“A Place to Remember the Dead”: album art, credits and lyrics


A Place to Remember the Dead
written and performed by
Shareef Ali – voice, guitar, harmonica


Maia “Papaya” Wiitala – upright and electric bass, vocals
Brian Belknap – lap steel guitar, vocals
Miss Erma – vocals
Erika Oba – piano, organ
Mr. Andrew – drums
Elle Armageddon, Grace Breedlove, Jesse Massarrest – gang vocals on “Stone’s Throw”

recorded by Jonah Strauss, Shipwreck Studio, Oakland
mastered by Myles Boisen

1. Reno

Ain’t nothing quite like that sunset from a sheer Nevada bluff:
the way it lingers on, but not too long, like it knows when you’ve had enough.
I won’t call this a mistake, but the work of a younger man;
but just because I don’t regret it doesn’t mean I’d do it again.

Oh, Reno, I see no point in arguing.
I asked you to tell the truth, but you won’t tell me anything.
After we go, there’ll be no reason to pretend.
Oh, Reno, why didn’t you let me know it was the end?

We tried to pick a winner, and we joined in that joyful noise.
So if you’re not proud how it turned out, you can’t say we had no choice.
But dear, you know it isn’t fair to say everything went wrong,
because we both know it didn’t go anywhere that it wasn’t all along.

Now those neon signs are shining bright, in orange, pink and red,
like a skeleton of glowing bones, a fossilized sunset.
There’s a quiet museum where the light goes dim;
it’s a place to remember the dead.
As if I could ever forget!

2. Fashion Survivor

Saturday night, you’re picking fights, like the Devil got into you.
Then you’re searching for God all Sunday, like you’ve got nothing better to do.
At last you found your idol, buried deep in your boudoir.
A regular West Oakland Imelda Marcos is what you are.

I know my eyes don’t deceive me, and I’m telling you it’s only us.
Of course, you don’t believe me, but that’s because you’re an ornery cuss.
Adam, those demons you keep inside; they’re nothing to live or die for.
You’re a frontier bride. You’re a fashion survivor.

You say faith is cruel, but she’s kind to you, as if that’s the end of it.
Worship your dad’s bad timing and your mother’s bad habits.
I’m a superstitious atheist, let me explain how that works:
like you guessed, you can’t be blessed, but you bet we’re still all cursed.

The only way I’ll outlive you is if I have to drive the hearse.
Of course, I’d never forgive you for getting out of this shithole first.
I know there’s secrets you’ve got to hide: a code I’ll never decipher.
You’re a frontier bride. You’re a fashion survivor.

There’s no such place as hell, but let’s just say I’ll meet you there.
It’s a party you wouldn’t be caught dead at, in a dress you’d never wear.
But my friend, I know you well enough. You’d find a way to have your fun.
It’s not like they’ll kick you out, pour your drink on anyone.

Adam, your sport is suicide, I don’t care to learn the score;
a cynic and romantic in a grisly tug-of-war.
You don’t see yourself in science, you’d rather make yourself in myth.
But either way, you’re as extinct as Ouroboros Rex.

Adam, we’re going to miss you; Brooklyn’s infernal this time of year.
Would that I could come with you when that long black car draws near.
But it’s time for you to decide if you’re the passenger or the driver.
You’re a frontier bride. You’re a fashion survivor.

3. Tucson

Well, you went to the dance with Aaron,
I seen you wearing your best dress.
But it was you and Paul coming out that stall
with his shirttails all a mess.
And then I saw you go out back with Jack,
I saw you kiss him on the mouth.
And before I could catch my breath,
you caught the last train south.

But how am I gonna understand
Why you like every kind of boy except the kind I am?
Why you wanna drag my love through the rocks and sand
And that heat so dry?
I’m’a go to the corner store,
gonna get myself an It’s It bar.
Last about as long as my heart would where you are:
down in Tucson, where good love goes to die.

Good love can only thrive
in a climate cold and wet.
Now you’ve gone about as far away
from that as you can get.
I met a man had that red rock tan
said he came from around those parts.
With that leather skin
and the spines sticking from his heart!

Remember all the nights I spent
at the window sill of your apartment:
you’d stand and grin behind the curtain
but you’d never invite me in.
Scrawl my love in chalk out on your sidewalk,
it was raining all the while.
Sometimes the best you can do
is make a pretty girl smile.

4. Stone’s Throw

“The fight is dead,” the riot cop said, as he sat me on the curb,
with my cramping wrists, piss and apple cider vinegar.
Though I’m trembling still, from nerves and chill, I will have to call your bluff
if you think you can stop this struggle with a pair of ziptie cuffs.

A clear sky storm of flash-bangs, beanbags, hazy and surreal;
a scarlet letter spray-painted on a makeshift trashcan shield.
But they tossed our stuff before they loaded us on a stolen public bus:
goggles and a spray bottle, the only LAW I trust.

They held us twenty to a tank of cold concrete and steel,
where you’ll lose your mind trying to keep time by counting orange peels.
I don’t know which is worse, missing the warm bath of daylight,
or waking every hour to the same fluorescent night.

I got released to a fast food feast on the front steps of the jail,
but we know our work ain’t finished until we empty every cell.
So you can ban us from the Plaza, stay away from City Hall,
but sure as we burned that flag, that edifice is gonna fall!

So we rage on like a Greece fire, I heard they torched a bank today.
And we raise a fist to Cairo, we’re just a stone’s throw away.
If you’ve got a pot to piss in, don’t be afraid to call it black,
or you’ll never break the kettle and take your city back.

5. For the Rest of my Life

Writing another song for you, and it’s right on time.
Every other year or so since 2005.
And if I’m in love with you for the rest of my life,
that’s all right.

Folks at the paper, they say my love’s a sham.
Honey, you just ask me if I give a good goddamn.
If I’m in love with you for the rest of my life,
I’m glad I am.

Sometimes I’m sure that my heart is gonna burst!
It mostly makes me happy, but occasionally it hurts.
But if I’m in love with you for the rest of my life,
it could be worse.

Some hearts are innocent, and some hearts are untrue.
If this heart had any sense, I don’t know what I’d do.
If I’m in love with you for the rest of my life,
I’m glad it’s you.

You know what they say about spilled guts: no need to cry.
My cup run over, but you know it won’t run dry.
Lisa, I may be in love with you for the rest of my life,
and Claire says hi.

6. The Tenderness in Me

Saturday night, didn’t get home ’til five.
Sunday morning, I’m awake by nine.
There’s something inside that won’t let me sleep.
Is it the savageness or the tenderness in me?

I pulled that graveyard shift being a fool for you.
Sugar, I know you didn’t ask me to.
But once I got off work, I didn’t want to leave.
You sure bring out the tenderness in me.

And if words are weapons, and if mine hurt you,
just ’cause I deserve love don’t mean I deserve you.

But when you stood before that noisy hall of men,
you could have had any one, or all of them.
Still every song you sang it felt was meant for me,
And what else welled up but that tenderness in me?

But you see what I am, and what I’ll never be.
So I can’t decide whether you’re kind or mean
to pretend I’m anything but a beast.
But you can draw out the tenderness in me.

And nothing’s meant to be, not by fate or god.
So what if I meant for us to be, if you did not?

So when you awaken from your daydream,
you’ll see you’re better off without someone like me.
So you can make me take my things and leave,
but you can’t put out the tenderness in me.

7. Ain’t Nothing Sweeter (Train Song)

There’s men of steel, and there’s men of song;
he wrote that sweet sad tune, but Johnny Mercer got it wrong.
No, that man made of both, well my soul be blessed,
I do believe old Tom Frost said it best.

It ain’t no thrill to drive across some concrete.
Bicycle’s fine, but you can’t sleep in your seat.
Conor said he was healed by the road,
but the one what saved me was made of steel beams and wood.

Sunset Limited, remember what Dylan said:
railroad men got our curious ways.
Northeast Regional, sure as the seasons’ll
turn, the burning in my heart stays.

Conductor let you come up on the platform,
but I had to let you go when he blew that horn.
Wish we’d bought another ticket to ride,
‘cuz you can’t steer a train, but you can rock it side to side.

Coast Starlight, lounge car barfight;
belligerent off of railroad gin.
Texas Eagle, it ain’t illegal
to miss you like I do, but it might be a sin.

Pull out tonight with a chug and a screech.
Wake up tomorrow, I’ll be within your reach.
Baby, don’t feel sad when you stare down that track;
same rails took me away from you, they gonna bring me right back.

8. I Want to Kiss Death

I want to kiss death.
It wouldn’t be my first time.
Lower my heavy eyelids,
press her cool lips to mine.

I want to kiss death.
She’s been making eyes all night.
We’ve been waiting ’til we’re alone,
’til the moment is right.

A kiss ain’t a promise,
I’d still have time to decide
if I’ll let her lay me down,
if I’ll let her inside.

I used to kiss life,
but I knew it could never last.
He always wanted too much.
He always moved too fast.

Her fingers in my hair,
the sweetness of her breath.
That warm, musty air;
I want to kiss death.

9. There’s a Reason to my Rage, There’s a Folly to my Fear

I’d rather be angry than afraid, but it turns out I don’t have to choose.
I’m mad I’ve lost so much, but I’ve still got so much left to lose.
I’m pissed for every broken wrist, every arm twisted for profit or spite,
and for every false prophet, just begging them to throw the fight.

I kick the ground with my boot, like I’m stamping out the strife,
but I can’t get at the root. I’ve been livid all my life.
So on that imagined day when we’ve settled every score:
I won’t lie to you and say I won’t be angry anymore.

I’d rather be angry than afraid, but both once? It’s nothing I can’t do.
My fury’s for what they’ve taken, but my fear’s for what they still plan to.
There’s things I’ll never have,
and there’s things I’m not allowed to keep, and dear,
there’s a reason to my rage, but there’s also a folly to my fear.

Like how I’m scared of living right, but I’m terrified of death,
to know that once my body goes, there won’t be anything left.
But I’m also scared of ghosts, and I’m still scared of the dark.
But I ain’t never been afraid of a fucking broken heart!

10. Marigny Love Song

Said I’d make it back someday, but it’s been a long time, Lou.
Your hair has gotten long, your accent’s thickened like a roux.
And you never take that mask off anymore, but I know it’s you.

It’s an elegant disguise, all your feathers and face paint.
You can hide what you are, Toulouse, but you can’t hide what you ain’t.
I been baptized in muddy waters, but that don’t make me a saint.

We were running from the cops, barged in on this old-time band.
The sergeant scanned the room, as you took my sweaty hands.
I know you’re an anarchist, but could you at least lead this dance?

You got no love for law and order,
I’ve been trying to shake those blues.
We’re spared no change, given no quarter;
well, what have we got, Toulouse?
But I still think we could make us a home,
squat some shotgun off Frenchmen.
I know you weren’t never my own;
I still hoped you’d be mine again.

It’s chilly sleeping in this graveyard, but it beats the heat we’ve had.
While we’re out living on the streets, they’re building houses for the dead.
They say they need some peace, but I’d have some justice instead.

I know things are bad, Lou, but it won’t be so for long.
You sell a couple paintings, I get my fiddle out of hoc.
I promised you I’d quit fighting, so you know I can’t punch no clock.

Let’s catch that St. Claude bus tonight, ride out to the Lower Ninth.
We can sleep in Tammy’s henhouse, before dawn head riverside.
I know it don’t sound like much, but you ain’t never seen such a sunrise.