Lyrics Uncovered: Eric Church, ‘Desperate Man’
Eric Church is bringing a hard-hitting vibe to country radio with his "Desperate Man" lyrics, in no small part due to his co-writer, Ray Wylie Hubbard.
The pair met by way of the truth. When Church was co-writing his 2015 hit "Mr. Misunderstood" with Casey Beathard, he looked over at the turntable that was playing a vinyl record featuring Elvis Costello, Jeff Tweedy and Hubbard. When Hubbard later asked Church why he decided to name drop the three icons in the song, his answer was simple: "That's the vinyl we're listening to. Let's write the truth."
What started with Church referencing Hubbard in "Mr. Misunderstood" led to the two co-writing "Desperate Man." After inviting Hubbard to perform "Screw You We're From Texas" with him in Dallas in the months following the debut of "Mr. Misunderstood" at the 2015 CMA Awards, Church agreed to be a featured guest on Hubbard's cut "Tell the Devil I'm Gettin' There as Fast as I Can." Reveling in Hubbard's artistry, Church called him one day and asked if he'd be willing to co-write a song.
"He said 'I got this groove, it's about a desperate man,'" Hubbard recalls to Taste of Country. "I said, 'Man I was so desperate one time I went to a fortune teller to get my future read and she said I didn't have one.' And he kind of smiled and then got this groove."
It's this line that anchors the message of what it means to be a truly desperate man as Church sings, "Fortune teller told me / No more last chances / You've got no future at all / Woman, I ain't listening / Black-hearted gypsy / Hang a crucifix to a bedroom wall."
"You get to that point where you've maybe hit a bottom emotionally, spiritually, mentally, physically," Hubbard says. "You're completely at a point where you're willing to try anything."
The "Desperate Man" lyrics capture the raw emotions of someone seeking solace in the midst of their darkest hour. We listen as this desperate man walks on the devil's coals, travels to the sacred Joshua Tree and falls on his knees in an effort to find peace. But the key ingredient in the song is hope, which lies beneath the surface of the lyrics.
Though Hubbard cleverly put forth the idea of fortuneteller predicting there's no future ahead for this lost soul, Church infused a glimmer of hope by proclaiming "I ain't listenin' / Black-hearted gypsy." That decision is crucial to the song's underlying message of remaining positive during times of suffering.
"The lyrics explain themselves in a way, that you're just desperate enough where you go to the Joshua Tree, which is a metaphor for a holy place, and you fall on your knees and you've done everything you could do, you're that desperate. And then you say the last verse, you go to the fortune teller and she says, 'man you got no future at all,' but then you say, 'Well, don't listen to a black-hearted gypsy. I'm desperate, but I'm still going to not roll over and curl up in a ball, I'm still going to try to move forward,'" Hubbard details.
"Some of the lyrics are dark, but there's still a positive vibe about it. The music is almost a gospel, jubilee celebration where it just keeps driving you."
Finding the strength to carry on in times of extreme hardship is something Church has lived. He was one of the many people deeply affected by the tragic mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival in 2017 that claimed the lives of 58 people. Church had spoken with Hubbard about the tragedy and channeled those emotions into "Desperate Man."
"It's always going to be in the back of your mind, that tragedy and how that happened. It's not always going to be an obvious line or reference, but there is going to be that emotional feeling when you write a song, it's going to stay with you. It takes the time to heal, but the memory never goes away," Hubbard says. "I think with Eric, he said, 'It's time to start writing,' because that's what he does."
It's this powerful sense of perseverance that Hubbard and Church integrated into the song. "In a situation where there's desperate times, when things are wrong and hard and difficult and will tear you up — when you're desperate — you still put one foot in front of the other and try to move forward," Hubbard concludes. "No matter how desperate you get, you've got to have that sense of hope."
"Desperate Man" is the lead single off Church's 2018 album of the same name, set for release on Oct. 5.
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