“Hey, what about Dead Man Shake?” That’s a question that I’m sure some Paul Westerberg fans might be asking, as they’ve noticed I’ve skipped from Come Feel Me Tremble to Folker.
It’s a good question, and for the uninitiated, Dead Man Shake was released at the same time as Come Feel Me Tremble, but it had two concepts. One, it was released as Grandpaboy, which is fine, and two, the concept was blues-rock, which wasn’t. The result was an album filled with the kind of songs that would never make any of my mixtapes, compilation CDs or best-of playlists, though I did like the John Prine cover.
So I’m glad that none of those songs ended up on either Come Feel Me Tremble or 2004’s Folker, which helped make those records stronger. That said, I haven’t listened to in in fifteen years or, so it’s entirely possible I’d enjoy it much more since we’re not in the middle of an incredibly prolific Paul period like we were in 2003.
A prolific period that ended with his fifth album in two-and-a-half years, 2004’s Folker, which to this date is all the final physical record Paul Westerberg has released under his own name, which — this can’t be right, can it? — was almost 15 years ago.
I think all things considered, Folker is perhaps his most consistent-sounding solo album: nearly every single song floats upon a bed of acoustic guitars and his rudimentary drumming, which makes sense, as in the press materials, he said he was going for the sound of those early Rod Stewart solo albums, and his drumming is clearly influenced by the bashing that Mickey Waller on songs like “Cut Across Shorty,” “You Wear It Well” and “Every Picture Tells a Story” (And it just struck me that I would kill for a PW version of “Every Picture Tells a Story,” though I doubt he’d touch it.)
And so begins the utterly gorgeous “Looking Up In Heaven” which begins with a couple of acoustics circling each other, and hell, maybe even an cello floating on top as Paul begins.
Someday morning I felt afraid
Someone leaving in the world today
I looked low, I looked high
Only missed one friend
Before I go, I look high again
Given that he had just lost his father, and “Lookin’ Up In Heaven” literally followed a song called “My Dad,” given that opening verse, you could be excused if you thought it was about his father. Which would actually make the chorus kind of insulting, if you think about it.
So I went lookin’ up in heaven
But you wasn’t anywhere in sight
They asked me to stick around
But without you it just wasn’t right
I went lookin’ up in heaven
But you wasn’t anywhere in sight
In an interview with future biographer Bob Mehr Paul revealed that it couldn’t be about his father, as the song dated back to his major label days — and naturally gave no other details — so it’s probably about a lost love that he misses, whether old or new.
In any event, my favorite part of the lyric was the piss-taking part where Paul is invited to stay in heaven and refuses the offer, which he doubles down in during an atypical spoken word section near the end.
They invited me to stick around, you know
But I told ’em there was another place
I had to check out tonight
In the end, it doesn’t seem like he ever found her, even as the song adds backing vocals, keyboards and what sounds like an accordion to decorate the edges of the music. It’s lovely as all hell, while staying this side of sad, as it feels like the thrill of the looking was enough for him.
“Lookin’ Up In Heaven”
“Lookin’ Up In Heaven” live at Sessions @AOL, 2004
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