Murder Tonight in the Trailer Park

Is there an album or other musical something that, many years ago, was so basic to your aesthetic sensibility that you assumed you would always love it, but then it turned out you wouldn’t/didn’t/don’t?

Yesterday, for no reason I could easily trace (though there’s always a seed you can dig up if you do something like Freudian dream analysis) I got a Cowboy Junkies song on repeat on the infernal jukebox within. When I got to college in 1991, the Cowboy Junkies were one of the first things I chose as a newly minted adult as a Thing I Liked.

Throughout college they were my second favorite band. I even went to hear them in concert, which was just so totally not a thing I did. Margo Timmins told one of those “Insert Name of Town You Are In” stories about going to a laundromat to do her laundry. I don’t remember much else except they of course did “Sweet Jane.”

When I think of “Black Eyed Man,” I think of the room I lived in sophomore year, one of the only singles in the coop. There was a twin mattress on the ground, a picture of Greta Garbo on the door, and a boom box I bought from this vicious queen named Abe for sixty bucks. Practically nothing else. Some piles of clothes on the floor. A viola da gamba. Papers.

I had never liked country music. (I still didn’t, but I’m getting there.) The Austin music scene was largely lost on me, but living around people who were into more music than I was cracked my mind open just a little. The sound of the coop, as I remember it, was about what you’d expect, a pastiche of things college kids and stoners and comparatively edgy kids from Houston would like.

Some of it, like funk, I never got around to liking. Some of it (the Cocteau Twins, Dead Can Dance) is intensely nostalgic when I hear it now but I’d never put it on. But this band, and this album in particular, if it’s been long enough since I’ve listened to it, can really plunge me into that year in the past and fire up the weather that was in my head then.

Unless I really listen. And then what I hear is kitsch. Specifically, southern-fried kitsch, made by Canadians. Oregon Hill was my very favorite song on the album. It’s named after a neighborhood in Richmond, Virginia, which is a thing I didn’t know until last year because google didn’t exist in 1991. It’s a song about someone’s reminiscences of a familiar place and the woman who is waiting for him* there while he’s in prison somewhere north of town.


The song starts on Pine Street, which is actually a street in Oregon Hill, and includes a reference I have never gotten:

The great grandsons of General Robert E. Lee
Are makin’ love with a little help from STP

STP has a lot of hits on Acronym Finder. At a glance, I can’t fit any of them into the song. We’ll go with Stand-to-Pee, a urinary aid. Or maybe Stowarzyszenie Tlumaczy Polskich, a society of Polish translators. They are probably helpful in certain kinds and instances of lovemaking. Anyway.

Next there’s some incredibly on-the-nose southern stuff about confederate flags and gun racks. Moonshine. Baptists. Rednecks. It’s just…awful. Though at the end of the song there’s some fun brass and a line I always liked:

Me and Suzie, we’re just celebrating
The joys of sleeping in.

He’s escaped from prison. He knows he’s going back. Suzie will wait for him, which is really her problem if you come right down to it. It’s not a very good song. Margo Timmins is a capable singer in the sense that her pitch is quite reliable and her voice is attractive. There’s not a wide emotional palette. When she takes on the persona of a convict from Virginia, even lightheartedly, it’s a little bit…silly.

The other songs that spring to mind, though I forget exactly what’s on which album, have similar problems. “Sun Comes Up, It’s Tuesday Morning,” a famously happy song about breaking up, is really a lot of refrains of “Am I right, ladies?!” Maybe tonight, she says, newly and defiantly single, a movie. “Black and white, with a strong female lead.” Prescient, as this would become a category on Netflix some years later! [Okay no, that’s on The Caution Horses.]


I think a lot of the rest of the album is maybe less country-smoked-ham-fisted, though possibly just as wispily poetastic. There’s a duet with John Prine that is very sweet if you can stand his voice, and there are two Townes van Zandt tunes, one of which I find he wrote for them, so that’s a bit of cred right there. Musically it’s all good without, I think, being very interesting. It’s possible the Cowboy Junkies had one great album in them, and that was (by common consensus) The Trinity Sessions.

Or it’s possible I’m just murdering things I once loved because getting old stings. It’s hard to say. Do you have any of these?

*presumed masculine narrator despite female singer. The song doesn’t specify but it was 1991.

15 responses to “Murder Tonight in the Trailer Park”

  1. swells says:

    STP is motor oil, that oval blue sticker with the red and white letters everyone had on their skateboards in the sevs. So presumably they mean lube, no?

    I just scored a Cowboy Junkies album two nights ago from a Parrish and Barnes clean out and was specifically told it would be great mood music for a gloomy Sunday. It wasn’t this album but still, plate of shrimp. I shall dive in.

  2. GF says:

    This is plausible since the first line is “the hoods are up on Pine Street.” So they’re, uh, making love to their trucks. I guess. This is not redeeming the song for me.

    Enjoy your shrimp! Which album?

  3. swells says:

    Lay it Down.

  4. Bryan says:

    My freshman year it was Trinity Sessions, and I did listen to that record a lot. Came right on the heels of The Joshua Tree and Rattle and Hum and I was feeling all kinds of Americana even if I still couldn’t abide most country. She has a really sexy voice. But you’re right: most of what followed was schlock, and I’m afraid even to go back to Trinity Sessions because I’ll really just wish I was listening to all their source material. Yea, post!

    My other freshman embarrassment: Edie Brickell. Or maybe that was the end of high school.

  5. Bryan says:

    Oh, other embarrassment: Tracy Chapman. What the hell?

  6. Not that I would know from experience says:

    I’m pretty sure that the STP referred to here is the drug, not the motor oil.

  7. josh k-sky says:

    Clearly you are mishearing “FTP.” It’s the early days of the internet, and they are downloading pornographic jpegs to enhance their sexual encounter.

    I still really like Edie Brickell’s album “Picture Perfect Morning.” Try it, it’s totally viable laid-back AOR. Cool music for no-longer-cool people. My mom bought it when it came out and I was in college.

  8. GF says:

    Wait, is Edie Brickell cause for shame? I still think very fondly of Shooting Rubberbands at the Stars! Also her album with Steve Martin is charming though I found I was done with it after a few listens.

  9. swells says:

    I love how not only did I not know what STP meant, I didn’t even know what FTP meant. DORK

  10. GF says:

    I remember Lay It Down as blandly enjoyable. But I also find I’m being weirdly mean about the CJs and still think fondly enough of them. I will say this: one reason I loved Hem’s first album, Rabbit Songs, is that it felt like what the Cowboy Junkies would have sounded like if they stopped pretending they were from Savannah.

  11. josh k-sky says:

    That is a solid comparison. Also my friend Ronit played violin on Rabbit Songs, or maybe on the EP that had a few of the tracks, something like that.

  12. Rachel says:

    Oh, I loved “To Live Is To Fly,” the Townes Van Zandt song that closes “Black Eyed Man.” Reminds me of driving to see Utah ghost towns like Thistle, feeling very Authentic and Desert-y.

    In this same category of hugely influential albums from a past life (and from this same era), I would nominate R.E.M.’s Automatic For the People and Our Time in Eden by 10,000 Maniacs. There are times when I can’t believe that was more than 20 years ago, but these albums make it feel more like 20,000.

  13. Mark says:

    I was thinking the STP was for Stone Temple Pilots, but who knows?

  14. GF says:

    Nobody believes me that it’s the Polish translators. Well fine. Go back to your untranslated-from-Polish lovemaking. See if I care.

  15. LP says:

    OMGOMG! So much to say.

    First, I thought the STP was motor oil, too, Swells. And not knowing FTP doesn’t make you a dork, it makes you the opposite of a dork.

    Second, yes, we are getting rid of our CDs at the Parrish-RB household, so if any of youse California types want some discs, come over. Or if not, just come over anyway. We’d love to see you.

    Third, my early music crush with whom I’ve fallen out of love is Suzanne Vega. When her eponymous record came out in the mid-eighties, I was so smitten that I picked up my long-ignored guitar and started picking out her songs. I loved that record deeply. It reminds me of my first girlfriend, emotional overload, cheap beer, biking without a helmet, etc. etc. etc. But now, whenever I hear it, I think, “Suzanne Vega can’t really sing.” Guess that’s why her biggest song was the talky “Tom’s Diner.”

    Edie Brickell is still defensible, I think. Though it’s close.