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Perfect Game

by McCarthy Trenching

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David Nash
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David Nash I'm new to McCarthy Trenching. There is honesty and simplicity in the lyrics and delivery that is surprising and makes me smile, even if the songs are dark. Favorite track: Winter Solstice, Post Office.
Nick Green
Nick Green thumbnail
Nick Green I have a friend with a broken heart,when he tries to put it together it’s always missing a few parts,but it still seems to be pumping blood,and if you ask me,it’s still capable of love.... Favorite track: Asking For a Friend.
mdhfeld thumbnail
mdhfeld Coming from a small town, this song really resonates. I can imagine the characters and the bar and the smells. Just terrific. Favorite track: I Didn't Come to Town to Get a Haircut.
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Did your career take off, are you traveling all the time Doing your part to launch the new product line Did you get a big promotion, are you winning awards Why don’t I see you anymore? Did you stumble on a corner of the internet and make a bunch of friends And decide you wanted to spend most of your time with them With all that surveillance, you should never feel ignored Why don’t I see you anymore? Did you come to the conclusion that everybody’s full of shit And you’d never meet anyone who wasn’t a hypocrite Or did you do the opposite and fall for the Lord Why don’t I see you anymore? Did you move to that town in Iowa to bake bread and meditate You know I was born in that agricultural, transcendental state Or did you settle in the desert, find some ground you could afford Why don’t I see you anymore? Did you find a better way to watch movies at home Did you finally realize you’d rather be alone Or was I one of your husband’s friends that you lost in the divorce Why don’t I see you anymore? Did you come down with something the doctors couldn’t name Did your heart stop beating, but they kept alive your brain Did you hit your head on the table and lie writhing on the floor Why don’t I see you anymore?
Phaethon 03:48
The god of the sun had a son But the kid didn’t see his dad much The dad had to be at work at dawn And was high overhead at lunch But mostly, he just didn’t make time And though he wanted to keep his son out of danger By the time he showed up, the kid was grown up And didn’t want advice from a stranger It was a fairly typical death The kid in a fiery wreck Kind of unbelievably tragic And kind of what we expect What I like is what happened next His sisters gathered down by the river It was there that their bodies turned into poplar trees And their teardrops turned into amber I like having friends who write songs You can summon them whenever you want They’re easy to get on the phone Even when they’re long gone I wanted to write you a song To preserve our friendship in amber Between you and me, the tears of a tree That’s an image I’d like to remember
I have a friend, all weekend long Wants to sit on his couch and watch football He has the mind of a nine-year-old Lucky for him, he was only born nine years ago His mom and dad let him watch one game On Saturday, and one on Sunday They make him read every day and sit down for dinner What he likes best is cheering for a winner But he likes me anyway I have a friend teaches yoga classes I’ve taken a couple, and they’ve kicked my asses She doesn’t eat meat, and I still do She loves her dog, his name is Bruce We nearly lost him in a river once He’d never swum in a current, and he’d never seen ducks My friend jumped in chasing after Bruce I didn’t even take off my shoes But she likes me anyway She’s forgiven me Forgiveness is an unusual word It can be freely bestowed, or laboriously earned By my age, I hope you’ve learned We’ll each need forgiveness in our turn I have a friend with a broken heart When he tries to put it together, it’s always missing a couple parts But it still seems to be pumping blood And if you ask me, it’s still capable of love Aren’t we all alone in the end? I’m asking for a friend Everything I’ve done he thought of it first And he’s certainly seen me at my worst But he likes me anyway Forgiveness is an unusual word I’m talking how the noun is formed from the verb Go on and call me a nerd We’ll each need forgiveness in our turn
Cottonwood, cottonwood You don’t do no one no good Your cotton cannot be spun And your wood is too spongy for lumber Flower child, flower child You let your lawn grow wild They say we make ourselves better with labor And it’s nicer when it looks like the neighbors’ Fruitless beauty, with no reason why You can always make up a story Like for patterns of stars in the sky Mockingbird, mockingbird How many tunes have you learned Do you ask the other birds’ permission Or do you just perch on their branch and listen Perfect game, perfect game What’s in a name Let’s make some mistakes not mean failure And we can work on our serves the whole year Fruitless beauty, not so hard to find Given time to pay attention And the canvas of a quiet mind Firefly, firefly I’m sure some scientist knows why You put on a spectacle at twilight The golden glow and slow flight Little dance, little dance What’s the circumstance You were coming back from the bathroom And you executed a groovy little move Fruitless beauty: pecan pie The stupid jokes you make to yourself And the way your own mind can surprise you
Red Maple 02:22
The red maple we planted between the sidewalk and the curb Is taller than the house now, and the leaves are starting to turn You’d have called it crimson; you had a way with words I miss you so much, I cry Chocolate chips, flowers, and toothpaste I made a list, but today it seems useless Sweetness and beauty, and not being toothless I miss you so much, I cry Had we wanted a symbol, we’d have planted an oak But I liked a maple’s color and how fast it grows This year, it’s darker: it’s almost purple I miss you so much, I cry
After the show goes better than you hoped After a week of white-knuckled hanging on After a month of relying on that shitty city bus After a year when you forgot what it felt like to have fun It was glorious giving in That first sip, as sweet as a first kiss And it comes with the same risks It might wreck your life But it might be worth it And it can be glorious giving in When you deny yourself too long You get eaten up by what you lack What’s the use in being strong When you’re spending all your power Just holding yourself back From that glorious giving in If it weren’t wonderful If it didn’t feel good They wouldn’t call it Temptation I don’t believe that some apple tempted Eve In the Garden of Eden I don’t believe it was some serpent I bet she just got bored with her husband And it was glorious giving in
Russian olive tree, silvery-green Thorny They scraped a great swath of countryside To make the interstates And it came to Mamie To start a tree-planting campaign She chose the Russian olive tree That kite-killing beauty An emblem of the enemy What a wonderful dream To achieve world peace By planting trees Unlike peace The Russian olive tree Has proved to be A highly invasive species
I didn’t come to town to get a haircut There ain’t a barber anymore But there is a bar, and they do have beer And that’s what I came to town for I’d like to buy a round for everybody here I didn’t come to town to get a haircut I came to town to drink beer I didn’t come to town in a pickup truck I didn’t get here in a car The train quit running eighty years ago And the walk is awful far I rode my bicycle, buddy And I’m gonna ride it home You can hop on the handlebars, man It you ain’t got a ride of your own I didn’t come to town until I’d mowed the lawn And scrubbed the kitchen floor And folded all the laundry Put my drawers in their drawer And I watered the sauerkraut And the houseplants, too Everything’s all squared away Except for me and you Here comes Chickinelli He’s in the same boat as me His family can never find him Where he said he’s gonna be We got a lot in common It’s like looking in the mirror Good to see ya Never saw ya Cheers I didn’t come to town, I never came to town You can’t recall when you saw me last What a pity, you heard I moved to the city And was rooting for Nebraska If anybody asks ya, you haven’t seen me in years I didn’t come to town to get a haircut And I never drink beer (or whiskey)
Winter solstice, post office: like a tavern on St. Patrick’s Day We regulars are getting the job done You amateurs are just getting in the way The man behind the counter’s disgruntled Though I’ve never seen him gruntled yet His commute began before first light And he’ll be here till after sunset The darkest day of the year How I wish that you could mail away your sorrow I’m not trying to bullshit a bright side But the daylight will last longer tomorrow Priority to Hawaii: do you think it’ll make it on time? Her daughter just got out of the Army And she’s making conversation in line Me, I’m on a foolish errand Probably only one stamp, and just across town Things I cannot tell you in person I hardly had the courage to even write them down One thing about winter: you never wait long for the night If there are things that you desire That need darkness to make them feel right I found myself in your neighborhood At that pivotal part of the evening Five hours before closing time You were finished, and I was leaving The darkest day of the year How I wish that we could sleep away your sorrow I’m not trying to find a silver lining But tonight the moonlight is shining
The power went out in Pacific Grove Or who knows, maybe the whole peninsula But you had enough charge on your phone That we could listen to nearly every R.E.M. song We skipped “It’s The End Of The World As We Know It” It seemed a little too on the nose We hadn’t watched the inauguration We’d seen enough of that show So we played cards by candlelight I believe the power came back on before bedtime Mornings, you’d do work and I’d buy groceries I’d make the coffee, you’d make the oatmeal The wind was wild, and the waves were nasty Even so, afternoons, we’d walk on the coast We read about two tourists who were swept out to sea Taking pictures of each other at the ocean After you flew home, I mailed you a package You’d left a purple shirt behind I’m not sure if I was being thoughtful Or returning something special You wanted to be mine With the package, I wrote you a note About where I went after dropping you at the airport On the map, I found the name of a little grove Where they’d never cut the redwoods Among them, all alone The trees beatific The Catholics would call it sacramental And that’s still how I think of it This morning, I put on my raincoat In a pocket, there’s a pamphlet, I know It cost me a quarter at the redwood grove An informative memento How many times those trees have seen the end of a world Two thousand years of being alive How many axes and how many fires Those giants have survived


In the week leading up to the recording of this album, I went out to mow the lawn and found that the red maple tree between the sidewalk and the curb had cracked in half. Not from a storm or any other violence, just from the way it had grown. Until that day, I believed it was healthy and that it would outlive me. The red maple was still standing, its leaves just starting to turn in mid-September, but it was badly injured. I had planted it twelve years before, after the previous resident of that spot, a large linden tree, was uprooted in a severe storm.

I called Jack Phillips and asked if he would come take a look. He did right away, and told me the situation was dangerous. It was likely that the tree would fall onto a car or a pedestrian, maybe very soon. He called his associate Keith to tie a rope around the limbs and trunk to stabilize the tree for the time being, but there was no option other than removal. The city foresters came the next day, and it took them about twenty minutes to remove the tree that I had looked at nearly every day for a dozen years, the view out my window when I practice piano.

Thanks to Jack for his book The Bur Oak Manifesto, and for providing me with a new tree for the front yard, a red oak grown from an acorn harvested in an old grove in Iowa.

Other debts and books:

I wrote “The Glorious Giving In” for the band High Up, which starred the Fink sisters, Christine and Orenda. At their second performance, I heard them singing a dynamite version of “Lovely Still” and thought, I want to write a song for this band. The phrase “glorious ‘giving in’” is from David Foster Wallace.

“I Didn’t Come to Town to Get a Haircut” is something I heard my uncle Jerry say once. Jerry started the actual business called McCarthy Trenching, which does water and sewer projects in Iowa. I wrote this song for Dolores Diaz and the Stand-By Club, and I hope that band can perform it someday.

Some details in “Russian Olive” came from my grandma, Marie McCarthy, but any errors of fact or feeling are mine. Grandma is honest, and her memory is good. The musical quotation at the beginning of the song is, of course, Erik Satie’s Gymnopédie No. 1.

“Asking for a Friend” owes something to Sigrid Nunez’s book The Friend. A tactic, maybe, and an awareness of a dog audience.

“Phaethon” owes some of its story to Edith Hamilton’s Mythology, an essential reference.

The Sibley Guide to Trees is another essential reference, most every day, when I haven’t lent my copy to somebody.

Just before making the album and quite a while after “Fruitless Beauty” was written, I read this in Eula Biss’s Having and Being Had: “I wade through the field of wild raspberries, the thorns tearing at my clothes, and this task seems newly impossible. The pursuit of beauty is fruitless, I think.”

That’s all right with me.

Yours truly,


released October 23, 2020

Recorded and mixed by James Schroeder at ARC in Omaha, Nebr., September 2020. Adam Roberts helped engineer and was an all-around problem-solver.

Kevin Donahue: drums, percussion
Stefanie Drootin: singing on “Phaethon”
Colin Duckworth: electric guitar, dobro
James Maakestad: upright bass, singing, string arrangements
Dan McCarthy: guitar, piano, accordion, singing
Morgan Nagler: singing on “Phaethon”
Megan Siebe: cello, viola, violin, string arrangements

Horn arrangements by Luke Annis
Luke Annis: trombone
Lauren Milbourn: clarinet, bass clarinet
Brian Nelsen: trumpet
Hector Tornez: saxophone

Mastered by Doug Van Sloun at Focus Mastering in Omaha, Nebr.

All songs by McCarthy Trenching (SESAC)

Cover photo by Harrison Martin


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McCarthy Trenching Omaha, Nebraska

Folk band from Omaha, with Dan McCarthy on guitar or piano and James Maakestad on upright bass.

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