Paul Hayden Desser, known simply as “Hayden”, is an indie-folk/ “sad bastard” singer from Thornhill, Ontario. An affluent suburb of Toronto, Thornhill is divided into two municipalities: Vaughan and Markham. Markham is famous for cranking out NHL stars Jeff Skinner and Steven Stamkos.
Since 1995, Hayden has released six proper albums sandwiched around a live album. In keeping with “the Foghat Principle”, that live album — Live at Convocation Hall(2002) is Hayden’s fourth album, and it is “double live”.
Skyscraper National Park, which gets its name from the Kurt Vonnegut novel Slapstick, was the first thing I ever heard from Hayden. I was introduced to his stuff by a girl I met on-line many years ago and with whom I had a long-distance relationship. It was destined for failure and it didn’t last long, but I have some good stories because of that relationship. And I learned about Hayden. Given my affinity for sad bastard music and the Badman Records label, it’s a mystery why I didn’t already know about him. Either way, though, I can thank her for that.
A lot of times, I have a special fondness for the first record that I heard from an artist, even if it isn’t my favorite of theirs. In this case, Skyscraper National Park remains my favorite Hayden record. While there are a lot of A+ songs to choose from on this album, I’m going to highlight one that’s actually a bit different than the bulk of his work. Most Hayden songs are really sparse. Acoustic guitar, his baritone voice, and maybe a small drum kit played with brushes. This is one of just a few that feature a full band and amplification.
The official video cuts the song short by about two minutes, and I can’t find an embeddable mp3, but cbc radio3 is an excellent place to listen to full versions of songs. Here is the link to that song, and his general page at cbc radio3 is here. But in the interest of not making you click away from this page, here’s the audio of an unofficial video of the full song:
I love how it’s all Hayden-esque, albeit a little bigger, until around the 4:30 mark. Then it gets all noisy for one minute. Feedback? In a Hayden song?
It’s obviously about driving out of the urban area and into the wilderness. Mountain roads. Scenery. Instead of a city skyline, a National Park skyline. It’s about trying to escape. And it’s also about not being able to escape. Or about the futility of a search for El Dorado.
Miles away or just up ahead
It doesn’t matter what any of us is looking for
We’ll never find it because
It’s not even there
In general, people talk about the sadness of Hayden’s haunting baritone. They talk about the sad bastard lyrics pegged to eleven. They talk about his self-deprecation. People joke that he’s got the suicide prevention hotline on speed dial. They forget, though, to talk about what a fantastic writer he is. He always finds a way to turn a phrase and beautifully depict a little thing. Usually, the little thing is a small part of the bigger picture of heartbreak. One of the best examples of this use of 30 or so words to describe heartbreak comes from “I Should Have Been Watching You”, another song from Skyscraper. It’s about the end of a “special visit” coming to an end, and the sadness as the eleventh hour approaches:
And everything seems alright,
except that this is the last day I get to spend with you
and now it’s dark and it’s through
I should have been watching you
That song, and that part specifically, slays me. I don’t know how he does it.
Anyway, since today’s song is “Dynamite Walls”, I’ll point out a bit of the poetry that I especially like. It’s just a “little detail” thing, and for once, it’s not about heartbreak:
Everyone’s watching for animals crossing
through the part of the glass that’s defrosted
That’s something that you do when you’re driving on mountain roads in the winter. I’m not sure why I like it so much except that it’s really descriptive.
The rest of the album is about heartbreak and manslaughter, but I love it very much. There’s a lot of really descriptive lines running through the album. Most of them are incredibly sad, but incredibly beautiful. As long as you’ve not recently lost your job or been abandoned by your lover, this is an amazing record that I’ll recommend without hesitation.
Buy a digital download of Skyscraper National Park using Zunior.