Can't Get It Out of My Head: "New Madrid"
Spurred by a loping banjo lick - played by Max Johnston, now of the Gourds - "New Madrid" is one of Jeff Tweedy's best Tupelo-period lover's laments, as well as one of the very few UT songs to still appear regularly on Wilco's setlist. His lyrics contain several references to the earthquakes near New Madrid, Missouri, in 1811 and 1812, still thought to be the biggest quakes in U.S. history. Had the Richter Scale been around back then, seismologists believe they would have registered around an 8.0, a category appropriately designated "megaquake." They were severe enough to alter the course of the Mississippi River - hence the line "Rivers burn, then run backwards."
But in the song, the only quaking going on is in Tweedy's heart. Perhaps the object of his "New Madrid" affections perished in the quakes ("Shake my baby and please bring her back"; "Death won't even be still"), but the imagery of lovers strolling around a fountain, trucks rolling in at dawn and Mr. Browning's mysterious prediction has soundtracked many of Rocks Off's most beloved daydreams. Especially when, as Tweedy's opening line says, they're disasters.
Special shout-out to Bill Davis of the Austin band Underwood, who used to play "New Madrid" especially for Rocks Off at shows, and duetted with him many, many times in all states of sobriety at various after-hours affairs in various living rooms and garages all over the state capital. So come on back to New York City...