Given our last Chain Gang entry (‘Johnny Come Lately’) was written and performed by Steve Earle, I was slightly hesitant to use Hayes Carll as a follow up due to the slightly, erm, contentious relationship the two seem to have (Earle isn’t, shall we say, too pleased that Carll is now married to his ex-wife, musician Allison Moorer), but when the song is this good and the connection works so well, sometimes you just have to go with it.
‘Johnny Come Lately’ is the tale of a Vietnam vet coming home, so it felt natural to go with another song about someone being sent off into the same awful war, although this time, they don’t return.
‘Jesus and Elvis’, from Carll’s excellent 2019 release ‘What It Is’, was co-written by Carll with Moorer and Matraca Berg, and in the song, we’re told the story of the owner of a bar who had to see her son off to Vietnam one Christmas Eve, only to never see him return. So devastated is she that she keeps everything exactly as it was, right down to the Christmas lights that were hanging on the wall under the titular pictures of Jesus and Elvis.
“Lola built this joint in ’67 / And her boy went off to fight on Christmas Eve / In a war nobody won / She lost her only son / Now everything he loved is what you see.” The lyrics are about as tragic as you can get, equalled only perhaps with their nuanced simplicity – which, I think, is exactly why they work so well.