Weekend (Something Like) Music Break: The Lake House Band,
“Five Dollar T-Shirt Blues”

'laundry day' (photo by user 'eleanor ryan,' on Flickr)[Image: “laundry day,” by user eleanor ryan on Flickr]

You’d think a computer professional who got new computers both at work and at home within a few days’ time would be in a shuddery ecstasy of geek excitement. More power! More speed! More software! More… cool!

Speaking only on behalf of the computer professional nearest to my heart, however, I must disagree. Along with all the exciting new-new-new stuff comes quite a bit of drudgework, frustration, and uncertainty. Drivers have to be downloaded. Entirely new versions of favorite software have replaced the old — or gone out of existence altogether, or never been upgraded to match more recent hardware and OS realities and conventions. Old peripherals suddenly don’t even connect to the new boxes, because (say) “I’m sorry, but we no longer build PCs with parallel ports.”

Still, in the process of restoring old and often forgotten data from one computer to the next, you do come across some gems.

I just found, for example, the lyrics to a song which The Stepson and I ad-libbed one evening maybe ten-twelve years ago. He, The Missus, and I were spending a couple of nights in a family member’s temporarily unoccupied house down in South Florida. Like many homes down there, this one had a built-in pool surrounded by a patio and enclosed in a sturdy metal-braced screen. The Stepson had his acoustic guitar, and I had my harmonica, and we each had a beer, and The Missus was happily just sort of lounging back in her beach chair with her tropical cocktail while the two of us guys were noodling around with something like music. (The Stepson knows some real music; I pretty much make it up as I go along.)

Suddenly, strumming some deep rhythms on the guitar, The Stepson began to sing: “Got a five-dollar T-shirt and a bullet hole in my shoe…”

It’s hard to concentrate on playing the harmonica when you’re laughing. But the two of us did our best. Other than that one line, I doubt either of us could recall the song’s lyrics. A few years ago, though, I jotted down what I could remember, and added some extra frills. Sorry, no musical accompaniment. I find it helps to think of these lyrics as almost of the talking-blues variety, as some old guy — probably missing some teeth — might have recorded them, not necessarily as they might actually be written:

Five-Dollar T-Shirt Blues
(by The Lake House Band)

Got a five-dollar T-shirt and a bullet hole in my shoe
Man tells me this mornin’ we’re up to four months rent due
You’re standin’ there just inside o’ my door
You once was rich but now you sure is poor
You’re pickin’ up Kid 3 off o’ the floor
— Do me a favor, do the same with Kid 4
Got a five-dollar T-shirt and a bullet hole in my shoe

You tell me black is white, say that white is black
My mind it once was right but it’s long since jumped the track
You got your dirty nails buried deep in my heart
Your farm girl’s strength just tearin’ me apart
You once played dumb, all o’sudden you’re smart?
You were off and runnin’ before the man say Start
Got a five-dollar T-shirt and a bullet hole in my shoe

[instrumental break]

That day I towed your Chevy pickup up outta that slough
I never woulda guessed the one pullin’ was you
You got my life upside-down
In that raggedy-ass K-Mart nightgown
Used to think I was a joker but now I’m a clown
Your smile used to be like summer but all the leaves’ve gone brown
I got a five-dollar T-shirt and a bullet hole in my shoe

[instrumental break to close]

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  1. Damn, I could have sworn I heard that on the radio a couple of years ago.

    You should sell this. Nashville always needs new talent.

    I’m starting to hear a tune in my head….

    • I wonder if it’s the same tune I hear in my head.

      At the time I wrote the lines down, The Stepson was in a band. Not a blues band, but that didn’t matter to the stars in my eyes as I imagined it turning into one of those cult classics — I think the subgenre I was imagining is (or might be) called “shuffle blues,” in which the instruments are just sort of, yes, shuffling along in the background, except during those two breaks obviously. We never talked about what if anything had happened to any imagined attempts to set it to music. But I can see that the casualness of the meter may have been misinterpreted as dauntingly arrhythmic, rather than improvisation by the vocalist over a real tune.

      I’ve had an email to you in the hopper for weeks, btw. (I know, I know: it doesn’t count as email if the Send button never gets pushed.)

  2. Maybe it’s just the suggestion of a white trash milieu, but I definitely hear a twang in there. I daresay there’s an intersection between blues and country, but this feels more on the country side to me.

    The ‘bullet hole in my shoe’ is the great moment of genius in this – how resonant with unfathomable back-story is that?

  3. By odd coincidence, one of my colleagues nearly acquired a hole in her shoe by an even stranger means the other day.

    We have a temporary admin office in a business centre just down the road from my apartment. Banging and drilling on the ground floor below has been bothersome for days, but it’s almost ubiquitous in China – you learn to put up with it.

    It seemed the builders were fitting out one of the units below as a coffee shop, and had to install a big air vent for an industrial extractor fan. And they were using a really extravagantly long drill-bit to sink the screwholes for securing this. I mean LONG. They came up through the floor of the office by about 6 inches. Our accountant lady is still a bit flustered.

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