The Long Winters — Cinnamon

by Paul McDermott

A short post on ‘Cinnamon’ by The Long Winters with input from John Roderick (singer/songwriter) and Ken Stringfellow of The Posies (one of the song’s producers).

The Long Winters — ‘Cinnamon’

The other morning Spotify threw up ‘Cinnamon’ by The Long Winters. It’s one of my favourites, and I hadn’t heard it in years. It’s one of those songs that lodges a smile on my face and that was it, for the rest of the day I was going around singing the line:

The Long Winters, a Seattle-based band, have released three albums on Barsuk Records: The Worst You Can Do Is Harm [2001]; When I Pretend to Fall [2003] and Putting the Days to Bed [2006]. If literate power pop is your bag then there’s a whole lot to love on these records.

The Long Winters: The Worst You Can Do Is Harm [2001]; When I Pretend to Fall [2003] and Putting the Days to Bed [2006]. Images from Discogs.

‘Cinnamon’ is taken from When I Pretend to Fall. I interviewed John Roderick, the band’s singer/songwriter, for Dublin City FM around the time of Putting the Days to Bed and he was happy to talk about the background to the song.

“The song ‘Cinnamon’ is actually set in Europe, it’s an example of a story song where the story was really self evident to me as I was writing the song. I thought it was going to be completely obvious to the listener and then I discovered from talking to people that no one had any idea what the story was actually. That was very confusing to me and a lesson in how oblique my songwriting is I guess in a sense.”

Image from Discogs.

“‘Cinnamon’ is a love story set in a Red Brigade, Baader Meinhof gang, 70s or 80s-era Europe, where the two protagonists of the story are these revolutionary anarchists. Their gang hideout is being closed in upon by Interpol. There’s an explosion and the girl gets away. The guy is captured and they’re pressing him for information about her, but he won’t give her up all he’ll say is that her skin is like cinnamon.”

I started laughing and told John that I hadn’t picked up on this story line, he laughed with me and said, “No one does, somehow I failed to mention either the Baader Meinhof gang or the 80s or an explosion even, it’s all sort of encoded.”

Image from Discogs.

Ken Stringfellow of The Posies was one of a number of producers that worked on When I Pretend to Fall. Back in 2005 when Ken was in Dublin to play a gig in support of The Posies’ Every Kind of Light album I took the opportunity to ask him about his work on When I Pretend to Fall.

“The production went through several stages, where Chris Walla from Death Cab For Cutie was producing it and then the session kinda ran over and they hadn’t gotten that far. They’d gotten far, but not far enough to call it a record yet and then Chris had to go somewhere else. Then I came in and sort of took over and got it to the point where I was starting to mix stuff, and then I had to go. Then Kip Beelman, who engineered the record, finished up all the mixing. At one point Kip had me redo a bass line when I came into town for one day. It’s a great record. John Roderick, the brains behind the outfit, it’s kinda his thing and he’s a great lyricist, he really is.”

“I produced a lot of the ‘Cinnamon’ session and I play bass on it. That’s the bass line I redid for Kip in fact. Peter Buck comes in for a bit of mandolin on there. There’s all sorts of people on that song. It’s a great Hemmingway like tale.”

John Roderick performing ‘Cinnamon’ live in the KEXP studio as part of Barsuk’s 15th anniversary. Recorded November 7, 2013.

John Roderick ultimately thinks that people respond to the song because of the love story at its centre:

“I think the reason why it’s definitely one of the most popular songs off that record and the reason people respond to it is that I focused on the relationship between the two people — the man and the woman. I tried to tell the story as if it was a film, like when you go to see a film and the movie starts already into the plot and there’s no explication, you’re just left to learn about it as it goes, [laughing] I kinda used that technique, but it’s not a film, it’s a song. [Laughing] I always wanted to film a music video for it that laid the story out. The reason the song works is that it explores those issues of loyalty and love and faith in one another, that it almost doesn’t matter what the story is, as long as the emotions are real.”

So that’s it, ‘Cinnamon’ by The Long Winters — one of the greatest songs to come out of the Pacific Northwest, by one of the region’s greatest songwriters and easily one of my all time favourite tunes.

The Long Winters performing ‘Cinnamon’ live at Little London Plane during Upstream Music Fest. Recorded May 12, 2017.

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