after the wrecking ships
2004

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I wrote a lot of the songs on After the Wrecking Ships while living in an apartment in Brooklyn owned by Foxy Brown’s mother. She was always coming into our space at odd hours, criticizing me for the unwashed dishes in the sink and the like. That has little to do with the record, I suppose.

After The Confluence, I played a lot of shows with Alex and Buck and Ty. We were developing a sound that blended acoustic textures with ethereal electrics. Some of that sound was reflective of the Brooklyn I was living in. Sarah and I had a beautiful little garden out back and grew tomatoes. It was peaceful and could almost be pastoral in the spring. But of course, it was Brooklyn. And the subways and buses were loud and very inorganic. There were people everywhere. It was also post-September 11th. That was a big deal. It influenced my writing.

A lot of the songs on this album are about New York. “All the Weight” is set on the corner of the East Village where Sarah ran a clothing shop. “Bushwick” is the part of Brooklyn where I taught public school. “Little Fists,” though it talks about Baltimore, is really about feeling small and insignificant in a big and fast-moving world. Even “Chicago” is in part about not wanting to leave New York. Of course, there’s also “Shiloh” on this record, which has nothing to do with New York. This was my first attempt at a historical song. It’s of course about the Civil War battle in 1862. I guess I have a mini series of these songs, including “Soldier’s Song” on Strange Light and “Coming Home” on The Fire in My Head.

Alex produced this record. Much of what we aimed for was to capture the arrangements we were working out live. We recorded in his great new space in New Paltz, NY. I loved working up there, and Alex and I were a great team. There was still a sense of discovery and newness on this project. But we also had a newfound maturity and sense of what we did well.

One of the coolest musical moves we made on this record happens on the very first chord of the opening track, “Jefferson.” Alex had a few musicians: Jon Natchez and Frisbay, among them, play long tones of a chromatic scale (on baritone sax and trombone). We then used those notes to make melotron-style chords, riding up the faders of the notes we needed.

A number of the songs on this record became central to our live shows. We always played “Red” in the early days. “Times Square,” too. We hardly play either anymore, but “Jefferson” and “Chicago” are still in heavy rotation. “Boxes,” too. I think “Matador” is my favorite on the record, though we don’t play it much. It’s dark and heavy, and I love the mallets that start the tune.

After we released this record, I was asked to write a song for the CBS-TV show “Without a Trace.” By this point, I had moved to Atlanta and met Will Robertson. We met at an open mic, and my musical life changed. I wrote my song “Fire Sign” in part on a plane returning home from Eastern Europe and in part on our back porch in Atlanta. Will and I recorded the song in his bedroom. We re-released After the Wrecking Ships with slightly different art and the bonus track cut in. “Fire Sign” remains my best-known song.

Lyrics

Jefferson
When you come down…
Jefferson, I heard your tears fall down, over the fall of the rain.
Why is it you and I were never that much the same? Rain on the road across the Delaware,
nearly washed us away. How come philosophy folds in the light of the day?
And how come the leprosy ate everything away? A piece of the West broke away.

Chorus: We are worn like the river stones.
Lay your bones on the river stones.
Washed up like the river stones.

In Bethlehem a baby boy was born, born to build the bomb.
What was the fighting for, and who remembers his song? The boy was king. He was a prodigy,
in love with everything. Why did the kingdom come and spill on every one?
And why the confusion son the closer we cling to the gun? The fall of the West’s begun.
Chorus
In Pennsylvania there’s a bridge that broke. The water washed it on by.
Why is it you and I buckled under the tide? Jefferson we should have listened,
We should have answered the call. But what did you want from me, now the West will fall?
And who did you hope to be, now the West will fall? Yeah, now the West will fall.
Chorus.

Red
Words and music by David Berkeley
Straw Man Publishing ASCAP 2004

Red left Cleveland on the 8th day of July. She said, “this town could burn for all I care.”
Drove like hell until the smoke filled the sky, “God damn car won’t get me anywhere.”
You got me in pieces. Baby it just increases. I think I’m going crazy.
On the side of Route 80 they say wisdom comes for free. Oh Jules you know I miss you terribly.
God, I hope you hear me. Wouldn’t you agree?
This is an old song. This is an old song. Wouldn’t you agree?
Well, he saw her throw her sandals down the road, And he wasn’t too sure of what to say.
“You know the sunset in Ohio makes me mad, but something feels different today.”
I’m all in pieces. And baby it just increases. Where did you come from baby?
Oh Jules, I like the way your eyes shine when you smile, But Cleveland’s not a place for you and me.
Why don’t you believe me? Wouldn’t you agree?
This is a love song. This is a love song. Wouldn’t you agree?
Well, we got to get away from this town. How ‘bout Georgia? Watch the leaves come down.
A Greyhound heads southbound maybe three times or more. Yeah, this time, this time, I swear.
You got me in pieces. Baby it just increases. Where did you come from baby?
Wouldn’t you agree? This is an old song. This is a love song. This could be our song. Wouldn’t you agree?

Little Fists
Words and music by David Berkeley
Straw Man Publishing ASCAP 2004

Well, it’s closing time. It’s Christmas and your country calls on you.
“What would Jesus do?” reads the billboards driving south from Baltimore.
You’d think we’d gone to war. The army trucks are in the passing lane.
We’re asking the rules to change.
Well, in a field of grain, liberty stands with an open hand.
Outside Birmingham, blues man on the corner shares the news.
He says we cannot lose. The beggars on the street they disagree.
They’re asking the man to change.
Well, the painter’s hands are chained. The poet’s tongue is tied. The wizards all have died.
You must choose your side. Politicians pick the pleasure and the pain.
And in the pouring rain, You clench your little fists against the world.
You’re screaming. Asking the leaves to change.

The Matador
Words and music by David Berkeley
Straw Man Publishing ASCAP 2004

This was not your choice. It wasn’t yours to choose.
We may lose it all. We might have lost it all.
Recall the empty page, the first words on the page.
This is the age of thieves, the age of misbelief.
Round up the bulls, enter the matador.
Make up the rules; it’s what we’re fighting for.
Don’t you come near, don’t tell me anymore.
Through the fear, oh Sarah spring is here.
Oh, tell me please, what do you believe?
We’ve been overthrown, outnumbered, overgrown.
Alone against them all, it’s us against the world.
And girl, how we age. This is how we age.
Round up the bulls, enter the matador.
Break all the rules that we are fighting for.
Turn down the song don’t play me anymore.
All along, there’s something going wrong…

Times Square
Words and music by David Berkeley
Straw Man Publishing ASCAP 2004

She’s lost in Times Square, and everywhere the air is bright.
The moon rose tonight, rose despite the lights the sound.
Don’t hold me down.
The moon’s come unwound. String is found hanging from the trees.
Say what you please: That we’re green, that we’re mean, then we’re bound.

Chorus: Don’t hold me down, now that the light’s on me.
Turn down the lights, I can’t see.

We’re lost in Times Square, not prepared to sacrifice.
Don’t ask me twice. It isn’t nice, but we’ve lost the round.
Chorus
Watching you rise over Times Square. Quiet the Earth. Quiet the air.
And as the churning tides of your soul settle the boy, settle the girl.
And as the wrecking ships sail away, stay for the night, stay for the day.
And as you rise up over Times Square, child of the moon, smile from up there.

 

Chicago
Words and music by David Berkeley
Straw Man Publishing ASCAP 2004

Take anyone at all on any day, let’s say the day before the fall.
Strike up the band and maybe load the cannonball. Strike up the band before the fall.
You couldn’t be more wrong than this.
“I got to get away.”
“How ‘bout Chicago, you could be there in a day?”
“What’s in Chicago that the wind won’t blow away?
What’s in Chicago after all?”
You couldn’t be more wrong than this.
The wind it blew before. But not like this, it was much easier before.
You left me standing in front of all the open doors. Come back before too long.
You couldn’t be more wrong than this.

Shiloh
Words and music by David Berkeley
Straw Man Publishing ASCAP 2004

Hear Buell’s brass band play war songs for me, for you.
April ’62, the kids in blue and gray. Hear Buell’s brass band play so low, so true.
Oh, for the gray and blue, so low, so long, war songs, war songs.
Ma, the cannonballs are coming down. No one told us where to run or how.
Oh the general is bleeding now.
Shiloh.
Ma, I didn’t even know his name. Moving through the mud, the scream the pain.
Bloodstained, the blue and gray look just the same.
Shiloh.
After Shiloh, Tennessee turned blue. After Shiloh, blood’s on me and you.
After Shiloh, oh let me go home. After Shiloh.

All the Weight
Words and music by David Berkeley
Straw Man Publishing ASCAP 2004

Corner of 9th and Avenue A, postcard arrived in May.
I knew by the lick of the stamp it would say, you are resilient, we’ll be okay.
But all the weight of that day, and the price that we pay.
Things that just won’t go away and the things that won’t stay.
Sign of divine intervention we found. Sign of the times, God flipped it around.
Watch what you wish for, you pay by the pound, if you’re in New York and don’t make a sound.
But all the weight of this town, it’s bringing me down.
Trying to lose what I’ve found or just set it down.
If the streets snap out of time, if the world tilts ‘til you fall,
If the only words that rhyme, don’t mean anything at all you have to do,
Is come back home, I’m missing you, come back home, I’ll sing for you, this song.
All the weight of this town, it’s bringing me down.
Trying to lose what I’ve found, or just set it down…

Bushwick
Words and music by David Berkeley
Straw Man Publishing ASCAP 2004

Twelve years old, by now you see that the world was meant for me and not for
you grow so fast, you grow so bitterly. Soon you’re not who you need to be
who you’ll be, you notice that the signs are contradicting all the time.

Chorus: Why does it look better in black and white? I disagree. So try me. Be bigger this time.

There’s a rule on Bushwick Drive, that you keep your eyes cast down on your own lives
go on like that I guess, but in the end there’s more that you should really get
off the bus, get off the subway car find out where you really are.
Chorus
So, it’s fame that clipped your wing. How did that go on? So, the rain can’t make you sing.
How did that go on? So you’ve let them fence you in. How did that go on?
Chorus.

Boxes
Words and music by David Berkeley
Straw Man Publishing ASCAP 2004

Now the kids have all grown old, no more grass stains on their big dreams.
Now we pack it all it seems in these boxes, all these boxes.
All these boxes they are all I see, and our big dreams. Where will they go?
Remember when you said hello in your blue jeans and your long hair?
We went walking everywhere, by the river. You were trembling.
You were trembling when I said to you, let me kiss you and your big dreams.
Twenty years, or so it seems, that’s a long time. What a long time.
And now you hold it all inside like those boxes. All those boxes.
All those boxes they get in my way, like our big dreams, like our old bones.
Lately there’ve been ghosts I know. I can’t see them. Help me see them.
Well, I guess we’ll pack the ghosts as well and move on now, and move West now,
with our big dreams all in boxes. Oh our dreams they aren’t quite as big as our boxes.

Fire Sign
Words and music by David Berkeley
Straw Man Publishing ASCAP 2004

You should have told me.
Seemed like an ordinary day
Everything seemed to be okay

Did it hurt you?
These are the scars you never show.
She is a fire sign, you know
One day you’re near and then you go

Here is a photograph, what do you see?
Sorry it’s just me.
Oh in the aftermath, it’s hard to breathe
And harder to believe

They deceive you
There is a wall you have to climb
The echoes in your mind

You surrender
These are the lessons that you learn
nobody hears no one’s concerned
One day it’s clear and then you burn

Here is a photograph, what do you see?
There’s nothing there but me.
Oh in the aftermath, it’s hard to breathe
And harder to believe

Even just a sound. And all your cards are down.
Even just a sound.
Let me lay you down. Don’t have to make a sound.
I would lay you down

It surrounds you
These are the scars you never show.
There was a warning sign, you know
One day you’re near and then you go