Daddy Music, Volume 2 – Stephen Clair, “Following Orders”

Welcome to the second installment of Daddy Music, in which The Boy and I listen to a random track from my music collection and discuss it.

Today’s track is from New York singer-songwriter Stephen Clair, appearing courtesy of the BitTorrent download of the South by Southwest Showcasing Artists collection for 2006.

Dad: So what did you think of that song?

Boy: I liked the music, but the words were interesting to me.

D: Interesting how? What was it that you found interesting about the lyrics?

[We listen to the track again.]

B: I don’t really understand the words.

D: So this song is telling the story of a guy who’s working on building a ship. He’s saying they don’t have enough money to do it right, but the boss is telling him to get the ship built no matter what.

Well, we’re building this ship at any price

That’s what the foreman told me without blinkin’ an eye

Well I tried to warn him we’re low on cash

And if we keep buildin’ our money won’t last

But he insists we’ll stay on schedule, no matter what

We’ll work ’round the clock until it gets done

So you get that, right? OK, and then the refrain is:

I’m just followin’ orders,

Do the best that I can

I’ll work with what you give me,

Followin’ orders as they come down from the Man.

B: What’s the Man?

D: The guy in charge. So knowing the story, what do you find most interesting about the lyrics?

B: Nothing any more. I didn’t understand the story before, now I do.

D: Did ytou enjoy the song?

B: Yes. It’s definitely something to hear again.

D: What did you like about it?

B: I heard a lot of guitar, and I like guitar because I play it. Or used to. It seemed country music, and I like country music – that’s one of my top favorites.

D: OK, what do you like about country music?

B: The way the music is: acoustic and there are a lot of basic instruments, like piano, guitar, vocals.

D: How do you recognize country music?

B: Sometimes by what the singers are wearing – I usually see it on music videos.

D: How did you recognize this song as country?

B: The pitches, the progression of the music.

D: What does it for me is the twangy guitar. And the rhythm.

B: Yeah, that’s it. I didn’t know the word to describe it.

D: I think that rhythm is usually associated with “honky-tonk” – which is a kind of country/folk music.

B: Like “Honky Tonk Badonkadonk”?

D: Yeah, sort of.

B: I liked last week’s song better than this one. For some reason, I have a thing for songs with no lyrics.

D: Did this song remind you of anything else you’ve heard? I know Mom listens to country music.

B: Yeah, but I don’t really listen to it with her any more. This didn’t really remind me of anything else. Everything has a first.

D: Anything else you want to say about this song or this musician?

B: I might want to try out some of his other songs.

D: What about his voice?

B: It’s OK. I don’t really have anything special to say about it. It’s a singer’s voice. I hear a lot of singer’s voices. I think he’s a good singer.

D: Any last words for your readers today?

B: Well, I can’t say “See you next time, folks,” because I already did that. So… 

D: You’re making this a lot harder than it needs to be.

B: [giggling] Bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye bye!

 

All right. My notes now. This is not a song I would choose if I were picking something to listen to. It’s not bad, but there’s nothing particularly inspired or inspiring about it.

Lyrically, it seems like it could have been a funny story about rushing to build a ship, or it could have been a bluesy lament about having to work so hard… but it turns out not to be either. In the end, I’m just left feeling like, yeah, yeah, the guy’s working hard, following orders, doing a crappy job because he’s not getting paid, and so what? It’s not written in a way that makes me particularly identify with the protagonist, which leaves me pretty flat.

Musically, it’s pretty vanilla honky-tonk/folk/country. There’s nothing really innovative or exciting or even interesting about it. The guy’s a decent guitarist, I guess, but nothing about the music grabs me and says, “Listen to this!” Often, this kind of music is better in person, but based on this track I wouldn’t go out of my way to buy tickets to see this guy play. (I have one other track of his, from the SXSW 2005 collection – he sounds a little more Dylanesque on that one, but it’s not really grabby either.)

My rating on this is “blah.” I think The Boy’s rating was a little better. I think for next time, I’ll come up with an actual rating scale for both os uf to use.

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