Song Review: Bloodkin-The Viper

Like a drug sick version of The Beatles  “A Day in the Life,” the opening track of Bloodkin’s latest, “Baby They Told Us We Would Rise Again,” tolls forth the chillingly mundane rituals of quiet desperation carried out by an urban ghost, that successful young man or woman across the street that seemed so nice at first, the one you rarely see anymore. Their lawn has run to ruin and well, people are starting to talk.

Inside that house, one eye opens, slow and painfully. The song begins:

“You wake up your smile is strange,

Crooked with sugar coated pain,

Your tongue’s still stained with the name,

The purple blood of the Viper”

If there’s a song that captures the charred-soul atmosphere of that moment when you realize your life has turned to utter shit, when you know you have to stop but simply can’t muster the strength, not even for something as simple as pulling a trigger, I’ve yet to hear it.

Daniel Hutchens, the groups chief songwriter, sings in the matter of fact drawl of a man who’s tasted the blood once too often, who’s faced the empty hours and seen The Life, the rock and roll fantasy he and band mate Eric Carter dreamed about when they were kids, for what it’s really worth.

But this is no tale of rock star excess or artistic self sacrifice, it’s something far more chilling: the hauntingly ordinary saga of someone who had a little too much fun, who woke one day to the realization that yes, there is a point at which too much is simply too much. Now what?

The details are all but perfect: the cold barren light of an empty kitchen the morning after yet another binge; the sere, blackened grass of a once thriving lawn; the guilt and utter lack of control.

Those details came at a price. Anyone familiar with Bloodkin’s back-story, of the years Hutchens and Carter spent in separate fogs of alcohol and cocaine; of a band that had all but given up the ghost both professionally and corporally, should probably stand in stone cold wander at the fact that a new record exists at all, let alone one filled with some form of hope and redemption.

But that comes later. First the horror:

“So you climb into your SUV,

You go downtown to pay your fee,

Your spine still twists with ecstasy,

Now you’ve mated with the viper.”

The subject of illegal substances has enticed and inspired songwriters since the early days of blues and jazz.  From Charley Patton’s “Spoonful Blues” to Fats Waller’s “The Reefer Song” forward to The Heartbreakers “Chinese Rocks” and” Mister Brownstone” by Guns and Roses, drugs have often been used as symbols of rebellion and outsider credibility. Though there have always been references to the overt perils of the drug life — see Neil Young’s “The Needle and the Damage Done” or the Stone’s “Sister Morphine” — they were more often that not gauzed in a haze of glamour, propagating the myth of “wasted elegance” that so many young musicians have fallen prey to.

But there are also those rare instances of musicians gazing into the eye of the abyss and reporting back with brutal honesty: “Heroin” by the Velvet Underground, “Cold Turkey” by John Lennon, a handful of other songs that nail the details so precisely that, by their very nature, like the very best war stories, they act as a kind of cautionary, anti-tale.

In that light, I would argue that “The Viper” is much closer to a song like Towne Van Zandt’s “Waiting Around to Die” than any of the idiot sunshine hymns of the sixties. “Look” Hutchens seems to be saying, “see where all your bullshit has left us.”

“So you put a shotgun in your mouth,

But you can’t pull that trigger now,

Your hands are dealing for the house,

Now your working for the Viper.”

This is a working class anthem of despair made thrilling by the poetry of the images, the metaphors of marrying, mating with and working for the very thing that’s killing you. No catharsis. A life reduced to “one scene throbbing on and on.”

The songs of redemption that follow on this album wouldn’t be nearly as meaningful without this story, The beautiful, elegiac coda that follows the final verse (there are no choruses here) sounds almost like a New Orleans funeral, or an Irish wake, the horns and organ that have dutifully mourned the life passing through the lyrics suddenly swell and shake themselves to life, if only to announce the inevitable conclusion.

It’s an end Hutchens and Carter managed to escape, through friendship and music. That they could create a work of such depressive, heart broken grandeur is both proof of their long-neglected talents and a reminder that even the walking dead of suburban America deserve their memorials.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: