Brad armstrong

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“Here you all, come gather round and I’ll tell the tale of the Maker’s Mound. Here

stands a warning to a man: Don’t ever dare to raise your hand against the one from

over the sea, made everything will ever be. Here lies Ford, what’s left of him is buried

in the alkaline.”

–opening lines of “I Got No Place Remembers Me” by Brad Armstrong

In the early days, there was a rock and roll band. It is a familiar story. Man

meets Guitar, Man meets another Man with Bass Guitar, they meet Man with Drums,

set out to change the face of rock and roll as it has existed these many years. Then

there are ten or twelve years of many shows, many records, not many dollars. The

face of rock and roll remains unchanged. It is a familiar story. In this incarnation of

the Rock and Roll Story, the name of the band is 13ghosts. The name of the city is

Birmingham, Alabama. The name of the Man is Brad Armstrong. There are other

men, certainly, but they shall not be named. Not for bitterness. For love.

13ghosts make six records between 2000 and 2012. There are some gold

nuggets. There are some lead ingots. It is a familiar story. In 2005, by some

divinely comedic providence, they are noticed by Pitchfork, and they are reviewed.

Upon their little album is bestowed a High Score. Points are tallied. It is enough. It

is a miracle. This is not a familiar story. They receive reams and reams of national

press on their third album, Cicada. Or if not reams, certainly pages. It is

championed, it is great. They do a national tour.

Then, one dark and stormy night, their record label receives a cease and

desist order, via certified mail, from the Bob Marley Estate. 13ghosts has recorded a

version of “Three Little Birds” in which Armstrong has added a couple of verses to

the song, to frame it in a new and different way. This is Not Acceptable. This is

Diluting Mr. Marley’s Vision. There is discussion of a fee to overlook this dilution. It

is a large fee. Too large for an indie label. 13ghosts are informed of pending

litigation if the record is not pulled. So, Red Eye Distribution pulls it, it is gone, the

record is killed, and that is that. Goodbye Cicada. And, while their subsequent

records continue to enjoy critical praise from all corners of the internet and beyond,

there are no more shining beginnings. The prom queen has been doused in blood. It

is ugly to look at. It is a familiar story. Discontent breeds among the troops. Rations

are thin. Tack and gruel. Disillusionment settles in like gout. There is bitterness.

There are egos. Of that I am certain. There always are.

Armstrong decides, in 2012, that he has Had Enough. Turns out the horizon

is not without end, as he had believed all these years. He upends his life and moves

to the Hudson Valley with his wife and daughters. They get a dog. He settles into

carpentry. He plays sometimes. He is still a member of the Dexateens, a staple of

southern garage rock, and they still tour the land. They are wearing it out, in fact.

He tells himself he is satisfied. He tells himself that it is Enough. That the simple,

uncomplicated life of a man playing guitar in a rock and roll band and building

things is what he has always wanted.

But, alas. It is not Enough. It is never enough. His discontentment begins to

return. There are albums yet to be written, you see. He writes his first solo record.

It is called Empire. There are no expectations. It is released with zero fanfare, zero

press, zero touring. Zero physical product, even. Yet, somehow, some of the songs

find a home in some pretty widely watched television shows. There are questions.

Like, where can we find this record? The people do not know. So the people Bit

Torrent the record. There are links. They are clicked. Torrentially. Though the

money does not flow in, Armstrong starts doing shows again, playing with folks like

John Moreland and Azure Ray. Charlie Parr. It is like a revelation. Armstrong, for

sixteen years, has been playing the wrong rooms. These new rooms are filled with

people who Listen. With Ears. These people have Mouths which are not making

sounds while his hands skitter and clack over the neck of his guitar. He is back. He

is All In.

In 2018, Cornelius Chapel decides they want to re-issue Empire on vinyl.

Armstrong says, Hey, hang on, how about issuing this next record instead?

Cornelius Chapel says, How about we do them both? Armstrong says, Ok, that

would be very nice, thank you. He makes the record. It is called I Got No Place

Remembers Me. He whispers a prayer to himself that it is a lie, and, standing on the

cliff at the edge of the world, he heaves the record out into the void, arcing, spinning,

disappearing finally down into the darkness.