BOOK OF TRAVELERS

by Gabriel Kahane

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    "[A] stunning portrait of a singular moment in America." — Rolling Stone
    "A song cycle of unwavering seriousness, delivering snapshots of a broken and desperate nation... [Kahane] is one of the finest, most searching songwriters of the day." — The New Yorker


    12" vinyl pressing. Pre-orders include a signed print of the cover image, which was taken by Gabriel during his train trip. You will be emailed a link to download a song upon pre-ordering, and will receive four additional songs (one every 10-14 days) leading up to the release. LP insert includes complete lyrics.

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    Comes in a digipak with complete lyrics and original photography. You will be emailed a link to download a song upon pre-ordering, and will receive four additional songs (one every 10-14 days) leading up to the release. (Image is just a mock-up; physical product doesn't exist yet!)

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  • Sheet Music + Digital Album

    Full Score, Piano & Voice, for Book of Travelers. Engraved, note for note, by the composer. 70 pp. Includes a digital copy of Book of Travelers in the audio format of your choice.

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  • Full Digital Discography

    Get all 11 Gabriel Kahane releases available on Bandcamp and save 50%.

    Includes unlimited streaming via the free Bandcamp app, plus high-quality downloads of Little Love (ruined lace edition), BOOK OF TRAVELERS, Works on Paper: Music for Solo Piano, Crane Palimpsest EP, Dream Job, The Fiction Issue, Fringe Elements, Craigslistlieder, and 3 more. , and , .

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about

The morning after the 2016 presidential election, I packed a suitcase and boarded Amtrak’s Lake Shore Limited bound for Chicago. Over the next thirteen days, I talked to dozens of strangers whom I met, primarily, in dining cars aboard the six trains that would carry me some 8,980 miles around the country. The songs on this album are intended as a kind of loose diary of that journey, and as a portrait of America at a time of profound national turbulence.

credits

released August 24, 2018

Gabriel Kahane, piano & voice.

Recorded at Zeitgeist Studios, Los Angeles, CA, in 2017.
Produced by Tony Berg and Gabriel Kahane.
Engineered and Mixed by Joseph Lorge.

© 2018 Gabriel Kahane under exclusive license to Nonesuch Records

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all rights reserved

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Track Name: November
When last we spoke
I sang of end times,
Of cities washed away,

The bloodless halls,
A flooded station,
And that last train from L.A.

Well, three years have passed
And here I am in the waiting room,
Delayed with all the restless,

Some sixty eyes fixed
Hard and fast on the TV
Playing something senseless.

Me, I dream of a broken watch
With hands like vines.

In the dream I see the
The sweep of centuries;
I am a prehistoric bird.

And I wandered six lane
It would be generous to call them boulevards
With their dead-eyed metal herd.

I’ve come to peck the faces,
All of the faces off of every clock,
Then set myself to ponder
The golden shoals, the clouds,
The rotting dock.

Can you hear the carnival rising,
The brutal fairgrounds aglow?
Sunburned families laughing at
The toy gun game stall,
Someone screaming below.

And I want to tell you
About November,
The people that I met,

And sleeping badly
On Pullman pallets,
Blue blanket caked in sweat.

Cardiogram power lines,
Heart of the department of the interior.
Glow-in-the-dark Casio,
Breathing fast.

When last we spoke
I sang of end times
Of cities washed away,

The bloodless halls,
A flooded station,
Could a train be an escape?
Track Name: Baltimore
I got the news on the satellite phone:
Jason, come home, Jason, dear,
I heard it on the forest floor.

Six years of back country trails to the lake,
Machete and snake, machete I learned
To cradle in the Old State Park.

Roosevelt, ’33, he had a plan
For every young man:
Give him an ax and a seed;
Give him a pack and a tree;
Teach him to care for himself;
Give him fresh air for his health;
Send money back to family.

Back to Baltimore,
The tallboy convenience store,
The indifferent, the endless war.
And I know what that is,
And I know what that is,
And I don’t need it anymore,
But I have to go home.

Luke was the son of some well-to-do folk;
My family was broke, but we became friends,
The parking lot, the chewed up field.

I started in the park just as he was going in,
A hard eight to ten for selling to kids;
My momma worked the county jail.

Roosevelt’s Tree Army, under the sun,
The work would be done while America
Bled by the greed of the rich,
The boys planted trees and found God in the pitch,
They stared at the sod in each fist—
Why am I telling you this?
Is it that I’m nervous to be going back?

Back to Baltimore,
The tallboy convenience store,
The indifferent, the endless war.
And I know what that is,
And I know what that is,
And I don’t need it anymore,
But I have to go home.

Luke, I guess, got himself into a fight,
Took him to the infirmary later that night,
Nothing serious, sure, but next morning he died,
Then the satellite phone with the crew,
Which meant I didn’t cry.

I’m taking the train to take time for my thoughts,
Pregnant with loss, preparing for all
The things that maybe make you feel.

I’ll pay my respects and then I’ll take a walk,
The neighborhood block,
And then I will leave.
Track Name: Model Trains
The man who played with model trains
In the furnished basement painted black—
How it pleased him every day,
The pattern of the rail,
The pattern of the tiny track.

One night he slips and hits his head
As he reaches for a sleeper car,
And the lights kept blinking red,
Now level with his eye,
His miniature Place de la Gare.

The kids knew something wasn’t right
In the morning when he kissed them all,
He didn’t say a word.

And the model trains keep going round.

Showered, shaved, but sullied still,
With a fist of pink and blue and red.
And he will swallow every pill
To help him with his fear
Of getting from the bath to bed.

And the model trains keep going round.

Eyes cased in rime.
A face that’s chapped with tiger’s tears.

How his wife will mark the time
By learning how to love;
He’s been like this for seven years.

And now as a last resort,
She takes him to the ward in Redding
Thirty miles away.

And through, through the spidered glass,
The headstraps and the gas,
She watches as they put him under.

And the model trains keep going round.

She drives him home in the family car
Stealing glances at this body strange:
The vacant smile, the clean white scar
On the man who disappeared,
The man who played with model trains.

The man who made her laugh,
The man who played with model trains.
Track Name: Baedeker
raise a black-heeled sky
put it up to the moon
shaking the sand
from your mind

delay, dead of night
when you reach
for the baedeker
leather bound book
from another time

red line for railroad
black line for river
carving the country
sweetbread and liver

maps that tell secrets
maps that run backward
learn to be lost now
learn to be shattered

a dream where you don’t feel right
on your knees in an open field
startled by silence
you don’t recognize

white light on a thousand lakes
like paths of glass that someone breaks
before the barefoot contortionist
makes her grand debut
blood leaks from the frozen moon
you think about the wound
and wonder who will die?

amber nebraska
pink minnesota
mint green for kansas
blue north dakota

red line for railroad
black line for river
carving the country
sweetbread and liver

raise a black-heeled sky
put it up to the moon
shaking the sand
from your mind
Track Name: Friends of Friends of Bill
Those neighbor kids, they meant no harm.
Came home from church to find a three-alarm.
To my sister’s, she gave us a key.
Three years, one room, two kids and me.

But he would lift my burden—
All the power, the comfort
In his name.
Is that so much to ask—
To believe and be unashamed?

Stay after church, for friends of friends of Bill.
I tell the story of my son, his need, the pain to kill.
How I saved all the money, a box in a drawer.
How I’d give it to him; knew what it was for.

But he would lift my burden—
All the power, the comfort
In his name.
Is that so much to ask
To believe and be unashamed?

The visits get harder.
He lowers his eyes, and every time
They get darker.
I show him the pictures drawn by his kid.

How do you learn you can smother someone with your love?
Isn’t loving at all in this world hard enough?

Those neighbor kids, they meant no harm.
Track Name: 8980
The flag was torn in a Tuesday tug-of-war
I was standing there in tatters when the carnie took the floor,
Left my cellphone for a suitcase,
Checked the pockets for a clue—
There was an atlas;
It reminded me of you.

Chinese dragon inches toward the boarding gate.
Found my seat and told a joke to break the ice, but it broke too late.
The punchline shattered on the carpet,
All our faces turned to shale
Up the Hudson for a furlough to the rail.

8980 on an overnight train
Crawling back toward the national pain,
I’m a city boy swimming in the Laramie plain
Looking for something—
What it is?
I just wanna talk to you.
I just wanna talk to you.
I just wanna talk to you.

Smoke break breathing North Dakota in the snow.
Is difference only distance from the people I don’t know?
‘Cause here I am with strangers
Singing four-part harmony
Of a pasture undivided to the sea.

8980 on an overnight train
Crawling back toward the national pain,
I’m a city boy swimming in the Laramie plain
Looking for something—
What it is?
I just wanna talk to you.
I just wanna talk to you.
I just wanna talk to you.

Last light sinking in an unfamiliar bed,
Crooked shoulder, crooked conversation
Running through my head,
Gonna count the trees and taillights
‘Til the hour I’m left to dream
Of that pasture undivided to the sea,
Undivided to the sea.
Track Name: Little Love
A long grey silence had ambled down the coast
You drew in sand all the things we’d miss the most

Little love, little love
Little love, little love
Little love, little love
I hope we die here when we’re old.

We’ll case the shore to record this holy place
White cliffs and starfish, the tide like ruined lace

Little love, little love
Little love, little love
Little love, little love
I hope we die here when we’re old.

And when we’re frail in our lawn chairs by the sea
All twisted hands, shrunken spines, and halting speech,
We’ll listen for the long grey silence to gather and increase
And when it does we’ll close our eyes and rest in narrow peace

Little love, little love
Little love, little love
Little love, little love
I hope we die here when we’re old,
Little love, little love
I hope we die here when we’re old.
Track Name: What If I told You
“What if I told you
That I’m on this train
Because my two grown sons were frightened—
Me driving through the night
On a stretch of farm-stand highway
In Mississippi—

‘Cause they don’t need a hood or a cross or a tree.

What if I told you
That I’m headed to a funeral in Tupelo
On the hundred acre farm
Purchased by my great-grandfather
Who learned to read
‘Cause his master’s daughter,
Taught him secretly,

And not knowing
What kind of schooling
His own children would receive,
He taught them never to sign
Their names on anything—

‘Cause they don’t need a hood or a cross or a tree.

And would he have believed
That his great-granddaughter—
All the way to the Ivy League?

And would he have believed
The millions of dollars—
And yet still unsafe
On that stretch of farm-stand highway?

What if I told you
That my eldest son
Loves a white girl
Whom I adore,
But who lives in a part of town where
A black man might be mistaken for—

‘Cause they don’t need a hood or a cross or a tree.
No, they don’t need a hood or a cross or a tree.

And if I told you all of that,
Maybe you would understand
Why I have limited sympathy
For your desire to know the suffering
Of the working white man.”

Monica explained
In the dining car
As we hurtled South
In the growing dark.
Track Name: October 1, 1939 / Port of Hamburg
We are travelling, through a flat, beautiful landscape

writes my grandmother

Ancient forests; trees like bewitched figures, thickets of shrubs

in 1939,

Farmlands, small wooden houses,
blue lakes, green village ponds.

her father arrested, then released.

Now and then, cattle.
Earth covered with high grasses.

fake passports

Enchanting places, where one
would like to stop.

a steamship from Hamburg to Havana

Now, a small wooden church,
Now, a village train depot.

six months on an island

I wish

then New Orleans

I wish I could

then a train to Los Angeles

I wish I could describe

where she keeps a diary

I wish

which I read on a different train

I wish I could describe each place to you

almost eighty years to the day...

•••

After school
They chant her name.
She runs home
She prays.

But caught because her father
Couldn’t quite believe
What ought to’ve been plain to see,
‘Til broken glass was at their feet,
And now they could not wait,
Some clothes and letters in a crate;
Left the cat and drove away.

Steamship.
Wool sky.
All seasick,
The tide.

She held her breath until
At last they’d got across,
But they weren’t allowed to dock,
All because the country didn’t want
To let those people through.
Ain’t that a familiar tune?
I have to sing it back to you.

History
don’t have a chance.
Drowning in the false, fat
present tense.

And why would you need
To know anything
That happened any earlier
Than late last week?

Lucky one,
She got in—
Some papers signed
By distant kin,

And every night she wrote
Six postcards sent back home,
And when she read the brief replies,
My grandmother would start to cry,
The careful script it could not hide
The fear in every one
She read beneath the L.A. sun
Until the letters did not come.

History
don’t have a chance.
Drowning in the force-fed
present tense.

Why would you need
To know anything
That happened any earlier
Than late last week?
Than late last week?
Than late last week?
Track Name: Singing with a Stranger
We have finished planting for the season,
And now we make our way to Pasco, Washington
To see our distant relations
On our once-a-year vacation.

We took two buses and a train to get to this one.
As long as we don’t drive, that’s alright within our creed.
When people stare at us we’re taught to look away,
But it’s hard not to wonder what they see.

Singing with a stranger
Singing with a stranger
Singing with a stranger
From the false world,

Singing with a stranger
Singing with a stranger
Singing with a stranger
From the false world.

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