, Roy Acuff, and Lucinda Williams, who all recorded versions of the hymn, "The Great Speckled Bird."
If the whole point here has been to lead me to a religious metaphorical ending (to the song and ostensibly the CD, although of course corporate overindulgence led to two extra tracks that do diminish the final image of that great speckled bird), then I guess I fell into the trap. As I get to be more and more of an old and angry man, maybe I should pay attention to Olson and Louris and get ready for the flood.
Mark Olson & Gary Louris. "The Trap's Been Set." Ready For The Flood. New West Records, 2008. Link of live performance here.
Day 200: Thin Lizzy "Honesty Is No Excuse"
Day 202: REO Speedwagon "Take It On The Run"
Unfinished list here.