Mockingbirds is the second track off of Grant Lee Buffalo’s second album, Mighty Joe Moon, released in September 1994. Grant Lee Buffalo is a rock band based in Los Angeles, California, consisting of Grant-Lee Phillips (vocals and guitar), Paul Kimble (bass) and Joey Peters (drums). All three were previously members of another Los Angeles band, Shiva Burlesque.
The roots of Los Angeles’ Grant Lee Buffalo stretch back to 1985 when former film student Grant-Lee Phillips and Jeffrey Clark started Shiva Burlesque. (their second band, after earlier incarnation called the Torn Boys.) Phillips specialized in “psychedelic acoustic 12-string,” feedback included, while Clark’s Jim Morrison-influenced vocals were the stuff of high sweeping drama. They added upright bassist James Brenner and drummer/marimba player Joey Peters; by ’87, the band’s self-titled debut on Nate Starkman & Son (home to numerous other California eccentrics) was in the bins.
As picturesque as the band’s first album, Fuzzy is, Mighty Joe Moon is a cinematic revelation, brimming with stylistic atmosphere and sheermusical invention. Mockingbirds is a textural masterpiece offering a wealth of guitar tones, an ancient pump organ, cello and multi-tracked vocals (in places, a falsetto duet). A rare disc whose creators are clearly under the spells once cast by Phil Spector, George Martin, Brian Wilson and Jack Nitzsche.
In England, Grant Lee Buffalo’s albums have received star treatment, promoted via numerous EPs loaded with non-album material. Several tracks recorded live in London during an October ’94 tour appear on the American six-song Honey Don’t Think EP.
The song is said to be about a relationship that didn’t work out, but in the beginning held great promise (“you brought me into your heart then you swallowed my pride“) At some point, there were many feelings left unsaid (“I had a feeling you were hiding your thoughts“), and it did not end well (“terrible realm…chained to the helm“) and the devastation (welcomed at the start of the song) reveals itself.
Editor’s note: I bought this album (Mighty Joe Moon) during a “reconciliation date” with a boy I had broken up with. We were young and in the throes of trying to reclaim a passion that had run its course; too young to realize that you can never really go back, and that sometimes it is okay to let go. This song reminds me of that night, that moment, and that naive notion of reuniting.