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Pulling Weight

by Jared Grabb

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When I lay with you, under sheets of blue and over hardwood floors, in this Chicago winter, I feel satisfied. You’re the thing I’m getting right. So, please don’t tire of me. Although, I can easily see how you might. How you might. But, pushing doubt aside, I’ve asked you to be my bride. And, to my delight, you were in love, the same as I. And, you cried. And though, the sun is gone and the heater stalls and resulting doldrums steal our motivation, I’m content to say the reason I feel safe and in my proper place is because you’re across the living space when your eyes, they meet mine. And after night has come and under sheets you have returned, with a book spread wide and yellow pages from the reading light, I join your side and say, “Goodnight.” I don’t mind the light, so do as you like. I’m at your side. I’ll be there for life. I love your light, so do as you like. I’m at your side. I’ll be there for life. And, I love your light, so please, always be mine.
We want the sound that pricks your ears. We want the words that burn our tongues. We want to feel something. We want to be what we can become. We’re taking streets, the world wide ‐ making freedom more than a war‐faring tag line. We want nations in which power ain’t defined by the richest one percent tolerating a picket line. We’re pulling weight long after punching a clock to end the day. We don’t trust the politician. It takes too much money to get to where he stands. All that money from the corporations, loving their bottom lines before their common man. But, it’s not about us versus them. It’s about us. It’s about the working man. It’s not exclusive when the numbers rest in your hands. Eighty percent in decline for the richest men.
Dark nights, cold and petrified with a golden glaze cast by city lights, wash over the huddled hordes, who curse the train tonight for bringing winter’s bite. And, her temples ache. Beneath her scarf, her face is wet from tears the winds have made. As the train pulls away, she slouches over in wait, the world adrift ‘til Clark and Lake. 3rd shift has blurred her cityscape. Green line until the Bronzeville gate. Sundown is her time awake, and sun up steals her sleep away. And, dark nights spent by the table light. She’s reading books and mending quilts amongst the sleeping quiet. She’s worn down and tired of playing cop, for this is not the work which she desired. The 1st‐Floor‐Man says, “Take things slowly. You’ll burn out if you feel so much.” But she worries because a bed lay empty. One of her girls is out there selling her winter’s touch.
“Away” is where it takes him, away from this time and place and station. And, the Radio Man is going on about all the things in the world gone wrong, but he just thanks the presentation for taking his mind from his situation. Because, the things we do just to get by can be the same things that kill the fire inside. Night after night, the pain resides, and here, after years, he’s put the bottle aside. Because, it did not help to hide, and he is not a child. He cannot claim to be. He’s working for his living, and he’s lost that sensitivity. So, the knife comes down, and the shelves fill up. It took him 30 full years to fill that half‐empty cup. And, when the tears want to come at the end of the day, he can pull himself together and say, “At least I got paid.” The truth is priorities change. If a man gets a break, he should mend his ways. The world might love him reckless, but his loves will wish him safe. They’ll wish him safe, with a child on the way, and he will not let his woman be ashamed.
At 17, she found me lonely, sketching by myself. And, then at 18, is when she told me, “You ain’t gonna amount to anything else than a working man. You’re a working man. You ain’t got talent. You ain’t got skill. Oh, you’re a working man. You better keep yourself in school.” So, I went to college. I got some scholarships. I tried to make my parents proud, but at class admissions, they asked, “Why not do business? You’re making this harder on yourself. ‘Cause you’re a working man. Sure, you’ve got talent. You’ve got skill. But, be a working man. Life feels better when not uphill. Well, I’m stubborn, and I don’t listen. Sometimes it feels like I’ve been pissing my years away, and it’s a battle to make the good things stay. Well, about those years, I lunged into my fears that I wouldn’t amount to anything. I don’t amount to much, but my skin sure thickened up, and I’m no stranger to a hard‐worked day. ‘Cause I’m a working man. I had talent but I’m learning skills. Yes, I’m a working man. And, I’ll die with calluses and dirty nails.
My wife and I bought another second‐hand couch to match our second‐hand rug and second‐hand lights. We’re building a second‐hand life, but at least we’re getting a hand somewhere along the line. She looks around and all she sees are tattered things. All bruised and bandaged, pieced and packaged to bring peace – Peace, like so many things that from day one, we’d been open about. Like our family dream. Like moving from the couch stays, the parties, and the boozing. She’d sing, “My gift is life. So, my life, I give to you. And, my song is love. That’s why I sing for you. So sleep, Sweet Babe, in peace, while I sing for you.” I’ve been painting houses and she’s been cutting hair on the side. Oh, but we still – we barely get by. Oh, but, we’re getting by. Well, in a smaller town, we might have found religion or prison by now. But, here and now, I’m pleased to lay my cheek down to her belly round and sing, “I’ll always sing for you.”
Most days, he wants to drive so far away. He wants to drive a car without a map or place to stay. And, that’s most, that’s most days. And most nights, he feels oppressed by his working life. He feels that time clock ticking, oh, just barely out of sight. Most nights. And, when he sees his wife, he’s amazed that she’s the thing that he got that right. That she said yes to the cynic with a jaded mind. A cynic with a jaded mind. And the days come. And the nights come too. And the guilt comes because he can’t provide, but that’s what he must do. And when he sees his wife, he fights not to cry. ‘Cause he feels trapped by financial ties. By financial ties. The days go by, and the nights keep going too. And his need to flee subsides a bit with each night that his life at home is balanced with his life on tour. And, when he sees his wife, he thanks the sky that watched over their paths until they combined. ‘Til they combined.
Sweat from his brow runs to his eyes. The salt burns at mid‐day in mid July. Shoulder to his eyes and clutching a traffic sign. Orange vest and tarred hands beneath the harsh sunlight. You speed by. You don’t slow for this guy. Speed on by. Just another day working the Dan Ryan. Working the Kennedy. Working on the highway and singing Springsteen. And, the rain falls down from a Sunday morning sky. Everything’s gray and cold as she takes the Metra line far up north from Chicago to the toll booth where she spends her time. Where you speed by her four feet at the head of the line of constant passerbys. Providing for the family. And come January, there’s a fresh snowfall. Black boots crunch white drifts below tan slacks and a holstered hip. First patrolman on the scene of an accident. Black smoke against white sky. Like a boulder placed midstream displacing the current. Slumped figure in the driver’s side. And you coast on by. You crane your neck to see the other guy. Lights flashing.
He’s a funny man, painting pictures with his words and a wrench in his hand. He’s got us all laughing, making movies with no camera, as he’s wiping ‘way the grease. He likes to complain like there’s always someone cheating him, like there’s some mysterious thing stealing ‘way his destiny. Well, that’s the service industry. It’s not a personal thing. But, it’s still got its sting. With a father estranged, and a mom that couldn’t stand his paints, he hid ‘way his passion and down went his grades. But, walking away ain’t the hardest thing, ‘cause living on faith ain’t “going astray.” The mind rests better when it and the heart are in the same place, in the same place. Maybe raising autos up on jacks and gazing up at the under‐compartment and knowing where he’s at is a fine place to be, but it’s clear that he don’t see that. I think it comes from a lack of seeing and experiencing. Well, he’s making his own path. Even if it leads right back, it’s best he gets bags packed and writes his 2nd act. He’ll write a script without “what ifs” so as to appreciate his gifts. But he must set himself adrift.
A weight was lifted. A soul did fade. Another good man saw his last day. And, all grieve in their own way. So, I asked his son, “How’re you doing? How’re you holding up? What’s your condition?” He said, “I thank the day that lifted him away from the pains that stayed where his body still lay.” So, we all shake hands and pay respects, share our memories with our families and our friends, breathe life into them. And when time comes to take our seats, we all filter in and reverently cease to speak, when a man of words steps forward with these: “I thank the day that lifted him away from the pains that stayed.” As the crowd washes away, 8 men still remain, their hands clasp the casket like the mind clasps a refrain. A refrain that some find soothing. A refrain that brings some pain. But these lives and deaths are a refrain all the same. Like, “I thank the day that lifted him away from the pains that stayed. Yes, still, I thank the day that lifted him away from where his body still lay.”
Take away my tears and lay them upon the sands. Take away my waters and let them flow to the oceans. But, don’t you burn my body. And, don’t you lay me down on a bed of soil underneath the ground. By all accounts, I have lived a life of privilege. And it was only by getting out from within that charmed world that I could see what had been afforded me. I have a debt that I will pay back to this people and this place. I will labor for all my days. And in death, I hope to still carry my weight. This body’s meant for living, so if the whole is gone, then cut this man to pieces so another might live on.
To The Waves 03:31
Waiting for the tide to come and kiss my skin like my lover did. Waiting for the sun to fall like I fell for her lips. And, that is to say, in a grand display of orange and red fire that melts to the waves. My heart is the same. Catching a freight back east from L.A. would be romantic, but it just ain’t my way. So, I’ll be waiting again at the Greyhound Station just hoping to get a few more miles today. I know, the life that I paint is a life of restraint, but maybe I’ve found fear by mistake. Either way, I’m not headed her way. So, through the night I roll, just another loner in a pack of whispering headphones, with her photograph in hand, still grasping at the hope that she’ll understand. My heart’s not the drifter. It’s something my body can’t stand, the routine and waiting for it to start over again. So, to the waves, I say, “I’m still her man.”


CD/digital released on Thinker Thought Records (www.thinkerthought.com) and vinyl LP released on So Say We All (www.facebook.com/s2wal). Full album download includes 1 bonus track.


released June 5, 2012

Jared Grabb: banjo, guitar, mandolin, vocals
Heather Rose: backing vocals
Thomas "Atomic" Satterfield: drums
Chris Anderson: bass
Justin Miller: bass on "Bronzeville Gate"
Neal MacCannell: drums, percussion on "Bronzeville Gate"
Mark Perez: trumpet on "Thank The Day"
Mike Lust: recording
Carl Saff: mastering
Becca Taylor: artwork


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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.

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