I’ve had a rough year. I
had two dogs die, my house has needed some expensive repairs, and my habit of
closely following the news has turned into daily exposure to toxic waste. We
all crave simple comforts in difficult times, and I’ve fallen back into an old
habit: when I’m in the mood to read comforting trash, I reach for Tom Clancy.
And after the current bender, I think we should talk about him a little.
Right now, through time and
space, I can hear the question you’re asking yourself: why do I care
about the work of some hack writer of right-wing airport trash who’s been dead
for a decade? And that’s a good question, one I’ve been wrestling with
inside my head for a while now. I have a few solid answers: first, because the
work of said dead right-wing hack writer really does provide a perfect
encapsulation of one of the dominant forces in our dyspeptic,
sliding-through-disasters-towards-even-greater-disasters political system, and
to understand that is to understand another corner of the current ongoing
shitshow. Tom Clancy’s books are by, of, and for Boomer Dads, and if
understanding the mind of the Boomer Dad isn’t sufficient to understanding what the hell is happening in this
country, I think it’s at least necessary.
If The Bottle Rockets
sags on its back half, it at least ends on a strong, if depressing, note. “The
Lonely Cowboy” is the Rockets in full short-stories-about-small-towns mode, a
character study about a man who feels like he’s living in the wrong time.
There’s an almost rider-on-horseback swagger to the song, but that can’t really
hide the crushing desperation of phrases like
Sometimes he goes down to the local theatre And watches pale riders on the movie screen At times it seems so unbearable and unfair He just falls apart at the seams
This is strong stuff. It’s a rare Bottle Rockets song
written by other members of the band (Ortmann and Parr), but it fits in
seamlessly with the rest of the band’s work, and Henneman fully inhabits the
character he’s singing about. If the Rockets’ small-town mopers can drag
sometimes, this one works really well because it’s so specific; we’re hearing
details about the suffering and interior life of a particular, well-drawn
person, and that makes all the difference (contrast this with the universal
dreariness of songs that just focus at the town or even regional level and say “this
sucks”). No instrumental pyrotechnics on this one, no flashy drums or guitars,
just raw competence that conveys weariness without being wearisome. A damn good
end to a damn good album.
The combined version of The
Bottle Rockets and The Brooklyn Side currently
available on Spotify contains some bonus tracks, but I’ll be setting those
aside for this project, since they’re mostly demos of songs that have already
been covered or will eventually be covered. So that’s it for The Bottle
Rockets. But it’s not time for The
Brooklyn Side quite yet; first, watch for a longer entry about another
high-profile Henneman project that was going down at about the same time.