Bonnie "Prince" Billy Finally Explains His "West Palm Beach" Song; Radio-Active Show on Monday

Bonnie "Prince" Billy's seemingly randomly titled song "West Palm Beach" has long been a County Grind fascination. Released in the early '90s as a one-off single under the "Palace Music" moniker, the sleepy, midtempo song is both specific, and not very much so. The four opening lines of the song start out generically Floridian: "I can't get the sand out of my shoes/This being in Florida's done a number on my blues/Just the way the women walk round here/It's plain to see the way the sand and the sea have done a number on me."

Later, the lyrics reveal that the narrator of the song is hanging out in town with his grandmother (unsurprisingl), and possibly holding a torch to a woman with whom he could never actually have a meaningful relationship (unsurprisingly). Any of that could take place anywhere in the state, real or imagined -- so why did Will Oldham (the Prince's real name), a longtime resident of Louisville, Kentucky, pick West Palm Beach, specifically?

Luckily, we now know, definitively, more or less. Oldham, who's been billed unfairly as being press-shy, has graciously done the local media rounds in advance of his Free Florida Tour. In a rare treat over which every music nerd within a 60-mile radius is salivating, Oldham plays two totally free South Florida shows next week: Monday at Radio-Active Records in Fort Lauderdale, and Tuesday at Sweat Records in Miami. 

Anyways, Alex Rendon, a contributor to this blog and newspaper, specifically asked him about the West Palm song, as did I, in an interview over at Beached Miami. Here's what he told Alex about the song, in a full interview you can read at this link

New Times: You seem to have had a connection with our state for a while. Under the Palace Music moniker, you penned a song called "West Palm Beach."

Will Oldham:
One of my earliest memories is doing a straight drive from Louisville to Sarasota. It was my first time ever seeing palm trees. My first impression of Florida was one of complete fantasy and magic. The song "West Palm Beach" in particular was about having specific sets of memories of family and friends in a place where you do not live all the time.

One song I've always wondered about is "West Palm Beach". Did you really have a grandmother there? Why write a song about West Palm Beach, specifically?

My father's side of the family spends time near there, in Delray. It's been a place that we've visited for many years. Each time, when a northerner -- northerner, in relationship to Florida -- goes to Florida for those reasons, especially if it's an annual thing that begins at a young age, each trip you're the same person, but also a vastly different person.

Your relationship to the place goes through these changes with you, and that was the idea of trying to put into a song the intensity of the sporadic relationships. And the sporadic relationships as well with that community of people -- the other people who have sporadic relationships with the place, and also the people who have a permanent relationship with the place.

That's different from when I look around here on my block in Kentucky, where people are used to things staying the same. It's a different mindset when the population is shifting constantly in both big and little ways, and I think it's something a Floridian goes through much more often than a Kentuckian.

Why did you choose West Palm Beach rather than, say, Delray?

Partially that's because West Palm Beach is a little bit bigger. Anyways, I find that the reason of making music and making songs is not to broadcast the specifically personal, but to find some kind of common ground, to either build it or find what already exists. So rather than say, "This is my specific experience," it's more like opening it up to people who might have a shared experience.

Alright, now that that's cleared up, listen to the song below, and hope he'll play it live at one or both of his local dates next week. With about 20 years' worth of material from which to draw, the set should, in any event, be full of pleasant surprises.

Bonnie "Prince" Billy & the Cairo Gang. 8 p.m. Monday, May 30 at Radio-Active Records, 1930B E. Sunrise Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. No cover. Click here.

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Arielle Castillo
Contact: Arielle Castillo