Music Monday: Flightless Bird, American Mouth*

Flightless Bird, American Mouth
(Sam Beam, aka Iron and Wine)

I was a quick wet boy, diving too deep for coins
All of your street light eyes wide on my plastic toys
Then when the cops closed the fair, I cut my long baby hair
Stole me a dog-eared map and called for you everywhere

Have I found you
Flightless bird, jealous, weeping or lost you, american mouth
Big pill looming

Now I’m a fat house cat
Nursing my sore blunt tongue
Watching the warm poison rats curl through the wide fence cracks
Pissing on magazine photos
Those fishing lures thrown in the cold
And clean blood of Christ mountain stream

Have I found you
Flightless bird, grounded, bleeding or lost you, american mouth
Big pill stuck going down

I first heard this song, by the ‘famously uncommunicative’ singer-songwriter Sam Beam, also known as Iron and Wine, in a mix sent by my friend C. Wow, I thought, what a hauntingly beautiful song. I wish my musical tastes were as cool as C’s. I was also wondering if Dire Straits and U2 were now considered bland and boring as she seemed to imply that they were.

And then last night L and I were watching Twilight, since it was on TV and we wanted to see what the fuss was all about, and this song was the backing for the prom scene between Edward and Bella. (I still don’t really know what all the fuss is about with Twilight, apart from the fact that vampires are interesting in an angsty love and death kind of way.)

But this is the sort of song that makes me wish I was a high school English teacher again since I would play this song to my class and ask them to write some free-writing based on the lyrics and their associations.

My own free associations would start something like this:

Image: Quick wet boy diving too deep for coins.
Associations: Tim Winton’s Breath. Boys diving, danger. How deep is too deep? What about going too deep in therapy? Or in a relationship? Those coins are treasure. Remember how I loved those as a boy.

Image: … cops closed the fair, I cut my long baby hair
Associations: It’s always the grown-ups who want to stop the kids from having fun. Strict parents, playful children. And then the ‘long baby hair’ is a welcome contrast after the short military hair that I’m used to. I had a client today with a clipped military moustache. His manner was a bit clipped and controlled too. But the long, flowing hair. Hippies. Flower-power. Innocence. Not conforming to the strict world of cop adults.

Image: Have I found you, flightless bird
Associations: That’s such an ambiguous image. (I wonder if they could make an auditory projective test like the TAT?) Is the flightless bird content to be caught? Scared? Wounded? I can just picture the fat house cat so happy with its flightless bird. Reminds me of my parents’ cat catching mice and lizards. She doesn’t want to kill them, I don’t think, it’s just in her nature to catch little creatures and play with them. Torment them I suppose.

And then I go and look up Sam Beam and Iron and Wine and find on Wikipedia:

“Before the release of the first Iron & Wine album, Beam’s main source of income was as a professor of film and cinematography at the University of Miami and Miami International University of Art & Design.”

And then this:

“Flightless Bird, American Mouth” was used in the film Twilight. The song was specifically chosen for the film’s prom scene by Kristen Stewart, the female lead

Andy Gill in The Independent on Sam Beam:

“At times, it’s like he’s tapping into the same dark, mythopoetic imagery that informed the great country bluesmen, refracting love, death, faith and bleak destiny through a fevered dreamscape haunted by angels and demons; but confronting them not with the wracked, careworn voice of a Robert Johnson or Charley Patton, but rather the soft, emollient tone of a Nick Drake …”

* The YouTube clip is by blue90714

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8 Responses to Music Monday: Flightless Bird, American Mouth*

  1. litlove says:

    Fun free associations! I don’t normally comment on the music Monday posts because I have a certain peculiar trouble with separating lyrics from the music that accompanies them. But this is a lovely approach to an unusual and haunting song.

  2. yogurt says:

    I loved the soundtrack for Twilight. Didn’t know the prom dance song belonged to Iron & Wine, so thanks for sharing this.

    I also love my Iron & Wine CD’s. I just now read this about The Shepherd’s Dog album, it “was conceived in various phases, mostly in Sam’s home studio outside of Austin, Texas.” Hey, I didn’t know Beam was an Austinite. For some reason I was thinking he was a son of New Orleans.

    When I think of a flightless bird, I think of a bird too afraid to fly, to fearful of taking off.

  3. Pete says:

    Litlove – Thanks, had fun making them. This was one of those songs that was just asking to be picked over.

    yogurt – I see he’s from South Carolina originally and then Florida. But he’s now an Austinite so you can claim him. And I like that association of a bird too afraid to fly. Works for me too.

  4. Courtney says:

    Dire Straights will never be land. Not. Ever.

  5. doctordi says:

    Read your word association post the other day, Pete, but was interrupted before I was able to listen to the actual song! It is rather lovely – though I don’t recall it from the Twilight movie (my sentiments echo your own) and have never heard of the musician under either name! Flightless bird… interesting, I don’t associate that with fear necessarily… flightless birds are unable, not unwilling to fly. I guess also there’s a possible comfort there knowing it won’t fly away like other birds may have done- and if it’s naturally flightless, as it is in my association, then it won’t be restless, because it’s won’t miss what it’s never known. Flightlessness can be an expression of contentment, can’t it?

  6. doctordi says:

    (‘it’ won’t miss)

  7. natalian says:

    The movie may not be rated too highly but the soundtrack is not too shabby with the exception of one or two songs. Wonder what that “Big pill” could be? A truth? As in a “bitter pill to swallow” ? Enjoyed reading your associations!

  8. anna says:

    The song is about American consumerism. Song’s take on loss of innocence/an idealized America, materialism.

    Stereogum.com, Jan 16, 2009

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