Column: Feed pigeons fresh clay, don’t use file photos

Janan Alexandra (violin) and Logan Carithers (guitar) are The Sweet May Dews. (Dave Askins/Square Beacon)

Mid-afternoon on Saturday, I had a choice to make. But let’s not bury the lede with a bunch of boring background.

Shortly after making the right choice, I was listening to two verses of Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons.”

The performance was by street buskers under the canopy of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater in downtown Bloomington. Janan Alexandra (violin) and Logan Carithers (guitar) are The Sweet May Dews.

The pair gave me a solemn promise that they would learn the rest of the song. (This could be fairly described as an overstatement, or exaggeration, editorial license, or outright lie.  It reflects mostly my hope, instead of anything that Alexandra and Carithers might have actually said.)

By way of boring background, the choice was about photos.

I could head over to Kirkwood Avenue to get a fresh photo of the street closure. Parts of the street have been shut down for months to allow for additional restaurant seating, as part of the city of Bloomington’s pandemic response.

Or I could use a file photo.

Why did I need a photo at all? I’m working on a piece about the city council’s anticipated action next Wednesday, to extend through Oct. 31 the authorization of restaurant seating in the middle of Kirkwood.

Using a file photo is a more efficient use of time. A fresh photo lets readers know you care enough about their visual needs to give them new art.

So I headed off down Walnut to the intersection of Kirkwood. I would shoot east from Walnut down Kirkwood to get a frame filled with seating for Farm and Uptown.

From there, I could barely make out some faint music, coming from the overhang of the Buskirk-Chumley Theater. It was the opening strains of some tune played on fiddle and guitar. I will, in my untrained way, transcribe it like this: strum doo doo dee dum… doong doong.

Those final two notes landed in my ear like the iconic “Mm-hmm” from the opening line in Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues,” which goes, “Well, I wished I was in Austin. Mm-hmm.”

I held out little hope that the song would turn out to be “Dublin Blues”—because I am often wrong about that sort of thing.

But I was able to make out “Chili Parlor bar” over the hum of the Walnut Street traffic. It was “Dublin Blues.” So I bailed on my self-assigned photo shoot and walked down to the Buskirk-Chumley for a closer listen.

Finding street buskers who are performing “Dublin Blues” is a stroke of luck, not just because “Dublin Blues” is a great tune. It is, of course, a poetic work of art, with classic lyrics like: I have been to Fort Worth / I have been to Spain / I have been too proud / To come in out of the rain.

Finding street musicians singing “Dublin Blues” is lucky, because it means there’s a solid chance that they also know Blaze Foley’s “Clay Pigeons.” And “Clay Pigeons” is the song I’m always looking to hear. That’s a whole nother story.

Whatever genre includes Blaze Foley and Guy Clark, that’s a fair description of the other music The Sweet May Dews played on Saturday.

During a break between songs, I asked The Sweet May Dews if they know any of Blaze Foley’s stuff. Alexandra said they’d just been talking about how they should learn some Blaze Foley songs.

I ventured that “Clay Pigeons” is worth learning. Carithers professed not to know it, but then looked skyward, squinted real hard, dredged up some faded memory of some lyrics, and began strumming and singing in a tentative way, “I’m goin’ down to the Greyhound station / Gonna get a ticket to ride / Gonna find that lady with two or three kids / And sit down by her side…”

Alexandra followed him with backup vocals. Their effort got them through two full verses before they gave up. For now. They seemed receptive to the idea that “Clay Pigeons” is a song worth learning in its full glory.

On Saturday, The Sweet May Dews were performing on behalf of the Buskirk-Chumley as part of the Buskers at the Buskirk series. They told me the series will be pausing for June but will start up again in July. In the meantime, they’ll be around the downtown square area, busking on their own.

If you see Alexandra and Carithers busking this summer, pause, put some money in their hat, and listen until they stop.

If they don’t play “Clay Pigeons,” ask them to learn it for next time. I don’t want to be the only one.

Photos: The Sweet May Dews (May 29, 2021)

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3 thoughts on “Column: Feed pigeons fresh clay, don’t use file photos

  1. I like your style and your taste in music! Thanks for making the right decision to get that fresh photo and glad you were rewarded with a Blaze moment.

  2. hi dave pleasure meeting you the other day. still holding the promise of learning the rest of the verses. pleased that such a good writer stumbled upon us. and one with a good eye at that. any way you could email me these photos? my email is lbcarith@gmail.com

    – logan c

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