Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dan's movie, with the assistance of our Espoontoon

Poetry Scores cofounder Matt Fuller and I confirmed a barbecue appointment for Saturday afternoon at the home of Dan Mirvish, here in Culver City, where my family is staying (it's an ideal location for daytrips in and around L.A.).

I should probably spend some time on Dan's website, since he is a protean guy and must have done all sorts of things I don't know about or have forgotten. My connection to him is through Matt and John Minkoff, who played with us in the bands Enormous Richard and Eleanor Roosevelt.

Thanks to that connection and the absence of a budget, Dan came to use a bunch of Eleanor Roosevelt songs on the soundtrack to his first film, Omaha: The Movie. I haven't seen Omaha in years (and hope to cadge a DVD copy from Dan on Saturday), but it is a well made and highly personal film and we have always been proud to hear our songs all over it.

Dan made the most use out of our song "Espoontoon," a sturdy piece of shitkicker country punk. It illustrates the big stockyard chase scene, and then enjoys a reprise during the closing credits, which we took to be a compliment.

"Espoontoon" fulfills the mission of Poetry Scores, which is to translate poetry into other media. It is a song setting of a fragment of Meriwether Lewis' journal. Lewis didn't fancy himself a poet, though we can make that judgment for him after the fact. The lyrics to "Espoontoon" - taken verbatim from the journals - are starkly poetic.

had scarcely reached a place
on which I could stand
with tolerable safety
with the assistance of my espoontoon
before I heard a voice
behind me cry out
"God, God captain,
what shall I do?"

The lines breaks reflect my pauses in the vocal line. I haven't seen the actual manuscript of the journal and have no idea how Lewis broke this up on the page on June 7, 1805, when he made the note.

The espoontoon is a spear-like weapon. Lewis used it in this episode to save his butt from falling off a cliff. The previous month he had used it to kill a rattlesnake and William Clark used his espoontoon to kill a wolf, just days apart.

Our song "Espoontoon" has had a vivid little life. In addition to illustrating a chase scene and closing credits in a movie, it appears on Hellbent, the second anthology of "Insurgent Country" issued by Bloodshot Records in Chicago.

That's one of many reasons I am puzzled why our bands never appear in histories of Most of the other bands on that compilation (The Waco Brothers, Old 97's, Bottlerockets, Robbie Fulks ...) are hailed as twang icons, and we released our first tape the same summer Uncle Tupelo released their first CD, No Depression. We also had a Carter Family cover on ours ("Gospel Ship"). Go figure.

"Espoontoon" also made its way onto the Eleanor Roosevelt CD Walker With His Head Down (recorded in 1993, released - ooops! - in 2007), which is available at independent shops in St. Louis and via digital download.

Free mp3
(Matt Fuller, Chris King, Meriwther Lewis, Lij, John Minkoff)
Eleanor Roosevelt

Produced by Meghan Gohil


Image of the espoontoon from Meyers Konversationslexikon (1888). I seem to have misread the word when writing the song - it's really "espontoon" or "spontoon" - but it's my song and I am sticking to it.

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