The Foghorns – The Big F
Seattle-area staples and Ball of Wax abettors the Foghorns began selling the Big F EP from the merch table at their recent Conor Byrne show with Levi Fuller & the Library and Yucca Mountain. After the candied blue vinyl beauty of their last release, 2011’s outstanding To the Stars on the Wings of a Pig, the Big F is decidedly more understated in its presentation – hand-made CD-Rs marked with a sharpie and packaged in a white envelope alongside 2 double-sided printed pages of credits, liner notes, missives, and mild confessions. Most importantly, though, the CD-Rs contain five pretty remarkable songs – 3 of which are available digitally via Bandcamp. The full CD is available from Knick Knack Records as well.
“Ain’t I a Man,” first released on Ball of Wax volume 32 back in June, was rerecorded for the Big F in light of the unexpected support it received from the likes of Greg Vandy at KEXP among others. The song’s success even led to the Foghorns’ first proper video:
“Ain’t I a Man,” with it’s sharp Dylanisms and sharper bass clarinet (thanks to Lauren Trew), makes no bones about its biting social critique. Whereas much of the Foghorns’ rich catalog deals with hangovers, bad lays and good lust, these songs are honest-to-goodness social commentary about the state of values, fairness, manliness, and opportunity in our contemporary, high-gloss bubble. “Ain’t I a Man” is a protest song of the best kind – the kind that looks you in the eye and says “you’re a dick, and here’s why.” About the upwardly mobile urban denizens that swarm Seattle and other urban hotbeds, Cameron not only takes the obvious jab that “9 out of 10 can’t take a shit on their own / yeah they’re utterly helpless if they ain’t on their phones” but, more pointedly, remarks, “So I’m stuck in the city where the geeks are kings / They got all the morals of Louis the 14th,” which gets to the critical heart of the Big F.
In an essay about Frog Eyes’ brilliant new album, Jana Hunter writes “the ones to look out for are the people who would write music if the music industry didn’t exist,” which I believe firmly include Bart Cameron and his Foghorns. Look at the artwork for the Big F, for crying out loud. But I don’t think the Big F‘s crappy artwork and hobbled release plan means that the Foghorns are airhead slackers or cultural nihilists. They make folk music (and not in the ridiculous “let’s dress up like we’re in Cold Mountain and sing about the dust bowl” way that’s plagued us the last decade or so) in that they sing about real stuff for everyday people. Thus, drinking, screwing, getting old, feeling adrift and, brought to the forefront on the Big F, socio-economic decadence and the cultural hypocrisy of re-urbanization. The Foghorns make folk music because they’re fired up, and because they care. Maybe the music industry doesn’t really exist for the Foghorns, but stuff like the Comet closing and the issues of supporting creative endeavors like a music scene in a cultural mecca like Seattle (take it from Business Week) seem to.
Bart – and I may be reaching here, but stick with me – is putting his proverbial cowboy boots on the proverbial coffee table in calling out, among other things, the hypocrisy of extolling the virtues of the creative class while squeezing out actual creative people (and not “creative” in the way technocrats use the term, but people who make art). His working man’s moralism stands on simple, sturdy legs with songs like “This Christmas All I Want is a Job.” On “400 Dollars,” Cameron sings, “I’ve been making music and I ain’t been paid / the money you make.”
There are two cover songs on the CD-R version of the Big F: Chuck Berry’s “Wee Wee Hours” and the Rolling Stones’ notorious “Cocksucker Blues.” “Wee Wee Hours” is a pretty straight forward performance of classic heartbroken blues, but being a Chuck Berry tune it invariably alludes to the Stones. “Cocksucker Blues,” in the days before the internet made all knowledge a matter of bandwidth availability, was more myth than actual menace. Originally recorded as the last single for the Stones’ contract with Decca Records, the song was, understandably, never released due to it’s content. It’s floated around in bootleg copies of a promotional pressing for 40 years and popped up as the title of an unreleased documentary that chronicled their Caligulan 1972 North American tour. When Cameron sings “Where can I get my cock sucked? / Where can I get my ass fucked? / I ain’t got no money / but I know where to put it every time,” his disenchantment and bile is not that of a jaded millionaire rock star lashing out in a naughty kiss off to record executives. Jagger’s vulgar outburst from 1970 takes on different meaning croaked out by the Foghorns in 2013. It may be hard to shock a city run by geeks with the morals of Louis the 14th, but the Foghorns make a go of it. Actually, alongside “Ain’t I a Man” and “400 Dollars,” “Cocksucker Blues” might not be there to shock the listener, but shame him by reflecting his own libertine callousness back at him.
Back to the liner notes – which amount to a defiant, funny, easily overlooked objet d’art in their own right. Bart (assuming he wrote it on his own) issues a kind of apology for the ramshackle delivery of the Big F, writing “we made a CDR because we didn’t want to risk any money – ours, or anyone else’s.” Swirling around that reasonable explanation are assertions like:
“If ‘Yesterday‘ is the Taco Tuesday of world musicology, musicians being the artists that are equal to Waterloo, Iowa elementary school cafeteria master chefs and all the world’s music consumers being equated to 1983 Waterloo, Iowa 2nd graders, ‘This Christmas All I Want is a Job’ would be the couscous and eggplant with sliced beets. (Truthfully, I’d choose something less wholesome as a food analogy, but the couscous scarred me for life.)”
Bart’s consciousness streams unfettered throughout those awesome couple of typed pages, trying on first, second and third person voices while tossing out anecdotes like:
“Something crazy happened in Iceland. (Every fucking second something crazy happens in Iceland. While I wrote this sentence, someone puked whale sashimi while bathing in a natural hotspring with a Venezuelan supermodel who has, tattooed above her left buttock, an old English poem about western winds, and who will soon, no doubt, depart for China to pose as a wealthy businessman’s girlfriend because, well, that kind of crap happens there. Iceland is equal to or greater than Stargate.)”
And remember, there are 5 songs that come with this too.
- The Foghorns need to make more music and we should all listen to it (and buy it, when that’s an option)
- Bart needs to write his Tarantula or Go Now. Make this happen Seattle – we’re can-do people in a cultural mecca.