Son Volt, ‘Reality Winner’ [Exclusive Premiere]
In the opening of Everyday Apocalypse, Nashville writer and professor David Dark reorients his readers to the original meaning of the word: "It's what James Joyce calls an epiphany," writes Dark. "The real world, within which you've lived and moved and had your being, has unveiled itself."
In other words, an apocalypse brings about a new awareness of your surroundings and your life; it's a revelation that "shows us what we're not seeing." As Dark puts it, "Apocalyptic expression is a radical declaration concerning the meaning of human experience."
Though he may not be explicitly writing about music, Dark's insight has a deep and profound connection to a medium that, since its advent, has long radically declared unique discernment into the human experience. And for decades, Uncle Tupelo and Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar has been an active participant in this apocalypse, perhaps now more than ever.
In an effort to unveil a very specific and particular experience of the United States, Son Volt are premiering their brand-new single, "Reality Winner," from their soon-to-be-released album, Union, exclusively for readers of The Boot. Press play below to hear it.
For fans to fully understand the apocalyptic nature of "Reality Winner," they first must be acquainted with the subject of the song. Reality Winner, born in the South Texas town of Alice, is a veteran of the United States Air Force. On June 3, 2017, Winner was arrested after leaking a confidential document to an online news site, The Intercept.
"It's a really unjust situation where Reality Winner leaked information for the right reason," Farrar tells The Boot. "She proved that there was Russian interference in the 2016 [presidential] election."
As far as Farrar is concerned, Winner is a "merchant of truth" who is serving hard time for being a whistleblower. The story itself is one that has hardly garnered any attention; acknowledging the silence that surrounds Winner's incarceration, Farrar realizes that this song probably won't be the most popular -- but that won't keep him from speaking his mind.
"I felt like the idea for this song was to at least bring some awareness to her plight," Farrar admits.
More than a year after her arrest, Winner was sentenced to five years and three months in prison -- to date, the longest sentence ever imposed in a federal case for a leak of this nature. Farrar confesses, confidently, "This is a situation that calls for some type of action."
"Reality Winner" is not the first song that Farrar has written about a societal or political issue: Back in his days with Uncle Tupelo, his prophetic voice would creep into public view, and as Son Volt took shape in 1994, that voice only grew.
"It's evolved over the years," he says of this calling to write about the experiences around him. "Uncle Tupelo [were] probably dabbling in it a bit but maybe not as focused on it. Now after having several projects — even doing the Woody Guthrie project [New Multitudes] — I guess I have more experience in writing, so I feel more comfortable taking a dive into topical songwriting."
That evolution in songwriting takes center stage on Son Volt's upcoming LP, Union, set for release on March 29, which delves into other topical issues as well. "Reality Winner" is a beautiful nod to Winner that, in the span of four and a half minutes, tells her story in a way that only a folkie like Farrar could.
"I grew up listening to songs by Bob Dylan, like "Hurricane," and this seemed like it was based on that tradition of writing," Farrar explains. "To me, it was something I wanted to do, and yeah, if it brings awareness to her situation, then all the better. Absolutely."
As he walks through the details of her life — "Six years in the Air Force / Made it to E-4 rank" — Farrar sheds light on the actuality of what is happening to Winner when he sings, "This jail is a stone-cold answer / The biggest mistake of a Texas lifetime." The clarity with which Farrar writes is stronger than ever — lyrics such as, "Felt like gaslighting, not something to just accept / Proud to serve, just not this president / Does it seek the truth, or find the answers?" stick in the ether long after the song is over — but ultimately, the track's truth hinges on a haunting rhetorical question, one that Farrar sings over and over: "Reality Winner, what have you done? / What have you done, Reality Winner?"
As 2019 marks Son Volt's 25th year together, Union finds the alt-country pioneers speaking louder than ever, staying true to their musical and apocalyptic roots. With the help of multi-instrumentalist Mark Spencer, guitarist Chris Frame, bassist Andrew DuPlantis and drummer Mark Patterson, Farrar unveils yet another layer of the world around him with Union and "Reality Winner."
Listen to Son Volt's "Reality Winner"
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