Songs We Love: John Moreland, 'Cherokee'
The very last scene of the slyly spiritual new horror movie It Follows offers a resonant metaphor for the way people learn to live with the presence of mortality. I won't say more because doing so would raise cries of SPOILER, but in a very different way, the last scene of the new video for John Moreland's room-hushing new ballad "Cherokee" does the same thing. Again: no spoilers. Just watch as bass player Bingham Barnes, who's something of a ringer for Moreland, goes about his modest life drinking a beer, feeding his chickens, getting rid of some old stuff in a backyard bonfire — and building something. What he's building is a basic thing, a terribly intimate thing, and the care and matter-of-fact skill with which he goes about it is in itself inspirational. When the final shot reveals the fruit of his labor, it's sobering and sublime.
The video, based on a concept by Joey Kneiser, who is in the band with Barnes and is a good friend of Moreland's, is a perceptive response to the Oklahoma singer-songwriter's stately but raw confession. One of 10 marrow-deep songs on the Oklahoma-based singer-songwriter's upcoming release High on Tulsa Heat, "Cherokee" was inspired by a dream, and he prefers to leave open to interpretation, story-wise. It, too, is an artistic offering that deserves a NO SPOILERS alert.
As its verses are carried forward by guitar lines quietly unspooling, and Moreland sings of a broken heart in his glowing, grainy baritone, the specifics of his confession blur, but also open up to encompass the profound and commonplace reality of loneliness. Where Moreland's lost one has gone or even who she may be — a parent? A lover? — doesn't really matter. The song's lesson is the way the singer sits with grief, feels it sand off the hard edges of defensiveness. "You'd carve those doubts right out of me," Moreland sings to the one who doesn't hear him. "Cherokee," like its video, carves out a space where the listener can contemplate surviving such doubts, because that's just reality for anyone born into a physical form that doesn't last forever. No spoilers — "Cherokee" is a story of life as it's really lived. Dark as its edges may be, it's not horror. It's humanity.
Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.