Finding the Devil Through Church

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I hope everyone enjoyed the first July Saturday night of the year last night! l’m impressed to see that you guys made it to Church this Sunday!

Today’s post in the “Sundays Are For Church” series is about me finding the devil through Church. I know y’all are probably thinking that I’ve up and joined the Church of Satan but don’t worry, I still belong to the Church of Eric. Stick with me through this post and everything will all make sense.

Mr. Misunderstood (I Understand)

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Although I probably would’ve found Ray Wylie Hubbard eventually, it took one misunderstood guy to first make the introduction. Eric describes “Mr. Misunderstood” as being the “weird kid in his high-top shoes, sitting in the back of the class” who was “always left out, never fit in.” While his friends were listening to the Top 40 radio, Mr. Misunderstood preferred his dad’s vinyl, which included artists like Elvis Costello, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and Jeff Tweedy. I figured if Ray Wylie Hubbard was good enough for Mr. Misunderstood that I too should give him a listen and so I did just that. This is how I wound up finding the devil.

“Now, your buddies get their rocks off on Top 40 radio
But you love your daddy’s vinyl, old-time rock and roll
Elvis Costello, Ray Wylie Hubbard, and think Jeff Tweedy is one bad mother
Mr. Misunderstood, Mr. Misunderstood”

Hubbard Goes to Hell

The first time I listened to Ray Wylie Hubbard’s 1999 song, “Conversation with the Devil,” I was hooked. What caught my attention wasn’t a catchy chorus (because it has no chorus) but rather it was the storytelling aspect of this song. It’s a narrative in which Hubbard walks you through a dream he had about being cast into hell and having a conversation with the devil, as the song title states.

As one would expect, he’s confused as to why he’s there. After all, Hubbard ain’t a bad guy. He tries to convince the devil of this by letting him know that he always pays his union dues and he doesn’t stay in the passing lane (this is unheard of in the D.C. area- this man is a saint!) The devil comes right back at him and asks him about all of the whiskey and the cocaine that he’s used, to which Hubbard replies with what is probably one of the best lines in the song, “Well, yeah, but that’s no reason to throw me in Hell, ‘Cause I didn’t use the cocaine to get high I just liked the way it smelled.”

The devil takes Hubbard on a tour of hell and all of the unlucky people who wound up there. He starts by pointing out the preachers, or “clowns” as he calls them, and expresses his dislike for them, after all, they’re always blaming him for everything wrong and they’re hypocrites.

“Over there’s where we put the preachers, I never liked those clowns
They’re always blaming me for everything wrong under the sun
It ain’t that harder to do what’s right, it’s just maybe not as much fun
Then they walk around thinking they’re better than me and you
And then they get caught in a motel room
Doing what they said not to do”

The next stop is the fiery lake, where all of the murderers and the rapists go, along with “most of the politicians and the cops on the take.” Mothers who wait until they get to K-Mart to spank their kids also wind up here along with dads who abandon their daughters and sons and “anybody who hurts a child’s gonna burn until it’s done” in this lake of fire.

If all of these people are in hell, Hubbard wants to know who’s up in heaven, to which the devil replies:

“Oh, some saints and mystics and students of Metaphysics 101.
People who care and share and love and try to do what’s right.
Beautiful old souls who read little stories to their babies every night.”

The devil also makes it clear that “What you won’t find up in heaven are Christian Coalition right-wing conservatives, country program directors, and Nashville Record executives.” Damn.

After conversing some more with the devil, Hubbard decides it might be best to try and suck up to him. He brings up the time that the devil went down to Georgia and played fiddle against a kid and lost. In his attempt to earn the devil’s favor, Hubbard tells him, “To be honest, I thought your solo was the better of the two.” Even if Hubbard was just sucking up, I completely agree with him on this, which worries me that the devil and I might actually get along quite well…

Hubbard soon wakes up from his dream, which he takes a sign from God. He then decides to change his ways including giving up red meat. As Hubbard proves from his own personal experience of meeting the devil in a dream, “Some get spiritual ’cause they see the light, And some ’cause they feel the heat.” I guess he had to feel the heat.

With songs like this, it’s easy to see why Mr. Misunderstood preferred listening to his dad’s vinyl over the Top 40 radio.

Getting to the Devil as Fast as I Can

This isn’t the only time that Eric and Mr. Hubbard have led me to the devil. In fact, they’re currently leading me there now with the help of Lucinda Williams. Due out in August is Hubbard’s next album, “Tell the Devil I’m Getting There as Fast as I Can.” The title track from this album features both Eric Church and Lucinda Williams who help Hubbard sing the chorus.

If you feel like indulging your inner Mr. Misunderstood, some other Hubbard songs that I would recommend are “Snake Farm” and “Drunken Poet’s Dream.”

If you’re gonna be in Washington, D.C. on August 17th and 18th, Ray Wylie Hubbard will be at Hill Country BBQ. Get your tickets here!

Ms. Misunderstood 

Unfortunately, I didn’t find Ray Wylie Hubbard when I was in high school like Mr. Misunderstood did. Instead, I had my own sort of “Ms. Misunderstood” discovery in high school when I began listening to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and AC/DC. Perhaps I had already started heading towards the devil during these years through songs like “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Highway to Hell,” and “Hells Bells.”

Locking Horns With the Devil

I’m not really sure what my affection for songs about the devil says about me but songs about this pitchfork-wielding guy with horns always seem to catch my attention. Church has helped me find the devil on other occasions too including through his song, “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness)” from The Outsiders album. The song starts off with a spoken monologue (Princess of Darkness) that leads into “Devil, Devil,” which describes a man who has just been left by his woman and now finds the devil preying on his mind as he contemplates suicide with “one foot on the platform and the other on a train.” At the end of the song he asks an angel with a “heavenly body in holy jeans” to wrap him in her wings and love the devil out of him. The words “devil, devil” are repeated up until the song comes to an end and no matter what your relationship to the devil may be, you’re sure to find yourself singing along and calling out the devil’s name.

“Devil, devil, I feel you preying on my mind
I got nine things going wrong right now
And her leaving makes a dime
I’m mad as hell, and drunk, and well
Tonight, I guess we’ll see
If devil, devil, you’re bad enough to lock horns with me”

When Church Beat the Devil

One of the most important songs in Eric Church’s life deals with the devil- that song is Kris Kristofferson’s “To Beat The Devil,” which Eric credits for saving his life many years ago. He talks about the impact that this song had on him right before playing this song at The Life & Times of Kris Kristoffersona filmed concert held in tribute to Kris Kristofferson in March 2016. Eric also discusses the impact that this song had on his life and career in a 2015 Rolling Stone article, saying,

“This song saved my life, pretty much. Kept me in Nashville when I wanted to quit. I was broke. I’d been in town more than a year, working at the Home Shopping Network. I remember putting in the Kristofferson CD I had, and that’s what “To Beat the Devil” talks about: being in town and having a rough patch and being a songwriter. The next day, I got a call that ended up leading to a record deal. That one more day meant this world.”

I know that I speak for a lot of people when I say that I’m glad Kris Kristofferson taught Eric how to beat the devil!

In “To Beat the Devil,” Kristofferson sings about being down and out in Music City. This song reminds me of “Prelude: Princess of Darkness” where Eric sings about the people who didn’t make it in Nashville. What these two songs share is that they show you the ugly side of Nashville- the struggling people who are trying to make it and the ones who never do.

“The devil walks among us folks and Nashville is his bride”
-Eric Church, “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness)”

I think it’s safe to say that Church and Kristofferson will agree with the devil in Hubbard’s “Conversation with the Devil” when he said that what you wont find in heaven are “country program directors and Nashville record executives.” As Eric sings in “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness),” – “devil, you can go screw yourself, and then go straight to hell.”

 

Currently listening to: Ray Wylie Hubbard and Eric Church- “Screw You We’re From Texas” (from Eric’s show in Dallas on the Holdin’ My Own Tour where he called Hubbard on stage to sing with him)

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Eric Church: An Outsider, A Songwriter

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This post is the first in a Sunday series I’m starting titled, “Sundays Are For Church.”

It’s no secret that I am a HUGE fan of Eric Church. I’ve seen him in concert six times, one time even going all the way to London to see him as part of the Country 2 Country (C2C) music festival. I’ve got t-shirts, shot glasses, and posters with his name on them. For the past two Halloweens I’ve dressed up as Erica Church- a character I created who is his female counterpart. She also wears sunglasses indoors, an American flag scarf, and can rock a black leather jacket like nobody’s business. She’s also a BAMF so don’t even think about messing with her!

When people ask me why I love Eric Church so much the first reason I give is that he’s a gifted songwriter. I have immense respect for anyone who writes their own material no matter who they are. With Eric, it’s the depth and creativity of his lyrics that put him in a league of his own, especially nowadays. He’s an expert at crafting songs that make you sit back, shut up, and think. His lyrics are clever and filled with play on words, references to those who came before him, and personal experiences. Eric is one of those artists who sings about real things that have happened to him, making it easy for the listener to connect with his music. His songs are autobiographical- when he sings about an experience, you know he’s lived it.

I think that when people only hear the songs that make it onto the radio they’re quick to dismiss Eric’s songwriting ability. If you’re thinking “Drink In My Hand” when you first hear Eric Church’s name, then you’re not fully aware of his talent as a songwriter (no offense to “Drink In My Hand.”) In order to showcase Eric’s talent as a songwriter, I chose six songs that have never made it onto the radio (deep cuts, if you will) to discuss in detail. For each of these songs, Eric either served as the first writer or as a co-writer.

A Man Who Was Gonna Die Young– In this song, Eric asks his wife, “what the hell made you wanna love a man who was gonna die young?” At the age of 36, he’s surprised that he’s already outlived Hank and Jesus, who died at the ages of 29 and 33, respectively. He’s led a fearless life and he credits his wife for saving him from what should have been an early death, keeping him from going under, “when that current got too heavy.” Eric exhibits a strong sense of self awareness in this song that his wild past has caught up with him physically:

“In the mirror, I saw my surprise,
Who knew gray hairs liked to hide on a head that didn’t think he’d live past thirty,
If I make it thirty more, it’s the brown that you’ll be looking for, as you run your fingers through it and say, “slow down, honey””

It’s Eric’s ability to articulate this realization so well that I admire and why I respect him so much as a songwriter.

This song is from his album The Outsiders, which was released in 2014. For this album, Eric and some songwriting friends went to his cabin in North Carolina and cranked out 121 songs (!). A lot of these songs obviously didn’t make the cut as there are only 12 tracks on this album. I’m not sure which ones didn’t make it but I sure am glad that this one did.

Songwriters: Eric Church/Jeremy Spillman

Can’t Take it With You“- Let me start by saying that this is my all-time favorite Eric Church song. I can’t really put my finger on why. It’s just that every time it comes on, I can’t change the song and it’s pretty much been that way since the first time I heard it. Maybe it’s the guitar riff that pulls me in at the beginning and won’t let me go. Or maybe it’s the song’s relatable message. I guessing it’s probably a combination of the two.

It’s a breakup song, you know, that thing that country music is best known for. In this song, his girlfriend has left him- taking not only furniture but also intangible items as well. This is apparent in the song’s opening line, “never realized how much she brought to the table, ’til I went to sit my cup of coffee where the table used to be.” She also managed to take away opportunities for Eric like giving him a chance to make it all alright. It’s these things that aren’t really things that are the hardest to deal with when a relationship ends. The message here is that when two people split, you take with you more than just the physical items, like the “heirloom antique cradle” but also the memories associated with those items, like one day starting a family. Her leaving left Eric with no choice but to do the same (silver lining: there wasn’t much left for packing.)

“That old house is in the rearview,
Riding shotgun is her ghost,
Who says you can’t take it with you when you go?”

Songwriters: Casey Beathard/Eric Church/Marla Cannon-Goodman

Knives Of New Orleans” – Who knew a song about a man killing a woman and dropping her in the Pontchartrain (that’s a lake right outside of New Orleans for all you non-Louisiana geography buffs) could be so eloquently written? Or is that even what the song is about? What’s great about this song is that what’s really going on is left up to the listener’s interpretation. As Eric discusses here, all three of the songwriters on this song had a different outcome in mind when writing this song.

“Tonight, a bleeding memory
Is tomorrow’s guilty vein
Your auburn hair on a faraway sea wall

Screams across the Pontchartrain” 

It doesn’t matter what you think the guy in this song did, you just know that he’s done something and that he’s now hiding out in New Orleans because of it. He repeats the line, “I did what I did” throughout the song, indicating that he’s dealing with some inner demons because of what he’s done. Images of a woman with auburn hair and hazel eyes are haunting him. Who is she? Well that’s up to you to decide. The fact that Eric allows for the listener to come to their own conclusion about the narrative of this song is a testament to his creativity as a writer.

This song is from his most recent album Mr. Misunderstood, which was released as a surprise on November 3, 2015. I saw that it had been released (via CD in the mail) to a handful of select Church Choir members that morning. Thankfully it was uploaded to iTunes later that night and I downloaded it right away. I didn’t even have to listen to a few songs before deciding to make the purchase, I knew that I wouldn’t regret it and boy was I right!

Songwriters: Eric Church/Jeremy Spillman/Travis Meadows

You Make It Look So Easy“- I’m convinced that someone once told Eric Church to go and write the greatest love song he could think of and he came back with this. Throughout the song he lists all of his negative qualities: he has a hard head, he overreacts, he puts up walls, he’s hard to love and even harder to live with. He’s not really doing a good job of selling himself! Yet his wife still loves him all while making it look easy. It probably doesn’t hurt that she’s got a hard head too because if anyone knows how to deal with a hard headed man it’s a hard headed woman.

“You’re my compass when I’m lost, my anchor when I get tossed,
And the right way when all I can do is wrong” 

With lyrics like these, it’s easy to see why this song made my list. That Mrs. Church sure is a lucky lady!

Songwriter: Eric Church

Dark Side“- The fifth song on this list, and second from The Outsiders album, is “Dark Side.” Eric sings about his dark side, you know the one, hanging out in the corner of your mind, as he describes it. Whether or not we choose to admit it, we all have a dark side- we all think thoughts that we maybe shouldn’t and know that if anyone ever heard these thoughts that they would probably have us committed. It’s for that reason that Eric’s dark side “don’t ever see the light of day.”

The song ends with a warning to anyone who ever tries to mess with his son (he now has two). If you’ve ever seen him perform this song live you know that he introduces this song by talking about his family and how he loves them so much that he would do anything for them, even kill for them. This sentiment comes through in these lyrics:

“All you thugs and ugly mugs, dealing drugs and makin’ noise,
You can kill each other all you want, but if you touch my little boy,
You beggin’ for this bullet, Will be the last thing that you say,
Before I
Let my dark side
Come out to play”

Whew! It sends chills down my spine just typing out that verse. I know one thing’s for sure- I don’t ever wanna see Eric’s dark side!

The end of the song also perfectly bleeds over into the beginning of the next song on the album, “Devil, Devil (Prelude: Princess of Darkness),” which also serves as another excellent example of Eric’s ability to write a damn good song.

Songwriters: Eric Church/Travis Meadows/Jeremy Spillman

Over When It’s Over– I had originally planned on just focusing on five songs but I realized that I hadn’t included a single song off of the Chief album on this list. You’re probably familiar with Eric Church’s hit “Springsteen,” which is his most popular song from this album and arguably his most popular song to date. I may be breaking my own rules by including this song because I think I did hear the live version of this song on the radio once though I still don’t think it qualifies as a “hit” so it makes the cut.

If I could switch places with another person for just two minutes and 40 seconds, it would be Joanna Cotten just so I could sing this duet with Eric. Joanna has a set of pipes on her and it’s her powerful voice that really makes this song, in my opinion. The song is about a relationship ending despite how hard they tried to make it work- they had it in the air but they just couldn’t land it. It’s over.

It’s no so much what this song is about that earned it a spot on this list but rather the descriptive language used throughout it to describe the breakup. The split is compared to a “white flag,” “a stop sign,” and “the last long drag on a Marlboro light.” As well as a “blank page when you’re outta words.” And of course there’s the realization that there was no way they could have made it work because there “ain’t no map gonna ever bring us back from where we are.” As Eric sings:

“This ain’t no gone for good drill or no goodbye false alarm” 

It’s plain to see that these two are done.

Songwriters: Luke Robert Laird/Eric Church

 

I hope that I’ve done Eric Church and his songs justice with this post. Picking just six songs to focus on was difficult and even now I’m not so sure if these were the best ones for what I had in mind. This is also not a list of my favorite Eric Church songs either- that list would contain some of his hits like “Kill a Word” and the previously mentioned “Springsteen.”

Stay tuned for more posts in the “Sundays Are For Church” series!

Currently listening to: Eric Church, of course!