R. Turner & “being a person”: unvarnished and grateful

Records: Even My Dumb Dog in the Heat of the Summer Has Lost His Passion (2012), The Significance of Being Nothing (2012), R. Turner (2017), Being a Person Pt. 1 (2019)

by EJ Olsen (We Are Mirrors)

In all likelihood, you were having a boring day when you scrolled across this article and decided to read it. You probably worked too many hours at a job you don’t truly prefer. You might shop for groceries, you might do your laundry, and you’re almost guaranteed to spend an ungodly amount of time in traffic. You’ll undoubtedly fuss about a number of things this week that won’t really matter next week. In an age of social media where everyone’s personal brand is curated to perfection, where we balance our public narratives through carefully calculated conflict and hyperbole, it’s hard to remember that everyone’s life is filled with forgettable moments and equally fleeting feelings.

R. Turner has built his art around reclaiming these mundane moments. “Being a Person” — both the general concept and the title of the series of EPs currently being released by Turner — is more about what we’re likely to take for granted, not the extremities we present on the Internet. 

R. Turner in Buffet, April 2019

Turner’s shift in focus from spiritually-minded poetry towards more pedestrian reflections has slowly occurred across his discography, but it has, interestingly, shown up most prominently in his hardcore punk release “All-American” (Resurrection Records, Knw-Yr-Own, All You Can Eat Records, 2019), by Buffet, a Palace favorite. Although “All-American” brims with righteous indignation over serious matters plaguing Western society, it holds in the same hand a fascination with the everyday. Plants are watered. Donuts are consumed. New York pizza, woefully, is nowhere to be found. In Turner’s solo projects, he similarly longs for companionship via coffee, misses his since-passed dog, and wishes for a local beer from his hometown of Utica

On “Being a Person Pt. 1” (self-released, 2019) Turner provides three new sketches of ordinary living. This release is the first in a series of four EP’s that will eventually be compiled into a full-length LP. Turner wrote these songs while living in Anacortes, Washington, which he describes as “the most normal and functional time of my entire life.” He adds, “A lot of the songs [from “Being a Person Pt. 1”] sort of deal with contemplating what ‘normal life’ is.” 

The opener, “Jed Pt. II,” finds Turner, once again, singing about dogs — set to crunchy guitars and field recordings of dogs barking, it’s a calling back to “even my dumb dog in the heat of the summer has lost his passion(self-released, 2012). “Jed Pt. II” longs not just for man’s best friend, but also for a home and a sense of belonging. Though there’s a clear undercurrent of ennui in the track (“I think I’m gonna lose my mind this time”), that doesn’t stop “Jed Pt. II” from being the most explicitly fun track in all of Turner’s solo discography. It also shreds almost as much as a Buffet track, though the opening acoustic guitar and Turner’s comparatively restrained vocal performance place it squarely in his DIY Indie wheelhouse.

R. Turner at the DoHo

And you might not know
If I’m joking
Or maybe you’re so sure
You’re probably more sure than I am
Probably more sure than I am

from the song, “Pickle Jar”

The EP’s most melancholic track, “Pickle Jar,” remains delightfully noisy and fairly lively. Turner airs his listless feelings with idiosyncratic metaphor, while also poking at the Millennial/Gen Z tendency towards hyperbolic, joking declarations of worthlessness and depression.

Turner follows this song with “Dirks,” which is the most wholesome celebration of friendship to have graced my ears outside of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. It’s the simplest song on the EP, with an easy-to-sing melody and straightforward lyrics. However, its purity creates a contagious sort of joy and thankfulness. I don’t know Elizabeth Dirks (she is, in fact, a real person who has performed with Turner a number of times). But I do know that everyone should have someone like Elizabeth in their lives: a friend who makes your life better just by being in it. That Turner uses a personal friend as a symbol for the dearest of relationships makes the song even more heartwarming. 

Of a lesser artist, you could argue that songwriting so seemingly small in scope is lazy. Aren’t there more important things to say? Shouldn’t your prose be more “poetic” and “deep”? For Turner, these are the most important things to write and sing. By illuminating mundane moments with plain language, Turner conveys profound gratitude. On “Jungle Drum,” the closing track from “R. Turner” (Monopath Records, 2017), he states, “Sometimes the prettiest songs remain unsung.” On “Being a Person Pt. 1,” Turner sings about these unsung moments. We see that beauty isn’t limited to life’s most grandiose happenings. It’s in the simple warmth of friendship, the satisfaction of canine companionship, even in the moments when we might feel most empty. 

“Being a Person Pt. 1” is available on Bandcamp. Watch for more EPs from R. Turner throughout what remains of this year. 

R. Turner in Buffet, April 2019

photo credits
(where not otherwise credited)

“Dead bus” / photograph by Deep Desert Photography on Shutterstock