(Photo credit: The End of Irony)
A few years back, I saw Lee Bains in his former costume as a Dexateen or something in-between. Bains' pulsating stage presence reminded me of how Bruce Springsteen used to fill out his jeans in better days. After returning to Birmingham in 2008 following his New York college days, Bains joined the Dexateens, "a Tuscaloosa institution whose raggedy union of cock-eyed rebel pride and forward-thinking fury proved to be the perfect apprenticeship for a confused Southern boy, raised on Skynyrd and schooled in Faulkner".
Bains continued to play with them for two or three years, including the Hardwire Healing album, before the band itself crawled off in different directions. But Lee Bains isn't going away. And the sparks are now flying with The Glory Fires, a Birmingham-based band whose chemistry sizzles with Bains' paprika-inflected growl.
Granted, he had me at "Walker Percy". Though we parted ways when Bains lets the girl who got away get away with way too much, including his Percy. After scratching my head, I was relieved to discover that the Percy was safe on a shelf in their relationship space.
What girl ever forgets they guy who introduced her to Walker Percy? Not this one. Shoot, I married him.
Now our shared shelves are stacked with everything he ever wrote as well as books he may have gotten around to writing. Our most recent daughter's middle name is "Percy", a tribute boure for 9.75 months of hot Alabama afternoons. She is steeped in bonfires and honeysuckle vines.
In an interview, Bains talks about that Walker Percy book:
I guess I think “Everything You Took” is pretty Southern sounding. Hah. The reasons I mentioned Walker Percy were: one, I really did lend my girlfriend a Walker Percy novel that still sits on her bookshelf, and, two, it’s an opportunity to establish a context. When I was in school studying literature, I relished those moments when the writer makes an allusion to the Bible or Shakespeare or Dickinson or the Velvet Underground or whatever. It’s an opportunity to see the artist as being in conversation with other artists.
In the song itself, a church choir would not be out of place. The conversation with cultural context involves more than literary references- it involves a form of ransom. Bains suggests that he would give up some very important "things" for her "mercy".
But baby we've been leeping this little fires so long burning
I don't think I'd be a fool to think that they'd last
Go on keep my tshirts
Well you can go on keep my books
Each small hope that you give me
Makes up for everything you took
You can keep my Walker Percy
You can keep that Tshirt my brother got that time he saw the Ramones.."
In his songwriting, as Bains explains, he speaks for himself:
I think it’s dangerous to speak for other people. Even if you have good intentions and are trying to speak for some forgotten segment of the population, you wind up effectively silencing that group by putting your own words into its collective mouth.
If you haven't had the pleasure, I suggest you make it priority this summer to spend at least one firefly-laden evening with Lee Bains III and whatever he's cooking. Good, homegrown stuff.
Don't miss Cory Pennington's video for "Ain't No Stranger".
Hear them live online at the FMA.
See what the folks at the Rolling Stone prefer.
Watch "Opelika" live and acoustic in the Well That's Cool studio.