I’m sure you’ve seen them too; the shaggy guy and gals in threadbare jackets and patched jeans, strumming guitars in doorways of the sketchy but cool part of town. They’re part of our mythology. They’re the wandering troubadours of our times. They’re chasing the dreams of Woody Guthrie, Jack Kerouac and Joe Strummer. They’re the street angels singing hymns for a hand full of coin. Sometimes, like the time I stumbled upon Hurray for the Riff Raff busking in the French Quarter, it’s magical. Other times, you wonder if they’ve got a place to sleep at night, sometimes you have to wonder if they’re off their meds.
Felix Hatfield bounced around the country learning bits and pieces from the people he’s met and the places he’s played. For the last 25 years he’s been one of the eccentric artists that inspired Portlandia. Like Tom Waits, Hatfield writes about the outsiders, misfits and survivors who only make the news if they’re in a disaster. The songs on False God sound like the sort of back porch folk music made by whoever shows up for the barbecue. Sometimes, it’s just Felix and another guitar. Sometimes a brass band drops. A few times famous friends like Jolie Holland and Esme Patterson join the sing along.
Hatfield sings in about people just hanging on. An old hobo resigned to being unloved voices “Nobody For Me”. He offers, “If you let me tag along, I’ll let you hear my bad-breath song.” A man struggling to keep it together tells of “my reflection looks like a monster” and “I see the ghost of Leonard Cohen” on “Seeing Things,” “To the Troubled Person,” Hatfield offers help, “ “but I need your help to pull you through.” When I hear “False God,” it makes me think of any number of charlatans, from the street corner to the White House, Hatfield calls out the emperor’s nakedness, pointing out, “You look a little worn False God.”
Felix gives the assorted outcasts and losers in his songs some dignity and respect. The closing track sums up his feelings about these people. Hatfield shows gratitude for the privilege of being on this journey on “Lucky to Be a Sad Man”. “My friends are laughing at me. I hear them saying ‘what a fool.’ But they don’t understand how fortunate I am to be a sad man. I’ve been where they’ve never been. “