Thursday, August 30, 2007

Vegetable Kingdom

From The Vegetable Kingdom EP and In the New Old-Fashioned Way

I’ve heard many writers say that it is among their most gratifying moments when people come to them with completely viable interpretations of their writings that were unintended when the work was originally written. Although Seth Timbs probably grew tired of being asked if this song was about growing marijuana when it became a very minor radio hit in some places, I’ve always felt he wrote so much more than he was aiming for when he penned this opus that would get its own EP to help secure some radio play while the record, where it had a prominent place in the track-listing, was facing all the slow-downs that mire every record that I’ve known to be released out of Nashville.

One night at the Boro in 2000, Seth introduced it as, “a song about love and death down on the farm.” (In the video below, from 10-10-97, Seth says it’s about unrequited love.) He later told a friend of mine that it was in fact about a farmer whose wife had died, and the man couldn’t remember whether he had killed her or not. I was always pretty sure of this, as it is stated plainly, “Up on the weather vain/ down in the well/ Maybe you drowned there/ Or maybe you fell.”

But this song always resonated with me as it covers so many universal human feelings so ambiguously in just four minutes and sixteen seconds. Within that short time, we hear about love, life and death (and the circle of life implied within a kingdom of vegetables), memory, loneliness and alienation in such a way that the song could really be about any one person at some point in his or her life. The best part of the song, like so many Fluid Ounces songs, is the bridge, which includes some of my all-time favorite Seth Timbs lyrics:
“I wish the rain would come
And wash this dustbowl town away
Leaving rock and clay
A place to build the interstate.
The trees are bare
The crops have shrunk
Afraid to show their face in podunk.”

These uniquely American lines give a sense of longing and detachment like something out of a Steinbeck or Hemingway novel, the kind of strange things one’s mind can dream up while staring out the window of a car on a long road trip. And how many times have you heard the word “podunk” used in a pop song?

This song is also among the many “say hello” songs in the Fluid Ounces canon, and as many times as I’ve heard it, I still stop and think of the first time I heard it most every time. I knew the song existed because I frequented the Spongebath Records website throughout 1998-99, but I never stopped to listen to it. Instead I went to see the band on January 29, 2000, since they were sharing the stage with my then-favorite Spongebath band, the Features. I had bought and listened to Big Notebook for Easy Piano the week before to acquaint myself with the band, but sadly all I really remembered about them was the song “Record Stack” and that I liked the CD well enough to stick around after the Features played. After a brief intro, the band went straight into “Vegetable Kingdom,” and as Seth was welcoming us all into the Vegetable Kingdom with the debut of a new guitarist and bassist that night, it was like he was personally welcoming me into the most affecting music I’ve ever had the pleasure of hearing in my life. Never have I reacted so personally to a body of music as I have to Fluid Ounces, and I credit “Vegetable Kingdom” as the song to truly pull me into these wonderful musical places.


Anonymous said...

Definitely one of the best in the Timbs canon. It's his unique juxtaposition of light against dark that makes it so typically Seth: light, bouncy melodies married with dark, heavy themes.

Juan Horsetown said...

Hey anon,

Thanks for posting! Sign up for a free blogger account (you don't have to have a blog to make one) so we can know who you are from post to post!


Soymilk Revolution said...

lovely commentary for a lovely song! i love it, toward the end, when all those layers of vocal harmonies and countermelody kick in. :)

Kerriffic said...

great song! I remember one night when I was hanging with a freind and we were listening to New Old Fashioned Way while smoking some pot. Out of no where, Kasper starts this long explanation on how this song is about weed and they guy living on the farm grows it and smokes it all the time and can't remember anything because he's stoned 24/7, etc etc etc. I replied, "I don't think Seth Timbs would make an obvious reference like that" Of course his reply is "what do you mean? Seth Timbs IS THE GUY IN THE SONG!!" This went on and on and then the neighbor, Brad, came upstairs to smoke as well and agreed with Kasper furthering the discussion of why Vegetable Kingdom is about weed. We played the record 3 times before hitting stop. a very memorable night. I actually walked through the rain to buy the EP. Another story that makes no sense...

Tom Foolery said...

Random drunk guy at a Fl Oz show: "WOOOO! PLAY 'VEGETABLE GARDEN!'"

This song is truly a Fluid Ounces classic and was definitely one of the highlights of turn-of-the-century sets. While I always got the impression it was one of the main anchor songs for ItNOFW, I always liked it better on its own EP.

As a relative late-comer to Fl Oz fandom, I had been looking for a copy of the VK EP in local record stores, but I hadn't had much luck. Then one day, famed Nashville socialite Courtney Krampf e-mails me to tell me that they have a copy in her store, which happened to be very close to my apartment. As soon as I read the message, I hopped into the car, and ten minutes later, I owned my own copy.

Kerriffic said...

Last weeks performance of this song was the best and the tightest I have ever heard! thanks for pulling it out again!

Purchase Fluid Ounces mp3s Directly from the Band!