Two extremely thoughtful songs, demonstrating Hornsby’s determination not to leave any stone untouched in his commentary of the human condition and the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Furthermore, the songs here demonstrate the author’s willingness to address issues that most of the rest of us might find “difficult” or “awkward”, and would prefer to ignore. It may even be argued that Hornsby could have been more successful, in strictly commercial terms, if he had taken the easy option, “passed by on the other side” and left the humanitarian issues for somebody else to deal with.
Resting Place is the point of view of an overweight person and the everyday stigma that he must face just to make it through an ordinary day. On Spirit Trail we find some of the most graphic imagary of all of Hornsby’s work, this song is certainly no exception
“Ever feel like a side-show attraction / ever feel like a walking infraction / Some people call me Tarzan in my big, big sweats…I get by being a funny talker / all those funny jokes sting / so keep walkin’”
I note Hornsby’s comments in one review that some of these songs are, in a way, little reminders to him about such matters. This is an honourable admission which we could all learn from, as most of us are probably guilty of little, flippant remarks which cause hurt, possibly without us knowing. Hornsby himself refers in a flippant manner, probably unconciously, to the “fat man selling salvation in his hand” in Jacob’s Ladder. However, Resting Place at least represents a concious decision to see the situation from the opposite viewpoint.
Fortunate Son is the ironic title of a song dealing with a character who is bound to his “ever present” wheelchair. This piece is a little more reflective than Resting Place – the quiet piano sets the tone – but the sense of battling against negative elements is similar. The first verse, situated in a street parade, is a quite remarkable, poignant example of an environment which the character must deal with:
“People laughing and smiles all around me / Balloons and paper in my hair / There’s a man in the car with the top down, waving wildly at me…I know he’s thinking / Better him, him than me”
The song deals with a range of emotions which touch the character’s life. In the first verse, a sense of being patronised by well-meaning individuals. The chorus betrays perhaps an element of self-pity. In the second verse, we learn of the experience of having to put a lid on emotion and deal with the situation rationally. Then comes the feelings of absolute despair. In the end, the resigned feeling of having to go out for a smoke and some drinks just to escape the hurt.
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Solo show; audience recording
April 12 1999
Bruce’s lyrics in the chorus of this song “I layed down odd and even, but double zero played” , it makes an obvious reference to the game of roulette. My thought happens to be that he’s speaking of russian roulette. Being that the character feels so alone, he thinks that it may be his only way out. So he settles for the smoke and a drink to take away all the pain.(Which I agree with) It also sounds like that he may be an alcoholic like his father was. (Givin’ the old man’s best salute…)
I have a live MP3 of the song at home on which Bruce introduces the song by saying it was inspired by Lewis Puller’s book Fortunate Son.
Puller was the son of Gen. “Chesty” Puller, the most decorated US Marine in history, and followed his father into the service only to lose both his legs, part of his hand and stomach in Vietnam. Bitter about the war and why it was fought, bound in a wheelchair for life he fought depression, pain from his wounds and alcohol. Even the success of the book could not save Puller from the Hell his life had become. He killed himself 3 years after it came out. The song to me is sung from Puller’s standpoint as a disabled vet who watches a parade consisting of the leaders who orders gave them fame and glory while he is left broken and forgotten.
Fortunate Son is Bruce’s retelling of a quintessentially American tragedy that had almost mythic significance in the naval community around the Tidewater region of Virginia. Tidewater is the coastal area at the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay, and is the home port of the US Navy’s Atlantic Fleet, the home base for the Marines, and includes Bruce’s home town of Williamsburg.
Bruce took the name of the song from the title of the autobiography of Lewis B. Puller, Jr., a young man about Bruce’s age (and mine) from Hampton, VA, which is about 30 miles southeast of Williamsburg. The author’s father was Lt. Gen. L.B. “Chesty” Puller, USMC, the most highly decorated Marine from WWII and Korea, and a legendary figure to the large community military, dependent and retirees in this part of the country.
Here’s how Amazon.com summarizes young Puller’s life story:
“Son of the famous World War II Marine commander “Chesty” Puller, Lewis Puller proudly followed in his father’s footsteps. It was his misfortune, though, to serve in Vietnam in a war that brought not honor but contempt, and exacted a brutal personal price: Puller lost both legs, one hand, and most of his buttocks and stomach. Years later he was functional enough to run for Congress, bitterly denouncing the war. He lost, became an alcoholic, and almost died again. Then he climbed out of that circle of Hell to write this searingly graphic autobiography, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1992. One last poignant postscript: three years after the enormous success of this book, the author killed himself.”
The parallels between the song and Puller, by the way, isn’t just speculation; Bruce introduced the song as being *about* Puller at a show out here in California. I got the feeling Bruce may have actually known the guy, or had friends in common…
Now I’ll get speculative, but not by much. Bruce, Puller and I are all about the same age, and we all grew up on John Wayne movies and duty-honor-country values at home. Bruce turned 20 (draft age) in 1974, and if the US combat role not been winding down that year, he could have spent the year in the jungle instead of at the U. of Miami.
The draft was using a lottery system then — one day each year, the gov’t assigned all the days in the next year a randomly number from 1 to 365. The next year, they started drafting people with birthday #1, and so on. The lower the number assigned to your 20th birthday, the more likely you were to get drafted; they also provided an estimate of how high they’d have to go to fill their quota. Student deferments were abolished, and almost everyone was eligible
Maybe Bruce felt the same way when the lottery was cancelled for 1974 as I had on 8/5/71 — the day it became clear that I wasn’t going to have to give up college and my comfortable middle-class life and go to Vietnam, or jail, or Canada — fortunate. Maybe Bruce feels the same way I do today, when I see a guy my age with no legs, sitting in a wheel chair, begging for change in downtown Santa Cruz — “…thinkin’, ‘Better him than me.’ ”
I’m pretty sure Bruce feels like I do, when we catch ourselves thinking that way.
Just an FYI, Fortunate Son is the name of the autobiography of Lewis Puller. He was the son of Lt. General “Chesty” Puller. (Hence, “old man’s best salute.”) Lewis went to Vietnam and was horribly wounded there. He struggled with alcoholism and addiction to pain killers, but his autobiography won the Pulitzer Prize. Despite the accolades his book received, he lost his fight and committed suicide in 1994. He is buried in Arlington Cemetery.