It’s been just over a week since I got my copy of The Bride on the Boxcar – the 5 record rarities boxset from Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos. Being an albumist, I’ve only listened to the set in order – all 3 hours and 21 minutes front to back. Being a Margot fan, I’ve now listened to the set seven times. In fact, I’m on listen number eight while writing this.
And since this is quite probably the last music that will be released as a Margot record, I am sufficiently conflicted.
After all, I’ve been emotionally entangled in Margot for the past five years. While Richard Edwards, lead singer and gravitational center of the band, was dealing with his own ghosts, I was slipstreaming through his catharsis to deal with mine.
I was already in the army and stationed in Fort Stewart, Georgia before I first met a favorite musician. I was nineteen at the time, and had convinced a few buddies to drive from Stewart to Hilton Head to visit a mediocre little venue called the Blue Note to see a folk rocker named Angie Aparo.
I got hooked on Angie fairly early. You’re forgiven if you’ve never heard of him. While some in the south said he was the next Bob Dylan, the closest he got to mainstream fame was writing the song Cry, which Faith Hill covered [original].
But that night, in the parking lot outside of the Blue Note, when I was chugging Heinekens with a fellow soldier named Mully, I caught Angie sneaking out for a beer. We chatted. He was cool. It was a fantastic set. And I managed to meet a someone who’s art had an outsized impact on my life.
Years later I had a similar experience, albeit in the digital realm. I was working as a journalist. Back from the war, deep in the bottle and dealing with PTSD. I had picked up an album from a band called Vinyl Star based on hearing a single track online.
[Aside – the above album is $4 on Prime. Do yourself a favor and buy it. If you don’t like it, let me know, I’ll buy your a drink]
I dug through the liner notes, looking for meaning and trying to piece together the story of a band that had broken up three years before I found them. Lo and behold, in the back of the notes was an email address. A Hotmail address, to be precise. I figured what the hell, and shot out an email. That lead to a years-long friendship with Paul Foreman, following him through several bands, getting early drafts of music, and learning the ins and outs and what-have-you of the Chicago bar music scene.
And then there’s all the bands I met, and interviewed, drank with, and shared the occasional near-death experience with when working as a journalist. And since he’s probably reading this, yes Kenton, that means you.
It seemed that bands, that the musicians who made the music I listened to when I was feeling broken and alone were actually every bit as broken and alone as I was. And if I put myself in the right position, I could sit with those bands and drink whiskey and trade stories.
I could take the art that fueled me and turn it into experiences to fuel my own life.
I was exactly nine blocks from where I’m sitting right now. Granted, I was laying down at the time, but it was nine blocks and five long years ago.
I know I was lying down because I actually found Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos through a cruel twist of technology. I had purchased a Sony Dash – the corporate, slick version of the Chumby – through a daily deal site for a replacement alarm clock. I had wanted something on which I could watch Netflix and listen to NPR in bed and smart phones were still kind of a joke back in 2010. But since I listen to more music than I watch movies or stream podcasts, the service that got the most use on my Dash was Pandora.
I can’t recall what particular station I was listening to, but whatever it was, the station had a habit of playing Broadripple is Burning. I’m certain of that. I’m certain because that is by and large the easiest entry in to the Margot repertoire.
Broadripple is simultaneously intimate and universal. It’s a tale of love gone sour, peppered with details that are exceptionally specific and yet utterly familiar. For anyone who’s experienced even a semblance of heartbreak, the song feels like home. It is both the best and worst Margot song.
Lying in my bed in Church Hill, listening to heartbreak on a shitty speaker on a shitty digital device, I knew I was hooked. This was just on the cusp of Buzzard being released, pairing the early days of streaming, I pointed by Rdio subscription at the sad bastard records of Dust of Retreat, Animal, and Not Animal.
Margot proved my entry into the chamber pop genre. Margot songs wound their way into my writing repertoire. And whenever I needed to feel sad, I knew where I would reach.
It was two years of solid listening before I found myself in in the front row for a Margot show at the Rock and Roll Hotel. It was the Rot Gut Domestic Tour, a decidedly grungy turn for a band I’d come to know for delicate arrangements.
But it was worth it.
The set was amazing, mixing new tracks with old into a musicual tapestry of pain and heartache and the exhilaration of survival. When the set wound down and the band played Broadripple, the entire audience lost their minds. They, we, crushed forward, pressing against the edge of the stage, forcing me to lean on an monitor and see what I feared – Richard didn’t seem to like this song.
As a lyricist, Richard Edwards is no Fred Thomas. Fred constructs metaphors that shouldn’t work, but you can’t imagine never hearing again. Richard puts together scenes easily ripped from any white suburban upbringing. But that lack of acute skill turns out to be a boon for Edwards. Where Thomas can construct at a higher level, Edwards is that much more approachable, relatable. Edwards crafts experiences that might seem specific, but ultimately draw arch. They might not be as techincal, but Richard Edwards lyrics hit with a the familiar weight of a semi-truck.
And this wasn’t a new skill for him. Even as a young man, Richard wrote lyrics like this:
And don’t compose epic poems
To win her back
‘Cause when your bird has flown
She’ll never return home
Though all your life you’ll watch
She’ll never return
To anyone who thought he’d loved and lost, that lyric made sense. It was solid advice. Don’t go chasing after the loves that have left you. They’re gone. No poetry or valiant acts are going to bring those hearts back. Things, after all, end for a reason.
Real life, after all, is not a movie.
It was that realization that really drove Margot home for me. Richard was, and still is, better at a lot of things than I am.
Sure, I am no musician.
But Edwards is better at feeling pain, and better at expressing his hurt. And in many ways, he’s better at getting hurt than I am. That’s probably my own fault. I lead a rather guarded life. I can, like this essay, express the imitation of intimacy, but few actually get close. Fewer still leave a mark. I’ve found it hard to get hurt when I always have a foot out the door. In a lot of ways, I blame Hemingway and his damned iceberg.
But here was a man who could not only get hurt, but he could do so in such a public way. And the best I could do was ride on the coattails of his pain, queuing up certain songs when I needed to feel something, anything.
It was a crime. It was my crime. It was the very thing Hemingway warned Fitzgerald about, “We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt, use it-don’t cheat with it.”
And there I was cheating.
The second time I saw Margot, I was certain that Richard really didn’t like performing Broadripple. Maybe it was because I was close to the stage, maybe it was because this was the beginning of the Sling Shot tour and Richard was just days away from canceling due to health issues. But as the band wrapped their set and moved into the obligatory performance of Broadripple, the crowd crushed forward again.
This song – the tale of either love lost or love unrequited – has a bit of a history. The earliest version of it I have is on a Margot Demo album. The rarities boxset has a version on Dust of Retreat – the first Margot LP. But the first official release puts the song on Not Animal – the official, but contested, second Margot album.
That statement might require some unpacking. See, when Margot went to record their second album, they apparently had too many songs and that lead to a tif with their label. The offical agreement was the label could release a CD, and the band could take the vinyl release. They cut the dueling records from the same stock of songs with the label/CD release being named “Not Animal” and the band/vinyl release being called “Animal.”
Broadripple was on Not Animal. So, if you follow the band’s story – Margot and the Nuclear So and Sos never actually intended to release their most popular song. And yet here we are, at the end of a decade, and I have no fewer than five different distinct versions of the song. And it’s a good song. It’s an intimate song. And I can see why Richard wouldn’t want to release it. The song makes feeling too easy. It makes pain to ready. It’s a shortcut into the deeper parts of heartbreak. And that can be embarrassing.
I have poems I’ll never release for much the same (albeit not nearly as well constructed) reasons.
And that not released song became the most popular thing Margot ever did.
I can see why Richard might want to distance himself from the song. It’s utterly melodramatic. The central narrative deals with being rejected, being love spurned. But instead of cowboying up and walking away, the narrator threatens suicide, to hang by a rope and haunt the rejector.
I’m sure it’s an emotion we’ve all felt, or at least enough of us where the song is demanded at concerts. But from an artist standpoint, from the lecturn of the broken heart, it’s not a noble position.
Not that this makes it any less real.
The true magic of Margot songs is that they are voyeurism rendered into song.
If social media is life’s best moments artfully arranged to avoid pain and promote personal brands, Margot is the equal but opposite. It’s life’s quiet hardships arranged into occasionally dense, often sparse moments. It’s the darker parts, the heart break, the rejection, the desire to end it all if only to haunt the person who rejected you. It’s the self-doubt that can only be gained from losing the faith that someone once held in you.
And now it’s over. Richard has reached the end of his twenties, and with it the end of the Margot journey.
Of course, I still have his music. I am not an overtly emotional person. I still need records to cheat from, and the Margot albums provide a great source of a pain, a shortcut to the deeper emotions I know I’m supposed to feel.
And I suppose I should know they’re fake. After all, social media is the fake highlights of our lives. Why wouldn’t our favorite albums be the artistically arranged lowlights?
But I can deal with that. I can overlook any potential artifice. Richard Edwards has produced a decade of meaningful music. And yes, one or two songs might have gotten carried away. And yes, the first album might be the one Richard hates the most and the fans love [Aside: I had a brief convo with Richard, the percussion section Dust is astounding. Unfortunately, the drummer responsible for it has since passed].
But art gets it’s truth not from it’s creation, but it’s reception. And in that sense, the demo records, the cast offs from a decade of Margot are art in the truest form. They’ve been given a sense of polish, but each track cuts deep into the time and space from when a record was created.
And combined, listened in order, they are 3 hours and 21 minutes of music that took Richard a decade to make and capture the last tumultuous five years of my life.
I could have gotten here without certain people, but I couldn’t have gotten here without Margot.