Ron Pope Cuts Deep Into the 'Bone Structure'
Ron Pope's Bone Structure presents a personal view of the world from the perspective of one who is seeing it again for the first time. He is a realist. He knows that human connections are the best one can hope for, and maybe that's enough.
6 March 2020
Ron Pope has said there are two kinds of songs on his intimate new album Bone Structure: those that he wrote specifically about and for the birth of his daughter and others that offer personal observations and life lessons he learned the hard way to help guide her and to assist her in better understanding him. Pope explained that the impetus came after a situation that made him realize his mortality. He wanted to pass down whatever wisdom he acquired. This sense of purpose gives the record a strong foundation. Whether the songs are about past bad behavior, present good fortune, or the promise of a bright future, they share a common sensibility. There is an extant joy even in the sad tracks because they have a purpose.
Pope's tales of woe acknowledge the highs (often literally, as the result of drugs) and lows as he understands the comic nature of just surviving. "Don't do anything I would do," he advises on the horn-soaked, shaggy dog story "Dodge Aries Wagon" about a time he and his baby brother took a stoned road trip down the New York Thruway. And there's "Stuck on the Moon", where he explains the seductive power of cocaine and the negative results of addiction. "I took a shot to end up with the stars and found myself stuck on the moon," he sings over a Springsteen-like rock beat. The party-vibe of the melody reveals the temptation, even as the lyrics tell the moral of the story. He doesn't overdramatize. The plain facts speak for themselves.
The tunes about the changes he feels as a new father are sentimental without being cloying. Of course, there is a certain amount of schmaltz inherent in a song such as "My Wildest Dreams" about the birth of his daughter, but Pope tempers the emotionalism with the knowledge that he is still the same person. "I've got ghosts and I've got demons," he sings quietly in a raspy voice. But he declares he has learned from his mistakes, especially in terms of opening up and sharing his life with others.
On "Flesh of My Flesh", he croons this more clearly over an acoustic guitar accompaniment. Pope was the son of two young parents who attempted suicide and acted in other unhealthy ways when he was young. "I became so selfish in some ways I can't forgive / I did not know to want you, loneliness had been my friend," he sings as a promise to be a better parent than the ones he had. Or, as he puts it in the title of another track, he will "Practice What I Preach" as a way of being a good father.
Pope knows that both the devil and god lie in the particulars. On "Habits", he explains the importance of providing specifics in his songs despite professional guidance to the contrary. His lyrics are filled with details, especially the title track with lines like "Playing scratch offs with the pull tab of a tallboy on your front steps", "We share a $12 bottle of brandy in the parking lot behind a dumpster", and "You spit champagne through your front teeth, slap my face and laugh like a lunatic in a movie" that evoke the allure of a femme fatale in a noir flick that was once his life.
What's past is past. Pope may be writing songs to teach his daughter what he has learned, but he knows that the world she is growing up in has its share of problems. "San Miguel" stands out because it is not confessional or autobiographical. Instead, he describes a person who is willing to endure hardships to migrate to America, so his or her child has a better life. Again, Pope plays it straight. "I don't know if there's a God, but I believe in right and wrong / I don't trust the President, but lord, I love this land we're living in." The message is strong in its contradictions. There may not be a god, but Pope still addresses a higher being. America may not be perfect, but he's still a patriot.
As a whole, Bone Structure presents a personal view of the world from the perspective of one who is seeing it again for the first time. He is a realist. He knows that human connections are the best one can hope for, and maybe that's enough.