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1. I'll always remember the first time I heard "Kansas City, Nebraska". It seems so simple; I walked down the thirty-two wooden stairs from my attic apartment to the backyard, hairpin turn to the left, then the five concrete stairs to Karl's basement apartment. Karl asked if I wanted to hear his new song. This was an event that was all too easy to take for granted during those years. It happened a lot and it was often wonderful. But something about this time made it stick in my brain forever. Maybe it was partly because Stu was there as well, so I wasn't laughing along alone.
Sometimes a Karl song sneaks up on me over time because I am too dense to get it right away or because great art is just meant to reveal new things about itself over time. It wasn't my fault I didn't get Jealous of the Sunrise at first, okay? But with Kansas City, Nebraska I just remember laughing and laughing the very first time I heard it. Stu and I told him to play it again and we laughed some more. Dear Lord, that was fun.
2. One thing I love in Karl's songs is the semi-deluded narrator, who sometimes thinks he's doing great and getting things done and interacting with people and they like him but in reality the listener can see he's sort of a borderline lovable doofus or worse. Examples include, but are not limited to:
Julio, a farmer who is blindsided by his wife leaving him and spirals down further in my sequel Julio, pt. III.
Nothing Strange, where if you really listen you think "Oh my God, what did he DO?!?"
and of course the guy's title song,
The Guy, where he is either dreaming of fame or "underneath the boardwalk reaching up to grab your shoes" or both.
Of course Kansas City, Nebraska has two of these people, the narrator and Sheila/Joan, whose interaction stands for the failure of most, if not all, human communication.
3. I also remember the first time we played Kansas City, Nebraska live and the backing vocals popped into existence. It was in a lounge at St. Mary's University in Winona and our friends Doc's Kids were there. Karl and I were in love with Full of Dirt and a Nickel Richer, their tape from that time, which had very fun response vocals throughout. While Karl was singing his new song, we improvised some answer vocals. We were sort of trying to sincerely contribute to the song and sort of trying to ruin it by cracking him up, which dichotomy happens a lot among my friends. Just ask Pete Rivard, the subject of upcoming Livestream Episode 7.
Anyway, that's how the answer vocals started being a thing in this one.
4. For my new version, I went to the uke/harmonica rack thing that I enjoyed so much on the previous episode's "I Have Committed Murder in My Heart". I slowed myself down, took some deep breaths, and just emphasized the lonely, isolating miscommunication that is at the heart of this song, even when it gets its usual, upbeat, Johnny Cash "cheerful galoot" reading. I also slowed the bassline down by at least half, which was a fun mindfulness exercise because of all the times I've played this at regular speed with a walking bass of eighth notes. I had to really focus to get it right slow.
I got $2 Bill to sing his usual part and Karl himself to sing my usual part on the backing vocals. They are on all four songs this week, which is all about singing along.
Check out the original version on the absolutely wild and wonderful Kaptain Karl debut CD Art Is A Lie, Baby. Often remastered, never disastered. You may be able to find a way to acquire the CD at Karl's website or you may not. Try here!
I was down in Nebraska, on my way to Kansas City
And nobody showed me the way I could find it on my own
Well, she said her name was Sheila, but I didn't quite believe her
'Cause I looked at the name on her coat, and I'll swear that it said Joan.
She said 'I'm headed East.' And I said 'I'm headed East.'
She asked me for a ride, so I offered her a ride. I was headed East.
She didn't talk a lot. She didn't have much to say.
So I turned, and I said to her, 'You don't have much to say.'
Well, she said that she was sorry, but she'd always heard that talk...
Talk would make you weak and talk was cheap and I said 'Babe, you got me wrong.'
Then I think she started smilin', (started smilin')
but I had to turn away (I turned away)
'Cause I can't stand a smile, but in a while, she didn't smile that way
But then she looked so sad. (looked so sad)
So I asked if she was sad. (are you sad?)
She told me I was dumb. I said 'How come?' She said 'Of course I'm feeling sad!'
She said her heart was broken. (my heart's broken)
She had no friends and she was broke. (help me out I'm broke)
Her lover left her there in the square, she was all alone and broke
So I handed her a twenty, (here's a twenty)
and I said I'd be her friend. (I'll be your friend!)
She said, 'I'm not a whore!' She slammed the door, and I said, 'That's not what I meant...'
Well now I made it through Nebraska, (through Nebraska)
and I'm here in Kansas City (in old K.C.)
But I wish that I had Sheila to talk to, or maybe even Joan. (but it's just me)
Yeah, Sheila or Joan. (it's just me)
Was it Sheila or Joan? (it's just me)
Well, I guess I'll never know...
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