No One Could: If you're with me, you will leave me. If you love me, you're a liar. If you meet me, you'll avoid me. If you see me, you'll go blind. Chorus: I'm alone. No one loves me, no one could. I'm so ugly, you must hate me. You must trick me with your eyes. If I trust you, you'll betray me when you tell me it's all right. Chorus. I was choking on the promise, I'm afraid of love. I'm afraid of loving you. If you kiss me, you control me. If you hold me why, why, why, oh why? If you need me, you don't know me. If you want me, it'll die. Chorus.
Dollface: Dollface likes me all tied up, she likes to make me sweat. She plays her game of chess, and I can't beat her yet. Dollface knows that she's in charge, she knows I cannot swim. Puts me on her diving board, makes me jump right in. Dollface has a little house which has a blackened wall, which has a little window so I might look right through. Dollface hides herself inside, but I can't tell you why. She takes her boyfriend in --can't look him in the eye. And when I ask her why, Dollface likes to tell a lie. Dollface likes me all tied up, I never see her crying. She says, "Take a moment to eat those words, swallow your pride, and choke to death." Dollface likes me all tied up, but I can hear her screaming. CH: Dollface, Dollface, set me free. Take off your mask and look at me. Dollface has a little heart that hides inside her breast. Dollface has a china mask that covers all the rest. Deep inside her little heart, there lies a dormant seed. Dollface starves herself to death --she can't take what she needs. Dollface has a little dream inside her hidden mind. She ties it up like me, and it gets left behind. But she runs 'round in circles, and so it comes again. Dreaming makes her vulnerable like paper in the wind. Dollface has a little world, it's almost just like ours. She takes her boyfriend in, and her mask hides her scars. She says, "Take a moment to eat those words, swallow your pride, and choke to death." Dollface needs my helping hand, but I am all tied up.
This is my newest "Greatest Hits" album, only I don't actually have any hits. I am a failure and therefore, my songs are also failures by extension. The degree of abomination present in my body of work ranges from catastrophic to these, the Least Significant Failures. Ta-da! Rather than simply gather up existing recordings and repackage them, the concept for this album was to re-record much of the material to make it consistent with a.) my current performance skill and b.) my standard acoustic sound. To select the material, I made my own ranking of the best songs that I've written and also got input from THE FANZ in the form of a very cute vote (list the top 15-20 songs in no particular order and indicate preference for acoustic vs electric). All told, about 70 songs came under consideration. The top vote-getters were So Will I (clear #1 choice) followed by a 6-way tie for 2nd between Birdy, Leave Me Be, Mad About You, Nothing But A Song, Underneath My Skin, and When. The voters also overwhelmingly chose an acoustic album. With few exceptions, these songs portray a consistent virtual acoustic ensemble of vocal, acoustic guitar, bass, and djembe. Unless otherwise noted, I played all the instruments. Even though these have all been covered elsewhere, I'll reiterate a little bit about what each song is about here.
Best of Days: This is a new recording. Jay Millas of the ill-fated Craig's Band felt that a rough mix of this sounded like a Volkswagen commercial. I --and the proud nation of Germany-- are very happy with how this one turned out. For those who didn't read it elsewhere, this song is about coping with the reality that someone you like doesn't like you back, despite what you thought the signs said (originally recorded on Guitool).
Leave Me Be: I decided to ratchet up the tempo a little for this new version. This is the second song in the Coyote song cycle, about pride and rejection. Naturally, I had to re-introduce the hut-hut mania.
Blue As The Moon: My notorious signature song of chromatic seduction. This is the 2000 version, originally appearing on the Stunt Beatles 2x3<4 album (with Larry Elwood of SB playing upright bass here, but me covering the rest), then later recycled on The Tale of a Sad & Lonely Boy Who Dreamed of Love. I consider this to be my best song.
Mad About You: New version of a song recorded twice before, on As Rome Burns then later on River Dreams. This is more similar to the River Dreams version, but more reflective of how I play it live. That decsion to clap in the backup vocals was a spontaneous choice I made while recording the first BUV. This is about recognizing that someone you want wants someone else and letting go.
I Am The Moon: This is my daughter Cara's (age 2) current favorite "Dada song." Hadley (6 months) has no stated preference for the record. Thin metaphor masks theme beaten to death by songwriters (approximately 300 blows coming from me) throughout the ages: "I'm the one who's there for you, but you love someone else, oh why don't you love me, I'm so terribly sad." This 5-groove and refrain came to me in a dream about being taken to rock school by Alice in Chains (as in getting schooled in an old-fashioned rock-off!) I like odd-time songs that don't stick out as too herky-jerky, and hopefully I've accomplished that here (of course, if nobody pays attention, nothing about the song sticks out).
It Can't Rain Every Day: This is the uncharacteristically-uplifting story of how I fell in love with my wife and dropped everything to be with her. This is the original version, lifted off of The Tale.... Cara calls this one (straight on the heels of her favorite) "Hey hey!"
I Won't Quit: New recording of the song originally off Drive By pushes the tempo in a shuffle. This is about standing up for yourself and not letting the bastards get you down.
Goodbye, Dream: This is lifted straight off of Fortnight because I'll never nail that bass part again. On the surface, this is about waking up and going to work, but it is also an exploration of maturing into my thrities and realizing how my dreams have changed from things like "being signed to a major label" to things like "being happily married" or (though my kids weren't yet born when I wrote this) "being a good dad." That notion of family legacy is what I'm getting at with the line "someday maybe feel like there's a shadow when I'm gone."
Nothing But A Song: Written while fully entrenched in a long line of romantic failures, lamenting each as nothing but a song. Over time, this intro took on a life of its own live.
Birdy: Lifted straight off of Flame Cow. I explained the song concept thusly in a Q&A article with Scott Farr, "Birdy came out of wanting a quirky metaphor for being wrong for someone, yet insisting against hope that it could work. It stemmed from a short story idea that I never followed up on, although some of it came out in Robotica, Mine. The original idea is that this girl's sentient parrot falls in love with her in this very cerebral, complicated way, inventing all these manners and rituals which ultimately don't solve the fact that, well, he's a bird and that's just not going to pan out. I was visiting Joh3n O'Meara in Seattle and in the middle of reading Jeanette Winterson's 'Sexing The Cherry' which has these bizarre stream-of-consciousness passages, got inspired, and just started writing little clips that I refined down into the verses." That chord coming out of the piano solo is a microtonal C7, with the 7th midway between major and minor.
Something Out: Originally on Less Yackin' More Snackin', this has undergone a lot of change since 1992, steadily becoming more uptempo and strong on the backbeat, as heard here. Wishing that somehow the force and simplicity of love's feelings could by themselves successfully navigate the social obstacles to romance.
Open Up: Originally on Archaeology, this new version reflects the current semi-shuffle groove. This is about that optimistic spark that surges through you when you first realize you are falling for someone, an ode to the hope of Ms Right. By the way, I've felt like a grade-A moron writing these synopses, so I hope it's what you want to know. Maybe they should all just say, "This is about being a lonely nerd."
One Will Win You: An acoustic version of the surprise hit from the first Sunhouse Branch album. This has always been difficult to replicate acoustically, but I think I finally tapped into it this time around. I considered this a throwaway song, written in 1999. I didn't think much of it because the subject was so stupid --a week-long crush on a Dutch consultant (oh, and I wasn't alone) led me to reflect on the projections I placed upon women I hardly knew ("watch as I presume her wonders, one by one," "a bottle for an endless thirst, I will fill her with the things I want," etc.). As with most throwaways that I've come to like, the meaning of the words took a backseat to the music in my final assessment.
Lost: Re-recording of a song originally heard on River Dreams. Metaphor for loving over distance definitively achieved through brilliant extraterrestrial theme. I won a Cody Weathers award for this one (don't worry, the judges are an impartial panel of my backup singers). I dominate the competition time and time again! The original version featured a pretty-much non-replicable experimental outro of event-based alien music --it's fantastic and you should go buy River Dreams right now [not in stores]. Over time, the live scat on this became an increasingly-central part of the song.
Puppy: In high school, I scored the pit music for a play called The Flower That Shattered the Stone. The original script called liberally for several popular songs from the 60's as a backdrop to a collage of re-interpreted fairy tales. Someone forgot to tell these neo-Grimms about copyright infringement, however, and an injunction eventually prevented subsequent performers from using such material free of charge just because those songs are cool. No such injunction against my crummy songs, though! The fates aligned when, in college, I was able to cross my catchy "Bremer Town Musicians Theme" from the play with some words of inspiration about a cute girl from Bremerton, WA. I'm a sponge; that's what I do. This song originally appeared on Pronounced Snausages. This re-recorded version is fairly faithful to the last time we played this song together (2000 Bolder Boulder).
Coyote: This new version doesn't actually reflect how I play it live, but rather was a spontaneous re-invention of the feel that I found myself preferring. This song planted a little continuing metaphor that sprouted up in "Leave Me Be" and culminates in "Footsteps." While I definitely think the idea of a wretched lonely coyote loving a burning willow, preferring to suffer rather than leave her cruel side speaks to universal human truth, perhaps it's better to summarize as a metaphor for poor choices of the heart.
When: Lifted directly off Flame Cow. Fried on bass, Speranza on the guitar solo. Can't say why, but this is an attention-getter live. Again, let's remember that I'm not really a rock star, and all these platitudes I declare are more than a little sad to read. Coyote-tuned ode to longing and the thrill of pursuit, liberally using images from dreams to make the compelling case and dance craze sweeping the nation (have you done "the when?").
Dead Man's Blues: New recording with a greater emphasis on the ensemble groove centered on the bass part. Seyca joins the John Speranza lyric interpretation club with this entry: Cody says, "I will retain...." Seyca says, "I wear a ten...." Not to be outdone, Speranza says, "I'll irritate...." Yet another lament about loving someone you can't have. That's right, you, not me. You should cut that out. I certainly have.
So Will I: Lifted directly from the Flame Cow re-recording with Fried on bass and Speranza on guitar. #1 vote-getter for this compilation, this convoluted web of obtuse words is a hit with audiences everywhere, who naturally gravitate to the undercurrent theme of living for today. Carpe diem, motherf*****.
The Sound My Heart Makes: Since this is a love song for Vaunne about the excitement of being around her, I went ahead and recorded her an acoustic version she could stand to listen to (original "ape screaming" version available on Fortnight).
Cruel: I love the original on Flame Cow, but this is more representative of how I've come to play it live. Long on the back burner since it is technically a werewolf's lusty lament, the Monkey Eat Monkey recording made me reconsider its overall quality. I like how I make decisions about songs based on factors that I should be acutely aware have no relevance to my listeners/captives such as "what is this song about" which would be almost universally-answered by audiences everywhere as "gobbledygook!" Maybe that's the basis of my limited appeal. As Seal says regarding his decision not to publish his lyrics in the liner notes of his albums, "I want the words to mean what you want them to mean, not what I want them to mean." To me, a song about werewolves and impulses of the flesh. To you, a song about stabbing your boss in the eye. You're welcome.
Scared: Ironically, this song probably makes people who previously wouldn't have considered the possibility wonder if I, in fact, might kill little girls. What a fantastic song of seduction. We're firmly in the realm of words that I love, but are largely misunderstood because of a.) enunciation and b.) poetic masking. What I'm saying is: mission accomplished. This is loosely based on a short story I wrote in college. And these days, there's almost an unwritten rule that this song be followed by....
Underneath My Skin: I just really like how these two songs flow together, even though they're completely unrelated. Hopefully this lyric is fairly transparent, because it's intended as a simple declaration of unrealized love. i.e., "You cute. Want make date?"
Wardrobe: Cara calls this one "dit-dit-dit" for the ensemble scat figure. Long one of my favorite up-tempo songs to play live (originally on River Dreams). I had a mild interstate infatuation with someone my friends definitely wouldn't have approved of, and wrote this in the seven weeks between the two times we saw each other (nothing serious, except arguably for the appearance of total reckless obsession created by writing a song about someone, but seriously, you don't know what it's like). It's totally embarassing to talk about how something so fleeting and unimportant became the root of something so important to me, but that's how these songs get written --I always have to seize on words and ideas in the moment they come to me, and not worry about whether the feeling I'm working from will end up being particularly worthy. Welcome to page 53 of my self-important song blog. Why isn't the hit count higher? Are you all reading it crowded around one screen? Do you have popcorn and whatnot? I'm available, if you'd like me to come over and provide additional commentary during your discussion session. Shall we open the floor for questions?
Make Still your Wings: This was originally written as a lullaby. The tempo has migrated up to the point that I would no longer make that case, but it remains a spooky little dreamy little trance for me. Not that you should write lullabies for yourself or operate heavy machinery while doing so. This song was infamously extended to 17 minutes at Gussie's, a recording which was released as an augmented live track on Monkey Eat Monkey. That was a watershed gig for us, spearheaded by this song, and that kind of free expansion --very much in the vein of how jazz is played live-- became our default live modus operandi pretty much from then on. This version runs through some expansions, but keeps it to a brief 7:40.
Short Leg: The phrase, "don't trip on the short leg now," is something I told myself driving back to Denver from Portland when I reached Cheyenne at 2 or 3 AM, pushing the last 90 miles home after two hard days of driving. This song reflects a certain amount of that focus on the final yard for hearts, but mostly just ends up being a song. Dude, whatever that means.
Along: Directly off of Flame Cow. This is Vaunne's favorite off of that album, which is to say it contains the least "ape screaming." I wrote this several years earlier, and had been waiting for the right arrangement, but ultimately kept it pretty much as written --piano and voice. Terri Kempton plays cello and makes fun of the line "I hope you enjoy the way I treat you." Like several others written around the same time (Sonja's Son, Daughter of Our Enemy, Cruel, Hero, Salt of the Memory), this got put on the back burner in part because the lyrics are a little detatched from my actual life, being a post-apocalyptic love song as a loose analogy for loyalty (the others are about: divorce & reconcilliation, parental disapproval of a mate, werewolves & lust, politics & betrayal, and mermaids. No matter what John Fried says, I was defeinitely NOT obsessed with Dungeons & Dragons and Gamma World before becoming obsessed with music). Again, it's beyond fantastic that I use song subject matter as the principal barometer of quality (see "Cruel").
Fall On Me: Directly off of 2x3<4 (and later recycled exactly on The Tale....). I wrote this song for Vaunne's birthday 2000, just before we started dating, as an ode to our friendship and support for each other. This time the gift of song turned out pretty well for me. Larry Elwood on upright bass.
No One Could: Directly off of Flame Cow. When we initially recorded this for Monkey Eat Monkey, I realized that it was actually a lot better than I originally thought, and decided to re-record it with the band. Speranza plays all the guitars, Fried on bass, me on drums and vocals. Everything as it should be. As mentioned in the MEM recording, this is "all the negative thoughts eroding at a battered confidence (not mine, obviously --I was dynamite with the ladies in 1998)." At first, I considered this a throwaway song, but subsequently re-evaluated it as one of my best. It says a lot about your writing ability when the line between garbage and genius is so fine.
Dollface (live): Recorded live at the Rising Phoenix in North Denver with Fried on bass, Speranza on electric guitar, me on acoustic guitar and --obviously-- vocals, and Derek Sanchez on percussion. This was one of the two source gigs for Clapping Sold Separately, and I'm not really sure why I didn't put this on that disc. Probably because of my weak stab at some lead work there at the top. This song has always been a favorite of the band, though I'm not sure what other people really think of it. I'd imagine very highly. They regard it very highly, I'm practically positive of it. And they find me quite dapper. This song elaborates on a dream I had. Make that extremely highly.