The JOAT 50 Song Countdown is a blog series where every weekday for 10 weeks I am posting a brand new long form essay where I have ranked and written about my 50 favorite songs of all-time. From Adele to Zac Brown Band, Patsy Cline to Plasma Canvas, Ludacris to Rise Against, this series offers a personal essay about the 50 songs that hit me the absolute hardest.
It was the Marquis Theatre some years ago when I waited for The Bouncing Souls to take the stage and play through both their self-titled album, and Hopeless Romantic. I had no idea who the opener was, but when I saw a solitary dude with only his guitar come out, my heart sank a little. I was here for some punk music and to get my nuts rocked off. I wasn’t particularly in the mood to endure any tender crooning from some gritty washout.
He stepped to the mic and said, “Alright, this first song goes out to my friend who has too much time left on his jail sentence. It’s about him.” Ok, then. I wasn’t sure how to react to that, but thankfully he didn’t give me much time to think about it because he started up immediately.
One quick minute got me 28 long years
But I’d do it again I don’t regret it…
You officially have my attention, sir.
He laid his hand on my sister
Too many times when I was near
I shot him dead
And I don’t care
Holy fuck! These are still the greatest opening lyrics I have ever heard at a live show. Turns out the guy up there was Tim Barry, who had fronted hardcore band Avail, and branched out into this solo folk project, which I was unaware of. And despite my initial hesitation, he went on to rock our nuts off for the next 30+ minutes just him and his guitar. His songs were vivid, often heartbreaking, and just… cool. He expressed himself earnestly which made his candor sometimes uncomfortable to hear, but because he was coming at every song from a place of emotional truth, they were all captivating.
Tim Barry’s songs allow us to peek through the keyhole into another man’s intimate world. Listening to him is akin to reading the work of Flannery O’Connor or Ambrose Bierce. Adding a layer of tension to the proceedings is my personal distaste for small towns. I get claustrophobic and panicked when I think about living in a small town.
Which brings me back to “Dog Bumped.” The song follows the narrator as he and his much younger sister navigate small town life after dad goes to jail and mom dies. Narrator works his ass off to care for them both, sis falls in love with an older man who ends up cheating on her and beating the shit out of her. Narrator shows up, gives him a couple of solid shots with his fists, older guy tries to run, sis shoots him dead, and narrator takes the rap.
The song is filled with tiny, world-building details that put you right there with these folks.
Sis loved to dance and she lived honestly
But that old dog tried to control her in every way
First came the drinking, then the jealousy
This town’s too small for me not to see
That’s a portrait of young innocence corrupted by a manipulative shitheel who sees a pretty girl and knows he can have domain over her without much effort. The next line even highlights that her lover is “out every night with every girl in town” which is why I think I dislike the small town ethos so much.
First of all, you’ve got this asshole who knows everyone’s watching him, and brazenly cheats on her out in public anyway. And then who are these women he’s with? If the town is that small, they know the score, yet they don’t have any morals themselves and gladly serve as his willing concubines? The power dynamic here is mystifying simply because I think this pond is too small. If I had to guess, this guy is either rich or holds some sort of important elected office and everyone then tacitly pledges fealty to him.
I have a theory that many people who live in small towns secretly hate it, yet don’t realize (for whatever reason) they can literally just pick up and leave for a more enlightened area of this country any time they like. Yet they sit there and watch this big swinging dick manipulate and subjugate one of their community members for nothing more than the sheer delight he takes in exerting power. The thought of living like that paralyzes me with dread, which makes this song a fucking tragedy.
But here’s the thing, while it is a tragedy in one sense, it’s a triumph in another as the whole time he’s telling this story, the beat is thumping along and we’re there for the ride. He slows the beat down on the lines “my baby sister beaten black and blue.” We reach the song’s climax as she shoots her former lover, and with that slowed down beat, Barry sings “Boy she wept. And I did too. Then I told the police I did what I had to do.”
And then it’s right back to that peppy beat thumping right along again for a couple of rousing renditions of the chorus. The narrator is a hero, not just for what he did for his sister, but I like to think he freed his town from the tyranny of this motherfucker. This wouldn’t have been the last time he did this, and I think we can reasonably assume it wasn’t the first. But now he’s dead. Fuck him and good riddance.
This song is an emotional ride. It’s like a Walter Hill revenge movie. It’s painted with beautifully lived-in details, unsparing emotional truth, and a resolution that’s spoiled in the very first lines, yet still feels satisfying and surprising in the conclusion. The crowd at that Bouncing Souls show went apeshit for this song. Barry had us hooked, and didn’t let go for 30 minutes.
I don’t have anywhere else to put this, so I’ll just put it. Hear me now, believe me later when you try it for yourself: This is hands down the best song to sing in the shower.
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