The Friday Morning Listen: Jenny Berkel, "You Don't Hesitate" (2012)

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Busted stuff. I’m attracted to it. Houses in particular. I drive by an old abandoned house and wish I knew just a few of the stories that float through the halls and out the shattered windows. Why’d they leave that pickup in the driveway? How long ago did they push the mailbox to the ground? Was there a death in the family? Tax issues? If you drive around this country much, you don’t have to try very hard to see examples of what I’m talking about. This isn’t even a sign of the times, as many of these places have been there for decades.

And so why do I care about them? It’s got something to do with the tension that exists between an object so full of history and visual impact, yet very often surrounded by elements that are shiny, new, and utterly lacking in character. In Greg Brown’s “Poet Game,” he talks about the country turning into a “coast-to-coast strip mall.” And located right next to a lot of those malls are old houses in various states of decay, partially hidden by groves of alders and poison ivy.

This week I came across an interview with Canadian singer/songwriter Jenny Berkel. The video for the song “You Don’t Hesitate” drew me right in. Yes, it was filmed in an abandoned house. Peeling paint, rotting stairs, walls cracked open…and Jenny’s beautiful and ghostly voice begins with

Time, you are a burden … of the heaviest kind

…and I’m thinking about all of those lone structures that I’ve been in. Who I was with. And when. The garage of the old funeral home. My cousin. The remnants of a house in the woods with the stairs being the only feature left standing. My girlfriend. Snowshoes…Warm breath. The house at the lake. Apple fights. A graduation party. The house I wanted to own. It was too much work, even for a young man.

So my involvements in these places add to their stories. I like that I’m part of a history, even if that history has been atomized by time. The “whole story” can never be known. The house you see above? I drive by it twice a week. I know almost nothing of its story even though I’ve known of the site for decades. It’s a part of my story now, one that includes this once grand home slowly being pulled to the ground by gravity…just like all of us.

“You Don’t Hesitate,” from which I have stolen the ideas of time and place, is from Jenny Berkel’s forthcoming full-length album Here On A Wire. You can check out a three-song sampler at her bandcamp site.

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