This particular song, Icicle Man was written over the course of a walk around Nashville one hot afternoon while on a solo tour. Had been reading a biography of Hank Williams and didn’t have a friend for miles around, at least that I knew of. There was also a copy of Johnny Cash’s first autobiography, Man in Black, that had come into my hands at the time.
I was in my mid-late twenties and my last romantic relationship had ended really unhappily, mostly because I was being at best a terrible communicator and at worst, an abusive, homphobic womanizer. I had emerged from a long period of heartbreak and depression feeling like a monster with whom an intimate relationship would only lead to pain, and for whom casual intimacy was the only reasonable source of sensual intercourse.
It’s possible that I had just allowed myself to become involved with Rivka, which broke all the rules of not indulging in intimacy with people who made my heart drop between my knees. This song expresses my worst fears about what being in a relationship with me might be.
Pain, horrible pain insane. That’s all you’re gonna get…
The influence of the first Wu-Tang Clan album is clear in the cadence of the refrain.
Dip into the fire with my left fist
A Johnny Cash influenced reference to The Fire as well as evoking the “evil” left-handed path.
If you never came back, I might not notice. I’m too busy.
The work-a-holic mantra.
Watch your step, you might not blow this relation-sinking ship.
All of the verses are very short and concise, much like some of the classic Johnny and Hank songs:
Everybody knows where you go when the sun goes down.
I think you only live to see the lights of town.
I wasted my time when I wouldn’t try, try, try.
When the lights have lost their glow you’re gonna cry, cry, cry.
One of those “punch line” refrains from Johnny. Or Hank’s:
I’m a rollin’ stone all alone and lost
For a life of sin I have paid the cost
When I pass by all the people say
Just another guy on the lost highway
So easy to play and remember. These two qualities are key to a song’s practicality and longevity. With just a few phrases with a clear relationship to one another, and lyrical content that follows a simple pattern, certain songs maintain an easy place in the artists and/or the “infinite” repertoire.
I was cold when I left here
Cold when I returned
You never should’a let me back in your life
‘Cause all ya ended up was burned by Pain, horrible pain…
I love the drum machine part on this track. It’s just three sounds over two measures repeated. On the bass drum and side stick:
boom boom tick tick pause tick tick pause tick tick pause tick tick
And a really tight sounding hi hat that weaves between them. There’s a sawtooth bass sound that just goes:
One pause pause pause Five pause Two pause.
That and three very staccatto guitar chords is the whole instrumental foundation. The only other instrument on this recording is the insane turntable playing of Kid Ginseng.
Two characters to my left and right one’s tellin’ me wrong one’s tellin’ me right…
Now, who ya think is gonna win this fight? Be the one in black or…
Painting a visual image. Then elaborating a bit.
Two sides to every story. That’s the thing that’s drivin’ me mad.
So glad you’re sad you been had by
Pain, horrible pain…
I’ll suck you into my black hole from which you’ll emerge cursing the day that you met me. The final line was influenced by a scene in the cartoon The Simpsons in which someone stomps on another characters heart, crushing it into the ground.
Whoops, I’m sorry. Was that your heart?