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Ben Weaver

25 October 2010

Store date: 17 February 2006

I met Ben Weaver when he stopped by Laser’s Edge on a February afternoon in 2006. We were having an unseasonably warm, if slightly wet, day in Alabama, and Ben was wrapped in layers, as if he had prepared for the worst or, at least, a deer hunt. The wrapping on his head, complemented by a scruffy growth of beard, looked like it had recently been skinned from the carcass of a raccoon.

Ben was in town as the opening act for Hem that evening, and was accompanied on his visit to the store only by his touring partner. The members of Hem showed up, as they traditionally would whenever visiting Birmingham, moments after Ben left – one happy, excited family of musicians, chattering and abuzz. Ben, on the other hand, was quiet and reserved. Our conversation was spare but pleasant, and slightly awkward.

Later, at the show, Ben took the stage. Hem has a devoted following in this town, so the house at Workplay was nearly full for the opener. But it seemed that the crowd wasn’t prepared for the intensity of Ben’s performance, nor for the bleak, lonely tone of his lyrics. His vocal style was less traditional singing and more of a plaintive wail crossed with a growl which, frankly, suited the content of the songs quite well. Nonetheless, toward the end of the set, people began to get restless, and offered only the politest smattering of applause after each number. At one point, a hand motion, as one might imitate a person slashing his wrist with a razor blade, was exchanged between people sitting at my table, accompanied by a silent grimace. It was tough going.

Then, near the very end of his set, Ben sang “Ragged Words.” For me, it turned the entire tone of the set on its head. The lyrics were poetic, vivid, and non-specific enough for me to make of their meaning whatever I wished. I wanted to immediately hear it again.

After the evening was over, I approached Ben in the lobby of the theater and expressed my admiration of the song. He thanked me, and said something else, but his response was barely audible and consisted of no more than five syllables – I didn’t catch the words. He dug in his pocket for something and distractedly looked away.

~

“Ragged Words” (2003) by Ben Weaver, from Stories Under Nails

These ragged words
These midnight eyes
These dust covered boots
This bent up lust
These young boy dreams
These mannish woes

These driftwood arms
These bottle lips
This train whistle voice
This eager love
This uncut beard
These achin’ arms

This longest look
This played-out soul
This grain of truth
This musicians’ curse
This thorny kiss
This mangled path

This old truck groan
This steadiness
These oil dark eyes
This lonely guess
This full moon moan
This highway smile

This lost dog heart
These reasons why
This entangled sleep
All these shows I play
This rock and roll vein
This blue collar mouth

This angel’s idea
This road map home
These chain link prayers
This father’s word
This guitar money
This red light cigarette

This one desire
This bedroom rain
This blue electricity
These choke-cold bones
These optimistic regrets
This bus station wave

This sand in my name
This bare nakedness
This prize fighter’s jab
This falling grace
This antique tongue
This Midwest deal

This suitcase goodbye
These gas pedal eyes
This foolish hope
This small town stare
This strangled touch
These cowboy hands

Wherever you are
Whenever you want
It is what it is
It’s sorrow and bliss
Your head on my chest
Under a sky this blue
Wherever you are
This song is for you

~

Photographer unknown.
This post originally appeared in slightly different form at Spitball Army on 17 August 2008.

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