a train track rusted
“A smokestack grey is laughter in the rain / A train track rusted won't carry me away”
Dayton's post-industrial ghost haunted my early songwriting efforts like a quarrelsome friend. As much as the city’s 1970's/1980's state of decay seemed to, at times, smother me in a depressive cloud, I also found a kind of inspiring romance in the crumbling, failing factories and the disused railways. I carry that influence with me today, 2500 miles and 30-plus years distant. And I carry it proudly.
Laura Delaney photo
B Pictures recorded a number of songs in 1985, but two stand out as backhanded tributes to the faded — like so many other manufacturing-reliant population centers in the midwest — city at the confluence of the Great Miami, Stillwater and Mad rivers. In both “In This Town” and “Pretty Flowers Die in a Day,” Dayton takes a lead role. The former plays out like a noir-tinged Western against ghosts of the city's more prosperous industrial past, and the latter unfolds as a sprawling, melancholic’s lament built on drummer Kevin Fennell’s and bassist Paul Comstock’s loose 3/4 time, intensifying to a brilliant and brutal guitar crescendo.
“In This Town” was the band’s one rodeo with traditional Country & Western stylings, probably influenced by Texas band Rank and File (who rolled through town a few times in the early 80s) and Dayton’s own The Highwaymen. “Pretty Flowers” was that one song every young band has that bravely ventures outside of uptempo 4/4 — the song where the players close their eyes and let the feeling take over, trying with every ounce of available confidence not to be intimidated by the composition’s wide open spaces. The result can be a train wreck, or a transcendent ride. I like to think with this one we teeter on the brink of calamity for nearly five minutes, notes falling on the outer edge of each beat. In a kind of blindfolded, psychedelic stagger we reach the lip of the abyss, organ wailing, guitar shredding, when finally Kevin’s tom fill delivers us from violent disintegration to relative safety in the last chorus. And, hey, what about Paul’s flanged bass? If there was ever a time and place for it, that was it!
Jim Harper’s guitar work on both songs is remarkable, adroitly interpreting and annotating dead-ended emotional landscapes — crumbling, grey wastelands of decay and lost hope. His playing is especially noteworthy on “Pretty Flowers,” where it cuts a fine line between blood curdling and heart wrenching. It astounds me still.
“A life full of bad luck is all I've had / And I'll trust in love again and again / But I'll trust in love again / And again”
Here’s to you, Gem City...
A shined up version of “In This Town” backed with “Pretty Flowers Die in a Day” is available as a 2-song digital single available for limited free streaming and download purchase on the B Pictures Bandcamp page.