American Aquarium or: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love Country MusicBy Jonathan Skufca | 25/4/17 12:18pm
I honestly cannot remember how I first heard Raleigh, North Carolina’s American Aquarium. But I’m pretty sure it involved seeing the cover for their 2012 record Burn.Flicker.Die and deciding to listen based on that alone. It’s not often that happens, and I’m glad I made that decision, as it gave me a new band on my favorites list, and opened me to listening to a new genre (although one that often gets a lot of shit). This week, we’re gonna look at one of my favorite tracks from that record, “Savannah Almost Killed Me.”
A more up-tempo alternative-country track, “Savannah Almost Killed Me” begins with a multitude of guitars in different styles, ranging from acoustic chords to bluesy musings, with a fair bit of country twang in between. It has that genre-bending style that leaves you wondering exactly what direction this song is going to take. But it’s not long until BJ Barham’s vocals come in, and spin what initially sounds like a tale of lost or regretful love:
Savannah almost killed me
With cheap beer and Irish whiskey
Singing songs loud and out of tune
She was a Bette Davis double
With diamonds on her knuckles
She knew every word to “Born to Run”
As I mentioned earlier, it sounds like the exposition to a stereotypical lost love country song—not that there’s anything wrong with that. And Barham continues to tell the story throughout the verses while the chorus serves as his musings after it all happened:
So let’s waste away tonight
Let’s drink it down so fast
If only I could’ve found a way
To make these moments last
She took hold of this shipwrecked heart
Now I’m falling again
I’m falling apart.
Ah, yes. The age-old story of a girl providing stability in the crazy life of a man who truly needs it that resonates with yours truly so well. I had already loved the song by the second chorus, but when I listened to the bridge a few times through, I realized exactly what he was doing, and that this song isn’t as straightforward as I initially thought.
Somebody tell Georgia I’m leaving
Tell her she’s always on my mind
Somebody tell Georgia everything’s gonna be alright
Somebody tell Georgia goodbye.
Wait. Isn’t this song about a girl named Savannah, not Georgia? Yes, while Savannah is a common girl’s name, it’s also a major city in Georgia. This bridge puts a very interesting twist on this story—Savannah may refer to the city as much as it may refer to a girl. And going back and looking at the opening verse, the ambiguity is more apparent. Many lines seem to be directly about the actions the couple take, especially the second verse:
She was talking to some dead end
I said, “It looks like you could use a fried
Besides, this bar ain’t a place for a girl like you.”
But other lines, especially the opening ones, could be general statements about the city of Savannah. But perhaps this ambiguity was intentional. Perhaps the experiences with this woman and the narrator’s time spent in Georgia are inseparable in his mind. Perhaps it is the combination of the right person in the right place that prevented him from “falling apart” again.
It was when I realized this complexity in the song, was when I gained a newfound respect for alternative country music. Just like pop music isn’t necessarily the best example of a subgenre, pop country isn’t always indicative of what the genre is capable. Bands like American Aquarium are solid examples of a genre that many overlook. I too used to be someone that said, “I pretty much listen to everything but country.” Now I get to say that I have “very diverse tastes in music.” You’ll catch me wearing a camo American Aquarium trucker hat one day, and a Streetlight Manifesto t-shirt the next. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.