R. Turner: so much better than you can imagine

Young person in a yellow hoodie walking.

Record: Being a Person Pt. 3 (2020)

No you may not enslave our children anymore.

from the song “Terrible Fortress,” on “Being a Person Pt. 3
Photo of R. Turner In Anacortes, Washington.
R. Turner (Anacortes, WA, 14 May 2018)

R Turner has returned. As quietly as he left, he’s back, resuming his solo songwriting series of short, “Being a Person” EPs (his first new work since his frontman role in the Anacortes-based punk band, BUFFET). His third EP installment, “Being a Person Pt. 3” (self released, 2020), arrived last April. This DIY series began in 2019 and is up to four collections, the latest, “Pt. 4,” arrived in June. “Being a Person Pt. 3,” however, just might be the best solo songwriting Turner has released to date.

With “Pt. 3,” Turner has also extended what he did as primary songwriter in BUFFET into new territory: he’s covered one of his own BUFFET punk songs, “Land,” in his quieter solo space, breaking down the barrier between two songwriting personas and performance styles, while demonstrating the reach and power behind what BUFFET was doing before that band went into its current hiatus. “Land” explosively opens BUFFET’s debut LP, “All-American” (All You Can Eat Records, KNW-YR-OWN Records, Resurrection Records, 2019), suggesting no other way it might be dealt with. The contrast in this new treatment is both subdued and, quite simply, astonishing.

I think Ricky’s duality (both as ‘Dick’ in BUFFET and as ‘R.’ for his solo work) is part of what makes his songwriting absolutely compelling to me. With these EPs, that line is beginning to blur, which I think strengthens Ricky’s work entirely. His songs are ferocious and biting, under a veneer of simplicity.

Nick Rennis (BUFFET)

Although uncredited on Bandcamp at the time of this writing, fellow BUFFET band member, Nick Rennis (The Business), contributes etherial guitar background effects swirling throughout all three tracks with electric guitar (“Chemicals and Blood,” “Land (Buffet Cover),” and “Terrible Fortress.” The fourth track, “Terrible Fortress (Voice Memo),” is an acoustic demo-version of the track by the same name, with random background household noises intruding. This is the first time a BUFFET bandmate has joined Turner on one of his recent solo outings since “Being a Person Pt. 1,” when John Van Deusen contributed bass to one track (“Dirks“).

"Being a Person Pt. 3" EP cover art.

Working with Ricky on a song is really freeing, because he rarely directs. He might have some vague suggestion or direction he points toward, but then leaves it largely in your hands. It’s been really fun to work with him now on both projects and see that looseness carry through.

Nick Rennis

Why is “Being a Person Pt. 3” so powerful? Partly, its strength comes from its geography and political relevance. “Chemicals and Blood” deftly connects the very real anxiety of recent days in our country, using the metaphor of another, long-passed pandemic: “Black death / Covering the nation / Black death / O United States.” Next, the BUFFET song, “Land,” swings the focus painfully home, toward everyone who came to this country to take this land from Native peoples: “We took this land from someone else / A Native tribe, long ago.” “Land” provocatively asks how much land we ever really own, when in the end all we require is space enough for each of our graves.

The final track, “Mighty Fortress,” attenuated behind the metaphor of childhood isolation, loneliness, and abuse, might just as easily speak for our country as well: “O Wicked Building / Made of brick / A Mighty Fortress is your prison.” This song resolutely but quietly ends with the repeated warning: “No you may not / Enslave our children / Anymore.” Can there be a more potent verb to use than “enslave” at this moment in our modern history?

The strength of Turner’s songwriting has always been in his ability to suggest many interpretations in his lyrics. In his solo work, his simple guitar lines and quiet atmospheres frequently belie his depth of meaning. As a writer, however, Turner works with the tools of the poet, allowing his locations to float free from possession, into the metaphoric, into the universal. “Being a Person Pt. 3” is a luminous invocation by a journeyman songwriter who can gently but urgently make the heart ache, while fearlessly facing down both the demons, and the angels, of our shared human experience.

R. Turner (Anacortes, WA, 14 May 2018)

photo credits (where not otherwise credited)

“parking garage” / by Celal Erdogdu on Unsplash
“gas station” (footer) / by Kaytoo on Shutterstock

Old gas station.