Time, Success & the Honeysuckle Madness of a Covid Summer

Time has been on my mind quite a bit the last several years. Perhaps a lot of that has something to do with marching stubbornly through my 40s. Perhaps it has to do with a couple decades of failing forwards, and continually pummeling myself with Pip’s expectations and Montag’s resignation. It is interesting to me to see the number of “40 is the new 30” or “People who went into business in their 40s posts” – one, because they are motivating, but two, because they are true, more and more often, for more and more people. What does that mean?

It means that across the board – everywhere and for everyone – things just take longer.

Now, obviously there are exceptions. Some person nobody knows skateboards to Stevie Nicks and Ocean Spray sends him a truck, but then the next minute, everyone is doing it, and nobody cares.

Most of us, just sludge and trudge and exalt and pain our way forward, trekking onward in this elusive desire to someday find this magical place where we no longer have to worry. But we find ourselves consumed with documentaries about the lives of the rich and famous. This is nothing new, but what is…. is that almost everything is documented. From Tiger on HBO to Pop90 on Hulu, the docu-memoirs of celebrity have a new sense of ‘real’ and ‘scary’ to them. People we knew from school, who have their face all over billboards in town, have the newest car, and the nicest house, still shoot themselves on their back porches. RIP Kim.

And we wonder…. what is going on here? How long will I have to suffer before I get there? Will I have time for the OTHER THINGS in my life?

Honeysuckle Summer, the new record from Charles Ellsworth, is an exploration of the discovery that we are already there. Everyday. That success is elusive, indefinable, and meaningless beyond our own experience. And that experience is nothing but VALIDATED by the time we spend.

Ryan B. Clark

It is easy to immediately think about TIME when talking to Charles. I have known this guy for just about 20 years now. I remember teaching him poetry, when I had no idea he gave a shit. I remember interviewing him about depression, suicide, and that eternal internal conflict, before we lost more mutual friends. I remember discussing with him his desire to write a song about the fact that we have been at war for his entire adult life, and Blessed, on this album, is that song.

How many music writers have that kind of history? Very few – so do not expect an unbiased review. I love this Wildcat. But, that does not mean that I lie about music, or the beautiful journey that it takes us on.

First show (almost) (a private house show) since early February 2020

But, before I get to my review, I want you to take a moment and stop. Think about one thing, because for me, this fact seals the deal on the IMPACT of this record. Charles embarked on his most ambitious independent tour ever with the release of Cesarea, his triumph of an album recorded at Flying Blanket Recording. The Redneck Dad-Rock World Tour took him from New York, west across the United States, over to Australia for 3 weeks, and then back to LA, to tour back each across the United States. I remember following his posts on social media, first amazed at his life experiences, and second worried about the toll this must be taking on him. His posts following that tour and into the winter, got dark, sometimes very dark, and I found myself wondering often, if my friend was okay.

Then… Covid. And the world of music got dark for everyone.

I have been very impressed with artists who have used this time for creativity, for pushing forward, for honing their crafts, and it is not at all an easy task. The sense of ennui has been global and thick as swamp slime. And for Charles, to come out of that darkness with an anthem like Honeysuckle Summer – is a John Lennon inspired testament to the daily journeys we are each on. But that is accentuated by the fact that from conception to release, Honeysuckle Summer bookends the Covid Pandemic.

We all may think we are ready to burst forth into our post-pandemic Honeysuckle Summer, but for Charles he was bursting forth into that place at the start of it – so, what does that say about the eternal applicability of poetry? Be thinking of that as you listen to this record. You are experiencing this music in a post-Covid world (soon), but it was being written at the beginning of it. It forces a reconciliation with time, especially after a year many of us feel was wasted.

Honeysuckle Summer

Gripping Onto Water: A lot of this record is a wonderful exploration of not only Charles’ songwriting, but his love of musical style and collaboration. This record spans a few such style shifts, as it opens with this rocking, boot stomping, drum led track. If there is a negative in my review of this record is that I love Bob Hoag, and over time I have grown accustomed to being able to hear the Bob effect in the drums.

I guess that somewhere we learn that work is suffering / Surprised after all this time we’re still clocking in/ Drinking on the weekends trying to deal with it all/ Feels like gripping onto water grabbing what’s been lost.

I do miss it on Honeysuckle Summer, but that is a pretty specific thing to point out, it is not like the Philadelphia recording is sub par in any way, and when each chorus hits with I guess life is suffering.…. you can’t help from tapping those boots, and when the cymbals smash on “squeezing the beauty” I defy an audience to not jump up and down.

Max & Geraldine: I have described Americana music before as this magic playing field that lies between the points of James Taylor, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan. It isn’t folk. It isn’t country. I guess Dylan would say, well, I guess it is America, and Charles Ellsworth evokes that early voice, that vagabond spirit, that American on a vision quest to discover a summer filled with beauty, stories, and tales that warm the heart when well told.

Geraldine got sick about six months ago/ When the money ran out she moved in with her folks/ Twenty-three years yeah, we made it this far/ There’s always been something that’s making life hard.

Something in that wonderous story telling has died in music. People like Cash that could tell us the story of the Highwaymen of Time. Charles evokes that American soul. Something that shows us that the guitar or piano player in the bar, is a story in a grand universal tapestry.

Blessed: I became a teacher in the year before the Twin Towers fell. Charles was one of my first students. He was a poet in the making. I was a teacher still dreaming. And we have often talked about the song he would write that would reveal the TIME of war’s scar. Even on one who was never a soldier.

Could someone else bless the U S of A? Because the God I was taught is a scapegoat for hate/ The heroes I’ve known were just box office gold/ Been fighting the same war since I was thirteen years old.

How do I listen to a song like this, beautiful, painful, and honestly lamented, by a guy I have known so long, and not just proclaim, Yes! Listen to this. Right now. Impossible.

Laundromat: This song closes out side A on the vinyl, and in many ways it feels like it starts the true heart of the record, as the next several songs are very powerful. This one, starts off reminiscent of something: Blur, Peter Bjorn and John, Oasis, something….. which since its story begins listening to Champagne Supernova I guess is fitting, but that is where the similarities end.

Sometimes the motion of the spinning earth, it drives me insane/ And I just want to cut and run, but I can’t get away from it all/ Because were you go, there you are/ That thing behind your thoughts observing it’s wretched/ Suicide sweet mornings and the smell of tangerines/ You and all the alcohol engraved upon my dreams.

And like Gripping onto Water, the musical arrangements, which switch in tempo, style and instrumentation, beg to be played live with a full live band.

A White Cross on a Highway: Another guitar man that I have known wrote a song about the guitar and blue jean rock n roll life showing him that all he really loved was at home. Americana music is littered with these songs. Songs about the kid we once were. The lessons we were too naïve to learn. The freaking forever of loss. Blaze felt it. And lost it. Died without it. Pining for it.

I don’t want to be a white cross decorating highway 55/ I don’t want to be an old man crying in my beer/ Because he forgot to live while he could still feel alive/ I want to know her better than the towns I’ve never lived.

Perhaps it is the curse of the artist. The chase. The dream that it will give us the life we always wanted. Just a little more time darlin, just a little more time. And only in the review mirror is life visible. And thus, John Lennon, and sad bastard love songs.

Miami, AZ: I was raised in San Manuel, Arizona. My brothers and sisters graduated from Globe High School. My mother still owns a shop there. And to see her, I drive through Miami, Arizona. Sometimes, I feel like I have been driving through Miami, Arizona my entire life.

We were California dreamin’ in a small mining town where a mountain once stood/ Now just a hole in the ground/ Throw the Bible at the children and then they release the wolves/ Blaming all the women for the sins of this world/ Honeysuckle summer that Arizona moon/ She was riding shotgun when her courage found the truth/ Get Jesus off the wheel and I’ll lead us out of town/ I don’t want to sit around and watch this copper mine dry/ While they suck away my life one paycheck at a time.

Perhaps, you had to grow up in a mining town, to understand.

Blood in the Halls: Pick a genre. Do a search. How can you have the soul of a poet, and not write about it.

Why dont we always talk about/ why aren’t we in the streets about/ why’s nothing being done about/ That blood in the halls/ Like a warm apple pie/ As American as baseball or Native genocide/ No light in the darkness/ No moth to the flame/ Just victims of Failure

Trouble: Charles and I have talked about his “sad bastard love songs”, but Honeysuckle Summer is something else. It has a mixture of sounds that while perhaps not exuding pure happiness, give a hint perhaps that it is coming. Like the painted flowers lining the sky of a raised train or a subway. Like the dream at the end of the nightmare. Like the end of the pandemic, or the end of the dark night.

And just like a Goddamned brick to the face/ I got morning coming through my window/ I ain’t fit to face another day like this/ Living in the past and worried about the future/ I’ve got trouble on my mind/ Nothing seems to last and I’m only getting older with this trouble on my mind/ But I’ve been seeing so much clearer since I ditched the mask/ and my brain dried out/ Searching for the wonder in every little moment/ without this trouble on my mind.

All of us want that end. That place of wonder. And all of us need help in this world finding it. Regardless what Time it is or how Old or Young you are. It is worth remembering, that no time is wasted. I hope you find Honeysuckle Summer, and enjoy a tribute to that journey. It will help you keep the greasy side down, my friends.