Gustavo by Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle

Mark Kozelek has steadily released a handful of brilliant songs on most of his albums, ever since the Red House Painters’ 1992 sad sack, slo-core debut Down Colorful Hill. His songs are usually coloured by his own nylon string or electric guitar work, but on 2013’s Perils From The Sea, he leaves the musical arrangements entirely to Jimmy LaValle. LaValle, from The Album Leaf, provides synthesised backing that meshes nicely with Kozelek’s warm creak, and provides a welcome change of context.

On his records in the second decade of the 21st century, Kozelek’s moved away from traditional song-writing to a stream-of-consciousness narrative that’s engaging, even if he’s possibly worn out the gimmick on subsequent albums. But his story-telling on ‘Gustavo’ is excellent, the tale of his relationship with his illegal Mexican immigrant builder. I have no idea if the story is fact or fiction, but the tension between Kozelek’s pride in his new home and his regrets about Gustavo makes for compelling listening.

Favourite line:

My house ain’t done, but it’s alright
Floors ain’t level, but I ain’t some suburban
Who cares about bathroom tiles
Straight lines and building codes and Chinese wind chimes

I wrote a check and I bought an old house
I got a TV and a worn out couch
Hired a guy named Gustavo and his friends to fix it up from the foundation.
Oh god those mother fuckers drove me nuts
With their electrical saws and mariachi music,
But they really stepped it up man, and put their backs into it.
But they lived pretty far away
They wanted to stay for a couple of months
Till the work got done and I said sure,
Made ’em a key and got ’em a microwave.

Gustavo was an illegal immigrant,
He took the money that I gave him and he went and spent it
On strippers and casinos and every once in a while with them I’d go.
It gets boring out in the mountains, you know. Chopping wood, falling asleep to the TV snow,
Making ground beef tacos on the top of a pot bellied stove.
Eating noodles from a Styrofoam cup,
Waiting for a ride that never shows up.
Walking into town, browsing the windows. Riffles, looking at ammo,
At night when everything’s closed with my wet boots and in my winter clothes.

One night they were headed for tahoe,
They asked me along but I said fuck no,
‘Cause I was tired and my money was tight,
And they just laughed and said all right.
And on the way back they got stopped by a redneck sunnyside highway cop,
Gustavo was drunk and had an ounce of pot and spent the night on a jailhouse cot.
They deported him back to Mexico.
He called me collect from a Tijuana pay phone.
Asking man, could you wire me money? 2500 for a border coyote
He needed work and he missed his family.
But I hung up and said I’m sorry.
But I hung up and I felt uneasy.
I hung up and my heart was heavy.
I hung up and my back was aching.
Picking up the work they’d left in front of me.
The demoed walls and the pulled up floors.
The busted up cabinets and the broken drawers.
The kitchen sink was laying in the back yard.
And I looked down and my hands were trembling.
And I looked up and my roof was leaking.

Now I still sleep on my beat up old couch in the living room of my unfinished house.
I got a licensed contractor, but he quit cause his wife was dying of cancer.
But what the hell, I’m just here trying to find answers.
To find peace of mind to get a piece of the rock.
A place to put my mental clock and my old guitars and gently rock
Back and forth in my front porch chair without a worry without a care.
I’m doing all right but I’m still not there.
My house ain’t done, but it’s all right.
Floors ain’t level but I ain’t some suburban
Who cares about bathroom tiles, straight lines and building codes and Chinese wind chimes.
My house ain’t done, but it’s fine.
Come out here from time to time,
In December for the snow, and in July to watch the roses.
My gardener asks had I seen Gustavo I just laughed and I said fuck no.
Not since that night he left,
His hair combed back, headed for Tahoe.
My girlfriend asked had I heard from that guy from Mexico,
I said you mean Gustavo?
And I just laughed and I said no, not since he called from the Tijuana pay phone.
Really I don’t give much thought to Gustavo.
I love to go out to the mountains, though.
And in the fall feel the breeze blow.
And in the winter, watch the falling snow.
And in the spring love the rainbows.
And in the summer smell the roses, white and red and yellow.


  1. That’s a great track. Kozelek is truly brilliant at times… maybe most of the time.

    Im not familiar with this one… though admittedly I haven’t listened to anything of his since Among The Leaves.

    • I think he has a few brilliant tracks on most of his albums.

      I haven’t kept up with the last few – I feel like he’s almost gone into self-parody mode with the songs that are like diary entries. It works pretty well on this track and on most of Benji though.

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