David Fleming
It's All Academic   www.davidflemingsite.com   
Day 96: Miracle Legion (The Backyard)

July 31, 2020

It's a Friday night. I've got my glass of scotch. Sue me, but I am taking the easy route again.

As I did with Day 84 (Aimee Mann), I choose to write about one of a handful of songs that saves my life.  I should be able to close my eyes and crank this out.

Miracle Legion's "The Backyard" is testimony from my past, more so than other songs featured through this series.  "The Backyard" means late nights circa 1985 at The Foxfire in Sunnyside, Morgantown's bar district. The song means a line of shot glasses across the bar top, sometimes emptied of schnapps, sometimes with dregs of whiskey. The song represents bad poetry, interesting dialogue, great heights, deep lows. It's unrequited love, unrealized potential, and unknown future.  More about all of that in a minute.

On days when "The Backyard" beats out Mann's "Deathly" (or other songs) as my favorite song of all time, think nostalgia squared. I can't help but remember good and bad times from my WVU graduate school years as I listen to a song not clearly presenting its memories as good or bad. Either way, when "The Backyard" was released in 1984, Mark Mulcahy sang about a time long past for him: "The world was so big/and I was so small/your voice was always the loudest of all," Mulcahy sings over and over as part of the chorus.

A 58 year old man in 2020 thinks of himself in 1984 through a 22-year old (?) singer thinking of himself in 1974 (?). (The questions come because Mulcahy and Miracle Legion remain obscure enough -- talk about injustice -- that I don't know his birth year.) 

I have spent many a nights with glasses of scotch trying to ascertain the narrative in "The Backyard":

"Think it was the hottest day of the year/

even still we started fires with the embers/

sweetest man held on at the top of the hill/

sweetest lady held on to her memories." 

What is going on with this evocative opening scene? Is this a game of "king of the hill?"  Man wins and gloats? Lady loses and doesn't forget? Is the fire metaphorical, the man and woman holding on to something more sexual?

For the second verse, Mulcahy's narrative gets even murkier:

"Yesterday we cut down the apple tree/

cracking wood made my little heart tremble/

I wish I didn't have to try so hard/

but a little boy's got a lot to remember."

Father and son moment? Is the cracking wood a reference back to the fire-building?  Is a boy's memory here something not to hold onto, as opposed to the lady's? 

In between both of these verses, there is that alluring chorus, guaranteed to make me teary-eyed every time: "your voice was always .  .  . the loudest of all."  For the extended bridge, I am not even sure the song changes chords (here's where my lack of musical theory kills me), just guitarist's Ray Neal's non-stop jangled onslaught, a breath of fresh musical air coming at about the same time Peter Buck is working on the same kind of killer hooks half way down the Eastern Seaboard. Regardless, the bridge's intensity builds, sucking me in more and more to a lost past, maybe Eden-like, maybe not. After all, what are we to do with that apple tree reference, boys and girls?

For the third verse, nostalgia fully blooms, as Mulcahy's narrator clearly looks through the past darkly:

"I loved the days I spent with you/

and I still have all you could offer/

the backyard looks so empty now/

then I think of her, I think of her."

In that metaphor of the backyard, what all has our narrator lost: the you? the her? Are they one and the same? I don't think so. I think the "you" is what keeps him chained to the past, and the "her" is what left while he stay behind. It's just a theory.

{So I hate doing this blog: I don't know if it's true but I just found a site that says the song is about Mulcahy's dead brother. Probably true but I'd rather wallow in the possibilities I have imagined for 35 years.}

In the end I can't care. I hear the song and am devastated. I am happy to be devastated every time I hear the song.  That devastation is for my own nostalgia: for a carefree graduate school life when I could sit in The Foxfire and waste a week's worth of wages from Lowe's over booze and bad food, for a love never consummated, maybe never even equal, and a "you" and a "her" that I may still think of occasionally. When you are young, the world is a backyard, but it might as well be an entire continent. In the end, we must shed our innocence and forge a path out of a paradise lost.

I can't even return to my Eden, as The Foxfire shut down long ago, the whole Sunnyside strip torn down in a gentrification of WVU student housing.  It was probably best, as Sunnyside was the origin of many fires after big WVU football victories. Cracking couches made too many hearts tremble.

"The Backyard." Miracle Legion. The Backyard. Rough Trade. 1984. Link here.

Day 95: Johnny Cash "The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea."

Day 97: Bill Withers "Ain't No Sunshine."

See complete list here.