An Open Notebook

Sparks & Charades

S

Stephen Kellogg may be the definition of Americana; his songs simply pass the test. Being from New England, Kellogg brings an interesting approach to a genre often associated with the Deep South or West-Virginian Hills. He and his accompanying band called the ‘Sixers,’ have easily become one of my favorite lyricists over the years. 

Along with his fellow musicians, the Sixers (named after the year 1776), Kellogg’s most popular song might be the autobiographical, confessional 4th of July. (But there’s also in competition the upbeat and heartwarming 1993.)

In one of his songs, Kellogg even gave a shout-out to Wisconsin in the song Milwaukee, followed up by the more somber Cabin in the Woods, which is simply haunting (a man losing his family on his own account). 

None of the songs usually sung by Kellogg seem to ascribe particular emphasis to any kind of religious event or sentiment; but, there’s no doubt he frames simple, human experiences in a ways we can transpose. He possesses has a keen eye for psychology. And, as part-poet, part musician, the lyrics reflect insightful observation of mental-reality.

The first song probably was better rendered by a band that asked to cover his work, Doc Walker, not even Kellogg himself. 

The entire account is fairly easy to understand. Boy meets girl, instant spark, and then it starts to fade away. For anyone who has seemed to instantly ‘hit-it-off’ with another, and see it fade, those first impression-infatuations seem to work out only once-in-a-while, as stated by Stephen.

Eventually the charm, it always would wear off
The price I paid always outweighed any of the costs

Yet, in the moment the ‘electricity’ feels intense.

And that’s what the song’s about.

Maria

Like a brown-eyed tornado coming through the Midwest
She walked into my scene and you know the rest
I heard she never got the letters that I sent
I got a few from her, wondered how she’d been

She said “babe I always kind of like the way you talk
How you give away the gold like it was any other rock.”

Maria how you come around and throw your bad advice at me
You’re up on a pedestal, sparks and electricity
Maria I would settle down and I need to desperately
But I will never get enough of these things that are killing me

Once upon an idea I loved the girls like you
Sleepless nights and blowout fights they were funny too
Eventually the charm, it always would wear off
The price I paid always outweighed any of the costs

Yeah but “babe I always kind of like the way you talk
How you give away the gold like it was any other rock.”

Though she’s just a little girl
She’s an undertow to me
The harder that you swim against her
The further you end up out at sea


As you’ll notice in the above lyrics, the song is framed, tied together at the seams, by the phrase “You give away the gold like it was any other rock.”

A potential double-entendre here enlivens the scene; since, the phrase can mean ‘extremely generous’ or ‘extremely reckless,’ or maybe both? Does he give away gold because he doesn’t know its true value? Or, does he see value beyond gold that it appears to him ‘as just another rock?’ 

Anyways, just a fairly interesting example of how ambiguous statements sometimes mean more than precise ones. The meaning is captured by mystery, vagueness, not by mathematical, single-object exactitude.

Then, the second song paired with the aforementioned has a penetrating lyric which describes a similar occassion more vividly. Named, ‘My Sweet Charade,’ the second of these, is again, about a recent meeting, this one gone wrong in a one-night-stand sort of fashion.

On this occasion, however, Stephen poses as someone who stands on the more somber side of it, rather than in the midst of the sparks. 

When you slid into the room 
Everything else just disappeared
Taj Mahal sang “My Corrina”
So loud and so sincere
You were so, so sincere

Believe me when I tell you
That what went down was a one time deal
Over and over the things that we said
My Sweet Charade

I don’t know what your situation is
I don’t know if you have a guy
But I’m making up for younger days
And if I don’t talk I just get shy
You were wearing baby blue, a charm school graduate
I was anything but charming, but you still got into it
There was nothing I could do

Believe me when I tell you
That what went down was a one time deal
Over and over the things that we said
My Sweet Charade

My desiring eyes, my pathetic resolve
The way I work through my lies, the way that my world revolves…

Your black bra, I could see the lace
I could see the invitation written on your face

But believe me when I tell you
That what went down was a one time deal
Over and over the things that we did
My Sweet Charade

Maybe it’s love, how would I know?
Every time I get close to it, I let it go
You could be different, you could be kind
But I’ll never know cause I will leave you behind.


Again, maybe not his best work all-around, hook-line-and-sinker, but the bridge has a killer stream-of-consciousness type of rambling which ties the song quite nicely. In fact, you could use it as a description of any sort of lingering sin. 

My desiring eyes...

my pathetic resolve...

The way I work through my lies...

the way that my world revolves...

As rendered above, this is the sort of escalation of sin—it starts in the eyes, affects your ‘resolve,’ your self-control, your hopes your dreams, your aspirations, you start to lie to yourself, and work through them, one-at-a-time (and, it’s not usually the good lies that you fall for, but the plain and obvious ones); then, it becomes what your world revolves around

While in some ways all four of these things happen at once, simultaneous to one another; there is a sort of escalation. Lust starts in the eyes, seeps into your soul, you start to lie to yourself, and then it becomes your world.

Both infutations are a sort of ‘charade,’ and Kellogg knows it. But, in both songs there’s hope to be able to resist, not resigned to the fate of erotica as so many romantic songs insinuate. Harnessing the passions involves naming them, as many good psycologists would tell.

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