The King Is Dead


In the 1970s, my alcoholic aunt drove her dead Indian boyfriend from Southern California to Northern Idaho, 24 hours straight through in his old Ford, to fulfill his dying wish of being buried on the reservation. She said she stopped only to drink and blow truckers for gas money. After her boyfriend was buried (but before I was born), she made more money than a small country of truckers could squander or drink away in a lifetime, and spent much of my childhood traveling the world, drinking. But when I saw her at holidays, the dead-Indian-boyfriend story was the one she'd reliably tell. It became epic: She convinced road workers to help move the boyfriend from the passenger seat to the bed of the truck, legs curling up like a dead spider, after rigor mortis set in. She mimicked the looks of horrified children while playing car tag on the freeway somewhere in Nevada. The number of trucker blowjobs multiplied like candles on a birthday cake.

The King Is Dead is the Decemberists' tribute to Americana music. The makings of a great folk album are all there: nostalgic, smart lyrics; harmonicas hooting; guitars strumming; and frontman Colin Meloy's gusty, plaintive voice joined (and tempered) by folk singer Gillian Welch. But often it feels too polished for the country folk music it's paying tribute to—like a rich old woman refining a memory past the point of recognition. recommended