Early in his career, Paul Kamanski was known for writing songs for others, most notably San Diego’s legendary cow-punk rockers the Beat Farmers. After bandleader Country Dick Montana died in 1995 and the Beat Farmers were finished, Kamanski started his own project, Comanche Moon.
Listen closely to the fifth Comanche Moon album “Derailed” (released April 8) to hear stories about the opioid epidemic, immigration and, most ambitiously, the meaning of life and death. The songs are as thoughtful and detailed as its songwriter, a Western Americana romantic.
In a tune about a train, Arlo Guthrie sang, “Good morning, America. How are ya?” Kamanski, in his railway track, “Dinosaur Cry,” asks, “Can you tell me America, where we’re headin.’”
“Derailed’s” cover image is a black and white photo taken in 1906 of a steam-engine train that appears to have come off the tracks. Kamanski said the four men posing next to the train almost look like they could be band members. The front side looks like a well-worn album cover where a ring has formed around the vinyl. The CD itself looks like an old 45 rpm record. An introspective observer of the highest order, Kamanski focuses on details.
The music evokes moods. The lyrics spur reflection and interpretation.
“Each little song really is connected to one of the dearly departed,” he said. “Some people might go, ‘That’s pretty dark and pretty dreary, but not really. You know (death’s) coming and you can’t stop it. There’s some brightness to it. There’s a light in it and there’s some hope.”
Four people close to Kamanski died in three years, inspiring the 10 tunes for “Derailed.”
“I’m 61 now and as you get older it seems that every time the phone rings at 5 in the morning you jump 2 feet out of your pajamas only to find out another person has gone by the wayside,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, these songs just started happening. … Most songs, the good ones, they tell you to write them.”
And Kamanski’s wife told him to record them.
After his father died from Alzheimer’s disease, Kamanski wrote “Insecurity,” the most emotional song on the album. He played acoustic guitar and sang in his house and Caren Campbell-Kamanski, who had admonished her husband for not recording songs as they were being written, turned on the DR-40.
“ ‘Insecurity’ was that button being pushed by my wife in the kitchen and that song came out with one push with no edits eight days after my dad passed away,” Kamanski said.
The song aired last week on the radio station 91X FM.
You go through the hell during the songwriting “and then when it gets on the radio it’s like the thing has gone to heaven,” Kamanski said.
Comanche Moon started out as a band but evolved into a studio project. Kamanski records the vocal and guitar parts. Then Larry Dent adds drums. Campbell-Kamanski sings background. “Derailed” is filled with layers and listeners can discover something new every time they give it a spin.
“Just Happy Today,” is another gem. It includes this verse:
“When you’re gone, there’s no comin’ back. I can reassure logical fact.
There’s no phone on the wall to call to heaven. But I know there’s a door that can lead straight to hell.”
“There’s a lot of paths you can choose that will take you to hell real fast,” Kamanski explained. “Drugs, alcohol, negative concepts, negative people.”
The devil’s in the details of life, which is complicated and daunting.
“When you wake up and realize you can’t call your mom and you can’t call your dad anymore, you realize that you’re on deck,” Kamanski said. “I hope they taught me enough that I can now take care of this responsibility that is now in my hands.”
Before he dies, Paul Kamanski wants to move to a rural town in the Sierra Nevada, renovate an old building into a studio where he can record the songs he’s constantly writing. A resident of San Diego, he recently searched for his dream home and during his trip north marveled at the powerful flow of the Carson River, the mountainous snowpack at Kirkwood and the architecture in the historic Western town Virginia City.
“That’s what I live for, just driving around and looking at things,” he said.
Technology has distracted society from observation. And ironically, the advent of cell phones has reduced the time people spend talking to each other. Kamanski noticed this at a café in which no one spoke and everyone watched and worked on their phones.
“We can take life where we want to,” Kamanski sings in “Tennessee Hit,” which gives the listener a feeling of floating above the spinning earth.
In his brilliant album, “Derailed,” Kamanski leads a poignant journey reminding us that how we spend our time in life is what’s important.
Related story: Rise up against English sands. Paul Kamanski’s retort to the British Invasion.
The Rock Trio
(Paul Kamanski, Caren Campbell-Kamanski, Joey Harris)
Where: at McP’s Irish Pub, 1107 Orange Avenue, Coronado, CA 92118
When: 2-5 p.m. Sunday, May 28; Sunday, June 11; Sunday, July 9; Sunday, Aug. 13; Sunday, Sept. 3
ABOUT Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.
Crews working on #EchoSummit to replace the 81-year-old bridge on US50 are ahead of schedule! Thank you @CaltransDist3 for this photo. They may be reopening the highway sooner than the planned Oct 2! #SouthLakeTahoe @TahoeRoads @cityofslt http://southtahoenow.com/story/09/23/2020/us-highway-50-echo-summit-project-ahead-schedule