Music in a Dark Café

by Nathan Bollig

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about

A year ago, I was driving after dark, listening to demos of a new song I had just written on the car stereo. I had the idea that it would gradually build up, starting from one guitar, then two, then three. Bass and percussion would enter, intermittently at first, before breaking into a folk groove for the final verse and ending with an instrumental crescendo. The details of this arrangement unfolded as I passed through the dim glow of streetlights, and it made me excited and anxious. If I could produce a recording that sounded anything close to that, I thought, it would be the opening track on the new album.

"Give Your Best to Boston" is about wanting to get on a train and go somewhere, anywhere, to discover the real America. Although it felt honest to me, it was dreamed up in my apartment, and embellished during a drive back from the supermarket. Then it was recorded inside a closet, in a performance to an empty room.

Thus begins MUSIC IN A DARK CAFÉ, my first album of all original music produced since 2008. The last album, Uncle Louis Left Me His Horses, was the lowest of lo-fi bedroom folk and the simplest of songwriting. It was also, however, my best work, and so I contracted the typical affliction of artists: the struggle to keep making art. Something was missing. Something was lost. Louis was always on the run.

And if you are wondering, I’ve been chasing him.

“The Clocktower”, the earliest song presented on this album, was written in 2008 just after I finished wrapping up Louis. It is a simple folk ballad that didn’t get recorded until four years later, and I knew it would end up on this album.

Several years ago, I did something new with "Residual Compost of Postmodern Reality". I wrote it as a surreal post-apocalyptic love story, with deliberately-combined elements from several distinct musical genres. I called it a gothic blues folk waltz, and to my ears it's still splendidly bizarre. With emphasis on the bizarre.

In the last decade, over a hundred songs came out of the space inside my skull. It took me all of this time to live, write, and make the music that you will hear on this album. A summer day like the one that inspired “Pretty White Dress”. The cold autumn morning when I worked out guitar harmonies for “Apples Falling from the Trees”. Countless moments like these make up the music. Maybe it’s a hurricane of imperfection, but it’s my story.

I did not know when the album would be complete until I wrote the song "Music in a Dark Café". All of these recordings were made in a closet, and played to an empty room. But close your eyes, and imagine a performance of folk songs presented in a small, dark café. The echoes wax and wane, bouncing off the oak floors and stone walls, before rising up to the ceiling and fading into oblivion. I'll lift the capo up, and play another key. This is MUSIC IN A DARK CAFÉ.

Nathan Bollig

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released March 24, 2017

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Track Name: Give Your Best to Boston
Babe, I heard you need a break
You may have lost your way
Well leave your porch light on
In the morning, you'll be fine
In the daylight, when the fog subsides
So pack your bags
and give your best to Boston
I'll be on the next train tonight

Wherever we go, honey I don't mind
Sacramento or Kansas City's fine
What do you think
as long as we are one pair of gypsies
I only need your love
So pack your bags
and leave that guy in Boston
Lovin' him ain't enough
By dawn we'll be outlaws from Boston
crossin' state lines for fun

I want you to see the greenest forests
and the redwood trees of California
and the wildest prairies of the heartland
where the herds run free
So say yes
and leave your blues in Boston
There's nothing left for you to find
Pack your bags
and give your best to Boston
I'll be on the next train tonight
Track Name: Pretty White Dress
The smell of cool wind in the morning
The journey of a honeybee
Tiny streams in the distance
Flowers falling from the trees
Let the rain shake the earth
We'll be castaways, me and her
And the colors are burning my eyes
Just like magic

I will find you
in the summer morning
I will hear you
speaking in tones
I will see you
in your pretty white dress
mud between your toes

Let the sunlight fill your eyes
Let the music fill your soul, babe
Circled by a ring of fire
Keeps the strangers out of our reach
They roll their eyes
Feels alright
Because all we need
is just another day
And look around
oh you were right, every time

I will find you
in the summer morning
I will hear you
speaking in tones
I will see you
in your pretty white dress
mud between your toes
Track Name: Apples Falling From the Trees
Hear my song
tell me what you think, love
Listen and pretend that you're asleep, love

Near or far, you could always be my only
And if you kiss me now
I could love you forever

I'm wrapped up and tied
to this moment under the moonlight
So reach out your arm
and touch my hand tonight

Can you see anything at all?
I can see everything
even apples falling from the trees
It's a perfect scene
Track Name: By and By
I lost the words to a song
I guess I never really had
I wasted time swingin' slow
trying to rhyme with a lie
And I guess if it would have stayed
it would have contained
a line about how life is good
and how nothing should change
But before I could set down my pen
the notes all slipped away
and now I only have an empty page

I know this feeling well
Because I feel it every time
I guess I'll write it down
And sing it by and by (by and by)

Wandering off on my own
into the silence of the night
Moon has the same naked glow
but alone it's not alive
Strolling down the promenade
Where I thought life had changed
Thinking about you
fading into haze
I thought we had at least one verse composed and arranged
Glory to a hymn time didn't save

I know this feeling well
Because I feel it every time
I guess I'll write it down
And sing it by and by (by and by)

I lost the words to a song
I guess I never really had
I wasted time swingin' slow
trying to rhyme with a lie
She said what a pity
that your music seems so bad
where a couple jumbled lines
is the best you've ever had
But maybe chasing melodies will keep me alive
And I can sing this song by and by
Track Name: Sunlight and Anarchy
Many moons ago
I met a tortured soul
She had calm brave eyes and a vagrant mind
you could see
She wanted to be
a famous shadow
wiser than the willows
Leaving secrets for me to find
We left that little town
the malls and the movies
chasing stories
Leaving floating grins behind

And dead flowers in Babylon
Sculptured ivy and stone
Astronauts in our sleeping bags
Troubadours in our shoes
Before Tolkien
and Lewis Carroll
and Shakespeare
I had you

Looking for answers but never asking questions
because when you smiled at me
I didn't need the truth
Suffering, patiently
You painted butterflies on skeletons
the elements of your soul in view

Sunlight and anarchy
strange places we'd rather be
A dark mind sitting next to me
Was all I ever knew
Before Poe
and Lennon
and Kafka
I had you
Track Name: The Clocktower (On and On)
I told you five o clock we'd meet
on across the clocktower
to play a little game before you drifted on away

Either night is coming or the sky is falling
the ground is cold, the birds are sleeping
and on and on the clock is ticking, soon I'll be awake

On and on...

The children are out playing
as the churchbell is softly ringing
and the wind that moves our curtains
shifting shadows on the lake

The softness of the water is the
moisture in the air you breath is the
smile on your face is the
brightness of the sun

On and on...

Then at nine o clock we'd meet
to sit beneath the willow tree
and you sank into the water where tomorrow never knows

You walked across the backyard
toward the neighbor's backdoor crying
and I asked you what you needed,
you said absolutely nothing at all

On and on...
Track Name: Backstage Blues
We are entertainers
but you are the show
Put on your face and wear your costume
The curtain's opening on you

But you play it so cool
the scholars in the balcony rave
you saved the show from a cold review
by the end of the first song you sang

Then I'm in the spotlight
and you danced with me
But I was too young
Honey, so naïve
Because love isn't all that you need

The orchestra knows before me
They strike a new note, before we all bleed
These backstage blues, ain't the life for me
At the end of act I, I'm already gone

And I haven't caught a break since
Not one one-liner gig
You belong in the company
while I get caught in the rain

The orchestra knows before me
They strike a new note, then it's pouring
This one-off show, ain't the life for me
At the end of act I, I was already gone
Track Name: Residual Compost of Postmodern Reality
If you hate me so much you'll knock me out swiftly
take all my money and slander my name
and tell me you never loved me
but you'll love to see me vanishing

If you love me so much you'll put in your hands in your pockets
take all your money and hand it to me
and don't ask me where I'm traveling
‘cause where I go I want nobody following

It will be a few decades 'til I can come home
several more until I can show my face again
Maybe I'll see you in nighttime fantasies
Maybe I'll never see you again

You want to believe that the world isn't spherical
so I will pretend that dogs are not carrying
buckets of fire across the cold still smoldering
residual compost of postmodern reality

I will try to explain and it's not very clear
but the sound of the world is a concrete symphony
a broken chorus
a nighttime lynching
that beats on and on like a terrible dream

You want to believe that the world isn't spherical
so I will pretend that dogs are not carrying
buckets of fire across the cold still smoldering
residual compost of postmodern reality
Track Name: Madeline
I woke up in the mornin'
had a coffee cup of wine
and waited for a bus that's always late
My name is on my shirt, oh oh
The sun made her mind up
blackness faded into white
and the blue sky overhead made me cry
With my pain seeping into the earth, oh oh

I could see it all
faces in a crowd
faded like paintings
lost like shadows
And honey is this all?
I wanna burn it down
If Madeline is out there
I'll meet her in the ashes

Riding to my job with a voice in my ear
saying I couldn't fail this if I tried
but it's only tires rolling, on the road (on the road)

I can see it all
from the dirty bus seat I'm in
we only go on livin'
poisoned by our dreamin'
And honey is this all?
I wanna burn it down
If Madeline is out there
I'll meet her in the ashes

The capital lights shine like little stars
they make me want her watercolor mind
but it's only silent buildings, in the glow (in the glow)
Track Name: Painting an Image
Who am I now?
Who was I then?
Give me a canvas and with my own blood I shall paint
Invisible love
Echos of pain
Visions of castles with footprints of kings that were made
by bones that rise
a grave keeper keeps time
He says that this only happens in the dark, lonely shadows of night
And when morning comes
they lay down and decay
they never made colors to paint the shadows that remain

Let's hold hands
And sing our songs
The same old tunes
we've been at for so long
Do you remember dancing?
You said take your hand
And you scolded me so
saying I should hold you tighter

That was a lifetime ago
And who am I now?
Painting an image
Subject still unfound
I guess I'm the same one
who had all the dreams once
A queen in the parlor
stepping in time to a fast waltz
and the instruments played
of their own accord
as if they were made for you and heaven needed an encore
The picture is clear
inside my mind
but my hands are frozen
the canvas is still solid white

Let's hold hands
And sing our songs
The same old tunes
we've been at for so long
Do you remember dancing?
You said take your hand
And you scolded me so
saying I should hold you tighter

That was ages ago
And who am I now?
Painting an image
Subject still unfound
Track Name: Only You
There's a castle in a distant place
I see it in my heart
A garden grows where nobody knows
Filled with ancient flowers
A table in a clearing
A basket filled with food
and sunlight poking in
It was only you

We watch the songbirds
behind the weeping tree
We used to climb under the branches as kids
and play eye of the hurricane
I would hold your hand
and the storms that shook us knew
to be silent then, just for pretend
It was only you

And you painted the sky with whispers
Ruby sun, aqua blue
We had a drink and a dance
in the rolling hills to the cricket's tune
I can see it now
every little cloud
The moon woke up to greet us too
It was only you

Now that you're really gone
they say it's time to change
but all the colors of the pretty things
they're all your colors, babe
The cartoon summer green
and every time I see the moon
I smile more my friend as the years go by
It was only you
Track Name: Music in a Dark Café
Here I am again sitting in a dark cafe
playing your tunes
When Uncle Louis left
the stable was abused
and the horses were afraid
It's a bitter tale
a winter dark that'll haunt my heart till June
but I'm playing to an empty room

With one foot on the floor
One resting on the rung of the stool
It's a void I intersect
And all I need to say is captured in these songs
in words you never kept

The audience smiles
they know about love too
They make their cell phone lights dance in the room
Alone on stage in a hollow light
Echoes of my guitar swallowed by the rafters

Lift the capo up to play another key
Therapeutic dreams
As patrons walk inside watching me sing
the songs I wrote for you
played to an empty room