Among Thieves

by Jared Grabb Among Thieves

/
1.
There was ice on the river and grey skies overhead. It was cold in the encampment under Henri “Iron Hand.” “Heart Break” is what he called it ‘fore Tonti left them in that place. The winter’d been a long one, and word spread it wasn’t safe. So, they took what they could carry. (They) took the guns and the food. Then, they lit the blaze and headed north through the woods. Stumble through the dark, hands grasping the way. When word comes to Fort St. Louis of deserters and their shame, and then word of La Salle as he lies in the grave, Tonti’s granted power to preside over trade. And, when he heads south, to follow is my fate. I am a man of God in a country yet untamed. I will raise the cross, muskets firing in praise. Stumble through the dark, hands grasping the way. Now, here I lie in Mobile, and heaven soon awaits. They couldn’t help me in Paris nor at Pimiteoui. I was a shepherd of souls, with the help of young Marie. But, the Peoria were ungrateful. They put an arrow in me. It seems, if you rob a people of their history and their ways, then you marry off their daughters, there could be hell to pay. Stumble through the dark, hands grasping the way.
2.
La Ville de Maillet at the base of the bluff: we’ve made our home in a wilderness. Amongst the natives, we made French land, which then became British, then American. This feels wrong. It feels wrong. They’re absent parties. This feels wrong. It feels wrong. And, we are traders, yes, by trade. The Potawatomi know our names. So, when word comes they’ve lost Dearborn, natives stand British and we American. This feels wrong. It feels wrong. They’re absent parties. This feels wrong. It feels wrong. Our war cannot be won. Returning south, we see the ships: American soldiers out for vengeance. But, Chief Black Partridge has scouts. Finding his village, you could hear the shouts, “This feels wrong. It feels wrong. They’re absent parties. This feels wrong. It feels wrong. This feels wrong. It feels wrong. They’re absent parties. This feels wrong. It feels wrong. The tribe is gone.” In the distance, smoke from the flames. Scattered corpses dot the Plaines. American soldiers sleep docked at Maillet. Tense and conflicted, in our homes we lay. This feels wrong. It feels wrong. This feels wrong. It feels wrong. This feels wrong. It feels wrong. We’re being fired upon! Bullets rain. A late night raid. Fires blaze. They say we’ll get no sympathy. Through debris, children scream, women flee. In chains we drift to St. Louis.
3.
How ‘bout a drink? With all this corn, let’s make the air stink. Let’s start a distillery. Let’s make some whiskey! (I’ve) got some buds who are bankers. I’ve got Moss with the boats. I come from retail, and we’ve got some land we own. They ask, “Hey, you done this before?” I say, “Nah, but whatcha gonna do with corn besides make the devil’s drink? And, you’ll all follow our lead. ‘Cause, we are sparks. We are the flames. We are pioneers in this debaucherous scene. We are sparks. We are the flames. We are pioneers and we drink whiskey!” Before the Trust, and y’all got robbed by Greenhut… Before Carrie Nation came and swung her hatchet… Before Woodruff and his soda shops… Before $2 a gallon to pay the war debts off… We were sparks. We were the flames. We were pioneers in this debaucherous scene. We were sparks. We were the flames. We were pioneers and we drank whiskey! Yeah, we are sparks. We are the flames. We are pioneers in this debaucherous scene. We are sparks. We are the flames. We are pioneers and we drink whiskey! We are sparks. We are the flames. We are pioneers in this debaucherous scene. We are sparks. We are the flames. We are pioneers and we drink.
4.
Free Men 02:51
I see the eyes that hide behind the cellar door, and I’ve seen mobs of men. I saw God’s own try to gather down in Washington, and I saw a mob descend. I see the faces in the night by the river, that same river that holds the wheels from the vandals trying to terrorize Minister Allan for preaching high ideals of free men and salvation. I see a family so desperate for a new life that they’d risk death to see it through. But I also saw what men did to Davis. Most days it’s the women holding true. Now, the steam rises up from their warm meals, as my mind drifts to Alton, where I saw what’s right try to stand in the face of profit, and I saw ‘em choose profit and violence. Not free men, nor salvation. Well, I see sacrifice. I see gratitude in determined eyes. I see brave women and men continue to fight ‘til we stand side by side. Oh, and I… Oh, and I… Oh, and I… Oh, and I… I see them off at Lawn Ridge. It seems we’ve won the day. A drop of water in the bucket. So tonight at bed we’ll pray for free men and salvation.
5.
I was born a potter’s son. 5 miles north of Switzerland. I was the ninth born and the fourth son. And the eldest, he took the one spot with my father to man the ovens. There’s power in the change. The heat brings resilience. My youth saw rebellion: Revolution to the west in France, The rise of industry and a better life it seemed had skipped over my village. So, with Katharina I sought the Promised Land. There’s power in the change. The heat brings resilience. I’d become a baker by trade, and the upheaval of my youth had followed me to my American days. But, I knew it and looked in its face. With Civil War, the business was made. There’s power in the change. (Power in change.) There’s power in the change. (Power.) The heat brings... The load left sores upon my legs over many hours per week and 7 days. But I’ve lived to a ripe old age. We put Sacred Heart there in its place. And, my creations live on today. There’s power in the change. (Power in change.) There’s power in the change. (Power in change.) There’s power in the change. The heat brings resilience.
6.
Lydia 02:50
In the year that she arrived, Clarissa and Tobias Moss died. Oh, wasn’t Rebecca’s loss enough to wet her eyes? They’d married late. They’d moved west. Oh, was that right? Tobias Sr. and brother William at her side... She laid her love down. She placed the name as if kissing a face. She laid her love down in this town. She made the name. And, they tried to build a life. Tobias did his business with pride, with whiskey, land, and money, he hit his stride. But, two babies died ‘fore Laura shined a light, and even Laura, in her teens, died a child. She laid her love down. She placed the name as if kissing a face. She laid her love down in this town. She made the name. In all these years, six children gone. So with money, power, and influence, they plotted in memoriam, until Tobias had his accident. Oh, Lydia. Oh, Lydia. And so, she sat alone, director on the banking board, and owning much of the neighborhood. She doubled down, doubled dollars, proudly stood behind the parks, the school, the hospital. She laid her love down. She placed the name as if kissing a face. She laid her love down in this town. She made the name. She laid her love down in the town. She placed the name as if kissing a face. She laid her love down in this town. She made the name a legacy.
7.
Another town on the circuit. It ain’t much, but there’s a river there. Hard liquor and prostitution, but if it plays there, it can play anywhere. I came down from Chicago. It gets so hard to make a name up there. Broke my back for White City, but got no name for my labor. Well, I’m (I’m) dreaming like (dreaming) Dreamland in Brooklyn. And, I’m (I) seeing what only (see) my eyes can see. I’m (I’m) dreaming like (dreaming) Dreamland in Brooklyn. And, I’m (I) seeing what only (see) my eyes can see. I parked my yacht down on Main Street. I met with Webb to discuss the use of land. Next, I met with Central City. I got my funding from Finley. By ‘05 I had a carousel, a coaster, men set aflame. Well, I’m (I’m) dreaming like (dreaming) Dreamland in Brooklyn. And, I’m (I) seeing what only (see) my eyes can see. I’m (I’m) dreaming like (dreaming) Dreamland in Brooklyn. And, I’m (I) seeing what only (see) my eyes can see. I’ll make Al Fresco sing.
8.
The evening finds me dancing with my daughter by my side. After a day spent at Al Fresco, we turn and turn in time. But, the fog creeps over the river, as the band resumes their play. I hear a man call, “I can reach the willows!” as the bottom begins to scrape. And, as the dark falls over me, and we plunge into the deep, I push the floor off from my feet and push toward the window. It gives ‘way. The bow breaks. The walls collapse beneath the weight of the water. Glass rains from shattered panes. Reaching down a shadow hangs, reaching farther and farther. I see McIntyre hanging from the beams. Three cling to him and three more cling to me. The hall is filled with prayers and screams, until they cease and that’s a much more frightening thing. It gives ‘way. The bow breaks. The walls collapse beneath the weight of the water. Glass rains from shattered panes. Reaching down a shadow hangs, reaching farther and farther. “Please take my baby ‘way!” Please don’t let this crowded grave silence my daughter. The 88. The 88. The 88 that fate will slay, while I lie choking on the water of the banks.
9.
Lump of Coal 03:00
Put that Whiskey down. They say there’s war. Our men are overseas. Now, hear the tractor’s roaring. They say our grains can’t go to drink anymore. Lacquer, paint, and varnish. Fingernail polish. They took Holt’s tractor, put a 60-pounder on it. They took away our way of life and brought the factory floor. Does it take a bad, bad thing to push a good thing forward, or do we find a fool searching for a moral? Sure it ain’t the same, the way it melts your brain, the way it drowns the pain of this life we’re living, but the beer don’t cut the same. It don’t cut the same. We’ve got women voters… the Park Place Baptist Church. The Feds have forced a pivot, and Lucy Tyng we curse. So, we tunnel down Main. We smuggle whiskey drink. Does it take a bad, bad thing to push a good thing forward? A people got to pay the rent, got to sink or float. Does it take a bad, bad thing? Earn a lump of coal? Or, do we find a fool searching for a moral? Does it take a bad, bad thing to push a good thing forward? A people got to pay the rent, got to sink or float. Does it take a bad, bad thing? Earn a lump of coal? Or, do we find a fool searching for a moral?
10.
I’m sick of hearing curses cast upon this town. Well, if you don’t mind, keep your grumbles down. Listen up and let me make my case. ‘Cause, if you’re not shaping the institutions, if you’re not searching for new solutions, then maybe you can take some of the blame. And, I know what’s lurking out of sight. Oh, they say the city’s filled with vice. Well, if we can’t keep it clean, at least they can pay the fee. So, among thieves in the night, just out of the city lights, you can find a den of sin, but not a one that don’t know me. Among thieves. And, I’m feeling like an old man now, 24 years of standing at the helm and 40 years running in this river town. You can call me “Crooked Neck,” call me “Old Ed,” but don’t you got go calling me a gangster’s pawn instead. I’m the one who took out the trash and kept you fed. And, I know what’s lurking out of sight. Oh, they say the city’s filled with vice. Well, if we can’t keep it clean, at least they can pay the fee. So, among thieves in the night, just out of the city lights, you can find a den of sin, but not a one that don’t know me. Yeah, among thieves in the night, just out of the city lights, you can find a den of sin, but not a one that don’t know me. And, I know what’s lurking out of sight. And, they say the city’s filled with vice. Well, I’m not a fool like Fischer, so let me be. Among thieves.
11.
Whitewashing 05:53
He had a dream, that he was born of the sun, not as a son of these circumstances, as a golden child with the gift of a laugh and infinite chances, ‘cause facing the day in a city where a black boy is seen as a cancer, is a stifling thing, a damaging thing, and yet he killed them with candor. ‘Cause, he had a dream, in which we now believe, while not accepting his misery. We’re whitewashing history. Baby in a shoebox. Priest in the church. Hoss in the alley. Buck hit him in the heart, where it hurt. But, we’re loving how he made us laugh. Well, slipping on shit wa’nt bad, when he had the sun on his face. And, he had a dream, in which we now believe. We put his statue on State Street since we bulldozed the red-light district. Well, there’s still a river and still a sky overhead, It still gets damn cold, and there’s still heavy hands. The poor are still poor, police patrolling them, and white flight is real. To the north and the east, they’ve fled. Yeah, Richard got out. We put a highway in. He put us back on the map, after 7 schools and the system failed him. But, there was Carver and Miss Juliette. She saw potential where the rest saw a boy gone bad. She had a dream She got him to believe. But this city is misery, and we’re whitewashing history.

about

Vinyl available at sosayweallrecords.bandcamp.com/album/among-thieves.

In 2013, I returned to my hometown of Peoria, Illinois. I quickly realized how deeply connected I felt to the people and places. Among Thieves is an album paying homage to this connection. It speaks of what it means to be from this place via the histories of those who came before. These histories can be difficult, and their subjects can be highly flawed. However, understanding the past is the first step to planning our futures.

It can be said that Peoria has been home to its fair share of tragedies. Peoria was born out of the ashes of a French community after it was raided and burned by American militia during the War of 1812. During America’s bloody Civil War, the city hosted two camps of Union soldiers with a total troop population which accounted for more than a third of the city’s population. In 1918, as World War I was winding down and the temperance movement was winding up, the Columbia Paddle Steamer sank into the Illinois River killing more than eighty men, women, and children. Prohibition then proceeded to destroy the city’s primary industry of whiskey production. In recent years, more affluent populations have left the city’s borders and taxation, leaving those remaining to cope with failing infrastructure, a struggling education system, and more than a century of industrial pollution.

Add to this the racial, cultural, and social discrimination that routinely arose throughout Peoria’s past. In the 17th century, the French Jesuits worked to convert the native “savages” to Catholicism while giving away the tribes’ daughters to the white immigrant traders. Preceding the Civil War, the city’s general population pushed back hard against the abolitionist minority with rioting and violence. As the 20th century came into being, whiskey barons and manufacturers polluted the river and the lands of the south side where the working class struggled. Meanwhile, the wealthy planted themselves atop the clean and scenic bluffs. The popular amusement park owner Vernon C. Seaver honed his skills at a segregated Chicago park with attractions like the “African Dip” that demeaned black people. As a child growing up in the 1940s, the famous comedian Richard Pryor, and doubtless many children like him, suffered abuses at the hands of the larger white community. Failing to look directly into the face of our city’s flaws would be to wrongly attribute the current shortcomings of the disenfranchised solely to the disenfranchised themselves.

At the same time, Peoria is and has been a place of hopes and dreams. The Jesuits genuinely tried to save souls. The French grew into a symbiotic relationship with the native Illinois tribes before Thomas Craig’s American militia raided and burned both the French and native villages. Almiran Cole and the slew of distillers that came after him made Peoria, Illinois into the “Whiskey Capital” of the world for decades. The loving congregation of Main Street Presbyterian Church risked harm and well-being in order to stand for the freedom of slaves. A poor German immigrant by the name of Trefzger managed to make a home and a family-owned business here as he continued to bear witness to wars on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In being confronted with the loss of her children and her husband, Lydia Moss Bradley excelled in leadership and business while giving back to the community with infrastructure for health, preservation, religion, and education. Vernon C. Seaver brought a site of joy to the community that no one else could have imagined. The passengers of the Columbia banded together to save all the lives they possibly could. When Prohibition destroyed the primary industry of the city, the people pivoted into other uses of their facilities in order to survive and thrive. Mayor Woodruff played the hand he was dealt by negotiating with criminals and businessmen alike to clean up the city and provide avenues of income for its constituents. Juliette Whittaker and Richard Pryror dreamt of a future where a black man could be a world-class entertainer while speaking truth to power.

I wish for the stories contained in this album to hold all of these conflicting realities. May these stories help us to see where we are now, and how our path may best lead us forward.

-Jared Grabb

credits

released June 5, 2020

Jared Grabb: guitars, banjo, mandolin, vocals
Thomas "Atomic" Satterfield: drums, backing vocals
Chris Anderson: bass, backing vocals
Brett Conlin: guitars, backing vocals
JW Robb: primary engineer at The ER Studio
David Spielberg: secondary engineer at The ER Studio
Mark Wyman: engineer at Tone Good Studio
Carl Saff: mastering

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Jared Grabb Peoria, Illinois

Jared Grabb's earnest brand of indie/Americana creates low-key anthems for all working class dreamers.

Based out of Peoria, Illinois.

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