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.