Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Tuesday Tune: "Salt in the Wound" by Delta Spirit

From week to week, I know I tend to slide into hyperbolic enthusiasm when it comes to the Tuesday Tunes I post.  Judging by the spittle-flecked intensity of my praise, you'd think every tune was "the best song EVER!!"  (That's partly true, because why else would I interrupt a books blog to wax giddy about music unless they were songs that hammered my heart with love?)

I don't know if Delta Spirit's "Salt in the Wound" is the Best.  Song.  Ever.  But it sure struck a chord with me when I heard it for the first time five days ago.  I was driving through the streets of Helena, Montana when it came on my iPod's random playlist.  I had to pull over to avoid an accident.

"Salt in the Wound" is a powerful, haunting meditation about finding our place in the world of good and evil and the in-between moral territory where most of us live.  From the start, lead singer Matthew Vasquez's voice trembles with longing and uncertainty.
I want to get an answer
To why I was even born
No one here can tell me
What's been haunting me all my life
Well this rat race has left me limping
As I balance on the edge of the knife
Why am I here?
Oh what should I do?
Well is this the point I'm trying to prove?
Three seconds before the song ended, I was hitting the Repeat button on my iPod.  The song filled my car, entered my head, and lodged in my heart.  It ended, I hit Repeat again.  And again.  And again.  Even by the fifth consecutive time through, I wasn't sick of it--but, in the interest of keeping traffic flowing through Helena, I moved on to the next song.

I have other Delta Spirit songs buried on my iPod (including "Bushwick Blues" and "Trashcan"), but none of them grabbed me with such immediate insistence as this one.  The band hails from Southern California, but you'd swear they came from the edge of the backwoods of the worlds populated by the likes of Flannery O'Connor and James Dickey.  Not that they're rednecks by any means--no, that's not it.  But when I listen to them, I get a down-to-earth folk vibe that calls to mind "Jesus Saves" signs tacked to the trunks of kudzu-choked telephone poles.  In an interview from three years ago, Patrol Magazine said of the band: "With a clear cutting sound born out of everything right in Americana folklore, Delta Spirit wields words with a prophetic precision that evokes comparisons to Cash, Springsteen and the omnipresent Dylan."*  I'd also suggest that Delta Spirit revives U2 at the Joshua Tree peak of its career.

The spiritual wrestling match of "Salt in the Wound" reaches its apogee in this stanza as Vasquez sings,
If there's a god in my head
Then there's a devil too
How can I tell the difference
When they both claim to be true?
Maybe God is God
Maybe the Devil is me
Well I just throw my chains on
And tell myself that I'm free
"Salt in the Wound" reverberates inside me in much the same way I felt the first time I read Flannery O'Connor, James Dickey, Richard Hugo, and John Updike.  Like those writers--pillars in my literary education--the song finds no easy answers to Why We Are Here, but the journey along that switch-backed road to understanding is beautiful to behold every step of the way.
Well the earth is so tender and cruel
Well if you're not there it's still so beautiful
Give a listen (like last week's Tuesday Tune, this is a bare-bones video):

If you'd like to purchase "Salt in the Wound" from Amazon, CLICK HERE.

*That interview, which I read after I'd written this blog post, reinforces my suspicions about how the band purposefully infuses its lyrics with spirituality ("God is [a] great mystery that’s beyond our comprehension and we’re all at different places in understanding him, we haven’t made a basic structure for what we all believe as a band.  We are haunted by him though, and he appears in places we don’t expect him to be.").

Oh, and Flannery O'Connor makes a cameo, too.


  1. The first time I heard this song was in the movie Hide Away with Josh Lucas. The song is really featured in one of the parts and had a similar impact on me as it did on you. As soon as the movie was over I downloaded that song on my Kindle Fire. Love the lyrics--love the sound! Seek out the movie or at least that clip from youtube.

  2. This song struck a chord with me too.