Next time you find yourself in casual conversation, try steering the proceedings toward the mythopoeic and see what happens. Attempting to discuss Northrop Frye, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Jesus is usually the interpersonal equivalent of potassium nitrate; talk just withers away. Perhaps that’s because few people have any sort of proper conception of myth anymore. I mean, that term has all sorts of negative connotations attached to it. Falsified. Ignorant. Anti-science. But those are wrong-headed associations. Myths are simply stories that purport to tell how the world works at a deep level, to get at the core of reality, to point out the hub around which existence turns. They can claim to be actual historical accounts. Or they can be imaginative, symbolic works that use tangled threads of narrative and association to drag the deep things up to the surface. Burlap to Cashmere’s “Build a Wall” is a good example of the latter.
Founded in the mid-nineties by New Jersey-based singer/songwriter Steven Delopoulos, Burlap to Cashmere broke all sorts of musical rules, melding serious musicianship and unabashedly religious lyrics with ethnic instrumentality and a massive touring band. No sooner had the group achieved a measure of commercial success than it went on a 13-year hiatus, only emerging in 2011 with a rowdy single that had a decidedly mythic cast. “Build a Wall” opens with a troubled woman chasing her woes down the open highway. Her goal? “She was looking for the man with the gun and the hat / Drinking whiskey in the rain and the Bible in his hand.” The verse crashes into a chorus rife with apocalyptic imagery, Greek guitar flourishes sweeping up into the titular allusion:
Shake the light.Can you feel how Delopoulos binds a reference to the ancient, sword-girt Israelite who rebuilt Jerusalem’s broken walls to classic Americana imagery and drives it on with instrumentation that’s anything but native to pop music? It’s a potent blend, one that seems bound up with the very human desire to have someone swoop in to save during times of trouble. Mythic, indeed. Alas, YouTube seems to lack a full studio version of “Build a Wall,” so once you’ve listened to the teaser above, check out the band performing the song live at Guitar Center.
Drown the sun.
Close the shades.
Lock the door.
Burn the pages of your life
As your body hits the floor.
And as you weep, you can hear it.
There's an echo of a call.
And through the violent bloody night,
Nehemiah builds the wall.