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These Liner Notes were written by Kevin Morby’s friend, neighbor, and fellow musician Kyle Thomas for the lyrics book included with City Music. We’re printing them here to give you another perspective on the album before it comes to your house in June.
It’s 10:11pm and the moon is a silver sliver in a light polluted void. A typical Los Angeles soft cool November. As usual I’m cooked on too much coffee, laying like an inverted slug on the loveseat. Waiting for Ol’ Kev to come over and play me his new tunes.
I’m thinking about his last record Singing Saw, with its songs like pastel flames and canyon dust stirred up by packs of dream coyotes. Songs of life up here in this surreal outskirt, where we walk in infinite loops of cactus and relentless sky, every turn revealing breathtaking visions of vast beauty. A sunset lookout point, a dusk lullaby, new western sky music.
Morbs appears in the big glass door. “How’s Ol’ Kyle doin’ today?”
“Ol’ Kyle is fully jacked on black juice and high as the joker and he can’t move. Don’t make him move. I beg you. Let’s hear this record while he’s still inside out and can listen properly.”
“Hehehe. Don’t worry Ol’ Kyle, you don’t gotta move at all. I’m stealing a beer from your fridge and you can’t stop me. Hahaha you look funny lying there like that. How do I turn this giant ass stereo on? These speakers are too big for this room! OHHH but they sound so sick…”
The sound slowly blossoms and in a soft flash I’m transported, riding the L train towards City Music…
I slide into the station, wheels below rhythmically swishing, claustrophobic crowds sucking in and out of restless silver snakes. Soft hiss of arrival and departure, brass horn machinery howling, low voices murmuring, endless coming and going, commuters with computers, bums chewing gum. How did we all end up here and what is the meaning of this? My eyes skim the dense mass and land on a wild looking woman seated amidst the chaos. Softly wavering her hands across a cheap electric guitar, typical tin can for coins, clothes like a puzzle of rags, caked with cat hair, hazy brown curls falling on oversized plastic glasses and long nose. She could be 80 or 18, I can’t tell. She’s seemingly invisible to the suits, brainwashed in their copies of The Daily Insanity. She’s mostly ignored by the hip-haired zombies who are in a state of half lobotomy by way of EarPods. But I know her somehow. Somehow she is part of me. She is a fragment of a forgotten world, where people spoke face to face and the only distractions were the wonders of waterfalls and the mesmerizing murmurations of starlings. I’m transfixed by her low voice cutting the musty air and filling my ears with subterranean honey. Down here in these dank tunnels. Down here where it’s always night.
I pull myself away and climb the stairs upwards until I’m born into to the City like a bad bad baby, looking for action, looking for anything. A light snow is whispering down and the wet diamond air is steaming off the sidewalk. A place opposite of nature, full-on relentless humanity. I weave thru crowds with no destination, maybe just to get away from myself and let the City think for me. I long to get lost here, i long to feel insignificant, to be sucked into the stream of being. I surrender myself to it’s magnetism, immerse myself in the jazz of yellow cabs, the honking yellow spirits of the City.
The lady in the subway was special, I can’t stop thinking about her. She’s my goddamn hero. Possibly my Guardian Angel. She’s hitched a ride in my head and now I’m singing to her…
“Ohh Angel from where did you fall, my Angel of guitars and trains
You’re not from no City, no, somewhere more pretty, some heavenly home on the range
Probly that ol’ Sunflower state, where they chug bbq sauce from ruby slippers and time slowly passes
Yes you grew up spinning on neon green lawns, and life was sweeter than sorghum molasses
Oh how did this Earth get to be so damn flat, fat assed dinosaurs probably squashed it
All the kids called you freak cuz you collected antiques and your wardrobe just screamed grandma’s closet
You squeaked through school, and on your first day of freedom, you cartwheeled across the country
Fell face first in New York, where they put you to work, mopping floors at Max’s Kansas City
The place was crawling with characters, googly eyed oddballs with zebra striped pants
Where cigarettes dangle from every possible angle, where all your dreams dazzlingly danced
Radioactive, Raw, and Reptilian, that Mad Music that penetrated night
Those days are long gone but you still carry on keeping your soft City song sweetly alive
Now 40 years strong in a rent controlled rat hole, most days you just stay underground
So play your guitar, you’re my Netherworld star, I’m caught in your spiderweb now.”
I turn down snowy streets at random, taking mental snapshots that freeze to the walls of my brain. Warm orange lamplit windows wearing wine stained smiles, bookstores selling ancient dust, shadow men smoking on stoops and skinny silver haired heiresses like walking icicles. A half-eaten corpse of a pretzel, mustard splattered Pollock on white sidewalk. A grid of chiseled grey fortresses where people make big decisions and control markets, ship and receive, toss pizza dough like ufos. Layer upon layer of life, almost too much life, so much life it’s sickening. A giant living mechanism. New York, the citiest City of them all.
I wander deep into the blue hour. Morning is coming. She’s cracked her egg and she’s threatening to scramble me if I don’t go to sleep.
The subway tunnels are empty now aside from a few drunken college kids with bagelesque heads ravaging bodega sandwiches. My celestial friend is long gone and I assume she must have finally floated upwards, high above the skyscrapers, now gazing down on this frozen, sparkling mess. From above, the City lights appear as a myriad of tiny flames, a gold shimmer stardust web, a sprawling candlelight vigil mourning it’s own future demise. We all seem to be in some state of lost here.
Once home, I crawl in bed. The City is a puzzle, easy to get in but hard to get out. In a half dream state I call out to my Angel and ask her where is there left for me to go.
“Per aspera ad astra,” she replies.
“Through hardships to the stars.”
“How will I know when I get there?”
“I’ll be there waiting with an infinite candle.”
“What will you show me?”
“You can see how beautiful the City looks from up here.”
“And then what?”
“We’ll sing “Rockaway Beach” and kick cans into oblivion.”
The record fades out and I open my eyes.
“Well what do you think?”
“Bro. I had a visions of subways and angels and pretzels and snow and stuff!”
“Whoa really? Dude. Insane.”
“It was beautiful.”
“Thanks bud, I’m so glad you like it.”
“It’s great! Some of it kinda reminds me of the Babies stuff but more matyuer. It’s kind of like an answer to “Meet Me In The City,” like we’ve finally met you there and now you’re taking us on a date to all your favorite secret spots. Anyways, I’m glad you didn’t make a shitty record cuz then I’d have to lie and say I liked it anyways, and Kevin let me tell you the only kind of lying I like to do is horizontal. Oh and hey…is bagelesque a word?!”