Folkwax review of the DVD "3000 Miles"
Monday, September 15, 2003
The precise nature of the "connection" referred to in the title of this article will be revealed in a little while. Ellis Paul's DVD has a running
time of nearly three hours, and I guess watching it could be described as being invited to go to your favourite restaurant by your best buddy.
What do I mean? Well there are four segments that compose 3000 Miles,and in order on the disc they are: the concert, the documentary, the music lesson and the talk show. Now common sense normally prevails in terms of consuming the courses you have chosen from
the restaurant menu, whereas with DVD anything goes. That said, we'll check out each segment in the order I have listed.
The Concert was filmed on the final date of a six-week tour that Ellis undertook with Susan Werner through the fall of 2001. So there
you have it, your first Werner connection. The concert, which took place at the Somerville Theatre, in Boston on Wednesday, October
3, 2001, amounts to an eleven-song main set and one song encore. Ellis opens with "Give In, Give Up," a song from his 2002 The Speed
Of Trees album. Before moving on to perform "Maria's Beautiful Mess" which first appeared on his 2-CD Live collection and later on Speed, Ellis pitches for the sympathy vote with "This is the last show of Susan's and my tour. So sad...[pause]...
for us. We've become very, very good friends. I just don't want to go on alone, you know." As for the song, it appears that a certain
lady-the ex-girlfriend of a friend - in Nashville had taken the musician's eye, but wary of involvement he imagined their affair in a song lyric. The bulk of songs Ellis performs are drawn from Live[See Note #1], his, then-current album Sweet Mistakes and from the future, The Speed Of Trees. Introducing "3,000 Miles," as Susan Werner joins Ellis onstage, he immediately dives into "This is the Sonny & Cher portion of the show." He then adds, "We both want to be Cher." Alternating between guitar and keyboards Werner contributes to four songs, and obviously feeling cold dons the jacket that Ellis had discarded earlier. With Werner sitting at the piano ready to perform "Conversation With A Ghost," he references them as The Captain & Tennille. There's a Woody Guthrie sequence in the documentary, and Paul and Werner recall this son of Okemah, Oklahoma, with a rendition of, the increasingly popular, "Way Over Yonder In the Minor Key" [See Note #2] a song that first
surfaced on the Billy Bragg/Wilco collaboration Mermaid Avenue . And let's not forget that the motto "This guitar
kills fascists" was emblazoned on the side of Guthrie's guitar, while the soundboard of both of Paul's guitars feature an American flag and
the legend "Anti Terror Machine," thanks to a black Sharpie pen. Commenting that the song came to him in a dream, Ellis closes out
the duo portion of his set with "New Orleans."
Alone again, and by way of introducing "The Speed Of Trees," Ellis reveals that the title came from a female friend he was visiting in California's Big Sur, while subjectively the song is about "love, emotion and laying down roots." "Sweet Mistakes" was featured in the Farrelly Brothers movie Shallow Hal, which starred Jack Black and Gwyneth Paltrow. The brothers included Paul's "The World Ain't
Slowin' Down," the eleventh song in this set, on the soundtrack of Me, Myself And Irene . Prior to performing the former song, Ellis publicly thanks the brothers for their faith in his music and adds that his royalty cheques from that source, unusually, have "a comma in them." If the foregoing was a welcome financial benefit, then "Did Galileo Pray?," in his own words, "has brought a lot of cool stuff into my life." There was a Galileo thermometer, which he just happened to have with him, while another fan's gift was a graduate thesis focusing on the historic events portrayed in the lyric. Invited to visit the History of Science Library at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, he was shown around by the librarian Marilyn, who was in her mid sixties - "little cat eye glass hanging from a chain around her neck, wool skirt and she absolutely loves her job." Shown Galileo's signed personal copy of a book he published in the 1600s that had handwritten corrections in the margin, Marilyn whispers, "it's worth a million dollars." Ellis adds, "I've got it downstairs, if you want to take a look of it after the show." Following his performance of the aforementioned "The World Ain't Slowin' Down," Ellis brings this 70 minute long DVD segment to a close with an encore of "Beautiful World" performed a cappella. Following the concert there's a hidden track, and in some unidentified upstairs room which is chock full of guitar cases - you can see a streetlamp shining in the street outside - Ellis performs the bluesy "Rattle My Cage."
The documentary, sixty some minutes in length, is subtitled "Between Songs - On The Road With Ellis" and dates from the fall of 1995. This
road trip movie begins in Somerville, Massachusetts, and featuring around fourteen vignettes, first heads north to Vermont and then south through Virginia, North Carolina and Georgia before sweeping west into Texas, Arizona and ending up in California. Well almost, as the final vignette finds the young musician and his filmmaker/co-passenger, Matt Linde, somewhere in Utah, on the morning after Ellis' car has been totalled in a road accident. There's even the hint, if you watch closely, that Ellis is still in shock. From one point of view it could be said that this segment of the DVD is well past its sell by date, and while may be true it is also a historic record of a particular period in this
songwriters life. The apprentice is serving time, and learning his chosen trade with nary a whiff of Nora Guthrie, the Farrelly's, or cheques
with commas. Some vignettes drag, as they have no finite beginning, middle or end, although by merely being they substantiate the
drudgery of the road. In an early vignette, post a Burlington Coffee House gig, Ellis senses the fragility of his marriage with "we're living two separate lives." A Woody Guthrie poster in the foyer of the Winston-Salem venue attracts his attention and he urges the audience to read the text.Standing next to the poster, he proudly displays the Woody Guthrie tattoo on his upper arm. Onstage, he proudly shows the audience a stone recovered from the overgrown foundation of Guthrie's Okemah home, with the words "I had 1000 ticks on my body after getting the stone." During a stopover in Decatur, the Atlanta Braves win the World Series 4 games to 2, and in Atlanta he swaps tunes with his pal Kristian Bush [with Andrew Hyra in the duo Billy Pilgrim]. Playing to a not-so-full house in New Orleans, there's compensation in spending time with another musician pal, Gina Forsyth. Earlier, as they hit outskirts of that city, Ellis launches into the late Steve Goodman's classic "City Of New Orleans." At Houston's Mucky Duck he admits to the audience that he's not much of a Blues player but "I've got a pretty convincing Blues face." Commenting that it's "a mix of intrigue and disgust" Paul launches into a Blues riff accompanied by a selection of facial contortions. A White Raven, Felton, California, patron recalls how Ellis might have originally turned up there a few years earlier with "Keith of City Folk." True or not, I'd advise FolkWax readers to check out the music of Keith Greeninger. Each vignette is introduced by a white print title on a black screen. Following the Utah calamity, the closing legend reads "The odometer is still running......." To which I would simply add "and long may it do so." "Between Songs" shows Ellis during his scufflin' days, the point being that they were integral to the realisation of the truly superb songwriter we know today.
Heaven knows there are enough guitar pickers on this planet, of all ages and skills, and for them the music lesson makes essential viewing. In a span of some thirty minutes Ellis explains the chord structures of "Maria's Beautiful Mess," "Words" and "The Speed Of Trees." An active advocate of open guitar tunings, Ellis highlights how to introduce space into a song, and use rhythm to express emotion. Employing the guitar as a percussive instrument, using his right [picking]hand, Ellis indicates how the palm can make a kick drum sound, the thumb can add a bass guitar, and a snare drum sound can be created through snapping the string. As for his #1 Rule of Songwriting, that boils down to "writing what you know and writing what care about." For the talk show Ellis is joined by fellow Boston area residents and songwriters - Christopher Williams and Vance Gilbert, and it takes place at the same venue as the guitar lesson. Gilbert appears as gregarious in private as he is onstage, while Williams eventually warms to the discussion becoming an active participant. They each describe where they were born and raised, who influenced them musically and how, why and where they started out as musicians. The threesome met around ten years ago, at Boston music venues, and remain close even critiquing each other's work. By way of displaying diversity, Ellis comments that in his spare time he paints, while Gilbert constructs model planes. Williams' hobby of playing drums has evolved, in the last few years, into a second career. When the conversation turns to the art of songwriting, Ellis comments that to be focused "a song needs something specific to create a picture in people's heads." In that regard, it must be "subjective and objective." As for the melody all affirm that it is the glue/foundation that holds a song together. According to Ellis the song must incorporate a "life experience" that allows audience members to deduce "you wrote that song about me." There's a similar segment in Werner's DVD, where she is talking to fans after a show, except that Werner prefaces Paul's deduction with "The songs have more impact if they are not about me." The conclusion being - if a writer can achieve all of the above, they are undoubtedly achieving the ultimate aim - connecting with their audience.
•- Arthur Wood