Music

John Doe: Forever Hasn't Happened Yet

Zeth Lundy

Former X-man delivers a homebrewed distillation of old scratchy blues, country-folk, and noir, heavily annotated in mortality -- one could say that Doe is priming himself for a watershed Time out of Mind-caliber record any day now.


John Doe

Forever Hasn't Happened Yet

Label: Yep Roc
US Release Date: 2005-03-22
UK Release Date: 2005-04-04
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

John Doe is still traveling down that archetypal American highway: pavement neglected and compromised; yellow dotted line faded and cracked from rain and wheels; a surge of desolation cutting through heartland crops and urban sprawls. As a founding member of X, Doe reported on Los Angeles' merging with that highway -- not the multiple intersecting arteries of the city's freeway system, but more its reflection of America's dark-hearted enigma. Doe's solo career has more blatantly incorporated the rootsy genre hallmarks associated with this idea; in other words, he inhabits that same headlight-illuminated highway, only the selected stretches of late have been rurally patched.

Forever Hasn't Happened Yet, Doe's latest release and first for Yep Roc, continues to gravel his voice and muck up his feet, a homebrewed distillation of old scratchy blues, country-folk, and noir, heavily annotated in mortality -- one could say that Doe is priming himself for a watershed Time out of Mind-caliber record any day now. Like 2002's Dim Stars, Bright Sky, Forever Hasn't Happened Yet boasts a number of formidable guests (Dave Alvin, Grant-Lee Phillips, Neko Case, Kristin Hersh, Doe's daughter Veronica Jane, to name a few), but none usurp Doe's weathered presence. Doe brings a multi-experienced persona to the record's songs, that of the street poet turned front porch philosopher or the city-singed perspective's emulation of a roots icon, and walks through heartbreak, resuscitated memories, and the world's fatal spin with the air of a man completely prepared.

Doe has alluded to writing Forever Hasn't Happened Yet with Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf in mind; if the final product isn't exactly an authentic blues record, it certainly echoes those specific inspirations. "The Losing Kind" opens the record and effectively sets its tone: instruments made to sound, occasionally, like antiquated junk; narration furrowed but never alarmed; an emphasis on simplicity above all else. "Heartless" is a slab of roadhouse blues, the guitars like snapping turtles and lyrics straightforward yet clever ("Someone broke your heart when they dropped it on the ground"). "Worried Brow" and "There's a Black Horse" are dust-settling blues ballads and Doe's most obvious attempts to harness the vibe of the blues godfathers -- they're also a few of the album's weakest tracks, for they feel like they're aspiring to something rather than just being something.

Doe's vocals have always been the perfect compliment to female harmonies, and for that reason, the tracks featuring female guests prove to be the record's most memorable. (Perhaps this observation has become truth simply because his musical career began by calling-and-responding with Exene Cervenka in X, and in a way we expect to hear Doe's crystallized honey voice sharing the mic with the opposite sex.) On "Hwy 5" (co-written with Cervenka), Neko Case belts out the duet vocals like she always does -- strenuously and passionately -- matching Doe's tenacity each step of the way. The song has two pre-choruses before the real deal ("Take me away"); it builds tension upon tension, the programmed drum track feeling more and more unstable with each emotional elevation. Doe's daughter Veronica Jane adds a high-pitched sweetness to the dirt-caked guitars in the escape anthem "Mama Don't"; and Cindy Lee Berryhill's contributions, while more relegated to the background, make songs like "Your Parade" emotionally resonant ("You're positively negative...I'm just a float in your parade").

It's Kristin Hersh, however, who makes the strongest impression with her volatile harmony in "Ready", the album's best track. Her unrestrained and untempered accompaniment, full of life and rage and the conscience-driven desire to sing about them, is wildly suggestive of the Cervenka/Doe paradigm. (It may even transcend it -- seriously, Doe and Hersh should start a band.) Although it's led by acoustic guitars, "Ready" bursts from the barn doors with a fury, documenting addiction and destruction from a mature realist's point of view: "Johnny's dead and I know why / Stuck a needle in his eye / Johnny's dead, but I couldn't cry / 'Cause Johnny always seemed ready". It's here that Doe stands tallest on the shoulder of that American highway, Hersh at his side, thumbing rides from passing Mississippians and Los Angelinos alike, prepared for the variations of dirt and grass within each state.

All contexts aside, it's like the man (and Muddy Waters) said: he's ready.

7

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.


Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09
Amazon

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less
7

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image