Farrar and Away

With Sebastopol, Jay Farrar has made one of the finest and most unusual records of his storied career

This experimental tendency informs every aspect of the record, from the enigmatic title ("I just liked the sound of it," Farrar explains) to the lyrics, which, in typical Farrar fashion, don't lend themselves to reductive analysis. Farrar writes in an opaque, stream-of-consciousness style, using unusual, polysyllabic words in a consistently abstract way, producing weird symbolist shards that would give Stéphane Mallarmé a run for his money. Who could parse a phrase like "habitats of the idle are the last to know" or "pell-mell from the committee of welcoming" without seeming ridiculous? Anti-narrative, anti-confessional, anti-everything that the singer/songwriter tradition would seem to dictate, Farrar's lyrics resist interpretation, augmenting the music's mystery rather than elucidating its meaning. "I don't really like storytelling styles or straight narrative," Farrar remarks. "I write fragments and piece them together. People like Kerouac and so forth used that approach, and it's one I've tried to make work for me. I try not to do what I've done before, which means that it seems even more oblique sometimes."

Some of the lyrical references will seem obscure to out-of-towners, but they'll make sense to St. Louisans versed in our city's rich past. Farrar, who's lived in South St. Louis for the past four years and intends to stay, is something of a local-history buff. "Outside the Door," one of Sebastopol's saddest and loveliest tracks, commemorates a St. Louis lost: "Heard about a Gaslight Square/Heard about down deep Morgan/Heard you can't find Mill Creek anymore." For Farrar, St. Louis resonates with the ghostly hum of forgotten minstrels, less a place than a palimpsest of demolished neighborhoods and abandoned streets. Time, its traveling hands, its inexorable march, is and always has been his great subject. It's no surprise that he'd make his home here, in a city whose beauty resides in its gentle decay, its graceful failure. "I like it here," Farrar says emphatically. "The grand old architecture is one of the things that draws me here." When he's not touring, Farrar and his wife, Monica, like to check out one of our town's living legends -- Bennie Smith, or, if they're lucky enough to catch one of his rare performances, Henry Townsend. "The people are real here. I like that aspect," Farrar says.

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