The Graceless Age
Evangeline/Spunk THE journey of drug addiction — specifically, of addiction to heroin — is one of the foundation stones of blues, jazz and rock. You could make a list of the songs that have addressed it that would run off the bottom of this page. (There’s a fun breakfast table game for all the family!) John Murry’s Little Colored Balloons, the 10-minute third track on an extraordinary debut solo album, takes its place among the best of these. Building from a simple piano and solo voice structure, it tells the story of Murry’s death after injecting black tar heroin in the house of his San Francisco dealer.
‘‘ Saran wrap, and little colored balloons/ a black nickel, a needle and a spoon . . . baby this is what I do to warn your ghost away.’’ By the time the female harmonies and cello arrive you are in that dingy hallway with him, praying that he stays awake — and then, when he doesn’t, for the paramedics to show up. Fortunately in real life — as in the song — they did, and restarted Murry’s heart with injections of Narcan and adrenalin. ‘‘ I took an ambulance ride/ they said I should have died/ right there on 16th and Mission . . . I still miss you so goddamn much.’’ Other songs here deal with his habit, one that for a time drove away his wife, something also featured in the record’s subject matter. (He kicked the dope and got her back.) All of the songs are good, but Balloons is sublime. Murry once said: ‘‘ Show me a happy person and I’ll show you an imbecile.’’ Obviously, he is neither — and that is to our benefit.