The Politics of Grooming / Monsters

Taking another look at Slaughter Beach, Dog, and drawing some lines in an overarching story about growing up.

“Welcome” by Slaughter Beach, Dog is an album that Jake Ewald went about writing after a long and successful stint with the more popularly acclaimed band, Modern Baseball. In contrast, Modern Baseball’s themes could all be similar to what you might have felt during your first high school crush, while Ewald’s later work spoke of a settled love post-college. Between that transition was this album.

“Welcome” is more of a concept album, where Ewald tells the story of different people in the town of Slaughter Beach, Delaware. While this is a rather rough album overall, it’s leading single “Monsters” is a generally well-received track that still stands out as one of my favorites. Only recently listening did I draw a connection between this one and another track in the album, “Politics of Grooming”. These are both songs that elicit strong emotions from me, and on this listen, I realized that in this winding story, these two songs may actually be talking about the same fictional person. 

I will lose you if I can’t be alone
I’m in love with your eyes when you get me stoned
Drive me home and I’ll sleepwalk back to you
I am the girl that I thought I outgrew.

Twenty-two years old in my parents’ home
Still speaking in whispers on the phone
Grandma lit up, cursing in the guest room
All pissed-off over the font on the family tomb

When I leave, I’ll leave in a quiet way
But I’m too quiet to do anything but stay
I keep trying to outline a better life
But the pen’s run dry, yeah, the pen’s run dry
And the lines never come out right anyway

There are monsters everywhere I turn
In disguises my young self couldn’t discern
See them now in my brother’s passing
I see them now in my father’s absence
One is curled in a bedside wineglass
In the master bedroom, on Mother’s half
I can hear the floorboards on which they creep
I can feel their fingers while I sleep
In a dream, I am fourteen all again
Watching my big brother talk to them
Saying, “She ain’t half your height
Pick on someone else tonight”

Akin to the post from last week, both of these songs are written from the perspective of a young woman. I think that these songs exemplify a great competency in lyrical writing, especially from others perspectives.

Monsters goes on to tell the short story of a girl who seems to be trapped with what remains of her family. Just from the first verse, there is a description of what feels to be a relationship that isn’t quite a relationship – just an escape route from homelife. 

“There are monsters everywhere I turn, in disguises my young self couldn’t discern.” Is a particularly powerful line. To me this spoke to something that a lot of young women face – which can just be summarized as the harsh realities of maturing. In this character’s case, it is realizing how unhealthy her home may actually be. 

At the end of the song, she speaks on how something that happened when she is 14 still continues to haunt her to this day, showing the impact this type of life has on someone.

“Politics of Grooming” shows up halfway through the album. It’s a slower and less rock-like song. Very similar to a song I covered earlier, “Black Oak”, it’s more of a spoken-word story.

This song functions as the bookend to Monsters, though it seems like the narrator may be an outside observer to the same character. They speak again of avoidance of in this character’s home-life with other means; in this case, finding solace in putting on makeup, as it acts as a moment of distraction. 

I know the you when you are getting dressed
Is not the you I’ve really come to know
She speaks in shorter phrases, and she often can’t remember
Which impulsive words were emitted as response
But it’s not a selfish, shorter-spanned attention
Rather, preference for the politics of grooming
Hell, I’d paint my face and fingers and my toes and lips and eyelids
If it meant tonight, I didn’t have to think about the future
Just to fixate my attention on a wooden powder pencil
Not a single thought devoted to whatever’s on outside the house
Or even past the door of your mother’s bathroom, where we’re sitting
And surviving on the steadiness of passing time

So when the lines are drawn and all the powders matted
You’ll be standing there and blinking at your image
And you’ll wish that it would turn around and do what it’s supposed to
But reflections do not turn themselves away

The chorus shows a reflection of another set of lyrics in Monsters:

But the pen’s run dry, yeah, the pen’s run dry
And the lines never come out right anyway

While the above line declares that it’s useless for her to try and carve a new path, the current line is much more solemn: that once everything is drawn on and finished, then what? The trauma still remains, despite her best attempts to distract and avoid. 

The conflict comes out here, and is revealed to be the same monster described in the wine glass a song before. There is even a dream referenced – perhaps the one that is described in Monsters. 

Now, the instrumentals fall away as a piece of childhood is taken away from this character. Realizing that your parents are not always wise, always right, and always stable in your life is a realization that can happen at any point. But for this character, it seemed to happen the night that she fearfully witnessed her mother black out. 

The chorus repeats again, cementing a theme of being forced to grow up: she needs to turn around and do what she’s supposed to, but struggles to find the strength.

These songs are both deeply emotional, and generally paint a dreary picture of a young woman’s childhood and how it continues to impact her. The loss of some of her family and the deterioration of the ones left speak of a deep loneliness and forced independence.  

When you were younger and your mother started drinking
She would tuck you in and close your bedroom door
Then, one night, you sprung awake inside a turning, twisted dream
And you ran downstairs to find her laying out across the floor

She did not hear you softly crying near
Or feel your mouth all hot against her ear
So you kissed her like she taught you, and for the first time on a head
You got up and tucked your own self into bed