Eliza Gilkyson: Beauty Way
For the next two weeks, our theme is Blood, vaguely derived from the classic heart symbolism for Valentine’s Day which falls during this period, but also because we thought it was a good idea.
Sometimes, when a theme is announced, I need to search my iTunes library for a song, and other times something just jumps into my head. And for some reason, that is what happened here, despite the fact that there are many more obvious choices.
The amount of music out there is staggering. I’m sure that there are many people whose musical taste and collection (tangible or virtual) has basically stagnated. But for me, and other music fanatics, it is impossible to keep up. I have a pretty significant collection of music, and a pretty broad range of musical likes, but I simply can’t know everything, or keep up with all of the new good things. I hear all of the time about music I should like or should check out, and often when I do, I realize, yeah, that’s pretty good. And maybe I’ll download a few songs and check them out more.
Which is a long way of getting to my point—there are people making great music out there—music you might really like, if you heard it, but you just haven’t had the chance. Eliza Gilkyson is one of those musicians who has had a long career in the industry, great reviews, but not a huge amount of name recognition outside of the Austin area. Although, to be fair, she has been pretty popular in these pages, having been tagged in 6 prior pieces, more than Aimee Mann, Alejandro Escovedo, Pete Townshend and Harry Chapin, to randomly choose a few people with bigger profiles.
Gilkyson comes from a musical family. Her father Terry was a folksinger in the 50s and 60s, and then became a songwriter for Disney movies—his songs include “The Bare Necessities” from The Jungle Book. Her brother Tony was the guitarist in Lone Justice, and for a period, X, and also produces. Her sister Nancy is a singer and an executive at Warner Bros. Records. Eliza began her career singing on her father’s demos and soundtracks, including a couple of Disney TV shows. She moved from Hollywood to Santa Fe, New Mexico in her late teens, started a family and began releasing records. Her musical and personal journey took her to Austin, then back to Los Angeles, then to Taos and to Europe, before returning to Austin. Her son Ryder has produced some of her albums, and her daughter Delia has sung on some of them. Her songs have been covered by Joan Baez, Lucy Kaplansky, Bob Geldof, Roseanne Cash and others. She even has a couple of Grammy nominations, and was inducted into the Austin Music Hall of Fame.
Our featured song, “Beauty Way,” from Gilkyson’s 2000 release, Hard Times In Babylon, is a semi-autobiographical tale about the hard life of a musician who comes close to, but just misses, hitting it big. What always struck me about the songs were her lyrics, which make it almost seem like her desire to play music was irresistible, and that she simply had to keep going, no matter what the result:
I worked the clubs along the Sangre de Cristos
Polished the diamond in the rough
By the time I hit L.A. I was hotter than a pistol
But you're never hot enough little darling
You never really hot enough
I felt the lights on the big, big stages
The fire burning in my soul
I've had those nights when my guitar rages
But it's not something you control little darling
It's not something you control
And there’s the blood reference—the Sangre de Cristo mountains, which run from Colorado to just north of Santa Fe. But I also think of the metaphorical blood that Gilkyson spent trying to make it in the music business.
A little side note--back in the days before iPods and CD burning, I was one of those people who made mixtapes, which I listened to on a tape player or in the car. In 2001, I included a version of “Beauty Way” on a tape, followed by a Los Lobos song, “Down on the Riverbed.” At some point, I was listening to the tape, and realized that the two songs mentioned red-tailed hawks, making it a great subconscious segue. Which is something that only ex-college radio DJs think about.