(Caught Between) The Hammer and Nail

from by Jon S. Patton

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about

I had a note to write a song about carpentry.

I don't know where I got the title from, because I didn't read it somewhere recently, but I verified by googling that it is a real saying. I cast the narrator as a recovering addict who never quite dealt with the reasons for his descent into addiction in the first place, and he's teetering on the edge despite having turned his life around because he's reached a point where it seems like "as good as it gets" just isn't going to be good enough, and his parents, whose help and guidance he squandered, are gone forever.

This song certainly isn't about me or my family, but my dad actually was a carpenter for most of the time I was growing up, and among other things, he's built part of our kitchen, two amp cabinets for me; he really did try to teach me some of it; and I really was a an ungrateful kid sometimes (we all are at times, right?).

There's some other stuff here ... about one generation destroying what came before, but it's far more complicated than just the main character squandering what little his family had kept through two centuries. I don't want to give absolutely everything away so I'll leave some there for others to make of what they will.

I wrote the first verse while running the door for a friend's concert series on Friday the 12th (it was an Irish show, so of course I wrote a country song while listening to jigs ...), and finished them on Saturday the 13th. We had a gig that night with ilyAIMY and Mosno, and I gave the lyrics to Joe and told him, "This is a good one and you will sing on it."

Okay, I THINK I was a little less forceful than that. But I really did think it was a good one and deserved some better harmonies than what I could provide by just me, and I don't have a G harmonica because I lost one and my cat ... uh ... "destroyed" several others (grr). I was hoping Katie Scala would do some harmonies too, but time just got away from us.

lyrics

Verse 1
G
There was a forest here in 1816
Em
When my ancestors settled this town
Am7 /b C
Strong cedar grew on the ridgeline
G Em7 D
And a strong current to carry it down
G
My grandfathers cut and planed lumber by hand
Em
and build cabins in the river basin
Am7 /b C
And they built a mill at the river's edge
Em(7) D7 G
And my family's owned this land ever since

Chorus 1
C G
I know it was a hard life to live
D G
All it took was one crop to fail
Em G D
An early frost, a drought, or a hail
Em C G
And you're caught between the hammer and nail

Verse 2
So my dad became a carpenter by trade
He fell into it just like his fathers did
Tried to teach me everything, what little he knew
but he raised one hell of an ungrateful kid
He and mom stayed up late when I was out
Almost every single night for a year
But one day he said we all have our limits
There's some advice that I want you to hear

Chorus 2
He said son one day you will find
Life don't have to be long to turn stale
The rest of your life spent chasing your tail
You'll be caught between the hammer and nail

Verse 3
And it's been ten years since they both passed away
Almost sold the house 'fore I got clean
Married a girl I bet I don't deserve
We've got a son of our own turning three
And though I once told her things would improve
I'm a carpenter now in my own way:
I can see my lies carved into Sarah's face
I take a little of her hope every day

Chorus 3
It's been an early winter this year
And the snow turns the cedars pale
It's a fact in this life that all loves will fail
When they're caught between the hammer and nail

credits

from The Howling Tongue of Each Other, released March 11, 2016
Jon: Guitars, bass, mandolin, banjo, and vocal
Joe Scala: Harmony and harmonica

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about

baltimericana Baltimore, Maryland

Baltimericana is a place for me (Jon Patton) to stash my solo projects and collaborations with friends. I'm a writer, musician, and (unfortunately) day job schlub from Baltimore and the founder of Baltimore-based folk rock band Midway Fair (midwayfair.org). Be sure to also check out Joe Scala (joescala.wordpress.com), who produced the Baltimericana EP. ... more

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