December 27, 2002

A Festering Epidemic of Island Fever

Taking off from San Diego had been a nightmare, but I calmed down a bit once the plane was in the air. I’d done enough flying during this post 9/11 summer to dull my periodic debilitating bouts of acrophobia, and my geographical geek’s interest in seeing the world spread out below me like a giant map was today’s other key to my immediate sanity. The vision of Southern California retreating over the horizon snapped me out of any lingering fear, and I resolved for the moment to get to the bottom of the feud I knew I sensed was going on among my fellow freaked-out passengers.

I hadn’t spoken to Colin Dawson since his patience abruptly dissolved halfway through a particularly awful set by his rock band, the Screaming Mimes, at the Knitting Factory in Hollywood a few days ago. It was supposed to be an industry showcase gig, but the Mimes had been playing terribly for the umpteenth time on this particular tour, and Colin looked like he thought he was the only one who noticed. That sounds ridiculous at first, of course, but no one put it past Colin to be any less self-absorbed than he usually seemed.

I was already worse for wear that night from general exhaustion, not to mention the tequila, so I kept walking and eventually floated away from the rest of the world’s cares. The band could split now, for all I cared- they’d given me zip to work with for most of the stretch on the road. The Mimes had had enough- of touring, or of being ignored, or getting nowhere after all this effort, of all that and then more—and it didn’t take extra-sensory perception to guess that some kind of end was waiting for us after the last two shows in Hawaii. Lately, all of Alan’s escapist notions about Maui started to make sense; the frontmanly singer was the first one on the plane, and he didn’t look back. The plague of emotional cowardice that had festered since Santa Cruz was becoming highly contagious.

The seat-belt sign clicked off and I went in search of the bassist’s unmistakable pate. I passed the unconscious form of his brother Ben, asleep since takeoff, sprawled across two seats and drooling on himself. A cursory peep over the next row of seats found Colin’s head bobbing along under gigantic headphones about four rows up from me, so I stumbled over my girlfriend Simone (who was just falling asleep in the seat next to me) and into the aisle. It took Colin a while to notice me beside him; he seemed to be much more interested in pondering the infinity outside the cabin window. Finally he sighed quickly, with a barely concealed annoyance only just tempered by his natural etiquette.

“So what do you wanna know now, Roy? Some great profundity to cap off your latest spew of epic genius?” The question came as if he dared me to waste a second of his five-hour flight to Paradise, but then he softened a little. “Look-look,” he continued, “I’m sorry about what happened in L.A. I know that I freaked out yet again and it didn’t do anyone any good. I just can’t stand anything about our so-called professional commitments in that city anymore, so I didn’t talk to anyone, not even Ben, from sound check until sometime the next afternoon. I had a convenient little spoiled rock-star tantrum.” I’ll say, I thought to myself—he’d been a total gargoyle for most of the tour.

“Hey, thanks,” I said, caving in fast to honor the urgent need for copy. “Relax, dude- it’s not like you laid waste to all of the greater Los Angeles area that week- or did you? I mean, I don’t even remember the show that night, and later I was too wrapped up in trying to sort things out with my girlfriend to try to make it to the last two gigs or get ahold of any of you guys until the airport.”

I unconsciously ran my fingers through my unwashed hair, only just remembering that His Baldness hated when people did that in front of him. At least my tactless tongue had yet to strike again, but I had the feeling the one question I wanted to ask would make up for any previous restraint. And why not? Being crammed into a jet with these four pricks and their dwindling entourage lent a kind of credibility to feeling fatalistic about the whole endeavor.

“Okay, well anyway,” I began again, clearing the runway. “The whole band, but especially you, Colin, seem to be acting like this is your last tour. I know you like to say ‘every tour is like the last tour’, but now it appears you all just want to pack it in, and no one wants to be the first to say it.” Unlike many other things I’ve said in my life, I didn’t want to take this back, even after he narrowed his eyes to give me a withering, perceptive glare. Calling these fools on their own laziness must be tantamount to grievous personal insult.

His reply was casual enough, though. “I don’t know. Well, maybe—we actually have talked about it a few times, before this tour started, when we got no money from the label and then they dropped us, and everyone took it really bad, but what else could we do? Playing out is therapeutic on some levels, so we just thought we should at least tour the new songs and have some fun with it instead of just sitting back and taking a knife in the eye. We thought it would be a nice send-off for everyone in our organization as well, but it obviously hasn’t happened that way. Zip’s always had one foot out the door, Ben’s pissed cause all of his songs were ignored altogether, and Alan—shit, I don’t know what the hell Alan’s problem is.”

“But it would still be the last, even if the tour went well?” I asked, feigning interest. “Yes, mainly because Alan wants out, for now—he told me so, but not why—and now so do I, simply because all the things I hate about doing this haven’t been equaled by how much fun it is anymore. It’s work, and getting any higher on the totem pole requires that. I’ve said this to you before, haven’t I? I don’t have that maniacal craving for fame that drives the willpower of people who are successful in this business or even in film or TV or the corporate world or whatever, you know? That seems like the ultimate demarcation between the players and the pros.”

He squirms in the cramped seat. “I’m not just talking about ending this band, you know. I’m only twenty-six, but I can see this becoming gradually less important to me, even if the lyrics—which are better than ever right now—keep coming like they have been. I’m not sure I like the idea of being a part of some nobody band when I’m forty, you know, bashing my skull against the blockheaded apathy of some bar manager who just happens to see himself as the last bastion of taste and integrity in the midst of a world of sellouts."

He snorted contemptuously. "These people just really get up my ass sideways, Roy. They’re the kings of their little castles and they act like all-powerful arbiters of cool, but all they really want guys like me to do is be background noise for folks trying to get laid. I don’t need some dipshit stamping me with the “authenticity” tag simply to feel good about themselves, and I especially don’t need to be reminded of this any time I want to get attention for the work I do.”

Colin paused to take a swig of water. Amazingly, he’d stopped drinking alcohol before he got more bent than a crowbar. His discarded headphones now blared muffled dialogue from the in-flight movie. I peered past him as he replaced the plastic cup, but of course I couldn’t see the islands yet; the Pacific’s white-capped waves rolled out on their way to Australia.

“I mean, it’s not like I hate doing this, dude,” he continued. “It’s valid, good work and it’s lots of fun, still, and I’m glad for the experience, but I want something more. I suppose that my luck or skill in avoiding the usual pitfalls of excess of this business like drugs and stuff comes down to never really getting far enough along with success to totally immerse myself in the way some of the more, um, fortunate performers have.”

He grinned, “It’s like, well, sooner or later I want to stop and think about life without feeling crunched for time. I don’t know what’s gonna happen with Sara and I—if we’ll get married or have a family or what—but that’s just one of many things that have got to change. I need to feel progress, and it’s not happening right now. I have no idea how the other three guys truly feel about this, and what sucks about it is that I don’t much care anymore and I’m not sorry about that. Call me selfish, man, but that’s where I’m at, and I intend to change with or without the band.”

This was about all I could take. Colin wasn’t exactly pontificating in his usual earnest, quasi-meaningful way of total disregard for his audience, but he was on a roll, and I could tell he was giving me his recycled lines with some extra goop slathered on there for the sake of killing flight time. If I wasn’t so distracted I’d like to think I’d have called his bluff and said he was full of shit and not to waste my time, but when he said that thing about Sara and marriage all it did was remind me of all I needed to get through with her sister.

Simone had been suddenly clingy of late—I’d had to lift her semi-sleeping head and shoulders off me before I left my seat—and I couldn’t tell if that was a genuine apology for running wild in L.A. and ignoring me or if she really had changed her mind about me or us or anything. I thought it might be that she knew the end was coming too- that Colin told Sara and Simone somehow found out too and that she was totally relieved at the prospect of no longer babysitting her sister’s boyfriend.

“Yeah,” I eventually replied. I snapped out of the thought in order to make my escape. “Well,” I added, “thanks for your generous-as-always opinions, Colin,” to which he nodded briefly before turning to look out the window again. I wheeled around to return to my seat, noticing that Simone was watching me from under her eyelids. The plane bounced over a stray eddy and I staggered like a drunk before crumpling across her lap and knocking my skull against the armrest. “Banner dismount, haole-boy,” she giggled, and suddenly filled my field of vision with her round brown face. I kissed her very softly before settling back into my seat. Paradise could wait, for now—I had a story to wrap up.

I shifted my weight and something cracked. It was the tape recorder with the interview I’d just done with Colin, dropped into my seat as I’d fallen, and I’d sat on it. Extreme fear shattered what was left of my spine. I rushed to turn it right-side-up to play the interview and make sure the tape wasn’t damaged, but it wouldn’t have mattered. The cassette was blank. In my haste to corner the bassist and get the thing over with I apparently hadn’t even bothered to turn the recorder on.

October 16, 2002

The Fly is Dead, Long Live The Fly


Cross-posted from @U2.

The Edge just killed my favorite U2 song, but I don't hate him for it. Not callously, but not casually, U2's guitarist dismissed the importance of the first single off Achtung Baby as perhaps not deserving of the place it holds on some (but not all) editions of their new Best of 1990-2000 compilation. Of course, it's his song, and he can say whatever he wants to about it, but I profoundly disagree with his recent comments in Q magazine -- that he is "not sure about" "The Fly" anymore, that he's "not sure whether it's really stood the test of time."

Eleven years ago "The Fly" got me interested in a band that I'd never really cared about and didn't really know very well, and the album that it previewed rapidly became (and still remains) one of my favorite albums by anyone. The song that Rolling Stone called "desperate clangor" and U2 itself described as "the sound of four men chopping down The Joshua Tree" didn't trouble the American charts very much, stalling at number 61 as a single (though it topped the U.K. chart), and the song's video got stomped on MTV by the latest Guns N' Roses clip. It seemed like everyone else barely noticed this song, overshadowed as it was by the subsequent bigger hits on the album, so for a little while it really felt (however preposterously) like "my" U2 song. The band had decided to give radio "something weird" to announce their return to the limelight, and for U2 this was a very weird song; the rusty, cacophonous percussion, whispered vocal, falsetto counter-vocal, and thick dub bass were solid revelations, but Edge's gritty, soaring guitar and that solo were total knockouts, especially coming from a guitarist who didn't do flash and hardly ever took guitar solos.

Stranger still, Bono's words detail a conspiratorial, one-sided conversation with a narrator who has fallen into the pits of Hell and, to his surprise, enjoys it there. U2's frontman had always used basic religious imagery in his lyrics, but he had never come close to writing anything like this. As a lyric, "The Fly" was definitely Bono's first well-executed Biblical allusion, even though it seems more informed by Paradise Lost than anything else. Fallen angels became Bono's mouthpieces during this period, and like its sister song "Ultraviolet," "The Fly" stars none other than Satan, putting himself back together after his ejection from Heaven, muttering to himself using the royal "we" and consumed by a crippling nostalgia that is only hinted at by the detached, cynical truisms emanating from his jealous heart. While not the sharpest lyric on the album, it did what it was supposed to do at the time: turn all of the preconceptions about U2 inside out.

Further illustration came when Bono totally immersed himself in the character named for the song, complete with bug-eyed goggle shades and augmented by a reptilian black leather suit, betraying traces of Elvis Presley, Jim Morrison, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed and countless other rock stars. He dyed his hair black, as Elvis did, and embarked upon a two-year bender of posing, lying, smoking, swearing and generally looking cooler than he ever had before. His entire demeanor became a blatant caricature of his own celebrity, and he appeared to revel in it. Diehard and casual fans alike believed the joke and bought the myth, and Bono, as The Fly, topped not a few Sexiest Male Rock Star lists.

The Zoo TV tour gave "The Fly" its best chance to shine. The song became a powerful anchor for the live set, overloading the audience almost immediately with a rapid-fire visual assault of the same ironic one-liners zipping across every onstage television screen, and though that's almost always cited as the main reason its performances were so stunning, that's not the whole story. A cursory listen to any of the live bootlegs recorded during that tour (the August 16, 1992, Washington, D.C., mix is my favorite) reveals the extra musical muscle provided by U2's majestically blunt rhythm section. Larry's machine-like tenacity and Adam's swaggering bass line overpower Bono's vocals, and would do the same to Edge were his parts not equally assertive. The live performances outlined the song's inherent structural dichotomy, best pointed out by Bill Flanagan when he said "The Fly" was a blues song crossed with a gospel tune. He's right -- the E chord 8-bar verse lifts into an elegant A for the chorus and a blistering B for the bridge, a progression that Elvis wouldn't be unfamiliar with. It shouldn't work, superficially, but it does, and it rocks.

After Zoo TV I thought "The Fly" was gone for good; Bono sang a few of its lines during "Discotheque" in St. Louis on the PopMart tour, but other than that the song didn't see live performance until its unusual but still welcome revival for Elevation's first and second leg. Transposed up to an A key (and tuned to A flat), "The Fly" now closed the main set for most of the concerts, with a new, Eno-esque ethereal beginning chorus. Bono often gave vague, nebulous monologues over this section, and was no longer playing guitar for this song -- free to roam the stage, run laps around the Heart, and dive into the crowd, which he did almost regularly. Ten years on, the live performances of "The Fly" were still interesting and powerful, but certainly less so than Zoo TV. The song apparently struggled to keep its relevance in the Elevation set, and it was dropped by the time the tour took a victory lap around the U.S. in the fall of 2001.

The song's epitaph, I guessed, would now be its appearance (or not) on the '90s Best of collection. I wasn't so sure it would make the cut, and indeed, it will not end up on the U.S. version of this release. The volume of fan response to even the possibility of its exclusion was surprising, even without the "is it, isn't it" teasing of the U2.com official track list. I didn't mind either way -- as I told some friends, I already had the single on CD, cassette, vinyl, and video, just like a good fanatical freak should. After all, what song needs validation from the band when it's helped power two of their best tours? What diehard needs this kind of validation from their band just so they can feel like "their song" wasn't excluded from what amounts to a cash-cow release for casual fans? Not me. This compilation isn't exactly a guarantee to storm the charts, at least not on the scale of its '80s counterpart, so I figured maybe U2 would have some fun with the track list (which they did) and not include simply the singles. As a non-factor on the U.S. chart, "The Fly" would be out. Rampant fan speculation about its inclusion as a hidden track as well as a neat visual hint with the compilation's cover belied the assumed death signs, and supposedly "The Fly" will be there on foreign issues of the album. I still doubt that it will be played live ever again. At least we know why the bizarre saga happened the way it did, and even if Edge is bored with "The Fly" these days, it's still mine, and still yours. It's a great rock & roll song, and it's on a timeless album, so turn it up.

September 28, 2002

Battery Acid Blues: Scrambled Visions In Calabasas

Keir DuBois scoffs at your silly controlled substances. (Originally written for, but never published in, the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 3/21/98).

Last night I had a fabulously weird dream. The Mojo Wire had just finished playing a great gig, and so appropriately the band was in my dream. All of us- Adam, Bryn, Joe and I were driving south on the 101 through what looked like Calabasas. The hills were all green-brown, California hills that are all saturated for one month and then choked with mud and dead grass for the other eleven. They undulated into the southern distance toward Malibu like great bubbling milkshakes. Milkshakes? Of course. We’d stopped at Jack-In-The-Crack for milkshakes. Bryn slurped loudly in the seat behind me, and then gave a great belch. Adam began to laugh and drive at the same time- a very dangerous thing for him to do. We swerved between two semis like Luke Slywalker infiltrating the Death Star, and Popov the hamster screamed like Chewbacca.

Joe eyed them nervously. Perhaps he wished we were in Huntington Beach by now, so he could leave our little ship of fools. Ha! Did he really think that he could join the Mojo Wire and not get away with experiencing stupidly childlike behavior? Popov, our roommate Ryan’s pet, was nestled in his cage, which sat between Joe and Bryn and their luggage. The bags were piled upon their laps up to their noses, so when Bryn had burped it was actually quite muffled, and that’s what Adam had laughed at. It wasn’t really a laugh; more of a baritone chuckle of air- the molecules of which I could see pass through his trachea down into the tiny alveoli where the hydrogen atoms were mercilessly separated with much weeping and moaning from their respective oxygen parents like some cruel bureaucratic orphan-creation scheme.

Their screams harmonized with Jimmy Buffett as he warbled out of the car stereo. This was too much for the hamster, who recoiled in terror at the hydrogen-bomb-Buffett symphony and hid under his cedar chips, secretly wishing that the giant monster of Bryn above him would not remember the night that it had drunkenly screamed at the poor animal to come out of the stereo speakers. I could see Popov shiver as the memory of that incident cloaked the rodent in fear. Good. Maybe now the little bugger wont be so much trouble. If he bit Ryan half as much as he bit us our roommate would have squished him like a roach.

I ignored the cage to concentrate on Adam, who was going on about the Carmen Electra poster in his bathroom. “She makes me swoon at fifty paces. She also makes me do several other disturbing things that involve fruit and foot fetishes, like the time the juice bar closed on a Friday night just as the peak flow of teenagers was exiting the rerelease of Scream.”

“Holy shit!” exclaimed Bryn. “That reminds me of the night of the Long Knives! Three or four of us had gone out back to avoid the Nazis, and we began to sing ‘Please Accept My Love’ in our drunkenest voices. Then, like a torrent from the depths of the gutter, the screaming weasels were upon us! We were almost raped by wild goats! Geraldo Garbanzo, said I, you drop that bottle of tequila right now and pay me that $224.89 that you owe me or I’ll have the Wise Women of the Western Stars make castanets out of your eyeballs, already! Joe lost a finger and my dolphins prehensile anatomy was nearly severed. Scariest experience of my life.”

“I didnt lose a finger,” Joe corrected him. “I got a cut on my hand. It was just a scratch. Dont forget, I did whup those weasels good. Theyll not soon forget that.”

“What game should we play now?” I asked. We’d exhausted our cranial resources on lingering Trivial Pursuit cards strewn throughout Adam’s car.

“I know!” said Bryn. “Let’s play my favorite game: ‘Will Adam Drink It?!?’”

“NO,” came the retort from our fearless driver. “Not while Im in control of this TV show!”

Adam was having problems with his staff over several issues of writer’s credit (some schmo had stolen the rights to his “Key West Tapwater” song, and that troll would go to hell for it). Our intrepid explorer interrupted his tirade when he could not simultaneously focus on it and the humongous roadsign that loomed ahead of us. A giant arrow pointed to the road’s shoulder, on which an even bigger billboard had plastered across its face what looked like the Millenialist Manifesto. Adam winced and kept driving. Joe grimly stared it down. Bryn’s nostrils flared and he snorted in contempt.

Popov whined quietly, “What does it say?” To benefit the illiterate rodent, I read aloud as we whizzed by. It was only my feeble voice, but in that cramped setting the guys recalled that it was all lush and reverberated, like the prescence of God, or maybe just Johnny Cash...

“Thou shalt act with great condescension and thinly veiled rancor toward those beings of this earth who are simultaneously paranoid, possessive, and supersensitive to the fictitious needs of others; all the while slaving to ridiculous routine in the erroneous belief that it might better their lives.

Hark,know ye that inferior souls are those that hold within them simultaneously those horrid qualities of mindless precision, perpendicular rigidity, frightened conspiracy, tainted privacy, frigid formality, stifling cleanliness, anal retentiveness, humorless indulgence, meticulous detail, absurd authority, totalitarian weakness, unbridled assumption, terrifying tidiness, bad Depeche Mode, explosive fear, profane verbiage, deficient musicality, delinquent originality, blasphemous pomposity, insufficient creativity, egomaniacal greed, and general pathetic microphallism; and thou shalt treat these souls with scorn, regardless of sex, race, creed, age, sexual orientation, political affiliation, nationality, left-handedness, boxers, briefs, glasses, braces, IQ, poker chips, closed curtains, and a partridge in a pear tree.

You can be sure that I will send these creeping doomsayers that hide behind the shield of Y2K straight to the Inferno. Now, go forth into this dying planet and its ossifying inhabitants and spread this word so that all may be enlightened and thus live their weary lives in a newfound and pure happiness.”
Gee, I thought. That poor bastard must really hate his roommate. Bummer.

And so it was that on one cool autumn day the one true revelation announced itself in the mind of our hero, and all was well. The four humans and the rodent, packed tightly in the Escort, were still in Calabasas bickering like wild monkeys when I woke up.

September 21, 2002

Battery Acid Blues: The Wisdom of Jackson Hammer

Keir DuBois interviews someone you may never meet... (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 2/14/98).

Author's Note: Recently for a year-end special at a rival publication I interviewed a musician friend of mine. It's cheating a little, but I'm going to run the first part of it here as well.

Jackson Hammer is one of the most bitter and vindictive musicians I've ever met, a major casualty of the Hollywood star-making system. He is, however, still one of the most knowledgeable and opinionated lovers of music of any kind that I know of.

Keir DuBois: So what's it like trying to make it on a little scene like this one? Any advice for budding rockers?

Jackson Hammer: Well, don't get too excited. There aren't many venues around here or downtown that are particularly receptive to that many different styles of music.

KD: Really?

JH: Oh, sure. I.V. is all small parties of horrible punk and ska bands, and half of those are catering to the greek houses. Not that frats are the reason that they're awful- I mean, if you're in a band and you can pull a gig at a frat party and take their money after performing a lousy twenty minute set, then that's fine. Laugh all the way to the bank, I say.

KD: What about downtown?

JH: It seems to me, and I'm not the voice of eminent experience, but the only club downtown that is really open to all kinds of music is the Yucatan. I've played at other places, but only that club has asked my band to come back. It doesn't matter if you're ska or punk or blues or reggae or whatever else, they'll give you a chance, and they're the only ones. Pretty much all of the other clubs on State Street play blues bands to death.

KD: Don't like the blues?

JH: No, it's not that at all, and I know that you're in a blues band and are particularly fond of them. It's just that now there seems to be another revival of the blues again, and it's even more diluted than before. I mean, in the sixties there was the first revival, with Cream and Clapton and Zeppelin and all of those other gunslingers and their fretboard gymnastics ripping off American black musicians, and then in the eighties there was a second revival with Stevie Ray Vaughan that kind of died after he did.

Now there are all these young blond kids out there like Johnny Lang or Kenny Wayne Shepherd that were raised on heavy metal and other kinds of wank-a-rama bullshit, and they're being touted as the next coming of greatness and they get to tour with, like, B.B. King or some other geezer who had their songs and style stolen thirty years ago. I don't really consider myself any kind of purist, but it's sad to see a form diluted so much by people who know or care so little about its background. Same with ska; It's become frat-goon music.

KD: So what kind of originality would counter this?

JH: Well, not techno, right? Or "electronica," that was the media term, wasn't it? That just fizzled. Not American rock bands either, or not new ones. Pearl Jam still has a future; they'll be in it for the long haul, I hope, but all the other guitar-driven stuff that was released last year by American bands was just shit, you know? I mean Matchbox 20? 311? Total trash. I really think the only original stuff that's been made, in terms of pure white-boy rock, was made by a handful of British bands, and even they sound like a warped second coming of psychedelia.

KD: Name names?

JH: Easy. Radiohead, the Verve, Supergrass, Cornershop. England hasn't seen this much in quite a while. Even U2 is still trying, but then the Irish never know when to stop, do they?

KD: What about the brothers Gallagher?

JH: Well, you know, Oasis isn't much of a forum for original thinking. Every tune on those three albums grows out of a defining Beatles riff. I think "Don't Look Back In Anger" steals a direct piano line from "Imagine."

KD: So how's that different from "Bittersweet Symphony?"

JH: It's completely different because it's not really base theft on the part of Richard Ashcroft and the Verve. See, they only took three chords from a symphonic version of a Stones song, not from a true Jagger/Richards tune. The reason that bastard Andrew Oldham sued the Verve for all they were worth was pure greed, cause the Verve built a whole new song from those three chords but still obviously used them as the blueprint.

KD: Let's get closer to home. What do you try to do in writing music and lyrics to keep up a sense of originality?

JH: There's not much you can do. I know I just contradicted myself, but how can I describe it? Every original idea is based on what's come before, either as an emulation or as a reaction against. For me, it's like a flood. Like a long intellectual drought quenched by a huge verbal torrent, and that's just lyrics. Music just comes into my head. I don't mean to sound pompous or anything, but that's the way it happens. I come from a musical family, and so I've always heard music in my head. Kind of weird, but I guess it's better than hearing voices.

KD: Do you have any new material along these lines?

JH: Um, yeah. I've put together a couple of love songs, actually.

KD: No!

JH: Yep, cranky and cynical old me. The kicker is that they were really hard work to write, because I've always hated silly love songs. I always dished out so much hate when I heard, um, Richard Marx or someone like that, because I've always thought that those kinds of writers were the biggest wimps, lyrically and musically. I did this kind of dissing for my whole life until one of my really good friends dared me to write a love song. It was a real challenge, cause this girl is something of a poet and a romantic, so I put all I had into not one, but two love songs, just to see if I could impress her. Maybe if it works I'll be legitimate in panning mushy love songs. Maybe I'll be a hypocrite cause now I've written some. Oh well.

KD: I didn't think writing love songs was such hard work.

JH: For me it is. I don't know, maybe it's cause I'm such an ornery little goober, but it was like pulling teeth. Don't know if I could do it again.

September 14, 2002

Back For Good: Looking Up to Patti Smith

Keir DuBois looks up to Patti Smith. (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 10/23/97).

Patti Smith is very happy. The “Godmother of Punk” certainly doesn’t seem angry enough to merit that title. Perhaps that’s because she’s had enough of deep pain. Her last album, 1996’s Gone Again, swung low into despair and mourning over the deaths of her husband, MC5 guitarist Fred Smith, and of her friend, artist and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. That pain was enough to bring her out of the semi-retirement she’s enjoyed (with the exception of a 1988 album) since 1980. With Gone Again, and the new Peace and Noise, Smith returns to the fore with a vengeance, reasserting the poetic power she has held over rock and roll for twenty years.

Artsweek: Peace and Noise is your second album in 2 years. What was the impetus for the new activity after all that time off?

Patti Smith: Fred and I were working toward a new record, and around 1993 we started building material and ideas for what we thought would be pretty much a politically articulate record addressing issues we were both interested in. When Fred passed away I didn’t quite have the heart to work on that record and instead sat down and wrote most of the songs for Gone Again in rememberance of Fred. It was really a record that I constructed around him as a man, and having done that, after I regrouped and strengthened myself, I felt I could continue to work on the type of record that we had set out to do, that would address things he and I thought were important.

Did making Peace and Noise get you excited about recording again?

Yeah certainly, because I was honored to be able to communicate certain things about Fred. As his wife and his friend I felt it my duty and something I wanted to do, but it wasn’t the most joyful of experiences, and so to enter the recording studio and to addreess these other subjects was invigorating.

Recently I saw you on TV in this documentary on PBS about New York in 1975 and the whole scene that revolved around CBGB’s, with Television and the Ramones and other bands. Would it be weird for you to see yourself on PBS?

You mean would it be strange for me to see myself in the 70s? No, I mean, I don’t know how to answer that, but it’s no more strange than seeing pictures of myself in my Easter outfit when I was a little girl. It’s a part of my evolution as a human being. Sometimes it’s very touching to see myself with my old band, but when I look at myself back then, or listen to my old work, the thing is not to be judgemental, like artists are of themselves, but to examine it and hopefully find that it was done with the best of intentions, which I think I can always say that it was.

So looking back there’s nothing that you regret?

Well no, not in terms of work. I think that I always did the best work that I knew how to do at that particular time. That doesn’t mean that it’s great work and it doesn’t mean that it always measures up, but I know as an artist I always gave everything that I had. my regrets as a human being are personal, like falling short as a friend somewhere. I mean, we’ve all had regrets of how we’re handled ourselves as human beings but as an evolving artist i think i did just about all I could.

Does it bother you that kids now tend to discover your work through your collaborations with other more currently high profile artists?

No, not at all- It’s still communication, you know? I’m happy that the work would connect with anybody at any particular time. When I was doing my work in the 70’s I was very conscious of addressing a certain aspect of the population. I really felt I was addressing people more like myself, who were miscast, people that didn’t have any perceptible place in society, and remind them that they weren’t alone. At this time of my life, i just do my work in hopes of communicating with whomever might need to hear it, at any age.

What does your son like to listen to?

My son Jackson is fifteen and a guitar player, a very good guitar player, probably will be great, and he likes Stevie Ray Vaughan. He likes all kinds of music but that’s one of his heroes. Of course, he admires his father’s work and plays quite a bit like Fred. Jackson’s very open; he was listening to Segovia the other day and he’ll listen to Pavarotti. He’s very interested in all kinds of music but Stevie Ray Vaughan is his where he gets his essential inspiration.

Many musicians who have children with interests like that might say “I’d rather you not get into that kind of work” because they know all the pitfalls and they don’t want to see that happen to their kids. But you encourage it?

Well, the thing is, I think there are pitfalls in every walk of life. I’ve known some of the people that are the least together or have the worst drug problems to be in big business; you see the businessman who seems to have it all together but has four martinis a day. Jackson’s a natural musician so I encourage him to study all aspects of that calling. I think if people tend to their work instead of the trappings around their work they’ll do a lot better. I mean, I see it all the time where people seem preoccupied is with making it. Getting a record contract, going on the road, scoring this and scoring that. What they often don’t talk about is the developmnent of their work or what they’re trying to communicate with their work. I just encourage jackson to focus on develpoing his craft and the other things will fall into place later.

Just so that he’s having fun with it now, right?

Well, yeah, having fun and being a good student. (laughs).

One of the songs on the new album, “Spell,” involves Allen Ginsberg. Did he and the other Beats, like Burroughs and Kerouac, influence your work?

“Spell” was written by Allen, like a footnote to “Howl,” you know. As a writer I was probably much more influenced by William Burroughs. I knew both of them but I was closer to William and more influenced by his style of writing. The language on Horses is a direct offspring of his “Wild Boys.” I wasn’t so consciously influnced by Allen; he and the other beat writers didn’t influence me so directly. It was more indirect because Bob Dylan was so influenced by them and I’m in turn influenced by Bob Dylan. What Allen did as a person, or things he did culturally I found very inspiring. What he always tried to do was merge various aspects of our culture, to marry Buddhism and poetry and rock and roll and jazz, to bring all of these forces together to find some common ground. That was the tremendous energy of Allen Ginsberg. With William I truthfully just loved his style, as a man and as a writer, so I very much was attached to him.

So do you have any advice for budding poets?

I think that people that have a calling just need to keep working and be focused on the development of their craft. Not that they shouldn’t try to perform or get published, but not to look at such things as a barometer of their worth. They’ll learn themselves, because in the end, fame is fleeting. People will sell two million records and then the the next year nobody remembers them. What’s really important is the quaility of the work, and if it’s good work it will endure. I think that if one has a true calling they should follow that calling, but they should also be ready to go through a certain amount of pain. To feel that is an honor or a privilege, cause it’s not easy; being any type of artist is rough work. Very few people are given a break and part of it is being able to do the work itself. The reward often is just being part of that human chain of the whole evolutionary process of art, and sometimes there’s a lot of humiliation attached to it.

It’s a really unforgiving business.

It is. After all this time, even though people say nice things about me in the paper or other artists praise my work, I still endure continuous humiliation in trying to get my work across or in trying to get people to understand. It doesnt really stop. Sometimes people on a large scale, they just dont get it, but you cant let that kind of thing be your driving force. You have to be sturdy- being an artist is not for the faint hearted and you have to be proud that you are what you are. You have to be a proud bum.

Battery Acid Blues: The Hopeless Wankery of Critics

Keir DuBois is rapidly running out of patience with the opinionated masses. (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 10/23/97).

Being in an unknown band is quite a peculiar position. “Unknown” is itself an inaccurate term for the band, since there are a large number of friends and family who know and love the music and support us no matter what. But in the eyes of the arbiters of cool in the music industry, we’re nobodies, just another half-assed garage band of white rock ‘n’ roll guys from the suburbs. We usually don’t mind this description, (except the half-assed part; we’re all proud of those) but we really don’t want to be confined by it. So, when we received our first real negative criticism, by one of our potential employers, it didn’t sit very well.

No, that’s not entirely true. Bryn, Adam, and Kevin (when he was still our drummer) really didn’t care. It doesn’t matter to them if everyone loves the Mojo Wire except for one little critic. I, however, for some reason take it personally when someone says a creation of mine “sucks.”

Let me explain further: This summer while we were shopping around our first demo tape to coffee shops and the like, the music director of one of these places actually went out of his way to call us up and tell us that he would not require the services of amateurs like us at this time or in the future. Now, one might think that this would be a standard sort of polite rejection, but the tone of this guy’s voice made it perfectly clear that he thought we were the kind of band that made him wish he’d never wasted his time with our crappy demo.

Naturally, when Bryn and Kevin heard this, they gave the universal sign for “wanker” and immediately forgot about it. Adam, who deals a little worse than they do with criticism, griped about it for about an hour and then let it go. As for me, the bureaucratic barbs of that coffee shop arsehole pissed me off for a whole week. Never mind that the guy probably would have been a lot nicer if we were a popular band. Still, I felt in a certain privileged company by letting him get to me.

For famous rock stars who are used to the adulation of millions of fans and the considerable power that such adulation allows, the naysayings of one small critic are probably like the bites of a gnat. However, that little gnat has the potential to really inflame the star, simply because it’s something that the star, for all of his supposed power and influence, cannot control: the opinion of another person. This vexes the star so much that he often feels like going after that gnat wth a cannon.

Rock journalism is full of gnats like these, but nowhere is as loaded with them as the British music press. English record critics are notorious for their desire to stamp out and abolish all forms of pretentiousness in the music biz. On the one hand, that can be seen as a noble cause, if only for the reason of deflating stars’ egos and reminding them that they might not be on the top of the heap for long. It is the stars’ decision whether or not to actually listen to and therefore pander to the opinions of these critics, and though sometimes doing that does indeed pay off in a good album, I’d like to believe that such a result is one of the artist making a conscious decision to create such a record rather than listening to the rants of bitter critics.

Conversely, the media criticism could just be jealousy on the part of the critics, who are stuck writing about the music when they’d rather be out playing and touring (or maybe that’s just me). What this means to the Mojo Wire is that probably three members of the band will deal well with more criticism that might come, and one, me, will fuss about it. It just really gets to me that some jerk who doesn’t know us and hasn’t seen us play can make the assumption that we’re terrible based on one or two listenings to our demo.

Ultimately, though, I don’t think I’ll care about critical gripes. Why? The rest of the band and I know that our tape is pretty damn good. Our friends know it. Our siblings know it. Hell, even our parents know it. They all know that we’re great and we show promise, even though on occasion Adam hits himself in the nose with the microphone, Bryn snaps his E strings, and I botch bass lines. They know we’re good, and we’re grateful that they’ll never let us become arrogant idiots.

September 07, 2002

Battery Acid Blues: A Humorless Weekend In Los Angeles

Keir DuBois is easily offended by no-talent comediennes. (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 10/16/97).

This weekend the Mojo Wire and our extended family went to L.A. I kept a little record of it for posterity. Here’s what happened.

There is nothing that makes me appreciate this town more than leaving it for some other place that is not remotely like it. My sentiment is often shared by my band mates and our friends, and for this reason, we are taking a road trip down to Los Angeles.

Adam arrives with Stacy in tow, who has been ready to go since two o’clock. It is now four-thirty, and we’re waiting on Ian, who for whatever reason is nowhere to be found. Undoubtedly he will deny being the one who said we should all be ready by three. I say as much to Stacy and she agrees. “It’s not unusual.”

“It’s not uncommon,” echoes Adam.

“It’s not a surprise at all,” agrees Bryn.

Much later the Mafia Man does indeed arrive, and as we expected, denies any wrongdoing. We don’t care; let’s get on the road already. Now, in Adam’s car, it’s not a question of “Shall we play the Radiohead album?” It is instead queried, “Which Radiohead disc will it be?” Since the release of OK Computer we’ve been playing them non-stop. In between playing real bands we fit in the demo tape of the Mojo Wire that we finished yesterday. It is Stacy’s first real forced listening of the new material, and though she detests “Your Mama’s a Ho,” she really likes the rest.

“I’ll be your number one fan!” she gushes, and that’s no empty threat; when she gets excited about something, her face lights up in a bright happy smile, which, I now observed, was much better than the mopey state which had held her for the past three hours. Turns out that what breaks her blues is the silly “drip-drop” chorus to one of our songs called “Wishing Well Blues.”

Our planfor the trip is this: we meet up with our friends at UCLA and USC, and with our combined pent-up powers of fun, go out on the town and paint it crimson. It is my perhaps naive hope that we might even disillusion ourselves of the preconceived notions that L.A., and Hollywood in particular, is the current slimy center of all in this universe that is bitter and cynical. I’d like to think that this isn’t true, but I doubt it. I don’t like to be bitter and cynical unlessforced, and I really hope this trip won’t do that.

While I’ve been daydreaming about the nature of the universe, Adam has already reached one of his definitions of hell. Traffic is hopelessly snarled, the other drivers are jerks, and to top it off, the directions he got are less than helpful, and so now we’re getting a lovely tour of Bel Air. Ronald Reagan’s hood. O.J. Simpson’s turf.

Everybody appreciates it but our driver, and by the time we’re pulled over by a rent-a-cop patrol car wondering what we’re doing here, Adam’s had it. Lucky for us, our fearless frontman only has eyes for our ultimate destination, and squeezes the information out of the chubby security guard faster than that guard could squeeze the jelly out of a doughnut. We soon arrive at the foot of UCLA’s Dykstra Hall.

The whole crew is shortly rounded up from the separate giant pillars of study in this metropolis, and we’re off to see the Strip. Our first stop is the Laugh Factory, and the show we are to see consists of five unknown comics. Having seen a spat of showcases this summer back home, everybody’s excited, and that is only amplified by the loud neon on the club’s outside and the many portraits of now-famous comedians on the walls. Ticket prices brought us back to reality.

Not long after we’re seated my worst suspicions and fears about show business in L.A. are confirmed. Sure, I’d heard stories from my playwright aunt about the crazed energy of those who want to make it big, and I’d heard equally scary (but far funnier) stories from my psychiatrist uncle about how he used to treat all of these people, but none of this prepared me for the reality that was now spitting in our faces.

Every one of the comics in the show is basing their act on insults, pure unadulterated, and totally evil insults. No one in the first few rows is spared. We’re in the far back, and, unfortunately for us, behind a rather obese man who is drunk of his keister and laughing at every utterance of these slugs. He proceeds to repeat the last few words of every comic’s sentence as if memorizing them for later. I look across Stacy, who is fuming, over at Bryn, who is just about to kill the guy in front of him, and slowly abandon myself to the dark side.

It comes in the person of the most evil woman I’ve ever seen. She’s the perfect description of the bitter Hollywood has-been, and she was letting us know it. She said “fuck” so frequently that it went in and out of style six times. Bloody hell, she’s having a go at every race known to man, all the while gleefully telling us how much of a slut she is. Stacy has a rule concerning female comics seen live: they suck. Well, that rule is standing tall and proud tonight.

Speaking of Stacy, I now notice that she’s doing what everyone else wishes they were doing right now. After storming out and demanding her money back, and not getting it, she proceeded to the stage and let loose herself on that slime, with several others from the insulted crowd following suit.

It looks tough work; when Stacy pulls herself from the ruckus, her arms are covered in the black ichor that flows generously from the comic’s veins as she is pulverized by the audience. For a second we are all frozen, and just as quickly we realize that this is our signal to peel out fast, before the club’s monstrous bouncers awak and mangle us. It’s tough to pry Bryn’s maiming hands away from the fat guy in front of him. We barely make it to our cars, what with my brother screaming “How ya like that, Jabba?” the whole interminable distance.

There’s no feeling like tearing down the Strip at 80, in traffic, constantly looking over your shoulder for fear of armed pursuit. Even if we wanted to, we’re not to enjoy it. Soon we’re far away, tires squealing high on Mulholland, and the rush is over.

It’s going to sound cheesy, but it’s true: The Mojo Wire and our extended family learned a bitter lesson about the pitfalls of show biz and how it can make monsters of ordinary people. Maybe every average Joe learns that in Hollywood, and this was how we did. I don’t hate this city, but I hate what it does to people. If we take another road trip, I vote for Pismo Beach.

September 03, 2002

U2's Top Ten Lyrics

Cross-posted from @U2.

U2's lyrics are so often second fiddle to the manner in which they are delivered that making a list of their "best" scrawlings is almost wholly dependent on assessing the quality of Bono's performance. In many cases, especially on much of their '80s material, the actual words and phrases are so awful and cliched as to elicit embarassment at the least, and jealous hatred from sniping pseudo-poets (who don't get as much attention for their self-conscious "art") at most. More often than not, Bono's stage presence, and seemingly total conviction in what he's bellowing out, helps even his worst lyrics over the hump.

In my opinion, Bono has hardly bested his lyrical compositions from the early '90s material; in terms of pure pop song lyricism, Achtung Baby has far and away the best ratio of winners to duds, and is thus very disproportionately represented here. For the purposes of this list I'd define "pop song lyricism" as words that do more than nail down the mood of a song -- they also have to be slightly allusive to something else less direct and/or easily interpretable to anything any listener might read into them. Also -- and this is the obvious but easily overlooked part -- there's got to be a great lyrical hook for the chorus. Of course, the best ones break all those rules anyway, and since making "best-of" lists is ultimately divisive and futile, I'll merely present my personal favorite U2 lyrics. These choices might not look like those of a "real" U2 fan, but they're not those of a casual one either. To wit, and in no particular order:

"Until the End of the World"
Someone somewhere in U2 or their organization loves this one enough to ensure its appearance on each tour since its creation. Someone is right on the money (it flat out rocks every time); even if you don't care for or don't get the now-infamous Judas to Jesus dialogue, this lyric still has a multitude of phrase-turning zingers and some oral sex for good measure. It's direct, coming from the first person, and that either makes for a homoerotic spin on some biblical-scale envy or a wild peek into the psyche of a jilted lover.

Bono is lyrically at his best when condensing well-known epics down to a personal scale that's easier to relate to, even if it's to the ultimate turncoat "down the hold just passing time." Judas reveals himself as jealous and self-centered, obsessed with the man that he betrayed in much the same way that prisoners become consumed by the intimate details of their crimes ("I took the money, I spiked your drink"). Bono creates a superficially simple character that reveals a complexity equally passionate, if not more so, than Jesus' fullest flights of glossolalia. The mild black humor of lines about drowned sorrows learning to swim and bent truisms like "you miss too much these days if you stop to think" illuminated a narrative that, on first listen back when it was released, was really bizarre to hear coming from Bono of all people, if you believed all the pious media caricatures. My rule about a knockout chorus hook has already been broken, but I don't care -- Wenders' film title had to fit in somewhere in this, pound for pound, arguably one of U2's very best songs, and it works. Runners-up in the "I hate you but I love you" category: "One," "So Cruel."

"Ultraviolet (Light My Way)"
I didn't think so highly of this one until I got why Bono was singing it while hiding behind those twin devils of MacPhisto and the Mirrorball Man. It's a first-person exhortation from Satan! No really, all you need to do is picture MacPhisto singing lines like "the day is dark as the night as long" and "feel like trash but you make me feel clean/I'm in the black [of Hell], can't see or be seen," and the whole lyric congeals into a pretty desperate narrative. Why do you think that the nightly Zoo TV prank calls immediately preceded this song?

Okay, well maybe not, but other allusions are there: the "love [that's] like a secret that's been passed around" is the devil's bent misinterpretation of God's ditching him for Jesus (instead of what really happened). Still, even more of a giveaway happens in the live '93 version -- MacPhisto singing "Help!", pleading "help me get my feet back off the ground," corrupting the Lennon/McCartney line into a plea for returning to past glory. He's on a really heavy nostalgia trip ("I remember"), begging to go back to heaven -- he wants God ("Baby") to light the way back to favor and paradise.

Ultraviolet light is a great metaphor here, alluding to the invisible light of God's love that can also burn you if you get too close. The third verse/bridge (you can't tell thanks to Edge's arpeggiations) is again the peak of the whole thing, crashing down into another great chorus hook. I've read other critiques that place this song more along the lines of Job, and I suppose that works too. Of course, when delivered as a vaguely personal relationship breakup, it doesn't get bloated by pretension. Then again, if you really want to have fun, imagine the South Park Satan singing this in faux-R&B style. Just don't read Milton or Dante while listening to Macphisto -- there's just too much bad mojo. Runner up (just barely!) in the "wacky collect call from hell" category: "The Fly."

"The Wanderer"
According to B.P. Fallon's book, this lyric was subjected to a quick deadline -- the imminent arrival in Dublin of its chosen vocalist, Johnny Cash -- and I'm of the opinion this was a very good thing. The other three U2s had reportedly gone bonkers waiting for Bono to finish lyrics, so a finite cutoff probably did him good here by forcing a first-thought-best-thought, get-out-yer-best-stuff-now way of composition. What resulted was full disclosure of the whole shebang, the spelling out of what the whole three year Achtung Baby/Zoo TV/Zooropa marathon was all about (and apparently wasn't enough, as half of Pop demonstrates).

The despicable wretch narrating "The Wanderer" (as oppose to the baritone Voice of God singing it!) has bet the farm on one of the worst moral paradoxes in history, that of sinning to salvation. "You" is explicitly God here, and our hero moves through some treacherous (in his eyes) "city without a soul" -- a Gomorrah-like moonscape (or is it merely the Great Plains?) decimated by nukes and acid rain, seeking infinite mortal sensory overload. The kicker line is Cash's monologue: "I went out there in search of experience, to taste and to touch and to feel as much as a man can before he repents"; before attempting to attain that inhuman perfection seemingly espoused by Jesus.

At the same time, the lyric exposes the hypocrisy of this perspective -- the harsh judgmental opinion the narrator holds for the "citizens" who "don't want God in" their "kingdom" clearly betrays his adamant disdain for anyone who disagrees with his harsh ideology. Bono may have merely passed by that fork in the road and saw it as a dead-end off-ramp from the Zoo highway, but he was curious enough about what might be down there to send a figment of his imagination off that way. Maybe Bono thought the only way that poor jerk would survive would be if he had Johnny Cash's voice. Honorable mention in the "let's spell it all out for the morons" category: "Tryin' to Throw Your Arms Around the World," "Mofo" and "The First Time."

"Running to Stand Still"
If I had to choose a favorite Bono-heroin song, this is it. Though it doesn't come close to the vivid desciptions of orgasmic blissed-out stupor flaunted by Trainspotting, or even the visceral bluntness that Lou Reed conjures up, "Running to Stand Still" certainly bests Bono's two previous entires in this category -- "Bad" and "Wire" from The Unforgettable Fire album -- relatively weak lyrical efforts supported by terrific tunes. While those two lyrics attempted to evoke the pleasure and pain of heroin use (or what Bono thought of as heroin use, through the vicarious experience of acquaintances) in very broad strokes, "Running to Stand Still" brings the intensity down a bit with a few personal references sprinkled in the mix. The dead-end "seven towers" -- the projects of Ballymun -- surfaces as an image of finality and despair, and a better developed third-person narrative allows Bono to describe what he sees in a more honest way (but of course leaves plenty of room for his precious hyperbole). I think my favorite line is when "she is raging and the storm blows up in her eyes" qualified by "she will suffer the needle chill," a good simple balance of figurative imagery supported by literal reality.

The song and lyric took on new life during Zoo TV, as an uncomfortably mild interlude between the crush of "Bullet the Blue Sky" and the release of "Where the Streets Have No Name." Dressed as the Vietnam junkie-commando, Bono's theatrical role-playing and his rising cries of "Hallelujah" (a biblical praise offered up not for God, but for the feeling of the drug's progress through the body) build up to a climax almost as powerful as "Bad" before it's shot down by Larry's snare and eulogized by Bono's own harmonica. Another measure of a good lyric is its adaptability to different moods and perceptions, and adding that one perfect touch to the song matured it from a piece of empathy into a full-blown personal epic. Honorable mention in the "U2 sings about heroin?" category: "Bad" and "Wire."

"Gone"
This overlooked Pop song managed to fight its way into the Elevation tour set as a stronger companion piece to "Stuck in a Moment" before eventually complimenting the better "Kite." Handing the lyric over to the ghost of Michael Hutchence seemed a natural step after it had been similarly used for Princess Diana in a few PopMart shows, but both reinterpretations miss the original and more insightful topic: Bono's measured response to the indie-fascist arbiters of cool that view commercial rock & roll success as a morally bankrupt and degenerate enterprise. What could come off as an out-of-touch scolding instead hits all the right targets -- the unending guilt about getting something (money, fame) for doing relatively nothing (pop music), the desperate fear of losing one's personal identity and the ultimate disconnection from reality that results from worrying too much about the guilt, pressure and fear. Bono follows the meteoric trajectory perfectly ("taking steps that make you feel dizzy but you learn to like the way it feels"), and the mania to succeed that drives the famous ("you wanted to get somewhere so badly you had to lose yourself along the way") like he's describing someplace he's happy to have left.

Bono also exposes the inherent hypocrisy of the puritannical anti-success stance ("what you leave behind you don't miss anyway") and the delusion of power itself ("what you thought was freedom is just greed"). The chorus ("I'm not coming down!") indicates the narrator's desire to never return to that mindset and remain trapped with his own ego. Bono may have thought that the original feeling was a bit smug and superficial (in my opinion the only real criticism of it), so he allowed it to grow by stretching the interpretation out to cover the travails of success and celebrity in general. Runner-up in the "I'm glad that's not my problem anymore" sweeps: "Last Night on Earth."

"Mysterious Ways"
Ostensibly about John the Baptist in the same way as "End of the World" corralled Judas. The thing about Bono's writing that you have to remember is that he seems to love making his own spin on one of his favorite pieces of literature (take one guess), and his best stuff is when he extrapolates off the formula he discovered with the October album -- replacing God with You. Perhaps by the time of Achtung Baby he'd realized the way to make these biblical musings more personal was to flesh out a kind of rock and roll historical fiction, with a slight twist on what the listener thinks they know -- in this case, God as a "she."

Of course, all of that doesn't matter when you hear Edge's contorted wah pedal and Adam's effortlessly, masterfully minimal riff pulsing though the tune, but Bono makes his case on top of that with a hell of a hook. That chorus was supposedly so good that they wouldn't let it go back in Berlin, and aren't we lucky. Anyway, Bono gives us an updated Johnny, tucked away in monastic exile and "eating from a can" in some post-nuclear godless wasteland, so busy "running away from what you don't understand -- love" that he can't grasp contradictions like "if you want to kiss the sky you better learn how to kneel." Again, that interpretation isn't much to stand on when the tune itself is so good, but that's how you can tell it's good -- if the lyric can actually hide its deeper meaning and not actually pretend to be so profound, it's a real winner and sure to have a wide appeal. Runner up in the "sexy song with a cool biblical allusion" category: "Salome."

"Bullet the Blue Sky"
"Bullet the Blue Sky" is U2's greatest and most preposterous stab at the fury of Revelation. The lyric, a true piece of brimstone-hellfire preaching, chronicles an epic showdown between extreme good and extreme evil. The imagery is laughably simple on first glance, but the use of grand elemental slabs of allusion works well precisely because it keeps pace with the apocalyptically stomping music.

Bono's delivery is delirious with fervor, answering the bizarre carnage in El Salvador that he saw first-hand with some white-hot truth. It's very harsh, totally one-sided, vehemently uncompromising, and (unfortunately) completely humorless, 'cause to him this stuff really wasn't funny at the time. The "howling/locust wind" and "stinging rain" are direct and rather obvious references to apocalypse and the plague, and as the lyric goes on, the blunt indictment of the destructive 1980s American cowboy-diplomacy (gee, sound familiar?) rings just as true now as it did then.

There are some great lines in here, like "see the face of fear running scared in the valley [of the shadow?] below!" The best line -- "you plant a demon seed, you raise a flower of fire" is a terrifically poetic description of the dubiously practical and dangerously lazy American tendency to install foreign dictators in convenient locations around the world. This lyric is also an extension of what Bono merely scraped the surface of on albums like October; one does indeed babble with the gibberish of prophecy when the finger of God presses firmly on one's head, and it would appear that one gets mighty cranky when this doesn't change anything. Runner-up in the "dark heart of America" category: "Exit."

"Acrobat"
Hey, bring it on. You try and build a lyric around a gut-slashing blister of a chorus like "don't let the bastards grind you down." It's Bono's best refrain ever, and the rest of the lyric isn't exactly slouching either. The poor guy must have felt really backed into a corner up in that posh Sydney penthouse suite during LoveTown's Australian trek.

No really, if you can get beyond the superficial irony of someone in Bono's contemporary position writing something like this, it surely comes off as a personal best. Hell, if I were a lead singer/lyricist armed with this, there's no way it would have been the only one from that album to not see live performance. The unrelenting list of cynical commands and delirious disorientation ("and you can build and I can will...and you can smash and you can seize...in dreams begin responsibilities") perfectly illustrates the simple metaphor of the celebrity balancing act, almost like a diary, but what makes it click is the setting on the very personal scale of a dissolving relationship. The whole thing is so forceful by the end -- the one-two punches amass into a giant freeway pileup of venom -- that the song effectively ends the album; the only thing that could follow it is the bitter, quiet aftermath of "Love is Blindness." Runner-up in the "you mortals will never understand" category: "Dirty Day."

"Kite"
I like to slag off most of All That You Can't Leave Behind, fairly or not, but this is the only song from that album that still holds my attention. Bono's relatively simple fable about the acceptance of death as a part of life hit home long before its defining performance after the passing of his father, but it was uniquely clarified at that point much better than when Bono offered a muffled description onstage in Boston. His assertion that this "goodbye song" could be from almost any point of view speaks to his tendency of creating open-ended anthems out of very personal subject matter.

The narrator in "Kite" is either hopelessly resigned to fate or totally at peace with himself, and despite (presumably) Bono's desire for the latter, I'm inclined to believe otherwise. "I want you to know that you don't need me anymore" is an awfully tender kiss-off, assuming that the narrator is amazed to discover this fact for the first time. The simple metaphor "of a kite blowing out of control on the breeze" actually says more than any bit of detail that attempts to support it; the fragility and unpredictability of life that is so often shrugged off by someone who is childless is brought into sharp focus once kids come into the picture. The narrator seems newly in touch with his own mortality, a refreshing perspective despite the natural impulse to make it as profound as possible. The lyric's last couplet about new media being the big idea unnecessarily dates it, and isn't really much of a counterweight to the universality floating through the rest of the song, but that's relatively easy to forgive when everything comes together as well as "Kite" does. Runners-up in the "death is not the end" category: "Tomorrow" and "One Tree Hill."

"Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me, Kill Me"
No fancy allusions here -- simply another great direct polemic about one of Bono's many pet ideas: a vague cross-breeding of rock star as dictatorial messiah superhero. Maybe that's why he thought it would work well with Batman Forever; it certainly bested Marilyn Manson's feeble "Antichrist Superstar" swipe at the concept, though Manson might get a C- for effort.

"Hold Me, Thrill Me" is almost like an update for "The Fly," as sung by, say, MacPhisto; the peak here is at the bridge (who says choruses have to be the nucleus?): "they want you to be Jesus, to go down on one knee, but they'll want their money back if you're alive at thirty-three." It seems like the one contradiction that Bono doesn't want to be at the center of is the one that involves the most self-absorption, the one that no one knows they've strayed into until moments before they exit this life. The now-formulaic celebrity death-by-fame was splashed all over the PopMart screen in Warholian proportions while U2 performed this song, triggered by hacking coughs and expletives from Bono (my brother swears that Bono says "fuck this!" before careening into this song during the PopMart Mexico video). The character he jumps into for this song is literally teetering on the edge of the abyss, doing that sublime tabloid two-step for all to see, and maybe Bono had to get this sort of creature out of his system before he ended up that way. Its sounds silly, but his insight into Michael Jackson's bizarre adventures of a decade ago shows that Bono can easily tune into that wavelength, even if he doesn't like what he hears. Honorable mention in the "stage is but a platform shoe" category: "Even Better Than the Real Thing," "Discotheque" and "Elvis Ate America."

General honorable mention goes to "One," mostly because it is fantastic despite being overanalyzed and played to death. The fact that a song about U2's deteriorating relationship with each other in Berlin can be taken to mean pretty much anything speaks to either Bono's pathetic vagueness or his eminent sensitivity. I think it's both. Kudos also to "Please," the second best song on Pop and infinitely better in every way than "Sunday Bloody Sunday."

September 02, 2002

Retaliatory Self-Martyrdom


An unashamedly self-centered analysis of Mojo Wire-era song lyrics.

Immediate disclaimer: Of course, this doesn't include the lyrics I wrote for the first two Mojo Wire albums, but since the 12-bar parodies on Battery Acid Blues were much more collaborative things with Bryn and Adam, and most of my half-assedly rushed Rocket Fuel lyrics got re-written for Honey White anyway...

How Far Away (May 1998): The first lyric that I put any real effort into was still essentially a whiny breakup bitchfest, the perfect weapon for a 21-year-old man-child. It was loosely directed at an ex-girlfriend for (as I saw it at the time) scurrilously defaming me as some kind of superficial gigolo. Calling her Cassandra was a cheap and toothless insult that seemed fitting, so I ran with it. It wasn't cathartic, though- it was more like a festering cut, and I found it dangerously easy to progress from false prophecies to something nastier. Slashing with the Sylvia Plath knife was callous and ignorant, but like I said in the lyric, I was the last one to find out about any of this. I've always hated being the victim of inside jokes, so since everyone else knew I was getting dumped except me, I thought it was more than fair to fight fire with napalm. It's a total hyperbolic stretch from what actually happened, but it's okay to be a little cartoonish in a pop lyric, right? Naturally, it had no effect on her whatsoever, but the band dug it. The music was happy and loud, so that was the only thing audiences heard anyway.

Sunset Down (July 1998): Like "How Far Away," this one is another ill-defined breakup rant, only slightly mollified by placing it atop one of Adam's softer acoustic tunes. The lyric itself had no real structure; it was a rambling thing lacking verses or choruses or anything like that, but it worked. Even so, most of the lines hang on clumsy rhymes like "nations/reservations," and the themes were lame and cliched (things strung together like sunsets and endings). The only line I still really like is "the heat is high but I know my way and nothing so wrong will happen today," because it's completely delusional; you only ever say something that confident when you've been through a hell of a wringer and you feel like crap. Another good couplet is "losing every lead/learning how to bleed" (inserted in a rewrite a year later). Both are the sorts of things that you lie to yourself about for the sheer sake of functioning after a tragedy. I had no such tragedy worse than being dumped, so I was just being a big baby, but at least I knew the line was bogus and knew it had to be delivered with a healthy smirk.

The Shivering Sand (August 1998) I will always count "Shivering Sand" as one of my favorite musical accomplishments- even though it's a silly lust limerick with shaky metaphors of quicksand and whirlpools- because it only took me a miraculously short six hours to write and record the entire thing. It began with that great slippery bassline, and then all I did was channel the lonliness I felt during a summer in Isla Vista without my girlfriend. I swiped the title phrase from Wilkie Collins' novel The Moonstone, which I was slogging through at the time for a Victorian Literature class. I didn't enjoy it- Collins' "shivering sand" metaphor was supposed to represent repressed Victorian female sexuality, in all its desperate glory- but then of course I turned around and wrote a song about that very thing, except I was the angsty female. For balance, I tried to inject the mood of detached cool from songs like Dire Straits' "Down To The Waterline," and so "Shivering Sand" helped define the "surf-noir" sound on the Seaside album. The lyrics changed a bit when it was re-recorded in 2001, and it was that revised version that Honey White included in their live sets.

Pisces Lullabye (February 1999) This lyric has always been a pretty nebulous, open-ended thing, but the original version was extremely incoherent. I was trying to peek out of my girlfriend's head and see things the way I thought she might, four months after her father's death. How presumptuosly preposterous is that? As with so many things, I was younger and dumber and trying to be empathetic. It's generally okay, though, as long as you don't try to figure it out. The title also plays on the idea that a Pisces (her) and a Scorpio (me) are astrologically speaking a perfect match. We only found out about that six months later, but it fit, and a line from a Pavement song hit it on the head so I filched them both. It also sounds like the Cure, which was one of her big favorite bands. I totally rewrote it from the ground up in 2002 for Honey White. We'd been rehearsing a louder, slightly faster, non-lullaby take of the song anyway, so the revised lyric structure helped a lot and made "Pisces" a more complete composition.

Water Into Wine (September 1999) Following up the Seaside Hamlet Skids lyrics proved tough, mostly because of self-imposed pressure. "Water Into Wine" was first set in motion by evangelical religion rubbing me the wrong way, but what kept the thing alive was a tangent- my original idea of Isla Vista as Pinocchio's Pleasure Island (where little boys and girls eat candy, play games, have fun, and turn into jackasses), and I ran with that. I thought it might be fun to pick on the Jesus/invincibility/martyr complexes of 18-24 year old Isla Vistans like myself (I was then 22) and just put all that into the context of the lyric. It's ambiguous and I think that works well for either narrator (divine or earthly). The second verse arrives with the sinking feeling of knowing you've worn out your welcome- on this mortal coil, or in this stinking student ghetto- when you just can't relate to everyone else around you anymore. By the third verse our hero wants out and the imagery is more apocalyptic, with thunder and tidal waves. We never actually get to find out if he made it out of town, though.

You're On Your Own (December 1999) This lyric was hard to write and I'm still not convinced that it's viable, but it works well enough for Joe's ominous music. I think what it ended up being was a bitter and delusional stalker muttering about how their ex can't escape their experience together and how it defined them more than they might think. More vague I's and You's can be filled in with anyone from any relationship. The title came out of further brainstorming about Isla Vista and how it's the first taste of social freedom for so many people, and they squander it with excessive behavior merely to test their own limits. Like, "here you go son, have fun at school, you're on your own now." This wasn't entirely my experience personally so it made it a little tougher to write about. So it's either that or an even more vague idea that (continuing the religion thing here), well, what if our saviors gave up on us out of sheer frustration? Humans are stupid and I think the idea that they can be saved is equally naive, but the lyric doesn't really get close enough to explaining that well in a very "poetic" way.

Heart On A Platter (March 2000) For "Heart On A Platter" I'd sidestepped Isla Vista's excess somewhat, and gave in to another loose abandonment rant. This one has relatively weak links to the ongoing anti-religion theme in that it contains sporadic details from the falseness of born-again style baptism, but I think it gets a little closer to the main source of all this mess, which is my busted relationship with my father. The "happy couple" is nominally romantic but it could refer to any interpersonal exchange and was supposed to try and get a handle on the fact that I don't get along with people who dump me because my dad left, or some weepy self-pitying crap like that. It really felt, though, like he erased twenty years when he fought to sell the house I grew up in for selfish and dumb reasons. The case going to trial was literally the almost-court battle to get revenue from my parents' house, and "walking away in style" was definitely not on the agenda for certain parties. The rest of the 2nd verse refers to my perception of his weird attempts at making a stable new family based on cliched nostalgia, and how silly it looks to the rest of us. I must have been in a terrific mood.

One Last Hallelujah (April 2000) Part II (after "Water Into Wine") of the semi-divine Isla Vista Trilogy. Hallelujah is one of my favorite words, and it doesn't necessarily always have to be associated with religion. What I tried to do with this lyric is once again needle the idiocy of I.V. (as a small-scale prism of larger examples of excess in the world and its history), but the problem with that is that whomever does that (if it's a straight I vs. You) of sounding too high mindedly preachy and righteously clueless. So, I included myself among the guilty and merely used the lyric as a photo shoot to expose the behavior without actually endorsing or condemning it (though I think the narrator does see the inherent meaninglessness). Also, specifically naming your medication of choice is always better than being general about it and sounding like Nancy Reagan- hence, tequila, rum, and gin all have starring roles in this swinging drinking song.

This is probably the best example of my writing as phrase collection- "half-assed fiction" and "epic funk" just sounded cool and I was glad I could insert them somewhere. Taking apart other cliches is fun too- "talent jumping a generation" is ok, but excessive behavior allows it to hopelessly bypass everyone entirely, leaving us hacks and posers that drink too much. The kicker here is that the dumb party people don't know if their hallelujahs will be their last words on this earth before their bodies give out from overstimulation. The line about setting the record straight is intentionally crap- no one ever does in these situations and especially not if they've slept together and dumped each other and met up at a random party, but that's what it feels like at the time. The crucifixion analogy was tossed in to take apart the self-righteous fretting that many people including myself have subjected their relationships to. Basically I didn't want to be a sensitive prick anymore, so I chose to be an asshole prick, at least superficially, cause it doesn't matter.

The Peak Of My Career (Sepember 2000) Part III of the Isla Vista trilogy. It's definitely the weakest of the three, but it is a complete and whole composition by itself. The song opens the morning after with coeds doing the walk of shame (east to campus), and with the first failed relationship kicked out of Eden and walking away east as well. One hand on the bottle and one foot out the door, with fake maturity- all the while pretending that we're used to this cause it happens all the time. I added the complicit "we" in here for our hero, and it lets him or us get away with knowing we can't have everything material and carnal but wanting and striving vainly for it anyway. The 3rd verse rather simplistically reiterates that reputations are always on the line in a fake setting like this, and that attempts at conversion and supposed blessed reality checks will always fail. The title and chorus come from the preconception here that most every student sees these experiences as their last great gasp of individuality and freedom and achievement before they're shackled to careers and marriage and picket fences (to which they nevertheless go willingly). It's a lie, especially if this is in fact their first spurt of true excess.

Fatal Flaws (December 2000) Or, the "Unemployment Paranoia Freak-Out Blues." It's one of the most fun things I've written and is a riot to sing because it's way too close to the truth. The personification of Reality, Boredom, and Ambition as three women the narrator is/has been involved with was a neat touch. The fact that it came quickly after my ignominious exit from a terrible, dull job after about a week, leading into three months of unemployment, was probably not coincidental, shall we say, but it took a little while for the lyric to come together. "The fear" is something different from Hunter Thompson's fear. It's about having an ideal goal and knowing that there's a mountain of work ahead coupled with that awful feeling of not knowing where or how to start- like something good is just around the corner but still out of reach. Bummer, huh? Maybe, but the song is a 12-bar that really rocks, so we'll just take what we can.

August 31, 2002

Battery Acid Blues: Solving the Vexing Percussion Problem

Keir DuBois, the Mojo Wire and their friends crash a frat party. (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 10/9/97).

I was in a rotten mood. It had been two weeks and no one had responded to our ads about looking for drummers. In fact, all the ads I saw were looking for drummers; seems there’s a severe shortage on talent when one is in a town where everyone and their mom is in a band, and we learned that the hard way. Still, something might have come up, but I wasn’t in prime condition to appreciate that.

I’d just read an article in a pop music rag that bent me all out of shape. Seems that the College Music Journal was having its annual hipper-than-thou convention, and some comments made by the keynote speakers were just out and out lies, but the crowd of bitter bohemians cheered like a cult. One of the speakers, techno-guru Moby, said the contemporary music scene was “not courageous” as well as “anemic and soulless.”

The fact that he made this assertion just because the poor bastard couldn’t avoid the Wallflowers or some other Top Forty band on the radio is laughable. He of all people should know that the current scene is very courageous; it’s just not getting the publicity it deserves. He also forgot that the world isn’t perfect.

The next speaker was the ghoulish Marilyn Manson, who said “If you do something that everybody loves, it’s not really worth too much.” Like hell it’s not; that guy and his band have sold oodles of albums, and I’d be surprised if he thought that his own material sucked. Well, maybe he does; he’s already become the ‘90s Alice Cooper.

“Jeez,” I said aloud, “these guys have really gotta lighten up a little. I mean, how rough can it be? Even they didn’t have to deal with a paranoid terrorist roommate for a year.”

“What?” asked Bryn. “Are you griping about music again, you fool?”

“Of course,” I replied. “What else do I do these days but weep and moan?”

“Look,” he reassured me, “we’ll find a damn drummer, okay? Now please play your part!” He was referring to my bass line for a surf instrumental we’d been working on called “El Nido Thunder.” I flipped the power switch, rumbled the rafters awhile, and came up with a low counterpoint for his screeching lead, and suddenly all was right with the world. Rock and roll indeed.

An hour later it was dark, and we were congratulating ourselves for our brilliance when Adam walked in with Ian and our friends Stacy and Harriet. Stacy looked at Bryn and I with a conspiratorial gleam in her eye and said, “Okay boys, get pretty. We’re going to go crash a frat party!”

“What?” we asked, and then realizing their folly, exclaimed “No! No, no, no!” Bryn and I aren’t very fond of the greek system at all, and we don’t care if our disdain is justified or not, we’ll pick on the greeks as much as we pick on everything else.

“Whoa there,” cautioned Adam, “Those of us that hold too much hatred will have no, er, ‘dignity’ to lose. She said we’re crashing it, didn’t she?”

“Yeah,” chimed in Harriet, who unknowingly repeated my own advice, “you guys have really gotta lighten up a little. We need handsome men like you there to protect us from the, um, weird guys that are gonna be there. Yeah, that’s it.” It was a weak argument, but as I’ve said, my brother and I are raving egomaniacs, and flattery will get anyone anywhere with us.

Minutes later, after collecting Stacy’s roommates Rachel and Emily, we arrived at Theta Chi. Of course the girls were let in right away, and the hulk at the door gave us the cold shoulder. “Don’t worry,” called Stacy over the fence a few feet away, “we’re gonna get you four in here!”

In fact it took twenty-five minutes. We had enough time to cruise to Del Playa to see the destruction there and be back in time to find her waiting for us. “Come on, come on, let’s go!” she yelled, grabbing me, the most reluctant soul, by the collar and dragging me through the gate. “You better appreciate this, Mister Rock and Roll. I had to convince four different meatheads that you guys were legit!” I had no choice but to go where I was led, and to make a very long story short, we actually had fun, for a little while. There was a great country-blues band playing, and we all took over the couch behind the drummer.

Soon everyone was loopy. “Hey,” I offered, “I know what we could do to solve all our problems!” In the state of mind I was in, I must have made it sound like a revelation. They all looked at me like I was Moses come down the mountain.

“Let’s steal this drummer! Let’s talk him out of this band, ‘cause we can get better than these guys, and if he won’t go, we’ll just cart him of after they finish the gig! There are a lot of us; we could do it!” Whether or not the guy actually wanted to go was beside the point, because he was good and we needed him, and, well, things would work out eventually, right? “All right,” answered Emily, “you four guys each get an arm and a leg, and we’ll each take a drum!”

“No, we won’t,” said Bryn. “We’ll go over there and chat him up like any sane prospective band would.”

Adam and I reluctantly agreed that this was probably the better thing to do, but I still heard Emily mumbling “...I coulda had that cymbal, easy...” as we sauntered over to talk to the drummer.

Unfortunately, he really liked the group he was with, and even worse, he didn’t know of any other drifting, bandless drummers. Upon rejection, we all drowned our collective sorrows again for another hour or so, but then went back tothe girls’ place in the Fontanbleu, where we wrote and played a new song, a creepy little thing that called “The Shakeup.” It was so good that it gave us that great and powerful feeling of being in a band and creating. “You know,” I said, “it really won’t be that long until we’re ready to go out there and make a living doing this.” I was happy, but a little too excited.

“Sure,” answered Ian. “But you still need a drummer.”

August 24, 2002

Battery Acid Blues: New Adventures With The Mojo Wire

Keir DuBois is back after a failed solo attempt. (Originally published in the Artsweek section of the UCSB Daily Nexus on 10/2/97).

“The Clap is dead. From the ashes of a popular and successful blues band has arisen a smaller band, skilled but unknown. The faces are the same and the talent remains, but what has arrived in Isla Vista, playing the most corrosive blues, the most reverb-drenched surf, the snappiest pop, and the cheesiest country is a new group called the Mojo Wire.”

Kevin laughed at our attempt at self-promotion. “You twits,” he chided, “you think that will get you where you want to go? Hell, if people see that, they just might take you seriously, and you know that any band in Isla Vista who takes themselves seriously is laughed out of town as pretentious egomaniacs!”

“But Kev,” I replied, “we are egomaniacs. Well, at least Bryn and I are.” Bryn is my younger brother and a guitar player in the band. I play bass guitar, only because no one else wanted to. I turned sheepishly to Adam, the singer, guitarist, and frontman, and said “Adam has no ego. He’s far too modest.” I thought I was useless to add that as such, he is a great choice for a camera-magnet leader. “Besides,” I continued to Kevin, “you’re not coming, so what’s it to you?”

Kevin, at fifteen a drum prodigy, merely laughed. “Without me, you jokers will be hard pressed for gigs. Face it, your only gig here at home is a repeat of last year’s Christmas Boat Parade fiasco, and furthermore, drummers are hard to find.”

To this Bryn reminded our oh-so-mature skinsman that he’s so young that he has to ask his dad if he can jam with us. He then ripped deeper. “Remember, we saved you from drumming for a crazy punk band, you doofus, so you better appreciate that Christmas gig.” Bryn is a little bitter himself about said performance; our employer is cheap, so we only get free food and drinks for playing. Never mind that we’ll get valuable exposure, playing on a fifty-foot yacht, which itself must have eaten up most of the funds of our esteemed patron, whom we only know as “Ms. C.”

Soon we’d have to leave for school. All of our equipment was packed into a medium-sized white Aerostar, an auto that looked more like a giant egg than a car. At the wheel was our friend Ian, who in addition to being the sometime driver, was also the resident manager, accountant, lawyer, lighting and sound tech, bookie, and mafia man. He revved the engine impatiently. “Let’s go, huh? If we wait any longer, we’ll hit traffic!” We’ve never met anyone more concerned with time and money than Ian, and that’s why he is where he is.

Adam was indifferent to his future roommate’s concerns. “We’ll be going soon. We’ve got plenty of time.” He took two slow ambling steps down the driveway, looked at the ocean, and came back. Something was getting to him, but I couldn’t tell what it was. When he wasn’t happy Adam had this look on his face like he was distantly occupied with profound matters of the universe, the way the rest of us looked when we were stoned or hungover.

Adam could also be the flashiest out of all of us. We’re not usually dressed formal for gigs, but our first gig as the Mojo Wire was at a wedding. We’re the world’s worst wedding band, but we pulled this show off because Adam looked like a rock star. We played great, but he was dressed like a corporate surfer plus mafiosi in one, which bested my suit, a dull blue thing that made me look like a goofy Secret Service agent. He writes all our sillies songs, though, so even if we do start to think that he’s infinitely cooler than we are, we just have to recall our most favorite Adam-penned song, “Your Mama’s A Ho,” which elegantly speaks for itself.

Bryn was humming that same song when it occurred to me that these songs belong to a different band. They’re our songs still, but that was when we were the Clap. Now that we’d be away and without Kev, some of us had no intention of having such a name. Not me. “I miss the Clap,” I blurted out at random. “I think I’ll write a song called ‘I miss the Clap.’ It was such a great name for a blues band.”

“No,” said Bryn, “it was a hilarious novelty of an unpoetic name. I like the Mojo Wire much better, and you forget, bro, that we are not just a blues band.”

It was the same debate we’d had all summer, with the one exception that I agreed that we shouldn’t just be a blues band. What was weird was to hear a comment like that come from my brother the Blues Purist. No, that’s not true; Bryn’s not all blues and nothing else, it’s just that if he had to play blues guitar for the rest of his life, he’d be perfectly happy.

My thoughts were again interrupted by Ian yelling that it was time to go. We all said goodbye to Kev, promising that we’d never find another drummer who could play like him, and assured him that his spot at the Christmas gig was secure. “Excellent,” he snickered, clasping his hands together. “I shall await your ultimate return.” He cackled suddenly. We all laughed at the sight of the young terrorist riding into the sunset on his bike. We piled into the van and sped off in the opposite direction.

It’s been three weeks since then, and the three of us are still woefully unrehearsed. Sure, we can bust out all of our old blues songs in our sleep, but we need drums behind us. Not just drums, though. Kevin is one of our best friends, and it’ll be hard to replace him.

Related Posts with Thumbnails