Rough North

Ben Weaver tries to shake his backwoods-gothic image

"Time moves by/Like a dead fish floats to shore."

Or this one, from the same song: "You marked a place in my life/Like a smear of blood on the page/Where a mosquito was smashed/When the lights went out."

Or maybe they're similes—point is, holy humanity! And that second one, it just keeps coming. Academics—people who love words for the opposite reason Weaver does—call this kind of ever-unfolding structure "recursion," and they claim it's proof of "universal grammar." Everyone else in the world hears the words "you," "blood," "smashed," and "out" and conjures more human truths: despair, heartache, anger, loneliness. That's writing of the heart, the glands, the entire gastro-intestinal system. That's Ben Weaver's Midwestern Gothic.

Ben Weaver surveys the neighborhood from his rooftop; soon, all will cower under the iron fist of Weaver!
Emily Keegin
Ben Weaver surveys the neighborhood from his rooftop; soon, all will cower under the iron fist of Weaver!

Weaver's dark tales are also capable of a certain grace, albeit a dark one: "Darling you owe me nothing/Except those abattoir eyes," goes one line from "Like a Vine After the Sun," and the listener is momentarily stunned by the loveliness of the image, and the way the French chases through Weaver's husky growl. And then the listener grabs his tattered, coffee-ringed Webster's Collegiate Dictionary from a dusty shelf, its red cover bleached pink by that dead fish, time (for the listener has learned a thing or two about imagery from this wonderful album, and also he wants to know what "abattoir" means, because it is such a lovely word, and besides the listener has a job to do). And so we learn that the object of his desire translates as "slaughterhouse."

Which is all just another way of saying that expectations are nothing to get attached to. Weaver might do well to remember that next time he worries about the image he's projecting, or what kind of building he practices in ('cause casket factories are cool, and good luck trying to keep them out of articles.) It's like something Brown once told Weaver about the characters in his stories: Sometimes, all of a sudden, they'll surprise you. "There's something sacred in that," Weaver says. "The more open you are to having faith and trusting your writing—you just know that it'll all be okay."

Well, listeners are like characters, and they'll surprise you, too. This listener's final thoughts: Ben Weaver has rare talent. He doesn't keep severed hands in jars. Paper Sky is his best record. And he's right; it'll all be okay.

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