Pickled Priest Mixtape: God Loves a Drunk (The Bottle and the Damage Done)
If you've been wearing out the path to your liquor cabinet since mid-March, you're not alone. I've been working at home since then and my home office is roughly ten feet away from 20 bottles of top-shelf gin (my spirit of choice). They call me over to visit them, saying things like "We're not just for the weekend anymore!" and "You've always said you're funnier when you've had a couple G & T's." Perhaps they're right. With that in mind, we're buying a round of drinks for the lot of you, so get on a bar stool and listen up. Thankfully, there's an endless supply of booze-related songs (especially in country music), so this tap will never run dry. There's enough here to get you blitzed five times over and in and out of rehab and back again. Please, the Priest implores you: listen responsibly.
1 “The Slow Descent Into Alcoholism” / The New Pornographers
If this is the slow descent, I’m not sure I want to hear the fast descent. A head-wagger with killer Neko Case backing vocals, this makes the road to rock bottom sound almost inviting. Don’t stay thirsty, my friends.
2 “There Stands the Glass” / Webb Pierce
It took us less than four minutes to reach our destination (actual times may vary), and it should surprise no one that Exit #1 finds us at the rail of an early-50s Nashville honky tonk—where boozin’ and losin’ is a form of high(er) education. “It’s my first one today,” claims Webb (aren’t they all?), but after he runs down the menu of reasons why he drinks, you know they’re about to go down like a row of dominoes.
3 “My Old Drunk Friend” / Freakwater
George Thorogood, master of the ham-fisted drinking song, once sang, “When I drink alone, I prefer to be by myself.” Why exactly? Does misery not love company anymore? Catherine Irwin gets the ladies into the act this time, albeit reluctantly, with a modern, classically styled alt-country lament. Her first inclination is to “run the other way,” but this reunion is going to end up like all the others—in the gutter.
4 “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” / John Lee Hooker
This was George Thorogood’s best chance to make the tape, but we won’t be needing his services this time. Sure, “Lonesome” George took a respectable stab at this blues classic—the live version added an extended Peter Wolf-esque intro—but there ain’t nothin’ like the real thing, baby. Blues and booze, first cousins at worst, were made to complement each other. And nobody has ever sounded as lowdown cool trying to drown his heartbreak than John Lee Hooker.
5 “Drinkin' Thing” / Gary Stewart
There have been too many great drinking songs inspired by lost loves for us to leave the topic just yet. Gary’s story may be the cruelest of all. His girl cheats without remorse. He doesn’t bother going home, because if he asks her where she’s been, she’ll “probably tell the truth.” So he’s “got this drinkin’ thing / to keep from thinkin’ things.” If we didn’t have a one song per artist maximum, I’d have also included Gary’s heartbreak ode, “She’s Actin’ Single (I’m Drinkin’ Doubles),” but I’ll keep that one for the next tape which features the Pickled Priest’s 'Favorite Song Titles' (coming in 2021).
6 “Yes I Guess They Oughta Name a Drink After You” / John Prine
Drinking isn’t a total waste of time. Some great ideas have been concocted while shit-faced. And no, I’m not talking about my unrealized idea of turning Mormonism into a Broadway musical (it would never fly anyway). Here, John answers Gary Stewart’s dilemma with this brainchild: If you can’t get that girl out of your mind, why not let her do it for you? Name a drink after her! Genius!
7 “Sloppy Drunk” / Jimmy Rogers
How convenient that Jimmy’s plan to get along with his lady is what screwed things up in the first place. The Mobius strip approach to solving problems is the drinker's paradox.
8 “The Bottle” / Gil Scott-Heron & Brian Jackson
Lest you think we’re taking this subject too lightly, check it. This tragic tale of booze-fueled urban decay and self-destruction by Gil and his early-70s foil was a sobering tale for everyone who took the time to listen closely to the words. And it goes without saying that nothing hammers home a sociological study more than an extended flute solo. In academic circles, it’s generally accepted that if Marx’s Communist Manifesto had a flute solo, we might all be Socialists today. What I like about Gil Scott-Heron's “The Bottle” is the fact it is an inner-city tale, but it was also about the indiscriminate nature of alcohol. It affects everyone, regardless of social class. The final stanza told of an abortionist dissolving into the sauce as well.
9 “Alcohol” / The Kinks
The Kinks, in typical sardonic fashion, document the rise and fall of a prominent businessman in a haze of office pressures, social engagements, and “his wife’s fanatical ambition.” Demon alcohol strikes again.
10 “The Piano Has Been Drinking (Not Me)” / Tom Waits
This is Billy Joel’s “Piano Man” with the tables turned. Instead of Billy playing for a man “making love to his tonic and gin” (a line with which I’ve always had a structural unease), Tom is the drunk this time, bitter and full of excuses. He gets extra credit for looking and acting the part for his entire career. But I guarantee you he's the best case scenario when it comes to barfly companions.
11 “The Bottle Let Me Down” / Merle Haggard
The end of side one starts to hint at the realization that the bottle can’t solve all problems. But will it last? We give it less than ten minutes...literally.
12 “Drank So Much (Just Feel Stupid)” / Gear Daddies
Acknowledging a higher power might be part of the twelve steps, but Martin Zellar, leader of this briefly brilliant Minnesota combo, hasn’t quite made it that far yet. At this point, important questions are being asked. Why do I do these things? Why am I derailing my own train? The longing for insight is there, even if the answers are not. That alone is a big step.
13 “The Kneeling Drunkard's Plea” / The Louvin Brothers
Johnny Cash cut a pretty convincing version on the Rick Rubin-produced masterpiece, Unchained, in 1996, but for me the version that cuts closest to the bone is from the Louvin Brothers’ 1960 country classic, Satan is Real. (And to demonstrate how frightfully real Satan is, the album cover featured the Louvins posed in front of a laughable cardboard Satan cutout!) Here, the Louvins took on the role of Southern revival preachers in this tale of repentance and eventual redemption in the eyes of God. But we all know that’s Bible-Belt bullshit, right? This drinking spree ain’t but half over.
14 “New Drink for the Old Drunk” / Crooked Fingers
Side B of our tape begins as expected, in the darkest corner of the bar—unredeemed, relapsed, beaten, abused, and begging for a fresh drink. Eric Bachmann always had the voice to carry a classic drinking song, but it eventually came post-Archers of Loaf with his new band, Crooked Fingers. A great melody buries the fact that this is one of the bleakest tracks on the mix. Sometimes it has to get worse before it can get better. Here's 120 proof.
15 “The 3 Martini Lunch” / Graham Parker
“I know what I’m doing / I just can’t stop doing it.” Here, Graham tells a tale of being down and out in Beverly Hills. In some professions, drinking becomes a way of life.
16 “Paper Thin” / John Hiatt
John Hiatt’s masterpiece Bring the Family positively oozed credibility on the subject of alcoholism. He’d seen the bottom and survived. Several songs on the record (“Alone in the Dark” and “Stood Up” in particular) told harrowing tales of his trip to the edge of the night, but his most powerful tale was saved for that record’s follow up, Slow Turning. The line “I was gonna get up off that barstool / Just as soon as I could figure it out” tells all you need to know about the futility exercise many go through on the daily.
17 “Drunken Angel” / Lucinda Williams
An absolutely beautiful tribute to cult country favorite Blaze Foley, this is the tale of talent squandered at the expense of the bottle. If he didn’t get shot and killed at 39, the bottle probably would’ve gotten him eventually.
18 “Daddy Needs a Drink” / Drive-By Truckers
So far, the tales we've told have been about individuals dealing with their demons, but in this case, Patterson Hood sings about a family dealing with an alcoholic father. Why does daddy need a drink? When doesn't he? To deal with all the beauty (a great line). To deal with all the madness. To keep from blowing up. To calm down the badness. To keep the wheels from rubbing. To compensate for nothing. To hem in his demons. To hear through baby screaming. It never seems to end. Perhaps the saddest song on this whole mix because of the collateral damage done.
19 “Still Be Around” / Uncle Tupelo
Included because it contains one of the great sets of lyrics about the bottle. So good, I repeat them in their entirety:
When the Bible is a bottle
And the hardwood floor is home
When morning comes twice a day or not at all
If I break in two will you put me back together
When this puzzle's figured out will you still be around
To say you’ve just been there
Walking the line, upside down
20 “Here Comes a Regular” / The Replacements
“A person can work up a mean, mean thirst after a hard day of nothin’ much at all.” Westerberg’s melancholy masterpiece makes emptiness sound sadly beautiful in front of a backdrop of changing seasons.
21 “Hold Me Down” / Gin Blossoms
It gets no more tragic than this. Doug Hopkins drank himself out of the Gin Blossoms just as the band released its eventual smash-hit record, New Miserable Experience, in 1992. A little over a year later, he committed suicide. Ironically, the themes of desperation in his songs were the primary reason the record resonated with so many. These weren’t merely great pop songs—they were pop songs that said something important. “Hold Me Down” is an overt call for help housed in a great rock and roll song. The self-awareness was there, but time ran out and a great record is forever tainted by his loss.
22 “Drinkin' Problem” / Lori McKenna
The first step on the road to recovery is admitting you have a problem. Finally, hope rears its head on our mix. Unglamorous indeed.
23 “Stop” / Ryan Adams & The Cardinals
This one is heavy, heavy stuff. “If you want to make it stop / Then stop.” Even for those without any personal exposure to someone with a drinking problem, it’s hard to listen. If you are in the middle of it, this could be positively unbearable.
24 “Drinker's Peace” / Guided By Voices
It’s only fair that Robert Pollard, one of the most prolific beer drinkers of the modern age, should get a chance to chime in before last call. This lo-fi hymn can be taken as his "My name is Bob” AA introduction speech or, more likely, a moving barstool confession. I particularly like the version he did at Chicago’s Metro during the band's “final” show, when he sang it smashed at an actual bar erected onstage. Now that's commitment.
25 “Drunk Like Son House” / Rob Jungklas
It ain’t good when you’re the guy others use for comparison to demonstrate how completely shit-faced they are. In this case, Son House, he of blues legend, he of Jack White’s favorite song (“Grinnin’ in Your Face”), he the source of the White Stripes’ epic version of “Death Letter,” he of a legendary drinking problem. In this case, he also inspired an almost completely overlooked modern blues masterpiece by a relatively unknown and mostly forgotten (not by the Priest!) Memphis rocker. Rob Jungklas hit a dark vein on his Arkadelphia album from 2003. Under cover of an eerie shroud, Rob grafts Son House’s very own drinking mantra from “Preachin’ the Blues” into his own foolish prayer for custom-ordered salvation. The repeated line “All I want is a heaven of my own” asks for an afterlife with vices in tact. The ultimate delusional request, but clarity has never been required on this mixtape.
26 “God Loves a Drunk” / Richard Thompson
Speaking of heavenly redemption, we conclude with Richard Thompson’s classically styled British-folk ballad from his finest solo record Rumor and Sigh (1991). The namesake, and inspiration, for this mix imagines eternal life where alcoholics find redemption after all, but don’t have to give up the bottle in the process. Now we're getting somewhere heavenly indeed. Amen.
Will there be any bartenders up there in Heaven?
Will the pubs never close, will the glass never drain?
No more D.T.'s and no shakes and no horrors
Very next morning you feel right as rain
O God loves a drunk, the lowest of men
With the dogs in the street and the pigs in the pen
But a drunk's only trying to get free of his body
And soar like an eagle high up there in heaven
His shouts and his curses are just hymns and praises
To kick-start his mind now and then
O God loves a drunk, come raise up your glasses, amen
Does God really care for your life in the suburbs?
A dull little life of dull little things
And bring up the babies to be just like Daddy
And maybe you'll be there when He gives out the wings
But God loves a drunk, although he's a fool
He wets in his pants and he falls off his stool
He can't hear the insults and whispers go by him
As he leans in the doorway and sings 'Sally Racket'
Can't feel the cold rain beat down on his body
And soak through his clothes to the skin
O God loves a drunk, come raise up your glasses, amen
Will there be any pen-pushers up there in Heaven?
Does clerking and wage-slaving win you God's love?
I pity you worms with your semis and pensions
If you think that'll get you to the kingdom above
But God loves a drunk, although he's a clown
You can't help but laugh as he gags and falls down
He don't give a cuss for what people think of him
He screams at his demons alone in the darkness
He's staying alive for just one more pint bottle
Won't you throw him a few pennies, friend
God loves a drunk, forever and ever, amen
One for me and another one for me
Take two glasses and call me in the morning. The Priest wishes you a happy and sober work day. Unless of course, you've earned an early kick off. And I think you have.