County Music Pride is proud to host the world premier of Sid Griffin’s new video “Everywhere,” from his recently released album The Trick is to Breathe.
Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Griffin is widely known for his work with 1980s alt-country/cowpunk sensation The Long Ryders as well as noted bluegrass act The Coal Porters. While both bands are currently active, Griffin has also maintained an active solo career. The Trick is to Breathe, released on Prima Records, is his fourth solo album.
Griffin feels a strong personal connection with “Everywhere,” not least of all as the song’s co-writer. “Written with my pal Greg Trooper, this song is near and dear to my heart. I remember Greg bringing a half-written song over to my Hollywood home and us dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s.” Folk and Americana fans may recognize Trooper’s name as a songwriter whose compositions have been recorded by Billy Bragg, Steve Earle and Vince Gill, among others, as well as credible performer in his own right.
In the most basic analysis, “Everywhere” tells the story of an American GI fighting for his life in the Pacific Theatre during the Second World War. Midway through, the narrative takes an unexpected turn as the GI begins reminiscing about his childhood best friend, Lee, a Japanese-American and the two boys’ shared desire to fight Germans in Europe. He then notes the irony that, once America actually became involved in the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor, he went to fight while the equally patriotic Lee was hauled away to an internment camp.
Musically, “Everywhere” is a delightful blend of the genres with which Griffin is associated. It delivers measured, well crafted Americana/county guitar work, with just a hint of Mountain sound hinting at his Coal Porters pedigree. Its lyrical and narrative conventions are deeply rooted in American folk. The mournful and melodic twang of Griffin’s vocals provides a perfect medium for the song’s somber narrative and themes.
The imagery of Griffin’s video parallels the narrative offered by the lyrics of “Everywhere.” Its series of still-images conveys, in stark simplicity, the reality of daily life at the frontlines as well as the indignities and oppression suffered by patriotic American citizens—who simply happened to be of Japanese origin.
The narrative and imagery of “Everywhere,” both the song and the video, are clearly rooted in the Second World War, as well as the US government’s deplorable treatment of Japanese-Americans during the course of that war. At the same time, the song also obviously stands as a commentary on war in general—in fact, Griffin recounts that he and Trooper wrote the song “at least partly in response to the first Gulf War.”
At its heart, “Everywhere” is a song in the finest traditions of American folk—treating war unromantically and with a stark, often graphic, realism. It should be noted that there is similarly strong, if often overlooked, tradition of such songs in country music. “Everywhere” raises many of the same issues and touches on many of the same themes as songs such as Pete Seeger’s “Waste Deep in the Big Muddy,” Buffalo Springfield’s “For What it’s Worth,” Johnny Cash’s “Man in Black,” Loretta Lynn’s “Dear Uncle Sam” or Tom T. Hall’s “Gimmie Peace.”
It is not often one hears an artist cite someone else’s version of a song he or she has recorded as the definitive version. While confident in his own version of “Everywhere,” Griffin is effusive in his praise of urban folk-rocker Billy Bragg’s interpretation. “The best version,” Griffin says through gritted teeth, “may well be Billy Bragg’s take on the song which appeared on Billy’s Don’t Try This at Home album many moons ago.”
It should be noted that “Everywhere” is just one of several exceptional tracks on a very strong album. The Trick is to Breathe blends original material as well as songs previously written for The Long Ryders and Coal Porters. The original material is incredibly eclectic in its range and showcases Griffin’s abilities not only as a musician but also as a songwriter and a poet. The twelve tracks are so diverse that favorites will largely be a matter of listener taste, but this writer will give a nod to several of his favorites:
“Blue Yodel No. 12 & 35” is a fascinating exercise in channeling the music of Jimmie Rodgers through the style of Bob Dylan (which, Griffin correctly notes, somehow yields a sound remarkably reminiscent of Willie Nelson). “Between the General & The Grave,” is a slow bluegrass piece inspired by Griffin’s reading of First World War poetry and presents a perfect compliment for “Everywhere.” The words of the deliciously esoteric “Punk Rock Club” are based largely on found-dialogue overheard at a SoCal punk show. The tuning on “Who’s got a Broken Heart” shows what a musician can do when he or she knows the rules well enough to deliberately break them. “Ode to Bobby Gentry” reflects on the life of one of the most enigmatic figures in the history of country music.
Among the album’s tracks, Griffin believes that “Everywhere” is especially timeless, a conclusion he finds decidedly bittersweet. “Lucinda Williams once told me heartache songs and anti-war songs will never go of style because there will always be romantic loss and their will always be a war,” he explains. “Sad to say, she was correct.”
(Jon Black is an Austin-based music journalist who shares the stories of musicians and their music from country, blues, roots, rock, Cajun, zydeco, and even punk. Follow him on Twitter @BlackonBlues)