“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.