Two of seven

January 27, 2012

Dear Patronopolis,

Threshing machine. I’m going to spend my 40 minutes with you today sharing the innards of a brand-new song by that name.

Three days ago the image bubbled up as I was writing in my journal. I remember these rusting hunks of metal scattered across the landscape of my childhood. Out behind sheds that were themselves behind barns, left next to falling-down fences. Refurbished and shined up for county fairs. Threshers’ Days in Miles, Iowa, four miles down the road from us, the place where we went to church, where we sang “This is my father’s world." Pie and mud and flies and the men and women I saw every Sunday, dressed up in old-fashioned clothes, re-enacting what it used to be like, when neighbors gathered in fields to thresh the grain together, bound up in each other’s prosperity by the need to share the cost of this expensive machine, the need for help.

Compared to today’s hyper-individualized, pathological self-sufficiency, the days of the threshing machine seem poetic and appealing. But when the image bloomed in my mind, it was in a more sinister context. I was thinking about the Sneeches, and their star-bellies, and the machine that put the stars on, or took them off, and put them on again. Ducts and tubes, vents and gears. I was thinking about machines like that inside me, that I’ve built or inherited or purchased, and what they do. How, once I’m inside the machine, or once it’s active in me, it creates its own logic, its own rules. Once it’s running the machine feels so useful I can’t imagine life without it. More than useful — it feels necessary for survival, even. So it becomes impossible to conceive of turning it off. The logic — the math of the whole thing — makes not using it seem crazy. Even if I know, somewhere deep down, that I need and want to just shut it down, and walk away.

So, this is what I was thinking about. I’d written a song a week or two before that I wasn’t feeling compelled by. It had some good moments, but it just wasn’t quite it. And shortly after the Sneech machine/thresher image popped into mind it occurred to me this image, this lovely rusting thing, was what was missing. So I started singing and writing, with a whole new melody, an entirely different feel than the first song. It felt much more right. That was on Tuesday. More tinkering on Tuesday and yesterday, and then today I wanted to sing it as it is now (more changes coming, probably, but likely just small ones now) so I could share it with the Whippletree gals. I really can hear Chelle and Caroline fiddling or banjoing, bassing or washboarding, guitaring and for sure for sure singing on it.

As I was recording this little scratch demo for them to hear and start to get familiar with, I thought — hey, I’ll just share this with the Patronopolis, too. And then I thought…that’s scary! Usually I let songs live and breathe and get their sea legs under them before I set them off sailing into the world like this. But what the heck. We’re all friends here. And after all, you all helped write it, by subsidizing my creative time.

If you’re inclined to listen, here are some Notes of a Technical Nature to keep in mind:

- The structure you hear on this recording is not the final shape of the thing. It will have instrumental breaks. Verses may come in different order, or be grouped in twos sometimes. Who knows what might happen — it might grow three heads, or lose an arm. We are talking about farm implements here, after all.

- Some lyrics are changing, slightly, in my mind, even as I write this.

- For Caroline and Chelle especially: please don’t let the harmony/background vocals as I’ve recorded them here lock you in too much. I’d love to hear your thoughts and see what sorts of harmonies you might want to do….this is just one idea.

OK, I’m over my 40 minutes. Here’s the song:

And just so you know, this song was really just a side project for the week. Mostly I’ve worked on the musical, and I’m feeling good about how it’s changing. I feel like it’s getting leaner and stronger.

Also thanks to everyone who’s donated and is helping to spread the word about the fundraising campaign — we hit the $4,000 mark yesterday! Still a long way to go to make $25,000 by the end of February, but I feel momentum building, and I’m grateful for every penny, which allows me to spend several hours every day making new stuff, doing what I most want to do, being who I most want to be….which is…

Your Friendly Neighborhood Artist,

Amy

Threshing Machine

I’m walking away from the threshing machine

I’m gonna lay down in the clover

I’m gonna wait for the fields to green

The bitter harvest is over

The many kept smiling while he talked

Claiming it’d save me pain and labor

It was the first thing I ever bought

I had to pay for in the future

I’m walking away from the threshing machine

I’m gonna lay down in the clover

I’m gonna wait for the fields to green

The bitter harvest is over

I never felt I should complain

Although I hated the smell and the clamor

It broke the stalks and shook the grain

Until it gave up all of its treasure

I’m walking away from the threshing machine

I’m gonna lay down in the clover

I’m gonna wait for the fields to green

The bitter harvest is over

Paid on my debt now for 30 years

But it’s been one thing after another

Just couldn’t get myself in the clear

What with repairs and deadly weather

I’m walking away from the threshing machine

I’m gonna lay down in the clover

I’m gonna wait for the fields to green

The bitter harvest is over

But now I’ve finally paid it off

And this coming season I’m doing without it

Going to let it rust there, right where it stopped

And watch the grasses grow up around it

I’m walking away from the threshing machine

I’m gonna lay down in the clover

I’m gonna wait for the fields to green

The bitter harvest is over