In every Breath I breathe...
"Yellow Smoke" is the oldest of the six songs that appear on "Blades of Grass." It was recorded live, with no over-dubs. The last chorus switches to the first-person tense because I flubbed the line but liked rest of the take, so we left it that way.
I wrote "Smoke" in the winter of 2016, after returning to the small town in North Dakota where I spent the first part of my childhood to attend my aunt's funeral. It's a mining town, marked by draglines and the smoke stacks of power plants that convert coal to electricity. I hadn't been there in a long time.
It struck me then that we never leave the places of our youth, though we may not be able to return to them either. I don't know many folks in that town anymore. But, we share something that can never be severed. I cannot say, but I am willing to bet, that on a cold January night, the kids in that town pass through the doors of the high school gym. The smell of popcorn reaches them before the warmth. They hang their coats in the community closet and file down there to the bottom right of the bleachers, away from their parents but still in sight, while the band plays "On Wisconsin."
Down a 30 mile stretch of highway
Stacks tower over prairie rose
Spilling yellow smoke into the stratosphere
No one ever wonders where it goes
Been searching for your face in a bottle of whiskey
In the mornings I am only half a man
Wish I'd had a brother to beat the weakness out of me
My sister only asks me how I am
Yeah well, you can still find all your friends
And the water still slows where the river bends
But for the place that you've been, can't go home again
In the shadow of the stacks is the undertaker
Giving lies and comfort to every question asked
Well they elected that man and they sent him down to the capitol
Guess they thought he was suited to the task
When the sun hangs high you can see the town is dying
But in the rusted flakes I'm not sure I can leave
I can put a thousand miles in my rearview
But there'll still be smoke in every breath I breathe
The commissioner of police he is chattering on the radio
But we don't know just who he's talking to
The county cut his job bout fifteen years ago
I guess he doesn't know what else to do
And every day the whistle blows when shifts are changing
So you hoist the pail, stay just ahead of broke
And every day you punch the clock an hour closer
To one last shift in that yellow smoke