If you live, you're gonna suffer.
This is the straight-no-chaser, honest and 'sorry, but it's true' message behind Saint Ain't - the third solo release by Rob Fetters [Raisins, Bears, Psychodots]. Fortunately for us, this message is wrapped-up nicely in a rockin' good time that allows us to enjoy the short ride we're allowed in our own hand basket.
In my younger days, I would take every opportunity available to go and see The Bears perform at Bogart's. I was an unabashed Fetters/Belew fanboy and their album Rise and Shine was the first CD I ever purchased.
Now, 26 years later [UGH!] hearing Fetters' voice was like re-connecting with an old friend; and, like me, Rob is older and wiser, but still has a fire burning inside of him and a message to deliver that commands your attention.
This album was a long time coming and Brian O'Donnell recently spoke with Fetters about the making of the album for WVXU's Around Cincinnati.
Fetters has three simultaneous narratives going on in Saint Ain't.
The first one is the darkly cynical, slap-in-the-face reality that he brings out with songs like "Suffer," "God is War" and "Nero." The mood of these songs are jaded, sardonic and speak to the human condition in a morosely funny way that reminds me of Warren Zevon. But, like any great writer, if you look beyond the surface there are great tales to be told and lessons to be learned.
The second narrative is a simpler message, delivered several years since his last recording; and that is a plain but resounding "I'm back and I'm still writing songs that you will love to hear," which is reflected in tracks like "Beautiful Stories" and "Play Your Guitar."
However the third and most significant story being told by Fetters in this album is the one of collaboration. In making Saint Ain't, Fetters is reconnected with (abetted by) his fellow Bears/Psychodots Bob Nyswonger and Chris Arduser, as well as a laundry list of friends and family who all come together to make this project happen, including Rob's son Noah who drives the song "Famous Last Words" which is probably my favorite gem in the collection.
The album closes with "Walking Out," a song that resounds with the sentiment 'We're walking out, gonna help ourselves; and then we're gonna tear off these chains and free everyone else.' In listening to this song, my thoughts focused on the question, 'Free everyone else from what?'
It wasn't until the third or fourth time listening to the album that I realized the answer.
Fetters' aim in creating Saint Ain't is to help remind us to free ourselves from trivialities; to free ourselves from disillusionment; to free ourselves from the stupid, insipid media-induced Pollyanna mentality that all is well as long as we just tune-in, turn-on and consume.
Freedom can only come from the truth and the album comes full-circle and delivers that truth to us in its most direct and simplistic form - like the giant, flaming letters that spell out 'God's Final Message to His Creation' in Douglas Adams' So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish:
If you live, you're gonna suffer - but usually it is the things you suffer for that make life worthwhile.