iTunes diaries, entry #40: “Talk About Suffering” by Greg Graffin

I was once a little…um, okay, terribly obsessed with iTunes.  I got my first iPod in 2004 and became immediately entranced by Apple’s seeming infinite lists of music for sale.  Over the years, I spent way too much time on iTunes and spent way too much money on music, some of which was great, and some of which was not.  In 2011, for the sake of my sanity and my bank account, I went cold turkey.  I suspended my iTunes activities and completely stopped visiting site.  With the iTunes Diaries, I take a look back, highlighting the good, the bad, and the ugly in music that I just had to have in the moment. 

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Having covered my deep and abiding love for Bad Religion a couple weeks back, it seemed appropriate to focus this month’s iTunes Diary on a related song. And by that I mean the antithesis to the sound of Bad Religion as sung by its lead singer.  In other words, “Talk About Suffering” off of one of Greg Graffin’s solo albums, Cold as the Clay (2006).

Over my lifetime, I’ve developed, and carried and dropped a number of obsessions. One that rears its head every now and again is Americana music, a horribly wide term I use to encompass everything musical from traditional country to bluegrass to folk to gospel and jazz. The hankerin’ for these sounds really started with O Brother, Where Art Thou?, a movie that I first saw sometime in 2002 and quickly became obsessed with, and especially with its soundtrack. The movie itself is set in the American south during the Great Depression, and its soundtrack is perfectly rife with the lilting, twangy, and sincere sounds of 1920s and 1930s American music. It’s one of my all-time favorite soundtracks.

Prior to this soundtrack, my experience with Americana music was limited, at best. I remain a very distant fan of country music, save for the early to mid twentieth century stuff from the like of Hank Williams, and such. I was more familiar with 1950s and 1960s folk thanks to a previous obsession with Oldies and Woodstock and Flower Power. But I still wouldn’t have called myself a “fan.” And forget bluegrass – I don’t even think I knew what the term meant – and gospel. It just wasn’t on my radar outside of the stray tune I might have sung in choir that one time. But something about the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack made that music seem more accessible, even more enjoyable. And it made me start digging.

Never in a million years did I expect the path would lead to a Southern California punk band, but it did. A couple years after its release, I picked up what was then Bad Religion’s latest album, The Empire Strikes First, from…where was it…Best Buy? Yeah, probably Best Buy because I was still buying CDs from them then. Anyway, so I grab the CD, and I catch another album resting in a caddy above where they stocked related music. It happened to be Greg Graffin’s Cold the the Clay. I was a tad in awe because I had no idea of Bad Religion’s frontman’s solo career. (In my defense, I later learned that his solo work consisted only of two albums. As of this writing, I recently read that he’s working on a third.) Just as I was about the grab the CD my husband signaled that he was ready to go. I made it to the checkout with The Empire Strikes First, but Cold as the Clay remained behind.

Later, I looked up Cold as the Clay and Greg Graffin online and in the iTunes store. That’s when I learned of his interest in the history of American music. I was quite intrigued at the idea of his voice as it applied to Americana, but for whatever reason, I only wanted to dip my toe into those waters rather than dive in. Interested though I was, part of me remained a little skeptical. I mean, even after listening to the 30-second song snippets from the album on iTunes, part of me couldn’t quite accept a Graffin as an acoustical master. Shame on me, right? Well look, I’m not perfect. Sorry. I decided to try before buying. And of all the song samples from the album, “Talk About Suffering” sounded like something I could get behind.

God, it’s terrifying to think that that was nearly a decade ago! And I never made any headway into Graffin’s take on Americana beyond “Talk About Suffering.” I like the song – I really do. But I never did get the full album. I have to admit that along the way, I heard other version of the song that I liked (and still like) a little better, namely versions from Doc Watson and Ricky Skaggs (utterly amazing in a capella).

Well, there’s always tomorrow, I guess. Maybe I just need to wait until the Americana music kick comes back. I’m sure it will. Someday.

Greg Graffin - Cold as the Clay (2006)
Greg Graffin – Cold as the Clay (2006)

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