The Life in the songwriting of Two Cow Garage – Part II

creative commons licensed ( BY-NC-SA ) flickr photo shared by Christine Lortie

In part I of this essay I talked about themes in early TCG records. I left off right before Three. Read part I here.

Not long ago I caught Micah playing a solo show. He took requests and when I asked him to “No Shame” he introduced the song as being about trying to get a job at Taco Bell while being a touring musician. I had not heard this before and it’s possible he was pulling our chain but for the sake of this write-up I’m going to assume it’s true.

03 No Shame

In plain terms that anyone can understand, the chorus of “No Shame” asks the question we all have to ask ourselves at some point. Is what I’m doing worth it? In the song Micah calls the guitar the instrument of his downfall. Without his introduction we can only assume, but with the extra bit of information from the live introduction it’s clear that one of the consequences of pursing a life in art is that it makes you unemployable at even the most rudimentary level. There are countless examples in the Two Cow discography where Micah and Shane question what they’re doing with their lives, the consequences of their choices and whether or not they should just give up and walk away.

In” No Shame” things have never been worse because the job wasn’t there. Not getting the job recalibrates the value of life where all Micah can see is the unfinished songs and the all the things that haven’t worked. I know that feeling, all too well. When I’m down in that hole there’s nothing to see but the dirt wall. Several years ago I had a short story published called The List She Made. In that story the main character’s life is on a downward spiral and eventually he breaks down and fills out an application to work at Hardee’s. In the story he gets the job but then he is then left with evaluating his life based on the fact that he now works making french fries for minimum wage and what does that say about his life. If you want to read the story you can find it HERE. I don’t bring it up to toot my own horn but to try to show that there are dire effects to the human spirit no matter if you get the job or don’t.

The second song on Three that really typifies the beautiful despair in Two Cow’s songwriting is” Should’ve California.” Talk about regret, the whole damn song is one regret after the other and they circle back so if you didn’t really feel the regret the first time you’ll have another chance.

06 Should’ve California

“Should’ve California” really resonates with me, yet none of the regrets in the song are my own. I went to college, I worked in blue collar professions, I moved west, my Georgian ass has even been all the way to California. Yet I don’t feel like my life has ever followed the easy route. I can’t help but think I should have made different decisions about things, that I could have done things that would have made my life easier. But the decisions I’ve made have always seemed like the best decisions I could make at the time. It doesn’t make any sense to me and probably never will but I also know that I’m not the only one who lives this way.

“Should’ve California” is such a simple song but it seems to have held up well. I feel like Two Cow has played it almost all of the times I’ve seen them live and Micah has played it at the solo shows I’ve seen. There is comfort in collective pain and Two Cow Garage shows can often turn into tattooed revivals. And it is songs like these, painful songs that matter, that help us make sense of our lives, that help us get out of the bed each day. And, these songs of desperation and regret help us see the good things in life in a way that others can’t.

You may be asking yourself, is there more of silver lining than finding others that share the same downsides of life that you do. And there is, there totally is! I firmly believe that experiencing hardships allows someone to relish in the beautiful aspects of life. The beauty may not be as apparent or present itself as often, but through the lens of hardship beauty is magnified and details that might otherwise be missed are recognized and embraced.

04 Jackson, Don’t you Worry

Is there a more touching and beautiful song in the Two Cow Garage cannon than “Jackson, Don’t You Worry?” A song that Micah wrote for Shane’s young son, this masterpiece appears on 2010’s Sweet Saint Me and I firmly believe a song with these details, that is this touching could only be written by someone whose has, and continues to experience the desperation and regret of the songs already mentioned. It’s as if Micah is saying this is a good thing in the world and I >refuse to let it pass without acknowledging it in a significant way. I find it more touching that Micah writes a song for Shane’s son. To me song feels like a preemptive strike, Micah saying to Jackson what Shane might not be able to say or what a son might not want to hear or accept from his father.

At the same time the song probably works as a comfort while on the road. In “Jackson, Don’t You Worry” there is confirmation that doing what you have to do has consequences, and for the first time in the Two Cow cannon the consequences are not just to the adults that are in charge of their own decisions. But the tenderness between two friends is undeniable and without the hardships that populate most of Micah’s and Shane’s songs then the value of, night after night, standing next to someone that understands what you’re facing and what you’ve already faced down, wouldn’t be as powerful.

For them, and for us.

9 thoughts on “The Life in the songwriting of Two Cow Garage – Part II”

  1. RSV asked me if there was going to be a part III. I told him that I hadn’t planned on it then he said I should look at their solo records. So if there is interest and I find the time, I’ll work on that. Thanks for reading.

    1. I’m interested, if you find the time. Another fantastic post – thanks! 🙂

    2. I’d be interested. Their solo records highlight the compliments and differences in the two songwriting styes.

      Another great piece. Their progression as a band and songwriters is such a great narrative. Any reason you left off the last record?

      1. Only time, energy, word count and theme. I wasn’t shooting for a complete overview, but that’s what it seems like you people want. Damn you all.

    3. I too would definitely be interested in something about the solo albums. I love just about anything that is in anyway related to TCG and Sweet Saint Me is one of my favorite albums over the last handful of years.

      That being said, Micah’s two solo albums contain some of the most impactful songs and lyrics that I’ve ever heard and are probably two of the albums I have listened to the most over the course of my life. I’ve never had the pleasure of seeing the band or either of them in a solo setting but, while I’d most definitely like to experience both versions, if I’m being honest, I’d probably pick a solo show of Micah’s if I could only choose between one of the two.

  2. I think you should also include Death Of the Self-Preservation Society, unless you want to wait a bit until their next album, which sounds like it’ll be both political (“These Are The Things”) and a return to the more individual stuff (“Continental Divide”) — as well as a more country sound.

    I never really saw these songs as coming from a place of isolation and depression, necessarily. I see them as the journey of younger people finding their place in adulthood. Then again, I started listening to them when I was in college. The release of the albums came exactly when I had made these realizations for myself, so they hold particular meaning to me. In short:

    III — Ambivalence about one’s background, trying to figure out what to keep and what to ditch (my freshman year of college)

    Speaking In Cursive — Realizing that getting what you want out of life isn’t going to be so easy (sophomore year)

    Sweet Saint Me — Ignoring the status quo and doing it your way. Also realizing that you’re kind of a narcissist. (“What Dying Is For,” “Brothers in Arms,” “Lucy and the Butcher Knife,” “My Great Gatsby,” “Soundtrack to My Summer” — my parents didn’t really support my going into teaching at this time. It was my senior year of college.)

    Death… — Truly entering adulthood here. Quitting the navel-gazing and standing for what’s right, fighting against what’s wrong. Taking a stand and living life the way it should be lived, but also realizing your shit isn’t as hot as you thought it was (“Stars and Gutters,” “Van Gough,” “My Friend Adam”)

    Maybe I should write my own?

  3. can’t believe I didn’t see this. I love you. I love Two Cow Garage. I love rock and roll.

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