How everything turns away
Image: John Vachon
Wild Bill Jones - Sam Amidon
About suffering they are never wrong, these old mountain songs. Life -- and death -- is what happens while you're mundanely living it. While you're sleeping, tangled careless in bedclothes; or strolling the aisles of a supermarket with your little brown handbasket, scanning the shelves for anchovies and oatmeal; or dancing at a wedding reception, flatfooted and arms flailing, shouting vain requests to a scornful DJ. That's when violence visits some man, unknown to you, with a flash of gunmetal, a flare of light, a scream, a moan. In just a second ... two, three, four. That's when another man discovers he holds a hot revolver in his very own hand -- and has shot a poor boy body and soul.
Other performers of "Wild Bill Jones" have tried to explain the narrator's cruel action, why a seemingly modest, law-abiding citizen shoots on small provocation and becomes an outlaw. In some versions, he is drunk, in others, Wild Bill Jones pulls a knife first. Sam Amidon, in his careful, considered way offers little context and no excuse. His flat-voweled, everyman twang, his da da da da, isn't unkind. But Amidon, like his 19th century predecessors, assumes you know what life is -- brutal, unfair, inexplicable. He assumes you know that while a small human drama plays out, birds carry on building their nests in treetops, a nearby creek's fierce onrush never pauses, a child in a house a half mile away sits down at the kitchen table, lays out her homework and turns on the radio, as she does every school night after dinner. And tonight no different. He assumes you know that a sudden act of violence is just a tiny knot in a sprawling tapestry, an unimportant failure, a murmur drowned out by the bleating, booming, humming, singing, ticking glory of oblivious life bustling all around, beautiful and terrifying, wild and sublime.
With his wonderous plain voice and a small orchestra, Sam Amidon tells nine more stories on All Is Well, which is due for release in February (preorder), Myspace.