August 09, 2003

Learning Curve

So I have this song called "Oh, just have some faith in me." We've been playing it (trying to play it) for the last couple of years, but could never really get it right at the practices. We tried it live a few times, once I remember at a show in Sacramento and a few times on that last Japan tour: the audience, especially the Japanese, smiled indulgently, politely, but you could tell that the forbearance had taken its ever so slight toll on the welcome that a band is always trying not to overstay. Something was missing, though I continued to maintain, in the face of growing skepticism, that it was a good song and argued quite strenuously for its inclusion on at least the B list of album contenders.

Even though it doesn't particularly lend itself to solo-acoustic accompaniment (it's more a loud, hard rock sort of tune) I tried playing it at one of my solo shows back east awhile back. And, strangely, I was able to get it across that way, even though it was clearly the wrong instrumentation and no doubt sounded, as an objective matter, pretty ridiculous. But I'm not mistaken about that getting it across part: I asked a kid afterwards if he remembered it (yes) and what he thought of it; he said "you're trying to say you're Christ on the cross of love?" (Don't you love how I've somehow acquired a little fan base of weird, smart kids who are kind of like me in that they would say things like that? No? I think I almost do...) Well, he was kidding around, but so am I (kind of) and damn, that's a pretty accurate summary of the song's conceit and the narrator's bathetic pretensions. So I realized it was possible. I didn't want to change it into an acoustic song, though. Part of the whole deal was for it to be "heavy" rock, with choir-esque back up vox and a religious-sounding churchy organ. I wasn't ready to give up on that dream.

Of course, when we practiced it and played it at gigs, none of this choir and pipe organ malarky was there. But that couldn't be why the song never "worked." I don't think I or my demo ever totally communicated the kind of song it was supposed to be. However, once we started working on it in the studio, it turned out to be one of the biggest surprises. Everyone was shocked at how good, how unlike the unacceptable live performances, it turned out. I got the "heavy-ness" I wanted, the choir-y vox, the leslie-speaker organ, (and an amusing-- to me-- "Judy Blue Eyes" harmony at one brief point-- which is off topic, but nevertheless...). That was how it was supposed to sound, and it totally was "working."

So here's the weird thing. We played that song last night in Anaheim for the first time since recording it, and it totally rocked. To my complete and utter surprise. And the audience seemed to "get it." (I doubt they "got" it at the level that the lovable, precocious misfit in Hoboken did. That's the thing about a live rock and roll show: you have to make the audience "feel" how great the song is, because they can't take in the part of the content that would make them "think" how great it is. They have to feel it without necessarily having to understand why. That's one of the biggest challenges to the dubious endeavor of putting singer-songwriter type songs into rock and roll form: the songs have to be constructed so that they work both ways simultaneously. Feel now, think later. And if you're on the low-end of the show business spectrum, as we are, you have the extra task of taking into the account the fact that you're usually going to be playing in places with bad acoustics and minimal PAs. You've got to make the poor circumstances and bad sounds work for you rather than against you, and it's not easy.)

So what had changed? It's not that lily-gilding window dressing production stuff I was talking about. We didn't have any of that stuff, and since our monitors were non-existent, I imagine it sounded pretty primitive, even horrible. I guess it's probably the fact that the recording process provided the means for the band finally to understand the song properly. Otherwise, I can't put my finger on any specific thing that might have changed between playing the song in Japan and playing it in Anaheim. Understanding has to be it.

Posted by Dr. Frank at August 9, 2003 05:54 PM | TrackBack

last night's show was so much fun. certainly the best show ive been to in a while. thanks for the rock n roll, and for signing the coconut.


Posted by: valerie at August 9, 2003 10:04 PM

"Everyone Knows You're Cryin'" and all of the new songs were awesome. The highlight was when you guys played "Ready Set Go". I love the old catalogue of stuff and it's always great to hear those song. I still think "Velveeta", "History of the Soul" and "Book of Revelations" are worth playing live. And again, any label that doesn't want to release another Dr. Frank solo album should stop letting monkeys run the place. Those songs are arguably more popular live than the full band songs.

Posted by: Jonathan London at August 10, 2003 04:30 AM

What a beautiful way to describe the birth of a song into the world. It's such a miraculous thing and so lovely to behold. Thanks for sharing the process with all of us...

Posted by: IdenIT at August 12, 2003 01:40 AM