Thursday, December 11, 2008

The High Cost of Living

Has no one else heard Jamey Johnson's latest album?

I don't know if it's really true that the stars shine most brightly from the gutter. Maybe so. I do know that there's a whole sub-genre of popular music that deals with addiction and rueful regret. For all the unbridled celebrations of hedonism in rock music, there are a few folks who have dared to flip the coin over and show what life looks like on the other side -- The Hold Steady's "How a Resurrection Really Feels," Lou Reed's "Heroin," Steve Earle's "Cocaine Can't Kill My Pain," Neil Young's "The Needle and the Damage Done" and "Tonight's the Night." Add this one to the stellar list.

Country music deals in cliches and occasionally clever turns of phrase. It's rare when the clever turns of phrase accompany a song that isn't cliched at all, that sounds so raw and so transparently vulnerable that there's no doubt that it emerges from a real, and really desperate, life. Jamey Johnson's "The High Cost of Living" is such a song. The facts: Jamey really did lose his wife. He really did lose his record constract. He really did end up in jail. And he comes out scarred, and wiser, and his wisdom sounds something like this. It's truly the best song I've heard this year. You'll never hear it on the radio. You ought to hear it anyway.

I was just a normal guy
Life was just a nine to five
With bills and pressure
Piled up to the sky
She never asked
She knew I’d be
Hangin’ with my wilder friends
Looking for some other way to fly

And three days straight was no big feat
Could get by with no food or sleep
And crazy was becoming my new norm
I’d pass out on the bedroom floor
And sleep right through the calm before the storm

My life was just an old routine
Every day the same damn thing
I couldn’t even tell I was alive
I tell you
The high cost of livin’
Ain’t nothing like the cost of livin’ high

That southern Baptist parking lot
Is where I’d go to smoke my pot
Sit there in my pickup truck and pray
Staring at that giant cross
Just reminded me that I was lost
And it just never seemed to point the way

As soon as Jesus turned his back
I'd find my way across the track
Lookin’ just to score another deal
With my back against that damn eight ball
I didn’t have to think or talk or feel

My life was just an old routine
Every day the same damn thing
I couldn’t even tell I was alive
I tell you
The high cost of livin’
Ain’t nothing like the cost of livin’ high

My whole life went through my head
Layin’ in that motel bed
Watchin’ as the cops kicked in the door
I had a job and a piece of land
My sweet wife was my best friend
But I traded that for cocaine and a whore

With my new found sobriety
I’ve got the time to sit and think
Of all the things I had and threw away
This prison is much colder than
That one that I was locked up in just yesterday

My life is just an old routine
Every day the same damn thing
Hell I can’t even tell if I’m alive
I tell you
The high cost of livin’
Ain’t nothing like the cost of livin’ high

-- Jamey Johnson, "The High Cost of Living"

3 comments:

John McCollum said...

I also like Julie Miller's take on substance abuse; that of someone who has to put up with the mess left by an addict:

--

Strange Lover

i got no use for what you say
i ain't your straight man no more today
take your promise out with the trash
from now on boy we just take cash

the cows lay down when it's gonna rain
you come around and it's a hurricane
you say it's bad luck baby but i know it's cocaine

blood is red money is green
sugar is sweet and you are mean
you were my angel at the start
but your strange lover took away your heart

the cows lay down when it's gonna rain

what goes on in your head
you keep this up you'll be dead
don't hit on me to put up your bail
you're better off right there in jail

---

In fact, I think that Steve Earle sings backup on that track...

hayseed said...

I went straight out and bought this record after we discussed it at Ted's Montana Grille. I am glad I did.

2 thumbs up!

Gar said...

Just got my copy today. Really enjoying it. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.....