Will Johnson invites you over for dinner, and of course you accept the offer. You remember the charm of the first time around, a dinner party where he entranced every guest with the story of his sick cat. Your dog had died around that time and you hadn’t found a way to talk about it right so you mostly kept it to yourself until the night you stayed out late and someone said “don’t you have to go feed Yoni?” and then, of course, it came out all wrong. But the way Johnson talked of his sick cat, you could picture every magazine on the rack in the vet’s office, the grease of nervous hands on the subscription cards, and the exact dimension of the hole where Johnson noticed a tuft of fur, bigger than normal, and guessed something might be wrong. The way he talked about it, he was actually talking about your dead dog and every other sick or dying cinched-loved animal in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth Megaplex.
“Predatory King Today” and “I Feel Too Young To Die” are from South San Gabriel’s album The Carlton Chronicles: Not Until the Operation’s Through, which, no shit, is a beautiful and heartbreaking chronicle of Will Johnson’s cat’s illness and recovery.
You remember the days where the sun seemed krazy glued to about 10 AM, where Will picked you up in his truck and you guys wandered along county borders until you came to that store run out of a man’s backyard where he sold paraphernalia from bankrupt airlines, and thought his store was a public service. You and Will talked to that man for a long while and you left utterly convinced that preservation of knowledge of our countries extinct air carriers is a vitally important task. Will was a little swervy driving back, but you trusted him and trusted those days so much.
You remember the walk back from the Home Depot where Johnson finally told you who Rebecca was, and why you had found a closet full of her paintings when you were looking for an umbrella. You remember that, on that walk, those paintings and that woman were more beautiful than if you had been looking at either with your own eye. You realized that’s what happens when you give an artist a rupture and nostalgia.
You remember when Will Johnson invited you to watch his baseball game. You remeber Johnson winning the game with an RBI. You remember, now that you think about it, that people were drinking at the game. The players, too. The players, especially. You think to yourself, with a chuckle, that Will might have won the game because he was being so generous with his Shiner’s.
Will Johnson invites you to dinner and of course you go. You wouldn’t miss it. You arrive with a bottle of cheap red, you let yourself in, and there are candles at the table but only two chairs, and none of the card tables with bedsheets onto that normally went part in parcel with Johnson’s dinner parties. Johnson beckons you in to the kitchen, and there’s no army-sized stew pot on the burner. There’s a small saucepan with garliced air steaming out. You ask, redundantly, whether anyone else is coming. Johnson turns to you, and
Scorpion is an album that only sounds comfortable when it is alone. It is an album that is so exhausted by expectations that it decided to forgo expectations entirely. It in an album I wish I had bought on vinyl. It’s the kind of thing I want to have spinning next to me as California forgets how to have a winter. It is perhaps the saddest album that Will Johnson has ever released, and probably among the best. It would be possible to view Scorpion simply- the stripped down album, the one sans-band where the emotions are laid bare. It would be possible to box up scorpion thusly- it’s an album which features little more than a voice, a guitar, and sometimes a drum kit clearly on its last legs. But my own proof that Will Johnson is the masterful artist that he so clearly is, is that Scorpion isn’t simple. It isn’t even always direct. “Bloodkin Push” feels like a ballad that got drunk and decided the best course of action was to operate heavy machinery. Truss of Ten is mostly just Johnson’s unaccompanied voice, but, the crazy thing is, it takes me nearly all the song to figure out what the melody is. As always, Johnson is asking you to look, listen closely. As always, you’ll be better off if you do as he asks.