Friday, November 7, 2014

The Texas Campfire Tapes - Michelle Shocked

The Texas Campfire Tapes
Michelle Shocked
Mercury 834 581-1

I was mortified and mystified when I read in the newspaper how Michelle Shocked committed career suicide by allegedly making homophobic comments and denouncing gay marriage on stage in San Francisco of all places.  As a result of the controversy her tour was cancelled and a bunch of journalists who probably had never even heard of her dragged her through the mud for a while until they lost interest.  I was flabbergasted by the whole thing for several reasons.  Firstly I had recently seen her in concert myself and she seemed completely normal.  Secondly I had no idea she had become a born again Christian, I basically thought of her as a left-wing activist (she made a lot of comments about the Occupy movement at the show I saw.)  Finally I always thought she was a lesbian herself.  I despise homophobia and I don't condone her remarks although I'm not entirely sure exactly what she said.  I've read descriptions of the event and excerpts of her stage patter and it does not make much sense to me.  I think I get what she was trying to say though and I do believe it was just a case of miscommunication and a misguided attempt at ironic humor.  I don't believe she meant any harm and though I find her explanations confusing, I accept her apologies.  I'm a fan of her work and I'm not going to dismiss it on the basis of her saying some stupid things at a show.  This album is one of my favorites.  The record is taken from a tape recorded on a Sony Walkman as Shocked ran through some of her songs accompanied only by her acoustic guitar while sitting at a campfire on the grounds of the Kerrville Folk Festival in 1986.  You can hear the persistent chirping of crickets throughout the recording as well as the occasional passing car or truck.  The album begins with the moody "5 a.m. in Amsterdam" which is about being alone in Amsterdam and hearing the church bells toll.  The mood brightens with the rollicking "The Secret Admirer" which dissects a sex symbol with a "sweet little asset."  Shocked says that the next song "The Incomplete Image" sounds unfinished but she calls it finished.  It alternates a lively instrumental section with quasi-spoken verses about a couple of vagabonds, one male and one female.  Shocked introduces "Who Cares?" as her most recent song.  It is a narrative of a visit to a spooky ghost town with Shocked picking out a compelling, atmospheric melody on her guitar.  The swinging "Down on Thomas St." is about a jazz club.  The jazzy mood continues with "Fogtown" which paints a dark portrait of San Francisco.  It describes the seedy nightlife of the city and the story of a hooker who dies from a heroin overdose.  It is one of my favorite songs on the record.  Shocked re-recorded the song as a rocker on her subsequent album "Short Sharp Shocked."  Shocked introduces "Steppin Out" by describing how she worked at a "non-commercial" radio station in Amsterdam where she wrote this song for a program about the reasons why people go out.  The song has an uptempo folk-blues flavor to it.  "The Hep Cat" is another one of my favorite songs on the album.  It is a jazzy, retro style tune and Shocked's sexy vocal is full of charm and personality as she describes her attraction to the cool cat of the title.  Shocked introduces "Necktie" as being an older song.  It is a jumping tune that reinforces the axiom about clothes making the man (or woman.)  I like the line about cultured pearls being "the kind that sips lots of tea and reads lots of poetry."  Shocked keeps up the fast tempo as she jumps right into "(Don't You Mess Around with) My Little Sister."  It is a rock and roll style song about her sister who is "a real gone twister" but too young for boys to mess around with.  She slows down for "The Ballad of Patch Eye and Meg" which is about an old sailor who tells tall tales but won't talk about the woman he loved.  The album concludes with "The Secret to a Long Life (Is Knowing When It's Time to Go)" which is a narrative ballad about an outlaw on the run in the old west.  The song sounds pretty worldly for a 24 year old.  That is true of the entire album, it has a timeless, folksy quality that seems way beyond her years.  I find listening to the album to be soothing and relaxing.  If you turn the lights down low and spin the record, Shocked's engaging and intimate performance will almost make you feel like you are sitting at that campfire next to her.  I defy anyone to play it and then proclaim that Shocked is a bad person who should not be allowed to perform.  Recommended to people who like to listen to demos.

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