arts   |   music

COLUMN: My life is a folk song


Carl Caldwell sings and plays mandolin Aug. 25, 2018, at the Station Inn in Nashville, Tennessee. Folk songs are littered with emotional details. Tribune News Service

“My life is a movie" is the famed mantra of a generation of people engaging in debauchery, trying desperately to capture their lives in a romantic lens. In some ways, everyone’s life could be a movie. 

There are enough interesting interactions and outlandish situations in every lifetime to fill a film script. But movies deal in grandiosity. They’re massive, monolithic stories.

My life isn’t a movie. It’s more like a song. A folk song. A song by Slaughter Beach, Dog. 

Slaughter Beach, Dog is the former side project turned main project of Philadelphia-based singer-songwriter Jacob Ewald. The band was formed to be cathartic. A place for Ewald to write songs that weren’t as confessional as the ones he wrote for his other band Modern Baseball. Slaughter Beach, Dog songs are much more intricate than those of Modern Baseball. They’re stories set to music. 

Relatability is currency in the modern age. Getting someone to say “Hey, I do that!” is the quickest way to forge a connection. People like what they know. On every Slaughter Beach, Dog track, Ewald creates a world that feels exactly like ours, with characters and situations that mirror the trivial, often tedious lives we live. 

But sometimes real life is real life, and while we may not be withstanding massive explosions on an everyday basis, we still withstand a lot. The dissolution of a longtime friendship can feel like a nuclear explosion. The aimless meandering thoughts of a lonely night can feel like an intricate, choreographed fistfight with ourselves. 

It’s not all war. Moments can feel huge to one person and be insignificant to another. Slaughter Beach, Dog captures this dichotomy beautifully with insanely detailed lyrics and an insular focus on the protagonist of the song. 

“This picture makes it look like we’re in love,” Ewald croons on the track “Sleepwalking” from his 2017 record “Birdie.” “And everybody thinks it’s great. But I don’t think it’s all that good. I don’t think you care so much. I don’t think you miss me when you say so.” 

Another example can be found on the track “Fish Fry.” 

“Mostly at night I can’t ignore the feeling of wishing you were with me,” Ewald sings. “All of my friends insist that I should really be spending some time alone.” 

These songs are littered with emotional minutiae. They’re reminders that life is complicated and boring and momentous and incomprehensible. 

Slaughter Beach, Dog songs capture real life in a way most art fails to capture it. When Ewald talks about Heaven Hill in his freezer, or sitting on the sofa and looking at cops outside, he melds the fictional with the literal. He creates this sort of limbo where the listener can feel validated and removed.

Life doesn’t necessarily have to be portrayed on a big screen. It can be reflected through your headphones.

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