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An Episode of Sparrows.

by The Paperbacks

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Now, night arrives with peculiar viciousness, free from the strange glow it once would descend against. You could see the factory lights from any given point in the town on orbits of razor-wire. Now darkened, they still keep us down. I suffer this like a dream. My father sits down on the porch stair next to me. He rubs a tattoo that’s lost all its clarity. But the image depicted has power; it serves to remind how time will conspire to erase every trace of a life. I suffer this like a dream. Just close your eyes and point anywhere on the map and gather the few things the banks cannot take back. Did you in your life ever think you’d be present to see the kind of events that could turn atlases obsolete? I can’t stop thinking about it...it just keeps going on. I suffer this like a dream.
Here...take a last look at the beach, where shadows of abandoned things stretch out to greet the sea: the terminus of every street, our hair and clothes tinged with its salty, stinging bleach. Then seal up the last boxes with tape and clear the porch of what remains. Mason jars and pliers, salt water and innocent desire: who will run the starfish hospital? My strength exposes its frail roots, like the bald and flailed earth beneath my tattered shoes as I reflect on what was cultivated here: a childhood marked by un-abstracted fear. Because, though its not my fault things got this way, the water is liberal with its blame. Mason jars and pliers, salt water and an innocent desire: who will run the starfish hospital next season in the cradle of this wilting crop of real estate? Hush now, sister, soothe the cat. She’s not been caged before. If the sickness here still shadows us we’ll find our way back home, where our ghosts will check for lumps out of habit until the sea claims what its owed.
Fishing for my keys outside of your front door in the diesel-dark slush of a cold November night. The rumble of the wind absorbs each passing sound, but somehow you’ve got me believing in a silence that’s not born of solitude, but from compassion left just holding its breath. But gravity won’t fail to make its presence felt or to wage war on unmedicated sleep. Its merciless advance muscles me aside into the sharp nape of a snowdrift. If I make it through this winter...if I make it through this winter. If I make it through this winter, I think I’ll be okay. The few remaining birds, they leap from leafless trees to circle right above us, and, you know, their patterns are so strict, they seem etched into the sky. Oh, you squawking, starving heralds of impenetrable darkness all day long...and of the chemicals that set with every sun. So while drivers skid to stops and take down license plates, their patience worn and weathered as their skills, my own nerves bend and fray like branches glazed with ice...until I see you trudging with me. Chorus. Last year’s robbery, this year’s absent friends: they all linger in the scars on every wall. And there’s nothing left to take; I found solace in that. But now I need something worth losing. Chorus.
Performing under assumed names at the club where you first played. Your awkward charm now utterly gone. So utterly gone. Replaced with deep disengagement that’s a defense against pain, it is misconstrued as a force developed to keep guest lists short. And we recall how you’d hate this: Comparing tips with the waitress. Oh...I know, I know who keeps coming up with all these stupid rules. Local Celebrities on a bigger stage. Local celebrities when they’re tossed that way. We feel you owe us some token for the contract you’ve broken by not remaining wedded to themes you explored in your teens. But time will leave art debased and it will annihilate all traces of the unbridled rush that we’d get from those manic early sets. From waving ironic lighters to catching up on our nightmares, and I know, I know who keeps coming up with all these stupid rules. Chorus. The lighting alters its texture and everyone’s past is right there, and at the same time utterly gone. So utterly gone.
A photograph of a city’s streets lit up so bright that it subdues all one would associate with night. A Berlitz course, it chatters breathlessly with you. You’re splayed on the floor among maps marked off with shaking hands. I can’t plan that far in advance. No one will acknowledge that. Amber vials, they flank each windowsill and shelf. The contents expire and are replaced with something else. Results return, and days, once undefined, contract. So close the guides. Let’s just try and keep this candle lit. ‘Cause I can’t plan that far in advance. No one will acknowledge that. Constantly held back by the feeling that nothing is mine, but overlapping dreams I generate to pass the time between catastrophes. Chorus
Bridge. 04:08
Kate, we’re stuck here for awhile. The only service station closed tonight at five. The transmission has conspired against our silence; it’s relieved us of the goal that we have tried to hide behind. Kate...the pamphlets can all wait. We’ll send them in the morning. They’ll just be a little late. You’ve got a banner wrapped around you like a blanket and a cell phone that we swore a blood oath we’d never buy. Have you got this terrifying notion that this is not a shared experience? Just synchronized, solitary moments bound by belief in this alone? Kate...is there anything left to smoke? I feel like I‘m drowning...you talk to me in code. Staring at a wooden footbridge, you say, “It’s a marvel of construction. Two weaknesses combine to become a strength.” Chorus.
Shield my eyes from April’s glare, because now that you’re gone, you appear everywhere in these fresh seasons that struggle to grow through the last kernels of dark, hardened snow. But all production halts; we don’t resist as gods withdraw their remaining services. And bands dissolve. Leases terminate. A great silence then descends on you, until birds explode from the branches up above, darkening your path only briefly, then leaving you the canvas of the sky to reconstruct their movements in your head. And each street then accumulates these ghosts, because art is not a luxury...oh no, no. And it must proceed undeterred by all unconscious opposition, anyway. Thoughts scrawled on discarded receipts or backs of cash-handling procedure sheets, on unpaid breaks, in highlighter pen until the senses overload; a fog rolls in. And then arriving home so tired tonight that I don’t think that I’ll bother to write, though the press of ideas, neglected like this will find expression in dreams...dense dreams, where Chorus. To be no longer just a vessel for our hungers; or, at least, to transform these hungers into something bright and astonishing that nourishes itself. Yeah. And then the birds explode...
We’re engaged in the task of swapping purity for depth to perpetrate our art with the authority our broken heroes had. I want to do more than tolerate your love. If only we could be relieved of all we’ve done in keeping these fences in such marvelous repair to distract from what was never there. Your careless questions have the same effect as a flashlight playing back and forth across a stranger’s dark and cluttered room. Chorus.
They’re lurking at each stop: a sea of expatriate Americans who will reveal their ignorance with zeal. They natter at me in their unbroken English, then indulge in outdoor drinking sprees “just for the novelty.” Stars in this tourist sky bleached out by city lights again. Coins weigh down my pockets with their elusive value, and it inspires me to spend them all on more alcohol. Until I can barely stand. Until my landscape is not land. Just the sounds of passing things. Just remembering... stars in the swollen sky reach out for you tonight, again. These countries passing like a film unspooled by hand, coloured by your absence, I...suddenly I’m learning how something that makes a constant sound becomes a default silence then, as it repeats again and again and again. Stars in another sky shine for your distant eyes, again.
How are you? I’m writing you from school. All I sacrificed to get here, and I just want to talk to you. One month down and I still feel all alone. There’s still years left to go. And all the things I thought I’d learn are never taught. We’re just instructed to lean back and think some frilly, cautious thoughts. I’d collapse into your arms if you were here and douse your shirt in tears. I’m assaulted by the verse of peers that stresses, line by line, how anything’s assertable as long as it can rhyme. And they all inhabit fictions like these workshops will inspire...hearts abbreviated to a singular desire. And their books line up like furniture; they shine. The light makes constellations on their uncorrupted spines. And if one desire was all I had to choose...I’d wish that I was with you.
Quick: our hosts are going to close their eyes to kiss, and we’re the last people that they are going to miss. So let’s smuggle some Baby Duck out from the bar and hide out until the silent auction in your car. And raise a styrofoam cup, because, beneath it all, there was something here to see: that even now, with sober hearts, you’re the closest thing to me. You first knew me as this awkward teenage kid who dressed like Morrisey with spots and jutting ribs, shrouding all the uncompelling things in me in a silence that inferred great mystery. Chorus. And may our hosts find wedded love somewhere far away from us. We’ll bear witness to our own slow, subtle change and poke fun at all the things that still remain. Chorus.
Hey...wasn’t anyone listening to the words in that last song...? The way they lurched out of his mouth like wounded beasts shambling to their ancestral death grounds? But, hold. Perhaps I’ve gone too far. True, his delivery’s akin to a sopping wet kazoo. But I’m here with you, so this night’s been upgraded to a standard-issue guilty pleasure. The rhythm of the hospital (Run around, run around until these errands are done) departs so slowly from us now (Come around, come around to this one). Heads pump to serviceable beats. The music threatening to speak to me. It’s letters vs. numbers. When you turn to me and laugh so loud you drop your battered crutches to the ground, it’s letters vs. numbers. And I fear I’m on every side. You, in the years I’ve been around, you’ve skirmished with death and defeated it somewhat, though it does creep back through tiny cracks that have somehow been left unattended. So, though it’s vanquished once again, sometimes the most harmless things adopt a sinister resonance. But let this doubt be balanced out with recognition of its absence. The rhythm of the hospital (Run around, run around until these errands are done) departs so slowly from us now (Come around, come around to this one). Get-well cards on the windowsill obscure the phalanx of impending bills. It’s letters vs. numbers. When the meniscus of our cheapest wine drops below a certain line, it’s letters vs. numbers. And I think I’m on every side. I watched cartoons on hospital TVs with academic solemnity. It’s letters vs. numbers. Now you’re asleep between familiar walls. I feel the sweet math of your pulse. It’s letters vs. numbers.
In the warmth of your car, you arrive at an empty bar where the decor commits every artistic sin. Where buildings rise high and carve up the evening sky...untethered from purpose, yet still guarded, as we begin. I have no idea if you still drink. If you do, raise a glass here with me. I’ve watched you ache, and you’ve watched me hesitate. We’ve both brimmed with words while sitting wordless and reserved. But let’s not compare notes on who has hurt who the most on this anniversary of a greater violence endured. Ghosts of squatters that we built this with weave through barricades, rubble and mist. So arranged at the foot of these graves, all our petty concerns drift away. So let this monstrous and clotted spite be abolished from all hearts tonight.


An Episode of Sparrows is an incredibly polished and even mature album for a band’s debut...cryptic lyrics and sweeter tunes that take a while to expose themselves. An Episode of Sparrows is a very likeable record, right from the very first listen and it just gets better and better with time. - Exclaim! 2003.


released June 3, 2003

The Paperbacks present "An Episode of Sparrows" The Paperbacks are : Doug McLean, vocals and guitar; Jason Churko, guitar and vocals; Jaret McNabb, bass; Jack Jonasson, drums and vocals; Tanya Zubert, Keyboards, Vocals. Additional musicians : Rusty Matayas (organ) and Corey Biluk (percussion, organ) Produced, engineered and mixed by Jaret McNabb in his home studio on a digital 8 track. Mastered by Dave Gardner at Magneto Mastering. Design and layout by Harley Grusko. All songs (c)2003 Doug McLean/The Paperbacks. Originally released on CD by Pshaw!


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