Some time ago I began chattering about a photo-essay book idea rattling around in my brain. A hobbyist photographer since I was a teenager, I’ve typically trained my lens on objects and scenes; on the commonplace. There is a gravity in the commonplace, a certain courage born of endurance and experience. Rummaging through a pile of my old black & white prints recently, staring at an innocuous, out-of-focus photo of a botanical garden archway, Adam and Eve came to mind. I imagined them, long banished from the original Garden, years later on the outside looking in, training their eyes back to a place to which they could not return, reminiscing, grieving, and remembering the Old Man and his many charms, the flora, aromas, and vigor of the old world. I wrote this photo caption:
Every so often I walk past the place, my old stomping ground. I peek through the gate, and the sweet aroma of rhododendron and jasmine meets me over the tidy hedge. In there, the days were good. To think, I traded it all for an apple of power and my own confederacy. I can no longer recall the finer details. Either that, or I’ve chosen to forget them entirely. Out here, nothing works, and nothing lasts. The edges blur and vignette, everything goes wrong and, if it hasn’t already, dies. Nothing is permanent. I want the recollection of that idyllic place stricken from my memory, and yet—
I hope I never forget it.
That spontaneous writing exercise resonated with me—this giving voice to overlooked objects, scenes, and dismissed persons—and from there I began “remembering” stories that, though never wholly mine, were, in fact, entirely my own. I penned more first-person vignettes with an eye toward one day publishing them in book form. More or less a coffee-table art book, each page comprising a photo and its accompanying prose. I titled the project Far Side Of The Sea (from Psalm 139), hoping to convey, albeit abstractly, the concept of separation and falling away from a God who, in what must have been an outbreak of delirious compassion or compassionate delirium, chose to cross the wide gulf to search for and deliver us safely to farthest shores, a paradise-of-a-place we could never reach on our own.
Three years having passed since my last record, I needed to make a new album. So I also set about the intimidating task of writing songs based on excerpts from the book — imagine Eric in Wonderland following the rabbit trail ever deeper and you get the idea. If the overlooked things of earth have stories to tell, surely someone should offer to help them.
Having written songs about an abandoned bicycle, the tear-inducing career of an onion, unwanted pennies on the ground, and scared rabbits (among others), I have tended, over the years, to find commonality with the tired, sad, rusted, deflated, defeated things of earth. Surely, like any one of us, they have their own clumsy stories to tell. Far Side Of The Sea is a collection of first-person narratives, photographic memories if you will. Where I fail the songs and their subjects, I trust in their grace (and yours) to forgive any impertinence or melodrama on my part, and to allow, as with a double-exposed photograph, a bit of your image to haunt theirs, and theirs yours.
In a few weeks’ time, I will launch the crowd-funding campaign for Far Side Of The Sea, and I hope you will consider helping me bring this book-concept-album to the light of day.
Eric Peters, affectionately called “Pappy” by those who love him, is the grand old curmudgeon of the Rabbit Room. But his small stature and often quiet presence belie a giant talent. He’s a songwriter of the first order, and a catalogue of great records bears witness to it. His last album, Birds of Relocation, blew minds and found its way onto “year’s best” lists all over the country. When he’s not painting, trolling bookstores, or dabbling in photography, he’s touring the country in support of his latest record, Far Side of the Sea.