NPR logo Turning the Past Into a Pile of Ash

Turning the Past Into a Pile of Ash


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The Avett Brothers' members study the past before soaking it in gasoline and burning it. hide caption

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Thursday's Pick

  • Song: "Yardsale"
  • Artist: The Avett Brothers
  • CD: The Gleam EP
  • Genre: Folk

At first, The Avett Brothers' "Yardsale" unfolds as a fairly straightforward study of the mundane items at a neighborhood yard sale: From plastic flowers to a blade that may or may not have been used, the selections are viewed from a bittersweet distance, as if the band merely wants to draw a character sketch of lonely and unloved household goods. As pretty as it is — especially once Scott and Seth Avett harmonize over the words "yard sale" — it seems to dance around a larger point, opting instead for musings on war, out-of-tune guitars and lovers in the shade.

But then, three-quarters of the way through "Yardsale," the North Carolina brothers shift gears radically, speculating about how nice it would be to buy the whole lot, soak it in gasoline and "burn it for all that I care for the past / and rid Mother Earth of what never should last." It's a hairpin turn, thematically, but it snaps the whole song into focus: It's one thing to hold on to souvenirs and symbols, but another altogether to try to derive value from them once the attachment is gone. Some junk is worth something only for the freedom its absence creates.

Listen to yesterday's 'Song of the Day.'

This column originally ran on March 15, 2007.

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