Steve came into Painter Camp on Rockton Mountain humming an aimless melody that culminated in a very strident, “I guess you would know.”
I annotated Steve’s humming to get a loose pattern and followed the mood, basically filling in the blanks, and the song was born in an hour of back and forth. In many ways, it is the best song, or at least the most visceral song, that The Men have written.
Both song-writers were in very bad places and the song is, among our songs for our first record, “Heartbreaks & Promises,” the harshest of what relationships can be. It is unforgiving, accusatory and dark. It is about humiliation, lies and being made a fool of.
It was also the song that ensured Nick Miller would join the band. Nick came up for his first jam session with us and we trotted out this original that was right in Nick’s wheelhouse. The lead sections just begged for Nick’s jagged guitar work. During our first go at it together as a band, we all just looked at each other when Nick let fly. At the end of the session, I asked if there was anything anyone wanted to do before we quit for the night. Nick said, can we do “I Guess You Would Know” again?
Oh, yeah. So we did it again. And it rocked!
Steve and I both had personal memories of hills in the coal strippings of these old Pennsylvania hills. Both of us had specific places in our minds about places that seemed more grand to us in our youth, but that had somehow diminished as we grew older. Both of us had relationships that were formed on these bald spots high above the little valley towns of our upbringing.
As a youth, you are full of possibility. As you age, well…
In my lyrics, I keep repeating, “Then the morning comes again…” This is to note the fast forwarding of time from youthful exuberance and possibility to a place where I was very sick. I had spent two decades as a Pennsylvania State Trooper and the job nearly killed me. There were times when I would lie in bed afraid of dying and I could not sleep, so desperate was the panic. I would lie awake, looking for hours out the dark window, waiting for dawn to brush the window panes with light and the blessing that I would yet live another day.
You cannot go back there. But the path from there to the present is that broken road of mistakes and wisdom.
This might have been Steve and my first completed song. Steve came into Painter Camp with the first verse complete and was singing it. But I kept trying things and putting up lyrics that just didn’t work.
I had been working with my nephew, Matt Hertlein, on original songs for a while and he was sitting in one night and he actually unlocked this song for me. Matt suggested I watch this music video that was done in paper cutouts and things and it really captured that mood that I seem always to be able to write from. The song starts out as this fairy tale but it again travels from the possibilities of youth to the wisdom of age.
Steve’s first verse was of this boy asking his girl to fly to the moon. Of course, it is a thing that is impossible! But in our youth, what is really impossible?
The ensuing verses find the same boy, older now, wanting to make things right, alas, too late. Again, it is a song that goes from the innocent to the knowing.
On a side note, I am embarrassed of my vocal in this song. The band was heading into our first, pretty big, show at Clearfield Arts Studio Theater, and we’d just gotten Nick back from a months-long tour out west and we had to rehearse, like, 7 out of 8 days before the show while we were shooting video. By then, Steve had lost his voice and recovered. But I was paper thin on show night and this song is hard to sing because it is slow and sweet. I cracked badly on the song, but, in a way, it really shows what we, as a band were doing and going through.
This song really grooves with a great hook. Sometimes you just have to simplify and repeat something to make that hook stick.
“What’s Good For You” envisions a politician coming to town trying to win your vote. He’s a bullshitter and he’s trying to tell you what you need; what’s good for you.
The first verse references the abortion debate. That some politician can tell you what you should do with a pregnancy is … well… just strange. He’s not pregnant. But he has an opinion on it.
This politician tells us that he’s going to “take the country back.” My question: “from what?” The country is not yours to own. The refrain references “change” when nothing changes. It’s all horse shit.
The second verse has our carpet-bagger touting the gross corruption of money: “All the freedom money can buy…” As if he’s not going to profit from his election. Well, that’s America.
In the last verse, I’m referencing Trump’s chant of “Lock Her Up” that he used to urge crowds on to chanting. Jailing your opponent. Putin does that. This verse also references the cruel cages that immigrants were jailed in during this period while at the same time decrying how industry wants “freedom from the minimum wage.” Industry only wants slave labor.
The minimum wage is good for you. Right?
If a waitress makes $2 an hour, why does this government have the right to tax her tips? I’m just askin’?
First off, StoneMan is not named after the Florida high school where the tragic mass shooting occurred. The band is named after the Stone Men, or “inuksuk,” that have been built on Rockton Mountain between Clearfield and DuBois, Pa.
I had a camp for a while there, Painter Camp, and you would drive by these stone people. After a while, I started to anthropomorphize these stone figures. Why were they standing on the hillside? But then, I started to identify with them. I, too, was unable to move. I was unable to change. Was I, then, meant to just passively live the life I had been dealt, that I had locked myself into?
Then my vision got larger. Are we all not men of stone. Static. Unchanging. Afraid to live happily and to our potential. In fact, StoneMan is, to me, about the human condition and our fear of change. We are all men of stone; afraid to exercise the power we have to change, to do better. We are frozen, hiding behind our barricades.
I wrote this lyric, however, after the terrible tragedy in Parkland, Florida. After years of such tragedies, I imagined our country as one giant shooting gallery. I thought of America as one huge bloody carnival. I began to imagine the seedy side of the county fair, of the traveling carnival… The shooting gallery, the scary clowns, the houses of horror, the terror of thrill rides…
I meant not to diminish the suffering of the victims of that horrific event. Instead, upon hearing the news, I knew nothing would ever change. This song decries the fact that we have a real problem that nobody will do anything about. So, I figured, if nothing was going to be done, then people should just load up and “come on down!” The song is sung from the perspective of a man trying to get his date to loosen up and “come on down to Parkland!”
Steve did a great solid on this piece by imagining it as a country rock song. Taking a horrible idea and making it as uptempo and peppy as possible, masking tragedy in a cheery, country-rock format. I remember listening to his opening piano refrain when he first played it… music as commentary, done beautifully.