David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 361: Gary Louris (Dead Man's Burden)

June 20, 2024

Why do we need old men and women still making music? For the same reason we need old men and women holding prominent roles in society, in the executive leadership of corporations, businesses and institutions? We need someone to provide perspective that isn't just from learning history, but from experiencing history.

This is why we need Gary Louris (leader of The Jayhawks) and his remarkable 2021 Jump For Joy release. A true solo album, in terms of Louris playing all of the instruments and producing the CD, with very little "outside" help (even the cover is designed by Henry Louris, either his brother or his son). I don't think he had to go solo for financial reasons, as The Jayhawks seem to still be doing o.k.; instead Jump For Joy feels like an individual statement Louris wanted to make about life. An extremely poppy CD, Jump For Joy culminates in the 8-minute long "Dead Man's Burden," which should be mandatory listening for anybody.

Louris will be 70 next year, and so his mid-60s' perspective on human existence is all over "Dead Man's Burden," from the chilling opening,

All the ladies and the gentlemen/

The life force who line up nose to nose/

Just like the hungry rows of Eskimos/

And those of us with ravaged faces/

Rarely laughed and took our places.

to the ruminative closing, especially meaningful to those of us recently retired:

Now I've started down a path uncharted/

And it seems that I'll never be the same again.

The closest we get to a chorus is a twice-sung line about the buffalo, a reminder of how the original "Americans" had a bond with the buffalo, a recognition of "man's" place within the world, not over it, because "it will be over soon/just like the buffalo/we killed the buffalo."

Clearly, Louris, who is incredibly well-read and learned (Jump For Joy includes a wonderful song abut John Updike, "Mr. Updike," while in addition, a recent Jayhawks album is entitled Paging Mr. Proust), is invoking Rudyard Kipling's "White Man's Burden," that, in retrospect, nauseating poem written for Queen Victoria exhorting for British control of the Filipinos. In fact, in the midst of this description of the reckoning of the human race, Louris offers a nice anecdote about his book-wormish life that is likely to be true: "when I was a kid/I wandered off and hid/in the quiet corners of my own/a solitary thief who borrowed words/to make me believe."

By calling us to "lay down our dead man's burden," Louris does his best to elevate this beyond any post-Colonial, or even despite the native American imagery, a specific American judgment. It is not just white America captured as "cowards caught in frozen fear/of delicate and difficult," or being surrounded as "the wolves are circling/round the huddled shivering/and the holy human race/that only knows what's on our faces/when we're tied of pretending."

Louris, who is quite the musical aficionado, delivers the majority of the song through a strummed acoustic guitar and overlaid keyboards that propel the song through its apocalyptic view of civilized humanity. However, after the repeated "down a path uncharted/and it seems that I'll never be the same again," we savor the country-rock guitar licks, weaving in and out of some magnificent violin, that most of us have associated with him the last 3+ decades. And, then, just when you think the burden is done, a lovely organ and piano reprieve carry us away, almost as if our spirits are leaving the carcasses of our dead men.

His CD may have been titled Jump For Joy, but as we get older the jumping's a tad bit harder, with the joy sometimes a bit harder to find also. Still, there is great comfort in what experience, life and learning has afforded us. Don't forget that before you shuffle us all off to the old-folk's home, you young whipper-snappers. And get off my damn lawn!

Gary Louris. "Dead Man's Burden." Jump For Joy. Sham, 2021. Link here.

Day 360: Sniff 'n' the Tears "Driver's Seat"

Day 362: The Moody Blues "Nights In White Satin"

See complete list here.