Joseph Fletcher makes it perfectly clear that he never travels alone, or unburdened. He has a multitude of bodies packing into every car or room that he gets in or enters. Sometimes they're waiting for him in those spots, but most of the time he brings them with him. He usually has no choice. The extra baggage can be like that stray string that you find dangling from a seam of your shirt - somewhat a part of it, but unlike that string, there's no way of just running over to the scissors, snipping the extra baggage off and disposing of it in the trash can. It hangs on him and it weighs on him, pulling on the bottom edge of his coat with a strong force.
The men (or the man), that come out of these songs have been slugged a time or two and they're sluggish, but they've retained a clear enough head about them. They have felt the very real pressure of having to make it all up as they've gone along. It's not like other people haven't felt that pressure, but most don't give it the appropriate attention, or they just completely overlook how serious any of this is. They misdiagnose themselves and everyone else as having the ability to make everything rosy through sheer willpower. If someone were to, oh, I don't know, pray more and give more glory to God or something, all of the fucked up shit in one's life will just miraculously disappear.
If only it were that easy, Fletcher wouldn't have to have such a robust entourage roaming around with him, clogging up all of his streams of thought. He'd be out of shackles and able to deliver on all promises. The men in these songs are feelers. They care a lot and still, they come across as people who might be loafers, or people who let many things just happen to them. They are prone to get lost in some very drunken nights that they don't want to avoid. They want those nights to hit them square between the eyes. They want those nights to knock them out cold.
These songs, featuring the backing of his tour mates Brown Bird, are stories of all the many things that can go wrong, that occasionally go right. They are stories about all of the things that mark us up, that make us tired and alive. We hear the stinging stale lights in these songs, the stagnant tone, along with a ferocity of spirit that's wanting to whip all of these things, once and for all. But, it all comes down to the very troubling sense that nothing's ever going to be enough to take care of it. He sings, "How can you stop to comfort every heartbroken man?" and, if that's where he's sunk himself, there's no getting out of that. He'll never be alone.
*Essay originally published October, 2012