Lambchop, “Mr. Met”

Photo by Bill Steber

“I think I write songs about trivial things that maybe they reflect on a larger meaning,” Kurt Wagner recently told Q Magazine.

“If Not I’ll Just Die,” which is the first song on Lambchop’s 11th studio album, Mr. M, is about escaping his in-laws over the holidays, while “2B2” seems to chronicle a post-holiday period of ordinary life in Nashville.

Though Wagner has been careful not to characterize Mr. M as being directly about the death of his friend Vic Chestnutt – especially not in any commercially exploitative way – the album and paintings he made in the wake of Chestnutt’s death were a big part of his mourning process. But even if the album is dedicated to his memory, there seems to be little direct reference to Chestnutt or his relationship with Wagner.

Wagner had originally intended to call the album Mr. Met, after a song of the same name. It was a title that he’d come to associate with an old newspaper clipping a friend sent, advertising a debutante society for young men in Memphis. “When I think of a song, I think of this image,” he explained in a video interview for his European record label, City Slang. Wagner’s paintings of these young men would also become the album’s artwork.

To him the name “Mr. Met” “referred to a relationship past,” he says. “You meet someone, then you think about it in the past – ‘met somebody.’”

The actual song, which features one of the most beautiful string arrangements on the album, consists of aphoristic lines, of a more cut-and-paste than narrative style. It tells a story of sorts, though tender lines like “night made a day like this” are often juxtaposed with obtuse observations such as “sleep made you possible.”

It’s sometimes hard not to think about Chestnutt’s death with lines like “I think of you today” and “I will not follow you,” but to do so might be missing Wagner’s point. In “Mr. Met,” words and images are used visually, conveying feelings and emotions more than direct meaning or a linear story.

In the end, “Mr. Met” is a wonderfully bizarre and ambiguous song. The album’s title was eventually changed to Mr. M, due to a copyright issue with Major League Baseball, whose New York Mets franchise has a mascot of the same name.

In the album’s credits, Wagner thanks MLB “for their assistance with the title.” In the video, he points out that the new title adds a layer of mystery. “Who is Mr. M?” Wagner asks, rhetorically. “Maybe I’m Mr. M.”

“Mr. Met”

God made us rational
Thought made you stereo
I think of you today
Boy, what an a-hole

You made me spare like used software
I will not join you
Friends make you sensitive
Loss made us idiots

Fear makes us critical
Knowledge is difficult
You made me spare like used software
It will not bring you

Sound makes us visual
Life made you beautiful
Hate makes us powerless
Turn on a radio

You made me spare like used software
I will not follow you

Sleep made you possible
“Dude” makes this laughable
Night made a day like this
Love made a festival

You made me spare like used software
It will not bring you

Written by Kurt Wagner