Paul Thorn at the Ark
lived a colorful life that at one point involved six rounds in the boxing ring with Roberto Duran on national television. From that experience he harvested a great song, "I'd Rather Be a Hammer (Than a Nail)." A stint working in a chair factory brought him into contact with various other characters of the Southern streets, and he chronicled their stories in song as well. He was discovered by Miles Copeland, brother of Stewart Copeland of the Police, and he attended his first concert when he opened for Sting in front of 13,000 people in Nashville.
The songs Thorn accumulated were by and large pretty funny, and he can easily play to urban crowds like those at the Ark, where he appears Friday, June 17, with cleverly satirical portraits of Southern culture. In "800 Pound Jesus" Thorn tells a tall tale of a suicide attempt cut short when the titular eight-foot-tall, rebar-and-concrete "rock of ages on our gravel road" catches the depressed victim in his arms when he leaps from a tree; the grateful narrator repays the favor by buying the statue "a flock of ceramic sheep."
Thorn has said that growing up in church was good training for a musical career because it taught him how to work a crowd. There's more than a little of the church service in Thorn's shows, with upbeat rhythms drawn from black gospel music and well-controlled interaction that takes the audience just a bit outside of its comfort zone. "How many of you are here with someone you're in a relationship with?" Thorn asked an Ark crowd one time before announcing grimly that statistically half of those relationships wouldn't last.