The Werks – “Duck Farm”

 

I have to be honest: I didn’t expect a song called “Duck Farm” to be the most poignant song I’ve discovered so far in the still-young 2015. Frankly, I think it’s asking a lot for a song with a title like that to meet a baseline minimum of “good”. It sounds like a lesser Weird Al original. I reserve the right to continue thinking the title is stupid until I discover or am told what it has to do with the song, but despite the strange name, the song manages to get to the heart of something I consider essential for living a happy life.

In the liner notes of the String Cheese Incident’s 1996 album Born on the Wrong Planet[1], the song of the same name is described as a “misfit’s anthem”. The word “anthem” seems to suggest something slightly more soul-stirring than the shoulder shrug it turns out to be. I love “Born on the Wrong Planet”, but overall it’s a somewhat noncommittal, even at times glib song. “I guess I was just born on the wrong planet.” Oh well, what can ya do, right?

“Duck Farm” is of a piece with that song, but it’s much more keenly felt; both the highs and lows of being that eccentric person and having that off-kilter taste are captured in both the music and the lyrics. The first verse evokes the melancholy that one can often feel living in that misfit skin: “One of those days that kind of fade / wishing I could hide away”. It’s not a sadness or a depression, per se, but it’s a feeling familiar to my heart. When I was discovering jam bands throughout my senior year of high school, I was exploring new musical territory alone, in the midst of a family that shared neither that interest nor my interest in that interest. I got told to “turn down [my] dirty hippie music” a lot. Many’s the day it would indeed have been “so serene to wake up / in a dream”. Living a sustained existence outside a consensus view of “normal” is a hard row to hoe sometimes, and the song doesn’t shy away from it.

There’s a bit of a musical sigh after that first verse, a short period of cool-down before things start to get a little happy again with the guitar. After that’s when things start rippin’. “Exuberant” isn’t really a word I feel most people would associate with the general vibe of synthesizers, but I feel confident saying that what follows the guitar solo is the most exuberant synth solo I’ve ever heard. It’s the other side of the coin; the happiness you can’t contain after setting foot on that journey. It all builds toward the words that finally come in and hit home for me:

When the moon shines on the disco ball

We gather ’round and we get that feeling

You feel the love no matter big or small

Why would you stop if there is no ceiling?


The hate is gone, there is no wrong, you are in paradise

I think it’s the message in those lines that’s important. The “Born on the Wrong Planet” narrator is content to be who he is, but The Werks elaborates on that ownership of self with a crucial call to action: find your people. There’s strength in numbers, and that strength is the happiness that comes from finding those kindred souls and feeling the energy of a moment in fellowship with each other.

I love the last line as well. “The hate is gone; there is no wrong; you are in paradise.” I think “the hate is gone” is more a specific feeling endemic to the jam scene and the vibe they cultivate than something that can be applied generally; I’ve counted myself among a few communities where the hate wasn’t gone just because everyone was united under a common banner (looking at you, gamers). The real liberation is in the fact that “there is no wrong”— once you embrace your truest self and cast your lot with it, you arrive at paradise, where there is no wrong way to manifest the way the belonging makes you feel. The Hammond organ hits the highest highs here, sustaining the ecstasy with the perfect tone for the mood, carrying it to the end of the song.

When I first started getting into these sorts of bands and songs, the initial draw was the training of the self to think of a 20+ minute jam as a journey rather than as a very long way to a destination and to lose myself in the groove. What kept me around was the people—unfailingly sweet, kind, and never living anything less than their truest selves. I could enjoy my Cheese and my Phish and whatever all else in my own private sphere, but it just wouldn’t be as good or as fun as communing with others who get it, who know exactly what the moon shining on the disco ball means and why it touches and nourishes the soul the way it does. It’s good to have a song within my reach that helps me remember what that’s all about, to remember not just that you were born on the wrong planet, but that plenty of other people were born on that same planet as well.


[1] To this day, my favorite liner notes of any album ever—beardless Billy posing with a cardboard cutout of Miss New York; the band’s own description of their sound as “Afrojazzadelic funka-Latino bluegrass”; authorship of “Johnny Cash” attributed to “it wasn’t me”; and so on. It seems weird to mention him in passing in two different and totally unrelated ways, but it was a different kind of weird than someone like Weird Al Yankovic, an important distinction for me to have to learn to make, where the weirdness came from the truth inside rather than from a carefully cultivated persona.

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