Found Somewhere Between The Road And My Heart: The Geraldine Fibbers’ First Masterpiece at 25
For an elite group of music fans, Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home is as essential as Nirvana’s Nevermind and Jeff Buckley’s Grace combined
Everyone has that album that saved their life. I shouldn’t pretend I was ever on the verge of death, but I did experience a very low point in 1996 when my first long term true love left me in order to date a buddy of mine.
He and I worked at the same job site. He was also my neighbor. Each night I’d gaze out the window of the apartment where I lived alone and see her car parked in front of his place. Proximity kept the wound from even scabbing.
The Geraldine Fibbers got me through that bleak period. Not only am I forever thankful, but Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home remains rooted in my all time top ten.
The story of Fibbers’ vocalist Carla Bozulich is survival. Nothing I’ve experienced will hold a candle to the darkness she’s endured. Her immortal songs, her perfectly weathered voice, her brilliant lyrics, her endless quests down the open road are testaments to her resilience and redemption. Listening to her soaring tales during my own dark time was both inspiring, and a good reminder that my problems were both universal and pedestrian.
I first stumbled upon Bozulich by chance. During a brief trade school stint in Minneapolis I found a midnight radio show that offered ticket giveaways with little competition. One of many scores was a pair of passes to see the Jim Rose Freak Circus at the First Avenue–the club made internationally famous in Purple Rain. As I wandered in from the street I saw and heard an industrial racket from Rose’s support act Ethyl Meatplow. Bozulich stood center stage, topless, wearing chaps and a cowboy hat, firing blanks from a pair of six shooters into the air. No first impression could have been stronger.
VIDEO: Ethyl Meatplow “Queenie”
I ended up buying and enjoying Meatplow’s Happy Days, Sweetheart CD, but the band folded and I didn’t think much more about them for a year. Not, that is, until I read a review in the Seattle Rocket about Bozulich’s new alt country group The Geraldine Fibbers. My piqued curiosity exploded when I happened to see the video for “Dragon Lady” on 120 Minutes.
“Dragon Lady” is, in my esteem, one of the most romantic songs of all time. The lyrics are a master class in throwing caution to the wind in pursuit of love in the face of utter destruction. “Automatic pilot and x-ray specs / We were kissin’ in the cockpit when the airplane wrecked” howls Bozulich. The song utilized de rigeur soft/loud dynamics but the twangy, feedback-laden composition exceeds any arrangement Sonic Youth might muster.
The 7” single dug deep hooks into my heart and psyche. I craved more. As it turned out a full-length album was about to drop via Virgin. I placed my special order and impatiently waited for release day. In the meantime I tucked in my bib and enjoyed an appetizer–the band’s self-titled acoustic debut E.P., which featured a cover of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” and a gem of a duet with Beck entitled “Blue Cross.”
VIDEO: The Geraldine Fibbers “Dragon Lady”
Finally Lost Somewhere Between The Earth and My Home landed in my life; a small black rectangle of salvation I didn’t yet know I needed. How on earth did a prog country noise rock album end up on a major label? Truly there is nothing commercial whatsoever about this record. But 1995 was perhaps the last year that labels were willing to take a chance on potential alternative stars.
The reality is that the band was based in the chic Hollywood-adjacent Silverlake neighborhood, and they had a great manager. Based on large hometown concert crowds, Virgin A&R foolishly believed that there must be a larger audience waiting just outside of town. Alt-country/Americana was a burgeoning scene and the Fibbers were on the cusp, with one foot in roots music; the band always included stand-up bassist William Tutton, and a revolving door of excellent violinists. Though the Fibbers were afforded a sizable studio budget and well-intentioned package tours with Urge Overkill, Joan Osborne, and Lollapalooza, wide sales and draws were never to be for a band so niche, so uncompromising.
Album opener “Lilybelle” paints a landscape canvas. Visualize Andrew Wyeth’s painting “Christina’s World” or Philip Ridley’s gothic film Reflecting Skin and you’re standing in the right wheat field, just waiting for that horizon tornado to steal you away to Oz. A wistful melody of melancholic guitar plucked over warm resonant bowed bass and plaintive violin soon erupts into an electric wall of emotion. Setting established, the whole sound comes crashing down with Bozulich’s unusually low and throaty incantation, “In the dark / She is rocking / Not to records / But to voices in her head.”
After the final disparately sweet strum of “Lilybelle” storms in “The Small Song” with an aggressive four-on-the-floor drum pattern from Fibbers’ secret weapon (and future Circle Jerk) Kevin Fitzgerald. The rest of the instruments barnstorm with their own no-fucks-given attitude. Bozulich unleashes her paint-peeling, throat-shredding screams early on amidst tempo changes, and layers of inspired guitar noise from the truly original Daniel Keenan. The entire group collectively executes several stop-on-a-dime breakdowns with precision and force.
“You’re not dreaming,” threatens Bozulich as the nightmare of sound coalesces into another perfectly composed, swirl-around-the-drain ending. The larger than life album name derives from the lyrics to this perversely inversely titled tune.
“Marmalade” is the first call back from the sparse acoustic E.P.–now electrified into a full band composition. Lyrically it could have been titled “Laudanum” as it’s a hazy drug song full of nostalgic references to duck ponds, paddleboats and cherry pies. The first time I saw the Fibbers in concert, audience members screamed requests for “Marmalade.” Carla shook her head and let us all know that they were tired of it and it was no longer in the set list. Luckily they didn’t stick to those guns for long and it did reappear within a year.
The aforementioned “Dragon Lady” follows, with Carla intoning the mischievous gender-bending lyric, “I got some satisfaction / From lifting up your dress / A slap in the face is worth / A hundred words.”
But the real slap in the face comes from track five, “A Song About Walls.” I find this one to be a bit of a skin crawler for two reasons: the rhyme scheme (girly and surly, really?) and: Heroin. This is the least disguised and most autobiographical song on the record, focusing on addiction and streetwalking. I’m not judging the song or the lifestyle. I’m only saying that I find it unsettling material, largely because I’ve lost many people close to me over the prick of “some lame spike.” Even so, it’s still too good a song to skip.
The center of the album is a comfort zone, like three fragrant pies sitting on a window to cool in the breeze on a summer evening. A less obstinate band would have made “House Is Falling” the first single. Aside from a short bridge section that crackles with an undercurrent of feedback, this is the most tuneful and palatable song on the record. The waltz of “Outside of Town” continues this country fried theme, albeit in a more apocalyptic murder ballad fashion. It’s more up-tempo than Pixies’ “Silver” but no less heavy. “The French Song” begins in a state of sweet molasses-steeped exhaustion before building into a climactic wail. It’s a love song so full of life that it could make your heart burst.
The rollicking returns with a vengeance in “Dusted” as does urbanity. “I still miss the smell of a dead skunk on the Pasadena Freeway!” The tempo is punk furious. The guitars snarl. Bozulich spits out her literate lyrics as if her life depends on it.
“Richard” is a personal favorite. Another waltz, this song usurps expectations from the get-go with the lyric, “The devil smiled / And put on her party dress.” There is so much insight woven into “Richard” that I struggle not to just list the lyrics in total. Deep into the track reside the lines:
They watched a man lay down his hand in a game of chance
The lust for luck and security is a hopeless romance
The Devil grinned and whispered
Comfort is a myth
The clock is ticking ticking
Going tick tick tick tick…
The band punctuates each of those ticks with full stops. That level of sophisticated awareness between musicians, as well as synergy of music and lyrics, is beyond the bounds of most bands. Hats off.
“Blast Off” leans in with a low bass swagger that lays a foundation for a syncopated guitar and drum melody. This is another laid back jam that continues the rustic imagery with milk crates, zoot suits, big black bugs, and a little lamb.
The album ends with an electrified remake of heartbreaker “Get Thee Gone.” The original can be heard on the expanded CD What Part of Get Thee Gone Don’t You Understand? The banjo plucks grow bittersweet when paired with full band instrumentation. The last line is “When I close my eyes to sleep / Please do not appear.”
No one could say that this album suffers from poor sound, though neither is it anything resembling a hi-fi pop production. Steve Fisk and John Goodmanson mustered a comparatively sterling sound on the Fibbers’ second album Butch. Nevertheless there is something to be said for the patina, the film grain, the dirt and rocks in this shit-kicking album that made it a seasoned classic on release. It has lost nothing in the twenty-five years since.
AUDIO: The Geraldine Fibbers What Part of Get Thee Gone Do You Not Understand? (Full Album)
I had the good fortune and passion to see Geraldine Fibbers live five times during the brief time they existed. Once I brought Carla a bouquet of flowers and laid them on the stage of Portland’s venerable (now long gone) club Satyricon. We swapped shirts that night, and she started recognizing and remembering me at future gigs.
When the second album Butch came out in ’97, I wrote a never-published review stating boldly that it would be the band’s last for a major. A week later they were dropped from Virgin. New guitarist Nels Cline was a fantastic addition, but the no-wave qualities on display in Butch were the opposite of accessible.
A 57-minute epic from the CD era, there was no LP version of Lost Somewhere Between The Earth And My Home. That was finally remedied in 2017 by Portland’s Jealous Butcher records. Miraculously, the band even reunited to record a new tune for the occasion. “Thank You For Giving Me Life” may be under four minutes long, but it is proof that there may yet be another chapter in the Fibbers’ saga.
It was a long wait to hear all of these songs on wax. My heart has had the chance to break and mend so many times in the years since they first slapped me back together. And this finest of albums has been there for me every damn time.
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12 thoughts on “Found Somewhere Between The Road And My Heart: The Geraldine Fibbers’ First Masterpiece at 25”
I used to be a music writer and record reviewer in Liverpool. That album was my record of the year. Truly magnificent, in fact so good that I ‘reviewed’ it on two consecutive weeks.
Shout out to “Richard” – my favorite GF song!! Though, in truth, it’s hard to pick just one. Thanks for the excellent review!
I fucking love this band!
I never knew any of the story behind this band. I saw them (by accident as they were the opening act) around maybe 1996 or so in a tiny club in Charlotte, NC called the ‘pterodactyl’. They opened for a different group, I have no idea which one. I was totally entranced by them. I remember my mind being blown that they had an upright bass and violin and in the midst of the set all of the members switched instruments. It was such a different sound and I immediately bought the album. Over the years when I meet new people, fellow music lovers, I ask them about GF. I have only ever met one other person who recognized them. Apparently I am meeting all of the wrong people!
Nevermind is popular, but hardly essential. Or perhaps you would like to embarrass yourself with a public reading of its’ lyrics. …didn’t think so. Journalism…not for you.
David Ames – first off, that line was added by the editor and not part of the piece that I wrote. Care to retract your trite dismissal of my twenty year career?
David, how you do you not consider Nevermind essential?
I was obsessed with the Fibbers. I would try to make every LA area show they played for the last 2 yrs of their existence. To this day “Lilybelle” is still my all time favorite song .
An interesting note about “Richard”. That song was inspired by Mikail Bulgakov’s book The Master & Margarita. This was the same book that Marianne Faithfull gave to Mick Jagger, which inspired him to write Sympathy for the Devil.
I don’t think I’ve searched the topic “The Geraldine Fibbers” in over a decade. Tonight I just did it on a whim and came across this review. As a member of the band at the time of Lost, it makes me happy to hear that it means so much to you still to this day. We had a makeshift studio in my garage during the writing of this record. I remember the day Lillybelle was birthed. It was over 100 degrees in LA that day. We were cramped in the tiny dark garage with carpeted walls. I had started the idea off with the guitar rhythm but all of the sudden Julie Fowells blew everyone away w this insane violin melody. We worked for hours and then took a break to sit in the AC upstairs. That’s when Carla started writing. Within an hour we were back in the garage w song and lyrics. One day, one amazing creation. Carla did the same with Dragon Lady. I had worked on the riff all tour and by the time we got to Seattle to record Lost, we had the structure down. I remember Carla sitting in the van in the parking lot penning the words in about an hour. I’ll always remember the look on our A&R guy’s face when he first heard Dragon Lady in the control room, ear to ear smile…he wasn’t expecting that. He picked it as the single. Then he quit and went to Geffen. Thanks Mark.
Daniel I used to stare at you every time I saw you play when I could rip my eyes off of Carla. The best band ever live.
Hey Daniel, I was a low-level employee at Virgin when you were signed, and was still close to the company the year that first album was being worked – I’m 99% sure Mark didn’t quit and go to Geffen at that time (just to set the record straight). THAT SAID, it was very sad that such an absolute genius album – frankly pair of albums – didn’t do better. I know at least the retail marketing team at Virgin did work the record pretty hard, but I think it just fell by the wayside without radio play. I remember numerous amazing shows and still track down bootlegs to this day, so thank you for those memories
It’s great to know that you stumbled across my article. I was fortunate to see the band at La Luna and Satyricon while you were still with them. And though I really enjoyed the music that came later, I am most attached to what they did with you. Hope you’re very well. Thanks for reading, and for creating something so wonderful. – NC