“Flitcraft” by The Mekons

Words and Music by The Mekons
From the album “Fear and Whiskey” (1985)

The Mekons were a scrappy British punk band from Leeds that defied the odds and never quite went away. Instead, they grew up and ended up embracing country, folk, reggae, honky tonk, punk, rock and anything else that tickled their fancies in their forty-plus years as a band. That included “Flitcraft,” a song about the so-called a story that Sam Spade tells Brigid O’Shaughnessy in Dashiell Hammett‘s The Maltese Falcon. They even drop some of Hammett’s lines into the lyrics.

It’s about a man from Tacoma, Washington he was hired to find a real estate agent named Flitcraft who had gone out on his lunch break one day and never come back, leaving behind a good job, and loving wife and kids. Years later, Spade finds him  in Spokane, where he had evidently changed his name, found a new job, and started a new family, all very similar to what he’d left behind, a mere three hundred miles away. The catalyst is a falling beam from a construction site that narrowly missed him years ago on that fateful lunch break, but the story (a parable, if you will) is really about the fickleness of fate and identity, the constant battle of the soul between the comfort of familiarity and the freedom of chaos.

The song is a punky, clunky, lurching countryish waltz punctuated by shout, harmonies that sound more like pub chants, a rhythm section that almost sounds like falling beams and an apparent nod to Jean Paul Sartre. The song threatens to go off the track several times in its short 3:23 running time, but somehow stumbles it to the end. It’s kinda magnificient.

As for the 1985 album the song came from, Pitchfork said: “it’s been called everything from ‘a good set of drinking songs’ to ‘the seed that sprouted alt-country’ to ‘the greatest rock album in history.’ Fear and Whiskey was the first great statement of ‘shambolic punk’ band the Mekons, and yes, it is as great as all their rabid fans have always said (though ‘the greatest rock album in history’ is, of course, a bit of a stretch).”

Take the lid off of life, let me look at the works
It’s no accident I changed my name
Long Dead Slim

I went downtown to see if I could find
The woman he said had been on his mind
But she weren’t there

We’ll pull back the branches and tear up the roots
That’s the part I like the best
Born again

He said to me “I don’t understand
It happened in thirty-three”
Long Dead Slim

A beam falls at random and you disappear
Like a fist when you open your hand
Long Dead Slim

Jean Paul and me were travelling down south
He wouldn’t look me in the eye
Long Dead Slim

Take the lid off of life, let me look at the works
It’s no accident I changed my name
Long Dead Slim

Respectfully submitted by Kevin Burton Smith. See also this site’s entries on Sam Spade and Dashiell Hammett.

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