‘Everywhere Is Out of Town’ is written by the American poet Kevin Young, the director of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of African American History and Culture. Young is the author of 11 books. He was one of the finalists of the National Book Award of 2003. This poem features Young’s love for the J.B.’s, a popular American rock band. He beautifully draws readers’ attention to the mind-boggling performances by the band.
party. Five black cats
& a white boy. Chitlin
circuit. Gravy-colored suits,
preacher stripes. Didn’t
know you could buy
muttonchops these days.
Afros. Horns slung
round necks like giant
ladles. Dressing. Uptempo
blessing: Good God
(…)First stanza of Everywhere Is Out of Town by Kevin Young. Read the full poem here.
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‘Everywhere Is Out of Town’ by Kevin Young describes one of “The J.B.’s” performances and the reaction of the audience.
This piece begins with a description of the band members and how they dress. Their main attraction Fred Wesley and James Brown, the founding members of the band, slung their instruments round their necks. Then the snow began. The speaker of this piece records the reactions of the audience during the show. It seemed as if it was holy communion. Everyone became so mesmerized that they wished that it never ended. When it ended, fair ladies had tears of happiness in their eyes. In the last few lines, the speaker nostalgic of those days when they used to enjoy the band’s show.
Young’s poem ‘Everywhere Is Out of Town’ is written in free verse. It consists of five stanzas. In each stanza, there are uneven sets of lines. The short and crisp lines echo the rhythm of the band. There are several end-stopped lines that are interspersed throughout the piece. Though there is no specific rhyme scheme, it consists of a few internal rhymings. Young uses repetition of sounds for creating a rhyming effect. Besides, it is told from the perspective of a first-person speaker. So, it is an example of a lyric poem.
There are a number of literary devices that include but are not limited to the following items:
- Enjambment: It occurs throughout this piece. Young uses this device within the stanzas and at the end to connect the neighboring lines.
- Metaphor: Young metaphorically describes the band as “Five black cats/ & a white boy”. He compares their long wait for the show to “Communion breath”.
- Imagery: This device is used in order to portray how the show is staged and the r reactions of the audience. Besides, there are a few images related to meats that bring in the raw beauty of a live performance.
- Alliteration: It occurs in “Good God”, “before the band”, “lets loose”, “Pass the Peas”, etc.
party. Five black cats
ladles. Dressing. Uptempo
blessing: Good God
The first stanza of ‘Everywhere Is Out of Town’ begins with a reference to the place where The J.B.’s are going to perform. It is located somewhere in Beanville, Michigan. During the 1990s, The Job Horns intermittently toured across the country and performed their famous pieces. Young’s speaker talks about one of those shows.
According to him, it was like a “tea party” of the old fans. He metaphorically describes the band members as “Five black cats” and a “white boy”. It is a reference to James Brown, Bobby Byrd, Lyn Collins, Vicki Anderson, Sweet Charles Sherrell, and Lee Austin. They were dressed in dark-brown suits containing stripes like a preacher’s garment.
In the following lines, he uses a metaphor of “muttonchops” in order to compare them with the artists. He compares the taste of this food item to their performance. A few of them had afros hairstyle. The horns slung around their necks like big ladles. Here, the poet uses a simile.
He uses vivid imagery to paint the picture of the artists in readers’ minds. After describing their appearance on the stage, he talks about the reaction of the audience in the following lines. The last lines of this stanza mark the beginning of their uptempo beat.
everywhere! We bow our
heads before the band
like the crazy lady at church
six scotches later. Communion
After reading the first two lines, it seems the audience revered them as Gods. When the show begins, they bow their heads in reverence to their talent. The speaker ironically remarks on his inability to remember the name of the drummer by using a simile. He compares his name to a “hymn’s third verse”.
The band not only has young audiences but they are also loved by older women. During the show, they push toward the front to have a glimpse of their youth icons. In this section, Young uses several religious metaphors in order to portray how the band was revered.
According to his speech, a glimpse of the J.B.’S was like having a vision of the holy spirits. The audience felt intoxicated while they listened to them.
breath. Hands waving. Sweaty
water. Play it. Swing
During the play, everyone breathed like they were attending communion. Young uses the imagery of waving hands and sweaty faces to draw readers’ attention to the impression of the performance on the audience.
After the show was over, the stage was cleared. The speaker could see a few white girls crying. It felt like they were suicidal. Their faces reflected the happiness of a newly baptized person. Tears trickled down their eyes. They wished the show to never stop. From the audience, the shout came, “Play it. Swing it.”
In this way, Young gives an exact description of the show of the J.B.’s. After reading these lines, readers are mentally transferred to the place where the show was staged.
it. Be suggestive. Request
Thanksgiving’s back in town
In this stanza, the speaker says that he knows what the audience was going to request. He attended so many shows that now it has become easy to guess what the audience likes to listen to, including him.
He refers to two terms “Chicken” and “Pass the Peas”. Chicken is the stage name of Clayton Gunnells, one of the horn players. “Pass the Peas” is a funk instrumental by The J.B.’s. So, the audience requested one solo performance from the horn player “Chicken” and the instrumental “Pass the Peas” from the band.
In the following line “like we used to say”, the tone is nostalgic. There is oneness among them. During their performance, racial distance faded. Everyone represented a singular identity and the band connected them into the same thread. Young’s speaker finally remarks that they should have mercy on them.
& we’re all crammed in the club white
drumsticks, neck. Dark meat.
The first line of this section is enjambed with the previous section. In the penultimate stanza, the speaker refers to thanksgiving after the show was over. Then they all crammed into the clubhouse. By using a simile, he describes the white walls of the club as “the walls of a church basement”. It means there was religious sentiment everywhere regarding the band. The band was a thing that they praised and revered.
Their feet were impatient as forks to have the leftovers of their gods. It costs only ten bucks a plate. Finally, they got a chance to have thighs, drumsticks, necks, and dark meat. All these references bring in a sense of rawness into the text.
The poem ‘Everywhere Is Out of Town’ was first published on April 15, 1993, in the Agni 37 issue. Young dedicated this piece to Maceo Parker and the JB Horns. Maceo Parker was a former Brown sideman. He left the band in 1975. The original JB Horns were formed in March 1970 with the initial lineup including bassist William “Bootsy” Collins, guitarist Phelps “Catfish” Collins, organist Bobby Byrd, drummer John “Jabo” Starks, three inexperienced horn players, Clayton “Chicken” Gunnells, Darryl “Hassan” Jamison, and Robert McCollough; and conga player Johnny Griggs. In 2015, they were nominated for induction into the Roxn and Roll Hall of Fame.
Kevin Young’s poem ‘Everywhere Is Out of Town’ first appeared in the literary journal Agni’s 37th issue of the Boston University. It was published on April 15, 1993.
The poem ‘Everywhere Is Out of Town’ is all about the rock band JB Horns’ performance and how they mesmerized the audience during their show. In this poem, the speaker records how the show began and its pious impression on the audience’s minds.
The J.B.’s was the name of James Brown’s band. It was also known as the JB Horns. The band was active from the 1970s to the 1990s. In 2015, they were nominated for induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Through this piece, Kevin Young alludes to the rock band JB Horns.
This poem taps on the themes of rock music, nostalgia, love for music, and devotion.
Readers who have enjoyed reading ‘Everywhere Is Out of Town’ by Kevin Young, can also find the following poems interesting.
- ‘Man Listening to Disc’ by Billy Collins – This piece captures the feelings of a speaker while he listens to jazz music. Explore more Billy Collins’ poems.
- ‘The Weary Blues’ by Langston Hughes – This poem describes the performance of a blues musician playing in a club on Lenox Avenue in Harlem. Read more Langston Hughes’ poems.
- ‘Awake’ by Jim Morrison – Morrison was the frontman for the band The Doors and in this poem, he writes about music.
- ‘Blues for Almost Forgotten Music’ by Roxanne Beth Johnson – In this piece, Johnson remembers music as a metaphor for looking back over parts of a relationship.