The Making of Backroad Carnival, chapter 6: Pigeon Man

September 11, 2017

I used to live in the 19th arrondissement of Paris, overlooking the Bassin de la Villette, a neighborhood replete with cultural barges, movie theaters, breweries and more. When the weather is nice, huge crowds of people come hang on the canal to play boules and myriad other games, have jam sessions, et “pour prendre l’apéro”. But when the winter gloom sets in, the bobos vanish, and only a small, stalwart group of “boulistes” can be found along with your occasional jogger and dog-walker. And one other curious individual.
I would spend a lot of time rehearsing or giving lessons at home during the week, particularly in the wintertime. Frequently I would stare out my windows at the dreamy landscape – the wind blowing through the rows of poplar trees lined up along the water that would sometimes ice over when it got extra cold. Seagulls, pigeons, and flâneurs in movement, all eerily in sync. I soon began to notice a strange daily ritual.
Every day at 2pm, rain or shine, a middle aged, grey-haired, pallid man with a hurried gait and an intense expression on his bearded face would appear with a bag of bread crumbs. Without fault, a massive group of excited, wing-flapping pigeons would gather around him. He proceeded to dump the crumbs methodically, aligning the pigeons almost one by one along the canal. When seagulls tried to peck their way in, pigeon man would shoo them away as if it to say, “No crumbs for you! Only for the pigeons!”
Occasionally while on an afternoon walk or jog I’d even see it happen right in front of me. While on one of these jogs during which I was listening to the podcast Radiolab, a story came up about pigeons, how they have an amazing GPS system hardwired into their bodies, how they tap into the earth’s magnetic fields to guide themselves, and other aspects of their intelligence.
This put a whole new spin on my pigeon man, and I wrote these lyrics:

Everyday rain or shine
He puts them pigeons in a line
Everyday rain or shine
Feeding them pigeons just to keep from crying

Chasing down death, chasing down death
Chasing down death with a bag of crumbs
With a bag of crumbs
Feeding them birds right in front of the bums

The avian congregation gathers so patiently
Gathers patiently
For the pallid man to appear between the trees

Don’t count your pigeons ‘fore their hatched
Just put your pigeons in a batch
Don’t count your pigeons ‘fore their hatched
Just put your pigeons in a batch
Might be their magnetism, their ingrained socialism
Don’t count your pigeons before their hatched
Might be their mating coos, or to fatten the squabs for food
Don’t count your pigeons ‘fore their hatched
Just put your pigeons in a batch

Seagulls, seagulls, don’t try to make that afternoon creep
Don’t try to make that creep
Pigeon man will shoo you off with his feet

Some say he’s crazy, some say he’s slow
Some say he’s some sort of god of old
Some sort of god of old
He’ll still be out there when hell freezes over

Don’t count your pigeons ‘fore their hatched
Just put your pigeons in a batch
Don’t count your pigeons ‘fore their hatched
Just put your pigeons in a batch
Might be their magnetism, their ingrained socialism
Don’t count your pigeons before their hatched
Might be their mating coos, or to fatten the squabs for food
Don’t count your pigeons ‘fore their hatched
Just put your pigeons in a batch

It probably took a few different attempts before I found a match with some musical ideas I had a-brewing. I think I opted for a sort of a comical blues approach to highlight the comedy in all this. Process-wise, we went for resonator slide guitar married with a vintage electric fed through a nice tube amp, electric bass, dirty harmonica, drums played on a 70s era Ludwig, all recorded on an analog Studer tape machine. For that extra sheen, I got my Addis Ababa-based friend Kenny Allen to lay some golden background vocals. And there you have it!

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One Response to “The Making of Backroad Carnival, chapter 6: Pigeon Man”


  1. High time for Chapter 7!


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