by Patrick Barcus
featured image by Cheney Hagerup (Photos by Cheney)
Recently, I had the honor of being offered a couple of seats at an intimate gathering, to have a fine holiday meal with a select group of friends. All of us shared one particular trait: our love of Gus Moon and his music. And so, we gathered in the upstairs room of one of Greencastle’s stalwart eateries and filled our guts on food and drink and filled our ears and hearts with Gus Moon’s particular brand of musical storytelling. I’ve made no secret of the fact that I find his narrative style quite entertaining, as his songs spin yarns about the universal things we all encounter, wrapped up in the particular tales of beautifully flawed characters. If you need more proof of this, just peruse the back catalog of this very magazine for scenes from our long bromance.
As the night with Gus Moon and his musical council unfolded, which was a welcome break from the deluge of Christmas songs I had endured in the weeks leading up to the event, I was reminded of just how good Gus Moon’s songs are. And, while I enjoyed all of the evening’s set, “Ticket-Taker Blues,” from the 2014 EP Splendid Noise, stood out, as it usually does.
The vast majority of Gus Moon’s songs revolve around the themes of heartbreak and hope, and are justifiably mellow in tempo and arrangement. But “Ticket-Taker Blues” breaks from the typical mold of Moon’s tunes, with its upbeat rhythm, super-catchy chorus, and rootsy instrumentation. The slide guitar that permeates the song underscores the monologue of the central character, a carney posted at a ride taking the tickets of the carnival-goers who keep him in business. The song, which seems like the lovechild of Ry Cooder and Levon Helm, stretches out into a sort of suite, where the backing band rises and fades, Moon’s voice becomes the sole instrument, and then the ride ends after a full crescendo.
And, of course, the story is both well-wrought and deceptively important, as the Ticket-Taker laments his life, where he is continually forced to view the fun, but never partake. Subtly submerged in the lyrics is a tale of the haves and the have-nots, the lowly carney and the rich, by comparison, carnival crowd with money to burn on the frivolity of the ride. The Ticket-Taker’s blues are quite palpable, as if the frustration of his situation has birthed the song into being:
I’ve got colors in my closet
I just prefer to wear grey.
And the oft-encountered scenario where people accidentally (or not) condescend in the face of inequities between the classes is touched upon as well, as the Ticket-Taker faces down the riders with his story:
I’m patiently dying smokin’ my cigarette
You said I dig your t-shirt, yeah I know what that meant
Ultimately, with extreme verisimilitude, the Ticket-Taker doesn’t get his ride, and the blues go on. As the song’s crescendo builds toward the end, once again the music drops away, leaving only the voice of Gus Moon and a backing chorus of gospel-inspired women, providing the song with even more soul. Most importantly, though, is the simple fact that this song is downright fun to listen to. It’s one of those tracks that dare you not to tap your feet, or just flat out dance a jig in your living room. As I sat in that chair recently, filled to the brim with mushroom chicken and IPA, I just about wore a hole in the carpet tapping my toes into the night. As I left the event and climbed into my car, the familiar strains of some over-played Christmas ditty crept from the car stereo. Instead of humming robotically along, I turned it off and whistled the melody to “Ticket-Taker Blues” all the way home, where I put on a grey shirt, called up Splendid Noise on the old Spotify and started the party all over.
Patrick Barcus holds an MFA from Butler University and teaches writing at Indiana State University. He’s the front-man for the local band, Saturday Shoes, and also happens to be one hell of a poet. [/author]