Before The Walkmen, there was Jonathan Fire*Eater

Before The Walkmen, there was Jonathan Fire*Eater

In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well—some inspired by a weekly theme and some not, but always songs worth hearing. 

There are few modern inventions that give me more pleasure than the “shuffle” feature on whatever device I’m currently using to enjoy music. I recently received a free iPod Mini courtesy of Behind The Candelabra—swag works!—and it’s been my running companion for the last few months, all loaded with some of my favorite bands and tracks. (Also, the Nike+ is more generous with the mileage count than the old app I was using, so that’s nice.) Anyway, that’s a long way to go to say this new iPod granted me a listen to Jonathan Fire*Eater’s “Give Me Daughters” the other day, and I couldn’t believe how fantastic it still sounds. The band existed just briefly, roughly 1994 to 1998, riding a tidal wave of completely justified hype that eventually drowned it. (The story has a happy ending, as three-fifths of the band formed The Walkmen, which is still very much a growing concern.) 

What caused that hype is way more interesting than what resulted from it: Two EPs represent the band’s finest recorded moments, one self-titled and one called Tremble Under Boom Lights, the latter of which features “Give Me Daughters.” The song is basically everything great about Jonathan Fire*Eater compressed into four minutes: fantastically obtrusive organ, reverb fueled guitar (which Walkmen fans will recognize), and the weird tales of singer Stewart Lupton—who didn’t make the transition to The Walkmen, and who largely disappeared from music afterward. In this song, Lupton demands that the heavens deliver him children, but posits that their relationship will only last until he’s “sent away” and able to communicate via letters “written from [his] motel kitchen.” He’s a funny, fierce lyricist, and the band knows exactly how to make his words hit their emotional peaks. “I will raise them,” he sings to the heavens, “in the city surrounded by water!” (It makes more sense when you’re listening to it, which you should do right now.)

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