Top 20 Country Countdown
Pirates the Mississippi, "Feed Jake"
Sit This One Out
No one ever danced to "Feed Jake." When this song played at the country-western gay bar in Salt Lake City, people moved to the side of the dance floor and sat down. The place grew quiet. "I'm standing at the crossroads in life, and I don't know where to go," are the first words of the song.
"Feed Jake" is about the marginalized among us. In the first verse, it's the homeless; in the second, the addicted, with a wino passed out on the sidewalk—"Some say he's worthless: just let him be." But the singer disagrees, "and so would their mamas," he says. In the third verse it's gay people. In the music video to this song, you meet two friends, one gay, one straight, and the gay man is dying. 1991, the year this song came out, was the height of the AIDS pandemic—everyone was dying. It was like a war happened that took two generations of men. The dying man begs his friend to take care of his dog, Jake, after he dies: "He's been a good dog, and my best friend," he says. In the music video, the straight friend returns to the small town where the two had grown up: he finds Jake at his master's grave. He takes Jake, and they drive away together.
Pirates of the Mississippi paid a heavy price for singing this song. Because they were openly sympathetic to gay people and to people dying of AIDS, so-called "Christian" country stations dropped the song, engagements and concerts were cancelled, and eventually the band broke up. I want to be someone who says "thank you" to Pirates of the Mississippi. "Feed Jake" brought solace to the dying and to those who were losing people they loved.
Here is a link to "Feed Jake" on Amazon.com:
In "40 Saddest Country Songs of All Time" (Rolling Stone, 26 September 2014), the ten writers who co-authored this piece list "Feed Jake" as no. 37. You can hear this song and watch the music video there. Here's the link:
Notable on this list of sad songs is no. 22, Lucinda Williams singing "Sweet Old World," which she wrote after a friend committed suicide (I will write about this song in another post); no. 17, Vince Gill singing "Go Rest on That High Mountain," which he wrote when his older brother died; and no. 15, the Dixie Chicks singing "Travelin' Soldier," which they sang to honor the war dead coming home from Iraq.
When I was a little boy, I dreamed of growing up and living with lots of animals. I loved animals. You can imagine how much fun it was for me to grow up on a ranch where my mother and dad kept cattle, horses, rabbits, pigs, turkeys, dogs and cats. There were beehives in the alfalfa fields, fish in the river, frogs in the marshes, birds everywhere. Grandpa Jensen raised sheep. When I turned eight years old, Dad gave me a Black Angus calf, which I named "Lady Bird" because President Johnson was in the White House ("Lady Bird" was the name of his wife). I called her "Lady," and out in the fields, she would lay down by me, put her head in my lap, and go to sleep. She had a calf, and I named her "Lynda Bird" (for President and Mrs. Johnson's oldest daughter). These cattle and their offspring were supposed to support me on my mission for the Mormon church when I turned nineteen, and they did. I never sold Lady Bird or Lynda Bird: they were old by then, and I was going to keep them—but they drowned when the Teton Dam broke in 1976, two weeks before I was supposed to leave for my mission in Brasil. The three cows I had picked out to sell, their offspring: they lived. Dad's herd all drowned, and my other cows drowned: but there stood the three cows I had picked out to sell for my mission fund, in the middle of our ruined farm, though the water had been twenty feet deep over every part of it. They were the only cows that lived.
Fast forward all these years, and I am the little boy who grew up to have his dream come true—I live with lots of animals: my six cats. But like the man in "Feed Jake," I worry about what will happen to them when I am gone. Who will feed Trixie, and Pixie (her daughter), and Socrates, Sappho, Alexander, and Hermes? They've been good cats, and my best friends. My sisters and my friend Ginny tell me they will come get them.
I photographed "Lifted Aside," the flowers, above, at Temple Square in Salt Lake City (April 2006). The title is from Ezra Pound's "Erat Hora": "And, as the ray of sun on hanging flowers / Fades when the wind hath lifted them aside."