January 31, 2018

Minor secrets of "So Long, Sucker" revealed

A song for Woden. Happy Wednesday.

This is from a show in Southampton, England, July 8th 1992, where we played in front a few dozen wild, shouting, vibrating teenagers, one of whom happened to have a running camcorder in his hand. It's pretty rough, but so were we, and for all its flaws it's probably the best live video document in existence of that era of MTX.

Lots to tell about that strange and awkwardly miraculous first overseas trip, and I'm sure I'll get around to telling some of it here. I may not do each and every song as I did with the RCKNDY show, but I will extract at least a few to comment on, after which I'll post the whole set. (Aaron already posted it a ways back, but I'm going to dribble it out a bit because people seem to like the commentary and it's fun for me too. Also, I want people to go to my youtube channel and like and subscribe and share and such, so yeah, do that if you care to.)

The rudiments of "So Long, Sucker" go back to my high school pretending-to-be-in-a-band days where it kicked around half-unwritten under various titles. How we came to record a version of it in 1989 for our first release on Lookout Records is a little obscure to me now. When we started playing it out loud as a band, it became clear that the chorus was in the wrong key for me, in that the poorly amplified notes as sung were too low to be heard over the racket of the drums and guitars. This is actually quite a common problem for people who do their songwriting in their bedrooms or in their heads (and also, I believe, why rock vocalists tended to get higher and screechier as the rock got "heavier" in the real show business world in late 60s and beyond -- but that's an argument for another time.)

Anyway, the thing you do in this situation is to start moving the base chord up the neck till you get to the point where your weak vocals stand a chance of being heard in the part you're worried about. And sometimes, unfortunately, the result of doing that is that solving the problem of the chorus simply makes other parts of the song suddenly un-singable. The technical term for this process is Vocal Whack-a-mole. It shows nothing, and is nowhere, and is endless. (Still have un-done songs I "can't find the key for" kicking around... it's not easy being an "unconventional vocalist," though it's better than digging a ditch, I suppose.)

The solution here was simply to change the key for the chorus and then play it that way all the way to the end, replacing the suddenly un-singable third verse with some solos. Not going back to the E from the A on that riff felt and sounded really, really weird the first few times, though it doesn't now. It was a pretty crude solution, and a gimmick you can probably only do once. Not that it matters a great deal what you do, big picture, but you get what I'm saying.

One more minor point. If any listeners have ever noticed that the second verse is a literal quotation of the lyrics of the first half of the bridge of Billy Joel's "Just the Way You Are" they have yet to mention it to me.
Anyways, there you have it. This performance is frenetic which is a technical term meaning "too fast," but it has a certain punk rock ness about it. Probably helps to be extremely drunk while listening, which was how it was in the room. I'll to do another next week. Praise Odin.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:36 PM

January 29, 2018

Minor Secrets of the Mr. T Experience Revealed

In response to requests, I have aggregated and re-edited all the "minor secrets of..." the songs in the Seattle '98 set into one handy post with links and pics.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:16 PM

January 25, 2018

Minor secrets of "I Just Wanna Do It with You" Revealed!!

I've already posted 15 of the 16 songs on this set individually. The remaining one is the set opener, "I Just Wanna Do It with You," and since the tape starts somewhere during the front bit of it, I'm using the occasion to post it with the whole set rather than extract the partial song. Most of it's there. Enough so you get the idea anyhow.

This is another one of those "beloved songs," a simple, arch love song that somehow punches above its weight. So many of my lyrics read like dyspeptic greetings cards, but maybe especially these. "You're the one I want to waste the rest of my whole life with..." "It's not just the Prozac talking..." (Hallmark, if you ever want to get dark, drop me a line.) The thing is, though, who hasn't felt that way? You're wasting your life anyway, why not do it with someone you love and drag each other down?

Many people have been confused by the BART reference. A folk tradition even arose positing a son of mine by that name, who for some reason could not be taken to the residence of the person to whom the song is addressed. This is not true. BART is not a person, but rather an extremely smelly form of public transportation.

I think as originally conceived in my bedroom this song was meant to echo the Beach Boys' "Do It Again" and I had imagined a more measured tempo and a groovier "swingier" feel, maybe some multi-part harmonies, maybe some droning e-bows and a piano doing single eighth notes on the C, maybe even a didgeridoo... Things can get pretty grandiose in my bedroom, then as now.

But of course, for better or worse, I didn't happen to have a didgeridoo, nor did I have a band that did measured tempos and groovy swingy feels and multi-part harmonies; but I did have a band that could do this. And, in fact, this has a lot going for it. The energy is great and apt. And pointing at the audience at the appropriate time (or should that be "inappropriate"?) was fun and people seemed to dig it.

Anyway, there you have it. Minor secrets of IJWDIWY revealed, and a good, unusually clear snapshot of the state of the MTX Starship ca. 1998. That really is pretty much what it looked and sounded like, if not exactly what it felt like.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 12:57 AM

January 22, 2018

Salinger Is Dead. Happy Now?

Pawing through the archives for Monday's post. An essay about The Catcher in the Rye as an icon of conventional rebellion and "angst therapy".

(A version of this self-promoting obituary of J. D. Salinger, if “obituary” means what I think it does, appeared in The Huffington Post on the occasion of J. D. Salinger’s death.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:34 PM

January 20, 2018

Meanwhile, back in the states...

The future of this rickety old blog is a bit uncertain at the moment, though I'd like to keep it going if I can. (I've been doing it for 16 years or so, and it can be a useful reference, a "life catalog" and all that.) But until I sort things out, I can no longer post pictures here, and the behavior of everything is unstable and precariously balanced. Feels like it could come crashing down at any moment.

Anyway, if you're interested in seeing the pictures I would have posted here if I could (and I'd recommend it as they tend to be pretty great) you can go to my minds.com account. I've been posting the liturgical calendar/saints pics there, as well as all those oddities and ephemera, some band pics and such. I've also crossposted most of the posts that do manage to get posted to this blog, when I remember to do it, so if you're inclined that would be a one-stop click to see what might have been here.

Also, I've been cross-posting the more substantial text posts on my Medium.com account, new things plus stuff resurrected. I'm intending to post something of that nature each week on Monday. We'll see how that goes.

I'm not sure if anyone even visits this blog anymore. The days of static, non-social media blogs seems long past. But just in case anyone does, I figured I should explain things.

Onward. Maybe.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 05:32 PM

Minor Secrets of "Here She Comes" revealed!

Praise Odin, a video for Wednesday. (Okay it's Saturday now, but I originally posted this in all the places on Wednesday, in keeping with my alleged new schedule of posting video to my youtube channel each Wednesday, in honor of great Woden and for my own aggrandizement.)

"We blew all our money on dope, guns, and beanie babies..."

Behold my mesmerizing stage presence, ladies and gentleman. And I've learned nothing in 20 years, clearly.

"Here She Comes" is one of those songs where the Tin Pan Alley / Noel Coward approach to the lyrics actually clicks; the preposterous, yet (or hence) excellent, rhymes work almost in spite of themselves. Plus, I'll always love "je ne sais quoi like you wouldn't believe." And that ayes/eyes nos/nose stuff... well, ya gotta amuse yourself first and foremost, if you wanna dance alone. Maybe folks don't dig it because of that stuff, maybe it's just because it's "peppy" or whatever, but they do seem to dig it.

This was always going to be the lead=off track for Revenge Is Sweet... from the beginning, and though my original plan to give it a "new wave" Attractions-ish tinge with a subtle Farfisa stab and drone on the 7th during the intro parts and bridge never materialized it came out pretty much as intended otherwise. (The CD version was way over-compressed, though, something I'd really like to change if a re-issue ever materializes.)

But production and technical details that you fret about so much in the moment tend to fall away over time (unless they're notably great or memorably terrible) leaving only the song, somehow, in the end. A solid song can transcend just about any error of judgment, or lousy drum track, or sacrifice of dynamics for loudness, or terrible vocalist.

You just gotta give it twenty years or so. This, at least, I have learned.

(This is the 15th posted of the 16 songs in that set... stay tuned for the final one and entire set next Woden's Day if I live that long.)

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:32 PM

January 17, 2018

Die Vegas

I have told this story before, but here I am telling it again, on Medium as posting here is increasingly unpredictable if not untenable.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:56 PM

January 11, 2018

Clearer than the Teardrop in My Eye...

Are they really shouting "oi" during "You're the Only One"? It sounds like it. Though it's meant to be an acoustic song, dragging out an acoustic guitar is often impractical and I used to do it this way, turning the volume on the guitar to around 4 till the heavy rock kicks in. (I still do it this way.)

In my experience, the crowd response to such quiet interludes (and to any kind of dynamic pacing, really) can go either way, that is, they dig it for its own sake or they're put off by any hint of "diversity". Slow, acoustic, quiet, etc: not "punk". And ya gotta be: "punk." Maybe the punk can be restored by chanting "oi oi oi" during it, which is always worth a try. (And, as I've said before, the first solo acoustic tunes to appear on an MTX record -- "Even Hitler..." and "Will You Still Love Me?" -- were greeted with shock, horror, and cries of "sell out" in some quarters: "like Dylan goes electric in reverse," as one pretty famous guy once put it.)
Among those not super concerned with punk policing, though, this song has always been rather beloved, often requested, quoted in yearbooks, etc.

There was one show (at Coney Island High in New York, I think, '96-ish) where this great big fat drunk galunk in the crowd had been throwing his weight around, so to speak, for most of the set, knocking over the littler people and just basically being an obnoxious jerk while stopping just short of doing anything so particularly egregious as to get himself kicked out. This was a common thing at such shows and still can be even now that everyone's all old. By the time it came to "You're the Only One", though, he finally went too far and trampled his way to the front of the stage, knocking over the mic and interrupting the song. Well, it's a short song, and it didn't seem worth resuming it, so I said something like "well, anyway.." and got ready to move on to the next song. Then I got to see a 280 pound guy beat up and stomped into the ground by around a dozen little girls, who then insisted the song be played from the beginning. Now that's my kinda security detail. I love my people: you can only push them so far.

About "I Fell for You," I've recently revealed minor secrets in a previous post:

Anyhow this is the thirteenth and fourteenth out of sixteen songs on that set. I'll post penultimate one next week, God willing.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 04:36 PM

January 06, 2018

Addendum to that Clash Story

A guy who had seen a 1980 show in NYC commented on the original essay posted on Medium.

Here is the one and only unique thing I remember that everybody else seems to have forgotten or not noticed. During opening act Mikey Dread’s last number four guys wearing bandannas across their faces came out and danced behind Mikey. It was the Clash!

You can read my response if you like at the link above but basically this jogged my memory because I was at one of the San Francisco dates on that subsequent tour, and I definitely remember that skankin bandana routine.

This is that show.

And quoting myself:

It simply blows my mind to learn that it was only five months after that epic first time at Kezar. I suppose the months really count when you’re fifteen, but so so so much had changed in my world between those two shows and if I hadn’t looked it up I’d have sworn it was much much later. The shows were very different too, this one being in a proper theater rather than a jerry-rigged roller derby venue. I’m sure that’s one reason the sound was so awful.

I managed to see the Clash twice more, once at the Oakland Coliseum opening for the Who on the “It’s Hard” tour (which I wrote about briefly here) and finally on the ill-fated Cut the Crap tour, which was operatically tragic and which I may type up at some point in the future.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:17 PM

January 05, 2018

Donald Trump, Judy Blume, and Me

Pawing through the archives, I came across this old post documenting my unlikely participation in a star-studded televised awards show banquet. The most significant part was meeting the delightful Judy Blume for the first time (and our risqué banter that nowadays would probably get either or both of us twitch-hunted and fired if either of us had proper jobs.)

But it also contains a Trump anecdote, the only one I've got.

He was a fellow nominee and also a presenter with his co-author of some book on finance or real estate or somesuch. As I recall it, the story was that he was upset about his table location, and he expressed his dissatisfaction by refusing to read his part of the contrived dialogue on the teleprompter, leaving the co-presenter, who could barely speak English, to try to read both parts. To surreal effect. Trump just stood there with his arms folded, surveying the crowd imperiously. At the time, I thought he resembled Mussolini, and I drunkenly muttered "Mussolini" to Judy Blume, who squeezed my arm and whispered something I cannot at the moment recall because I don't want it read into the record at any future trial that may materialize. The awkwardness was interminable, all the way up till it was terminated, amidst a whole lot of "rhubarbing" from the assembly, by Anderson Cooper rushing in and saying "let's give 'em a big hand" and moving things along.

I was going to say I'd forgotten said anecdote till pawing through its archive reminded me, but that's not really true. It was firmly in my memory. The thing I'd managed to forget was that the Mussolini of the Quill Awards and the current President of the United States are the same guy; I simply didn't connect the two till I thought about it. But, they obviously are. The same guy, I mean.

As a final note, I got ridiculously drunk on the banquet wine that night and we're all lucky nothing bad happened.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 03:14 PM

January 04, 2018

My Dad, the Clash, and Me

In October of 1979, this guy Mike and I made a pilgrimage to see the Clash at Kezar Pavilion in Golden Gate Park. I had just turned fifteen, and I had thought of myself as “punk,” sort of, for at least a couple of years, though I had rarely left my room during that time. I was always more of a Ramones guy than a Clash guy, but I had followed the Clash’s career from the comfort of my bedroom with considerable interest. They were “the only band that matters,” the “darlings of the punk rock scene” according to the San Francisco Chronicle, the nightly news, and Time Magazine. “The best live band in the history of mankind,” a college radio DJ had said. I had to check this out. Getting to San Francisco would take some doing. But we bought our eight dollar advance tickets at the record store, told our parents some story, and took the bus (a twenty mile, two hour journey) with no plan of how to get back afterwards.

We got off the final bus at the end of Haight and rushed past the McDonalds to the venue. The place was crawling with hippies, a familiar sight. Besides the hippies there were: New York Dolls types with long scarves and make-up. Guys in pin-laden leather jackets, mullet hair-dos, loosely-knotted ties over T-shirts, and bleached blonde girlfriends wearing vinyl or what looked like trash bags. Here, a pocket of people who might have stepped off the set of a John Waters film; there, the cast of The Rocky Horror Show. Lots of thrift-store sports jackets, Beatle boots, wrap-around sunglasses. And a large number of rather similar guys, each of whom appeared to think he was “the Fonz.” Seriously. There was some kind of Gary Marshall/Mel’s Drive-in/Laverne and Shirley trip going on at the Clash show. A punk rock sock hop — this is what we fought the revolution for?

Evidently. The first band, The Rubber City Rebels, was basically two Fonzies, a Potsie, and a Squiggy. You could smell the Brylcreem from across the room. I enjoyed them anyway.

Next up, the Dead Kennedys: no Fonzies there. They had this quite popular song, “California uber Alles,” a zany, Mad Magazine-style satire which used Nazi imagery to portray Governor Jerry Brown as a mellow, crunchy granola Hitler. The crowd got into the spirit of the thing, doing a Hogan’s Heroes salute-‘n’-goosestep sort of dance. The band dropped it down, and the singer, one Jello Biafra, delivered a stern lecture: “you people,” he said bitterly, “are exactly what this song is fighting about.” Hell yeah. Wait, hang on: was he saying there really were a bunch of ominously laid-back Zen fascists at Kezar Pavilion who have come for our uncool niece? Was he serious? (Turns out, he kind of was…) He jumped into the crowd. His clothes were ripped to shreds, and he finished the set naked. An important message, and an unforgettable performance.

The Cramps sounded sludgy and burbling just like their records, but I was getting impatient. They were great, but there was only one band that mattered, and it wasn’t them.

Then, at last, the “darlings of punk” were upon us.

Now, the Mick Jones on the poster in my room looked a lot like Keith Richard. In Creem magazine they had to label pictures of him as Mick Jones (Clash) to distinguish him from Mick Jones (Foreigner/Spooky Tooth) because of their broadly similar hairstyles. Subsequently, though, the Clash had entered their Gene Vincent phase and Mick was suddenly all Sun Studios and greased back, so the first thing I thought when I saw him was: Woah! Sit on it, Malph!

“This ain’t no Lou Reed show,” said Joe Strummer, helpfully. Later on, he announced that he wasn’t Freddy Mercury, either. Well, obviously: Freddy Mercury would have done “Be Bop a Lula” slightly differently I’m sure. Then, he assured us he was also not Paul Anka. Perhaps his true identity would soon be revealed by a simple process of elimination.

The subsequent stage banter was notable for making even less sense than that of Biafra. It was kind of like street poetry. “We just flew in! Gotta make some change! These problems over here — ya hear the knock knock knockin’…” Stuff like that. Hard to follow, but somehow, one felt, it must refer on some level to some unspecified yet vastly important thing.

And what did it sound like when the important talking stopped? It is hard to describe. Imagine around a dozen simultaneous waves of piercing feedback, like sirens, echoing painfully through a high school gymnasium. For about an hour. I’ve read that this particular show was notable for featuring a slew of as yet unreleased London Calling songs, but I can’t fathom how anyone could have grasped that. In fact, the challenge was always to figure out which song they might have been playing underneath all the feedback at any given point. “Guns on the Roof,” or “Clash City Rockers”? Hard to say. Definitely one of the “Can’t Explain” tunes. Hey, I think I just lip-read “the bells of Gary Glitter!” “Clash City Rockers” it is! In other words: it sounded like the greatest band in the history of mankind, the only one that mattered. And I am totally serious about that. Best show ever.

Now it turns out my dad had figured out our Clash plan. He was waiting for us outside in the rain afterward, which was a good thing because the buses had stopped running and, as I’ve mentioned, we hadn’t thought to come up with a getting home plan. Mike and I sheepishly climbed into his pick-up.
Not only had he come to pick us up, but he had actually entered the venue to lurk in the back, taking in the whole show. (A fact he was later to mention frequently when “young people” were around: “ever tell you about the time I saw the Clash and the Cramps at Kezar, must have been, oh, ’79…” Kind of like what I’m doing now, really.)

Anyway, my dad had liked the Clash. “They were like the fifties, when I was a kid,” he said. Tell me about it, Fonz, I thought. “But what,” he asked, “does that angry naked guy have against John and Bobby Kennedy, Jerry Brown, and clothing?” He revered the Kennedys, and had gone to high school with Jerry Brown. And he always wore clothes. Always. “Are they Republicans?”

“Maybe” I said. “They’re on Dr. Demento.”

My dad shook his head. Being on Dr. Demento didn’t cut much ice with him when it came to naked Republican anti-Jerry Brown JFK-haters.

As we got on the highway, he looked at my armful of “concert stuff”: my bootlegged “Give ’em Enough Rope” shirt and poster, DKs pin, a Maoist flier, Baader-Meinhoff handbill, and The Revolutionary Worker. “Communists traditionally have focused their recruitment efforts on young, bright, alienated loners” he said, more to himself than anybody.

The road curved ahead in the rain like a glowing, shiny question mark.

[I am often asked to tell this story, and I don’t always do it well off the cuff, but this essay does it fairly well, so when I stumbled on the .doc file it seemed like posting it was the thing to do, if only so I can link to it when the subject comes up. A much less wordy version of it was published in the August 2006 issue of SPIN. Crossposted on Medium, with a couple of images, as well.]

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:30 PM

Yet More Minor Secrets of "...and I Will Be with You" Revealed!

Here's yet another song from that 11/13/98 show, making twelve out of fifteen songs now posted.

I already did a "minor secrets of" write-up about "... and I Will Be with You" when I recently posted the music video and I don't have too much to add in way of minor secrets, except:

This was one of the few songs from that era that came "music first," that is, we had the basic guitar figure and structure and were fooling around with it for a stretch before I decided it what it was going to be about and stuck in lyrics to that effect. Usually I come up with the song (and the music and lyrics develop together "organically" on the couch) and present it to the band, saying, okay guys, do your worst. Before the lyric-sticking happened, we had been playing it at sound checks, and the title we knew it by was "A Rat on a Bun" -- sung like a-rat, a-on, a bun -- because the T shirt I was wearing when I introduced it had that phrase and a picture of a girl with a rat in a hot dog bun. (Don't ask, no idea.) The name stuck. So that's why the set lists of that era always list the song as "RAT." If you were wondering about that, now you know.

When Chris Appelgren and I did the layout of the lyric sheet for Revenge Is Sweet, we did it in prose form rather than as verse, as though each song were a chapter of a little novel that happened to rhyme and scan, and I always got a kick of how that looked with the bridge here: Going all the way, kid. No need to fake it. Half-drunk. Half-naked. Half-awake'll make it all right.

And you know, this album is a bit novel-y as much as it's anything. Eat your heart out, Mr. Bukowski.

Posted by Dr. Frank at 09:27 PM