I have not been to Circus Mexicus since I had to have a passport to get there. The last time that I saw Roger Clyne work his southwestern, poetic magic on a euphoric crowd of peacemakers he was rocking my all-time favorite album of his, Sonoran Hope and Madness (affectionately known as SHAM), at the Las Vegas House of Blues a couple of years ago. I have an old patch that you don’t see often sewn over my heart on my motorcycle vest. I wear a decades old silver glyph. I pay attention to almost every single thing the Arizona icon does, but I very rarely go see him play in Arizona or Mexico.
Once in an awesome conversation with Ed Masely, music writer for the Arizona Republic, I asked, “Ed, what happened? I leave for a decade, now I’m back and it is like everything in the world changed when it comes to Roger Clyne. The shows…. well, they are just not the same.” And Ed, always pragmatic, always sincere said, “Roger is a great guy. It is perhaps true that RCPM fans are not as good at being drunk as Refreshments fans.” As always… well said Ed. Bottom line… I find, as a nostalgic fan, that seeing RCPM like a new fan, in a new city, in a small bar… is the way to find a time machine back to The Electric Ballroom.
I remember playing pool with a big-eyed, big-hearted, big-dreamin, gangly kid named Roger after his gigs at an old bar called The Electric Ballroom. I doubt he remembers me… my life led me down a very different road, and I lost the pulse of Phoenix for about a decade. When I returned, many things had changed, but Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers were still here, still making headlines, still making an amazingly positive difference in the world. Some things my friends, in this world of shit and nails, still give me faith.
Roger Clyne is one of those ‘things’.
I have made a big deal to tell you all, “I don’t do music interviews! I have conversations about topics I am interested in, and I use my feature artist almost like a source.” Well, if there is an album that makes me want to venture into a ‘review’ of sorts, it is another new album from Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers. Very few things in my life, including children, wives, and friends… have been more of a consistent companion to me over a span of a quarter of a century – than the strummin’ southwestern poet who is my mentor and doesn’t even know it.
So, let’s get into it! First, the cover. I love covers: covers and titles. They are like this artistically, poetic, beautiful way to push massive meanings with so very few words. When it comes to Roger Clyne covers, be they Refreshments or RCPM…. well, let’s just have a looksy shall we:
When you look at all of them, in retrospect, they are not overwhelmingly interesting. In fact, using my previous criterion on why I like titles, my three favorite covers are The Independent, SHAM, and Native Heart. These three album covers, actually pack quite a bit of a punch, when it comes to making a statement. I am not sure if SHAM would be allowed in today’s America, honestly. Time has gone on, and as it has done so the degree of political correctness has moved from something that is a matter of respect to something that is a matter of force. When it comes to the message of the cover, I actually think that Native Heart is saying something very similar. The font of Native Heart obviously evokes an immediate connection to Native American style, or stereotypical stylization, but other than that, the theme of the cover becomes very quickly all about being an Arizonan. The colors very much mimic the Arizona flag, and the mountain range evokes the skyline around Phoenix, regardless of what direction you look. When it comes to the heart, all you have to do is know a little bit about Roger Clyne… or be a D-Backs fan, and that part is obvious.
As the iTunes blue circle was spinning, and I was anxiously awaiting my purchased digital version of the album to download, I was looking at the song lengths. Native Heart is a ten track album that is just over 32 minutes long. The first impression was negative. I am a prog rock guy. My favorite band in the universe is Rush. An album of three minute rock songs does not immediately scream ‘interesting’ to me, but again, I have been a fan of Roger’s writing for a very long time. One thing that is true of him, and really always has been, is that he manages to write very crunchy vocals that are not hard to chew on. Lyrically, the man manages to say an awful lot of words in three minutes… perhaps he used to be a policy debater?
Perhaps before I go any further, I should tell you, dear reader, that I am a lyric man first. Words, words, words! A song may not jump out at me at first musically, but if the poetry of the lyrics get me… I can often be swayed. Such was the case with Flowerin’. The overtly happy beat, brassy horns, and uplifting tempo are not musically what gets my blood rushing. The song is very south of the border influenced pop, at least on a first listen, but then, as is very often the case with Roger Clyne, his lyrics got me:
“I ain’t worried about what Jesus may be thinking of my soul / I’m barefoot on a silver string my faith is Rock n Roll / Some say our Paths may intersect Some say He walks beside me / Though I appreciate that kindly sir / Still I miss David Bowie”
Suddenly the song takes on this multifaceted meaning. It is immediately 2017 with the nod to the loss of David Bowie, and this acknowledgement also immediately tells us as listeners – both old and new, that this one musical icon… mattered to Mr. Clyne. Deeply. The song simultaneously, however, becomes an anthem to the flowering spirit of the of the individual, who doesn’t have to rely on God to find ways to appreciate and love the world.
I was also very pleasantly amused with the fact that when Roger delivers, “I hear that people fill the darkness up with silly love songs….”, the scene of Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor singing the Elephant Medley in Moulin Rouge came to mind. Whether this was an intentional nod, or just my crazily, over-active imagination – that nod to art, Elton John, and Bowie all in one song… won me over.
Counterclockwise. The song jumped to mind in terms of not only the songs place on the record, but also in theme. It is a nostalgic throw back rock song, that doesn’t necessarily push the limits of what we know RCPM can do musically. The song plays with the juxtapositions of rolling the dice and pushing the limits in just about anyway to live the life of rock n roll and teenage freedom, and still managing to grow up into a…. ahem…. eternal forty-nine years young successful entrepreneur, father, family man who also happens to make a damn fine tequila.
The first slower song of the record starts off with a mellow beat and Dalton brilliantly and cleanly hitting the notes of the cords. Somehow as the song evolved, it evoked visions of the Gin Blossoms Hey Jealousy. Not because of sound, or similarity at all, but because it almost seemed like the sequel to the legendary Tempe anthem. Fast cars, reckless abandon, running from the police: but Sunday Driving takes us on a more adult drive, a slower drive, a perfect drive, a drive where the jealousy has stopped and the selfies prove that it would be unnecessary anyway.
“I can’t tell the difference between leaving and arriving when you’re next to me – beautiful / We’re always Sunday driving”
Quite possibly, at least on first impressions, my favorite song on the Native Heart. Roger belts out the vocals, with feeling and clarity, if perhaps with a bit more ease on his vocal chords. Roger learned a long time ago that Mile High and Risin’… hurts.
“Just like the stars blaze above the Superstitions / These crazy hearts are burning with the same ignition / Hear those guitars buzzing in the same transmission? / Just like the stars infinite elevation / These native hearts recognize no reservation”
Arizona Night is a proclamation of love to the state of Arizona and those of us native Sons & Daughters that call her home.
Although a solid rock song, with the first really solid and prolonged guitar solo from Dalton, the song never rises above an anthem to rebellion and recklessness. “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges! tonight we got barons to break.” I can see this song being a fun dance and sing along when played live, but again, in terms of pushing the limits of where I like to see Roger go, this song doesn’t.
I have never been to Banditos: Roger Clyne’s bar south of the border. But I can imagine him, wearing his signature sombrero, serving up cervesas and shots of Mexican Moonshine, almost like a nostalgic old style musical, where the bartender suddenly bursts into song, and he is singing this song from behind the bar.
“Most of the freaks who call me bro are some of the the finest folks I know / They take in my orphan heart / they show me their wicked ways / Come on and sit a spell / tell a hot fool / rest your bones a while / we’re the best folks too / Here on the shady side everything is cool”
If Flowerin’ in the most immediately modern song on the record because of the direct mention of David Bowie, Viva Love! is the second. It is, however, a much more indirect, but altogether obscure reference to… ahem…. 2017.
“I am not here not to do the impossible / I will quit once we have laughed in the face of death/ I do not come not to revoke the impunity which ignorance mars the ages / I will not go until hatred draws its last breath / I am not here not to do the impossible / I do not mean not to mend every mother’s breaking heart / I did not come to bear less than more of my share / Of the weight of the world”
Roger once gave an interview for the release of Americano!, and he was discussing a song that the Peacemakers don’t play often: God Gave me a Gun. Roger is not overtly political in his music, but this track was penned after watching the events of 9/11 on Mexican, not American, news. He mentions in the interview that the perspective on world events is different when seen without the lens of American media.
This song, which beautifully mixes in south of the border elements along with Dalton’s second solo of the record, which is haunting and echoes of thoughts, revelations, and regret…. a lot like this year.
Now before you go WTF? (and before Roger says the exact same thing…??) Did anyone find this song, with Roger dropping a heavily dripping “F” bomb, just somehow completely out of place: a whole lot Mary Jane showing up to make Peter Parker the luckiest nerd on the planet?
Now, honestly, the song grew on me, especially the first verse that is basically a mantra to an old fan hanging out with new fans and getting stepped on… a lot. That part kinda made me smile… a lot.
After the oddity that is Hello Tiger, the end of the album goes out with a bit of a sarcastic ribbing of growing up, getting older, and aging into legend slinging a guitar to thirsty peacemakers in bars. The most tongue -in-cheek song on the record, which as long time fans, we have grown to expect from the witty wordsmith of the Peacemakers, Roger sings of the fun we all have drinking, singing, living at night, arguing about politics:
“I aint going to ask you to for anything more than your heart would want to allow / I know we’re all weary from the weight of the world anyhow”
And although Native Heart never gets overtly political, by the end of the record one is left with a very profound feeling of human connection and social responsibility. Obviously, not at all themes we are not used to seeing from the man who brings Circus Mexicus to Rocky Point.
From which the album fades into the melancholy prayer, of So May You. A song that sounds like the words Roger Clyne has so often said, to all of us, in crowds, even though it always sounds like he is talking to each of us. He ends those magical nights in thanks. He ends those magic nights in peace. He ends those magical nights loving music and the medicine it provides. He ends those nights like a pirate, that has taken us on a magical voyage to an amazing state, but one that we are sojourning through in uncertain times.
“So May You / Let Your Heart Out of Its Cage / So May You / Be Young Through Every Age / So May You / Know Joy and Never Rage / You Will Never Be the Same Again”
So May You, Roger.
So May You, Peacemakers.
Keep the Greasy Side Down.