“Out of the Garden” — originally released by the bluesy rockabilly band The Skullers on their 2019 EP, Freight Trains & Party Games — finds a place in NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series since it conjures the way many of us feel during the pandemic, ousted from the lives we led to an often more complicated version of our world.
With lyrics written by George Usher and music by Skullers frontman Jack Skuller, the song resonates strongly now. Some moments of our days are filled with familiar tasks and some are filled with announcements about friends dying and losing jobs, but together they make up our new patchwork life.
In the video below, watch Skuller’s bluesy acoustic solo version of “Out of the Garden” with an arrangement that beautifully embraces Usher’s poetic words. Skuller’s voice is strong and sensitive and he leaves me wondering what this songwriting duo will create next.
Time was a friend until time was an enemy
Walking too fast, running too slow
Like the gentle hush of a hometown choir
Out of the garden and into the fire …
Love was my world until love was a memory
Rising with heart, fading in time
The gentle touch was too much to hold
Out of the garden and into the cold …
Trust me darlin’, what will be is always here
There’s no reason to look for yourself in a shattered mirror.
“George Usher sent me the lyric, which I loved,” says Skuller. “Naturally it’s a ‘breakup’ song, but I related to it on other levels. I felt the fragility of our world and the rapid and unforgiving ways life can change. But we are always who we are. My favorite line in the song is, ‘There’s no reason to look for yourself in a shattered mirror.’ ”
Skuller channeled the Rolling Stones when composing music for this song. (See the original version of the song below, below the acoustic version.)
“When I wrote the music for ‘Garden,’ I happened to be going back through a lot of Rolling Stones albums,” he said. “That was fitting, since that band has gone through so much destruction and change themselves. But in all of their iterations through the decades, they are always the Stones. I mean, did you see them in that recent ‘One World: Together at Home’ event?! Incredible.
“I was very inspired by Mick’s vocal delivery on songs like ‘Time Is on My Side’ and ‘Under My Thumb.’ Particularly his authentic intensity and phrasing. I was taken by Keith Richards’ guitar sound on ‘Gimme Shelter’ and ‘Brown Sugar,’ too. A couple weeks before the session when The Skullers recorded ‘Out of the Garden,’ I walked into Jim Mastro’s Guitar Bar in Hoboken and saw a 1976 Fender Telecaster Custom (a Keith classic). I couldn’t leave the store without it; it’s always been a dream guitar for me and a dream tone to achieve. I used it on the entire EP and I’m still playing it every day.”
Usher described his words as “a pretty straightforward ‘thrown out of paradise’ lyric that can relate to a broken relationship, whether it’s a man/woman or man/environment like what we have now.”
While “the lyrics work as a breakup song,” the song was inspired by losing a “different kind of paradise,” he said.
Usher’s home is filled with “stacks of books, CDs and whatnot, everywhere,” he said, and one of them resting in his kitchen, “Centuries of Meditation” by Thomas Traherne, inspired the lyrics. “Traherne wrote that ‘we’re born with a vague, but actual memory of “eternity,” where we’re all from … and it’s both a “knowledge” and an “innocence” that we lose as we grow,’ ” Usher said.
I asked him if the eternity that we are displaced from is a place.
“Eternity, heaven, the source, it’s hard to call it a ‘place,’ ” Usher said. “But (Traherne) wrote it in the 1600s, and there’s a religious background to his writings … it’s where we all return … Traherne believed children’s innocence is part of their being closer to heaven, since they’re younger in years alive here on earth. The phrase ‘out of the garden and into the fire’ just came to me as a description of being born into this life out of a paradise we don’t remember. The words just came.
“There’s ‘hope’ in the second bridge: ‘What will be is always here.’ There is always tomorrow, always a new day, when a new sun rises.”
He references the line, “there’s no reason to look for yourself in a shattered mirror,” suggesting that we get beyond what’s happening now and look to the future with its infinite possibilities. “Don’t define yourself by current circumstances,” he said.
Similarly, many of us have been thrown out of our predictable lives into the storm of the pandemic. But when the sun shines and another flowering tree blossoms, there is the hope of a return to a better time.
While Skuller shelters at home in Weehawken, he has used his free time to focus on new creative endeavors given that all of his concerts were cancelled. “From all of the gig postponements due to the pandemic, this has proven to be one of times in my life to be creative,” he said. “I’ve been commissioning personalized song portraits for people; I phone interview folks about themselves or loved ones and write songs about them. It’s been a fun way for people to virtually send their love.
He dedicated one of his portraits to the Healthcare Workers COVID-19 Support Group inspired by New Jersey critical care nurse Rose Wood. You can watch it here. He also has been teaching guitar lessons from home and writing music for a side project, Trolley Valhalla.
Skuller’s father is singer-songwriter Eddie Skuller, so you could say Jack was raised on music. He got an early start playing music at 8 and released his first single “Love Is a Drum” with Bar/None Records in 2010 at the age of 14. He later formed The Skullers.
Pre- and post pandemic, he tours with The Everly Set, an Everly Brothers tribute act that Skullers formed with Rockapella co-founder Sean Altman. He said that the “show celebrates The Everly Brothers with humor, history, and the greatest rock ’n’ roll two-part harmony of all time.”
To show support for Skuller, commission a song portrait by him. For information, visit facebook.com/jackskuller.
NJArts.net’s Songs to See Us Through series is designed to spotlight songs relevant to the coronavirus crisis and encourage readers to support the artists who made them (and won’t be able to generate income via concerts at this time). Click here for links to all songs in the series.
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