“Bastards I Used to Know” was one of the earliest Whiskeytown songs, and it still lingers even though it was never released on a record. Also variously known as “Lucky Me” and “This Old City,” “Bastards” kind of stumbles along on the demo-ish recording of it that survives, with Ryan Adams and Caitlin Cary still working out their vocal-harmony dynamic. It’s ragged but wonderful in a shambolic sort of way, like a drunken younger cousin of the old Jerry Jeff Walker warhorse “Up Against the Wall Redneck Mother.” But where that song was pointedly tongue-in-cheek, this one is bitter to the core.
Ryan wrote “Bastards” as a poison-pen kiss-off to his former Patty Duke Syndrome bandmates, Brian Walsby and Jere McIlwean, with whom he’d had what he called “an evil breakup” the first time I interviewed him (more about that is in Chapter Three of “Losering”). Although it isn’t really about jobs or labor, I’ve always thought of “Bastards” as a Labor Day song, steeped as it is in working-class dayjob blues. Picture Ryan slaving away in the Rathskeller kitchen while muttering this under his breath:
This old city where I live is poor and dirty
Work I do, it barely pays the bills
This old city, it is home to stupid bastards I used to know
Lucky me, I’m too drunk to remember their names…
Should your Labor Day cookout today take a turn toward the inebriated, you could do a lot worse than this for group-sing-along fodder. So fire it up.
ADDENDUM — When I posted this on Facebook, I heard from Danny Kurtz, bassist in late-period Whiskeytown (and also the Backsliders):
That’s crazy. I took that photo of Ryan in Wyoming while driving to Seattle. We all stopped to take a break and there were all these pretty daisies growing on the side of the road. I sent it in years ago to a contest for best ryan photo.