Blood of a Poet
Director/Cinematographer/Editor: Jason Cox
Producer: Scott Zuniga
Writer/Vocals/Guitar/Synthesizer: Scott Zuniga
Vocals: Emilie Zuniga
Violin: Maurice Chammah
Bass: Christopher Cox
Drums/Percussion: Wayne Salzmann II
Engineers: Brad Bell, Grant Johnson
Notes and production stills by Jason Cox:
“Blood of a Poet” is a song that takes place in those empty stretches of Americana where a man’s choices used to be dictated by, I dunno, his own gumption, his own satisfaction found in picking a point on the horizon and wondering what lay beyond. But now it’s a country where those choices are driven by desperation, need and winnowing opportunity; the desperation of slim chance that all too often leads to a rock and a very hard place.
Scott is a terrific songwriter, a natural talent, and when he presented me with his darkest and most folk-sounding, Johnny Cash-guitar-driven-like-a-freight-train-song, and asked me to film its story, it created a necessary moment for me. I had just left my own film community behind in a move to Iowa and was in a new state away from my own creative collaborative network, and to be honest, was feeling a little stuck, stranded and isolated without it. Not a good recipe for inspiration. I needed clarity to properly tell this song's visual story, and to find clarity, I needed to surrender to the twitch in my leg and hit the open road, armed with a little nicotine and bourbon if need be.
I laid out my plan to Christopher Wayne Grim, ultimately the video's protagonist (or antagonist, depending how you view it), and he agreed to ride co-pilot in a moment's notice. The next day we packed our bags, loaded our gear and were gone. Direction: Austin, TX.
Highway 169 from Story County, Iowa to Oklahoma City was our main road into Austin. It’s an old two-lane highway that cuts through the heartland of an America now lost to memory. It’s the sort of road that your grandparents took from here to there, a place that most of us only see by accident when we miss an exit. Chris and I knew this, so we decided to wander.
There I was spitballing ideas with my friend, drinking, smoking and driving with long stretches of open road known only to me second-hand through the minstrels of middle America; Woody Guthrie, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Filled with the type of characters I was only introduced to by Jack Kerouac and John Steinbeck.
These truly American images were too good to miss. The camera soon came out and my story began to reveal itself.
We passed through Winterset, Iowa where John Wayne was born and raised. Then St. Joseph, Missouri and the house where Jesse James was assassinated by Robert Ford, and Kansas City, Missouri, with its BBQ and Jazz.
We came upon a small ghost town outside of Coffeyville, Kansas, where Justin, a venerable old man, spends his days keeping up the fences of the forgotten town for himself and one other resident.
Coffeyville itself is where the Dalton Gang were notoriously gunned down by the townsfolk while trying to rob two banks in a row. This was also the town of a man named Rat who wanted Chris and me to follow him to a farm house outside of town so we could jam with him and his pals; he’d supply the booze and drugs. Tempting just on a purely adventurous notion, but we both kind of worried that Coffeyville might be where our trail went cold and no one hears from us again. We continued on.
We filmed just outside of Oklahoma City where a rusted steel bridge crossed historic Route 66. We made it just in time to see the magic hour light over Lake Overholster cast by a perfect sunset to our backs. We broke into the cemetery that housed the graves of Clyde and Buck Barrow, just outside of Dallas, Texas and visited the Clyde family filling station as well as the more public grave of one Ms. Bonnie Parker.
Then we rolled into Austin, TX where Scott greeted us with tacos and giant donuts. I've learned this is a normal greeting in Austin.
We spent the next couple of days catching up as old friends and storyboarding the sequences that had amalgamated in my head with each stop along the road. Soon we were filming scenes.
In the end it was the journey that helped create the music video for “Blood of a Poet." There was something about all that open country and what laid beyond that influenced the final version of the video, a video about redemption and the price it costs. As we rolled through these wide-open swaths of the American underbelly and saw its man-made landmarks it came clear that life hasn’t changed much since our country's early days. Desperate people did desperate things in small dark places just as they do when lit by big city lights. People try to keep order around them like our fence mending pal in Coffeyville, as well as give way to the kind of self-decay and riot that presented itself with Rat. We shot and we shot, some scenes made it into the video's final cut and some didn’t. We let the journey dictate our story and bring “Blood of a Poet” to life.