Willy Porter’s Classic Album Dog Eared Dream
It was 1996 and I was a senior in high school. As a huge fan of Tori Amos, I was determined not to miss her Pittsburgh performance at the Benedum. Back then, if you wanted to get tickets to a concert, you had to camp out, wait in lines and sometimes be the victim (or victor) of lottery draws at the ticket outlet. So, I did what I had to do and purchased two pretty decent tickets for me and my good friend, Jenny. What surprises me after all of these years is how very little I remember of Tori’s performance (truth be told, even at the time I was a little under-whelmed); rather, I think of May 30th, 1996 as my introduction to Willy Porter.
Willy Porter was personable, funny, interactive, and a masterful storyteller. From “Jesus on the Grille” to “Angry Words,” I was thoroughly engaged by his songs. Of all the Tori Amos merchandise that I could’ve purchased that evening, it was Willy’s Dog Eared Dream (1995 reissue) that I took home. For the better part of five years, Dog Eared Dream was never far from my CD player and often made appearance on my mix tapes.
The album starts with his most significant “hit” song, “Angry Words,” one of the most perfect post-break-up songs ever penned. While the memories, photos, and other sundry relationship mementos still remain, time helps us move on:
Yes, I’m finally getting over
The sad part of yesterday
no angry words to say.
Of those sundry items, it’s the dying coffeemaker that always tugs at my heart. I’ll be honest, this one closed out my post-college break-up mix (even though, it still took years after that to truly get over it).
Next up is the equally impressive, “Rita,” another tale of a jilted lover (yet, one who sounds deserving of such a fate). The opening verse sets up a vivid scene and tone:
Well, she hobbled up the porch steps
With her crutches and her broken leg
She missed me with a smile
Walked straight across my heart
And right on over to him.
Willy’s opening one-two punch is enough to make this album a classic … but wait, we’re only just getting started!
The third track is a classic trucker tale, “Jesus on the Grille.” The story of a Peterbilt with a glowing cross on its front grille, Willy’s wit allows for Jesus to allow for guaranteed on-time delivery as well as the “blessing [of] every road-kill.” Redemption can also be found from this “75-mph savior.”
An interesting follow-up to “Jesus on the Grille” is “Boab Tree.” The Boab tree is a species of the Baobab genus, all species are commonly referred to as the “tree of life.” Many religions have allusions to this tree, but Willy closes out the song by invoking a Hindu mantra: “Om nama Shivaya.” On this track, Willy demonstrates a deeper spiritual curiosity which resurfaces several more times on the album.
“Watercolor” is the first love song of the album. With platitudes such as “I can hear the ocean when I look into her eyes” and “together we’ll wake up to a watercolor sunrise,” it’s your basic charmer, but he makes it work. I admit to including this on a few of my courtship mixes for those blue-eyed girls.
“Moonbeam” is a deceptive song, trapped somewhere between nostalgia and desperation. A story of a person returning to their childhood when down on their luck. But home has gotten rundown, and memories don’t seem to bring too much solace. I must admit, I’m kind of worried for our narrator out on those railroad tracks.
Returning to his go-to material, “Cool Water” is another highlight from the album. To this listener’s ears, “Cool Water” comes across like someone getting ready for a new love after having had his heart broken. While the past might’ve hurt, the future will be better, and it’s definitely worth trusting and trying to find love again.
Willy tests his rhythm with “Be Here Now.” An inspirational song that invokes yet another religion, this time Buddhism, parts come across like a personal mantra. (“If we can think it, we can do it, we can be it / We’ve got to be here now.”) Suggesting happiness can’t be found through alcohol or drugs, we often need to get out of our own head and follow our heart.
The theme of religion continues with Christianity on “Flying.” Coming across as an updated version of the gospel song, “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” even with Christian allusions, the song seems to be more inclusive and focused more generally on spiritual fulfillment.
Leaving conventional religion behind, we find our new religion and intoxication through love. “Glow” tells of how smitten our narrator has become with a girl (the intense passion possibly encouraged by some red wine). The girl described sounds like a dream: free-spirited, educated, an artist and conversationalist. No description of her looks is really necessary as it’s easy to understand why “She’s my drug, my gin and tonic.”
“Cold Wind” is a heartbreaker. The narrator tells of a friend who has been diagnosed with HIV. Written in the mid-1990s, there was still a lot of misinformation and fear about HIV. Some felt that it was the wrath of God and that those who catch it deserve it. But, our narrator isn’t having any of that as he will be there to support his friend and is unwilling to believe that God would be so cruel.
The closing track returns to the topic of love, an unexpected love at that:
Somehow we seem connected
By tiny invisible strands
Never say a single word about it, but we both understand
It’s from out of the blue.
After all the heartache and soul searching, we conclude on a relationship success.
While Willy Porter has yet to become a household name for many, if you are lucky enough to happen upon Dog Eared Dream or see him perform live, then I guarantee that you will never forget him. Fortunately, Willy’s fans are dedicated supporters and have afforded him the opportunity to tour and record for the past two decades. Since Dog Eared Dream, he’s released five full length studio and two live albums. Willy Porter’s most recent release was an EP in 2012 entitled Cheeseburgers and Gasoline and is available through his Weasel Records label, via his website.
Album track, random video to “Jesus on the Grille”:
Live version of “Angry Words”:
Live version of “Rita”:
Adam Kukic is the host of The Coffeehouse on 91.3-FM, Pittsburgh … listen live at www.wyep.org
The Coffeehouse is the perfect complement to your coffee maker percolating on Sunday morning’s from 8am- 11am (EST).