Maybe it’s because of his use of futuristic themes or the fact that he named his band the Extraterrestrials, but Jeremy Ivey’s latest record Waiting Out the Storm evokes the spirit of science fiction author Kurt Vonnegut. That doesn’t seem purposeful, but Ivey’s songs share a deep-rooted connection to Vonnegut’s humanistic philosophy. Both men respond to the world’s cruelty and their mortality with a sense of humor and the same advice, which can be put simply in two words—Be Kind.
That’s clear on the first track, “Tomorrow People”, in which Ivey addresses human beings from the time to come. He apologizes for present society’s destruction of the environment and wonders if racism still exists and whether people still get high and have mental health issues. Ivey doesn’t share the answers, or perhaps his addressees chose not to answer. The implication is that the positive and negative traits of being human will always exist no matter when one exists in time. So it goes.
Of course, one big difference between Vonnegut and Ivey is the different media. Ivey rocks. No matter how heavy the songs get, putting his thoughts to music allows him to keep things at a distance even when they are personal. The sounds of his electric guitar function as a buffer. They express his feelings and attitudes without words. The Extraterrestrials (Evan Donohue, guitar, vocals; Coley Hinson, bass, vocals; Alex Munoz, guitar, lap steel; Josh Minyard, drums, percussion) provide Ivey with a solid rock background. There’s no showing off or extended solos here, except for Ivey’s lengthy vocal lines.
Ivey’s life has had its share of ups and downs, especially recently. As a Nashville resident, he experienced the tornado that hit the town hard in March. He also contracted a severe case the coronavirus and thought he was done for this world. Like the rest of us, he has had to deal with our shared national ills such as racism, income inequality, and war (just to name a few). It’s unclear how many of the songs are autobiographical. He often dons a musical mask, sonically imitating past classic works by artists such as Bob Dylan and Neil Young.
Consider the way Ivey affects Dylanesque intonations and harmonica ala “Highway 61” on the apocalyptic “Things Could Get Much Worse” with lines like “Now I’m stuck in a hole doing life without parole / And the only way out is a hearse.” The song ends joyfully with a golf-playing robot taking over the presidency as humans evacuate the planet via Elon Musk’s rockets. It’s a storyline Vonnegut would appreciate. In the spirit of all science fiction is social criticism of the present, Ivey’s sarcasm is clear. Things could not be much worse than they are at present.
Or the Neil Young-like tall tale “How It Has to Be” with lines about “Pocahontas, Walt Disney, and Al Capone” on a cinematic adventure where Andy Warhol and Oprah Winfrey still lead us. Ivey’s point about living in a mediated reality rings true in a world of limited options. He understands that their circumstances limit people, but we are all responsible for our choices.
As Ivey bitingly describes it on the album’s most insightful tune, “Someone Else’s Problems”, those with good intentions but who take no action are not exempt from being at fault. “So you drive your car to work, and you watch the climate change / You think of all the immigrants whose children have been caged / And the poor son that was murdered cause some racist cop just shot him / Forget his mama’s pain, cause it ain’t your problem.” Like Vonnegut, Ivey knows “we must be careful about what we pretend to be”. It’s not enough to fake it. A person just Waiting Out the Storm is not doing enough even though none of us can control the weather.