The Lamentations of David Bazan
A primer and a playlist for the former Pedro the Lion frontman.
David Bazan doesn’t dig Daft Punk.
At least, that’s one of the minor takeaways from the latest show I see him play. It’s a gig at my house, actually, the second stop on his “2013 Living Room Tour.” My wife and I move most of our furniture into the garage, my brother brews a beer for the occasion, and I even print up a dozen posters at Kinkos to cover our mostly-bare walls: “Bazan Plays The Fairfield.”
An hour before curtain, people start knocking on the door, mostly strangers, some musicians, grown-up Vacation Bible School-ers, a teen from Washington who eats most of the oranges from our fruit bowl throughout the evening. People sit on the floor or stand against the wall, drink beer, all of them very polite. Bazan slips in the door ten minutes before showtime and sets up without fanfare, even bringing his own lamp. He opens with a few songs before stopping to tune his guitar and to ask the audience if they have any questions. If you’ve never been to a Bazan show, living room or otherwise, these Q&A sessions are a staple of his set. Someone asks if he’s heard “Random Access Memories,” which had just come out.
“I’m attracted to music that has some friction to it, some sort of struggle,” Bazan says. “I don’t generally just put music on in the background. I like stuff that requires more out of you when you listen to it.”
This observation might as well be “Bazan on Bazan,” a commentary on his own music just as much as anyone else’s. He’s what you might call a confessional artist, which wouldn’t mean much if the confessions weren’t so brutal, so poignant. Even when many of his songs aren’t autobiographical, as he’s admitted, they feel incredibly intimate, whether he’s singing about a crisis of faith, the difficulties of marriage, struggles with alcoholism, or western culture.
After a full set, the night winds down with five more minutes of Q&A. Bazan closes with the title track off his newest record. Then he packs his stuff up while chatting with the ten-or-so audience members lingering in small groups, the ex-VBC-ers waiting to tell him how his story mimics their own. A half-hour later, the last of the strangers finally gone, my wife convinces Bazan to belly up to the kitchen counter while she serves him pasta salad, cupcakes, and beer. We drink too much, make him stay too long. I’m suddenly copping to my own break-up with god, confessing to the writer who’s made a (meager) living penning his own confessions, to the non-believer who still gets invited to Christian music festivals (after previously being kicked out), to the musician accustomed to seeing people cry in the audience, to the guy who’s heard all these lamentations a hundred times before. But he listens, laughs, offers his take, and finishes his beer before calling it a night.
A Bazan Playlist: How to spend 68 minutes, more or less.
Listed below are a few songs off most of Bazan’s albums, from when he went by Pedro the Lion (named after a children’s book he was penning at the time) to his most recent, solo work. Some of the featured songs aren’t my favorite Bazan cuts, but they are ones that show his evolution over the years, writing-wise. I’ve also included some random facts and a few of my favorite lyrics. It should be noted, though, all of Bazan’s lyrics are worth a close listen (Bazan was actually included on Paste Magazine’s Top 100 Living Songwriters list in ‘06).
To get a sense of the ideological shift he’s made throughout his career, compare the lyrics from his older work (where he acted as a sort of brutally-honest Doubting Thomas) to those from his first solo album, “Curse Your Branches” (which more than one rock critic dubbed his “break-up letter to god”). But Bazan’s whole discography can be viewed as a long-developing break-up letter with his Christian faith. The pain and the pleasure rise from his willingness to let us look over his shoulder as he’s writing it.
[Note: most of the songs titles below link to a favorite version of each tune. Give ‘em a click and listen while you read.]
Off his first, full-length album, “It’s Hard to Find a Friend.” A fairly tender take on the catching-your-lover-stepping-out song, particularly in comparison to his later rehash, the much more caustic “Rehearsal.” Key lyric: “A pair of ticket stubs in her coat / a movie I’ve never seen / I probably shouldn’t ask / it sounds so accusing…”
Also from “It’s Hard to Find a Friend.” Key lyric: “Put on whatever makes you attractive / if it’s not you then do it for the sake of fashion / your friends like a certain you, that’s who you gotta be…”
The last song on “It’s Hard to Find a Friend.” At one of the last, non-living-room shows I went to, during one of his Q&A sessions, someone from the audience asked Bazan what song he hated playing most. Without hesitation, he answered: “Promise.” Key lyric: “If I look up and the sky’s not there / is there any reason that I should be scared / a promise is a promise, I know…”
The second last song on “Winners Never Quit,” a concept album about a corrupt politician and his fuck-up brother. Key lyric:
“And all the while / the good lord smiled / and looked the other way…”
The first song on “Control”, Pedro’s more abrasive, third album. Jade Tree Records recently reissued a number of his albums on vinyl. To promote the release, Bazan did a tour wherein he played this record in its entirety (in addition to newer songs). When someone asked why he picked this specific album, Bazan said it was the one with the most songs he could stand playing night after night. Key lyric: “I could never divorce you / without a good reason / and though I may never have to / it’s good to have options…”
Also from “Control.” This whole album is equal parts frustration, pitch black humor, and blasphemy. Buy it. Key lyric: “Oh look, their dad’s arriving home / all of the children hug his neck / unaware of their inheritance…”
Second song on “Achilles Heel.” His last album under the Pedro the Lion moniker, and his most playful, this record is also the last one where he professes a faith in God (albeit a faith he struggles with). Key lyric:
“You were too busy steering the conversation towards the Lord / to hear the Holy Spirit begging you to shut the fuck up…”
8. The Fleecing
Also from “Achilles Heel.” The heart of the album and the heart of Bazan as his relationship with Pedro and Christianity began to dissolve. Key lyric: “I could buy you a drink / I could tell you all about it / I could tell you why I doubt it / and why I still believe…”
Also from “Achilles Heel.” Some of my favorite lyrics from any of Pedro’s work (particularly the opening line, see below). A few years ago, I discovered it was actually written by another Pedro member, T.W. Walsh, who I was lucky enough to collaborate with on a music video from his outrageously-overlooked “Songs of Pain & Leisure.” Key lyric: “Roll me over, I wanna wave at the kids / if you start without me, say my name as you begin…”
From his first, post-Pedro the Lion EP, “Fewer Moving Parts.” Another unsparing narrative, this time about alcoholism and the embarrassing things you’re prone to doing when people you love aren’t watching. Key lyric: “It’s faster, to buy cigarettes and some cold beer / if you don’t rattle the cashier by asking her back to your room…”
Also from “Fewer Moving Parts.” A self-deprecating look at the break-up of his band, Bazan has said that he never really feels comfortable when he plays this song in the company of his old writing partner (and the only other longstanding member of Pedro), T.W. Walsh. Key lyric: “I still run the show and don’t you forget it / but I had to let some go / don’t think I don’t regret it / because I do and I don’t think I’m better off alone…”
12. Never Wanted You
From a more electronic-based, one-off, side project called Headphones. Bazan said this song was inspired by a friend’s account of leaving his wife. As with much of Bazan’s work, it’d be too hard to listen to if it weren’t so compelling. Key lyric: “I never wanted you / I never wanted you / you never had my heart / our love was never true…”
13. Hard to Be
The opening song from Bazan’s full-length solo album, “Curse Your Branches.” His first, openly agnostic piece and the introduction to his lengthy Dear John to god. Key lyric:
“Wait just a minute / you expect me to believe / that all this misbehaving / came from one enchanted tree?”
14. Lost My Shape
Also from “Curse Your Branches.” Key lyric: “You used to feel like the prodigal returning / but now you hate what you’ve made / and you want to watch it burn…”
15. In Stitches
The closer from “Curse Your Branches.” The most wrenching song about his departure from Christianity, written directly to a god he no longer believes in, Bazan has said his favorite lyric from the entire album is smack in the center of this tune: “The crew have killed the captain / but they still can hear his voice…” Key lyric: “I need no other memory of the bits of me I’ve left / when all this lethal drinking is to hopefully forget about you…”
The first song off Bazan’s newest album, “Strange Negotiations.” Key lyric: “Surprise, they took your money and they ate your kids / and they had their way with your wife a little bit / while you wept on the floor with your head in your hands / cursing taxes and the government…”
Also from “Strange Negotiations.” The most scathing song off his first post-Christian record. Key lyric: “Yeah, it’s true, I learned it from watching you / but now it’s you who doesn’t know what a dollar is worth / you got the market its own bodyguard / and all the people are getting hurt…”
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