September 26, 2011

30 Songs #9 - Water Into Wine: Jesus Complexes, Disney Films, and Other Gateway Drugs


Del Playa Shadow Puppetry, Part MCXXVIII.

Most of my song lyrics have arrived in groups. There was a time, about 10-12 years ago, when I'd be churning out several lyrics at a rate of about one every 2-3 months. That was relatively quick, considering that now it's about the same number every few years, but the pattern's stayed the same: within these groups there's usually one lyric that acts as the "gateway" composition—the one that points out a metaphorical or other creative direction that the next 3 or 4 will follow. Since I didn't write music as much the other guys in the band, their spare tunes were hanging around often, so finding music for all these lyrics was never a problem.

This week's "30 Songs" entry is a bit short, and late—since I was in Arizona all weekend—and it's dedicated to the first of three lyrics I call my "Isla Vista Trilogy," a late-period Mojo Wire surf-rocker called "Water Into Wine." This song is one of those gateway-lyrics that got grafted onto another guy's song—in this case a great one of Adam's; it's actually one of a few I wrote for his tunes that aren't quite up to par with the music's quality—and for my money it hasn't stood up as a lyric well, especially when compared to some of its contemporaries. Here's the song:



…and the lyric is:

"Water Into Wine"

Oh yeah we get along just fine
I turn your water into wine
it'll be so hard to leave you all behind

Listening too carefully is murder on my ears
especially when every prayer comes in loud and clear
All I ever wanted was a handle on the strain
all I ever get's another chance to go insane

I think I've been in town too long cause at my age the ether's stronger
Anyway I don't get liquored up for anyone too long
Hallucinations drive me mad, I kinda feel like I've been had,
I don't think superstition's ever got to me this bad

Oh yeah we get along just fine
I turn your water into wine
it'll be so hard to leave you all behind

Thunderheads are rumbling and heaven's out of reach
and tiny driftwood crucifixes wash up on the beach
I always knew that paradise would fall into the sea
but I never thought you all would get there safely without me

Oh yeah we get along just fine
I turn your water into wine
it'll be so hard to leave you all behind

Oh yeah we get along just fine
I turn your water into wine
it'll be so hard to leave you all behind


It's a solid tune, and it was always a blast to play, but the lyric still seems a poor fit for several reasons. One, it's way too wordy with too many syllables per line; clearly I was deep into my "Elvis Costello verbal diarrhea" period. Two, it's a sloppy metaphor. Not that picking on the Jesus-complexes of self-absorbed young men isn't worthwhile—it's one of the most fertile creative pools out there—but I didn't refine this one enough. It's too obsessed with critiquing the religion, as opposed to the people practicing (or mis-practicing) a religion. Earnest institutional broadsides will always be lame, and only a 21-to-25-year-old overeducated hypersensitive man-child will tell you otherwise. Finally this one doesn't go after the root causes (sheltered kids with too much money and time on their hands) to the degree it should, and it even confused more than a few listeners. Bryn remembers some people asking us if we were a Christian band. Oops.

What kept the "Water Into Wine" lyric alive after its initial and insecure "gee, evangelical Christianity sure creeps me out" phase, however, was its setting: the fetid UCSB student ghetto of Isla Vista, CA. Now, freaking out about some immoral Babylon isn't that original, but I love the idea of I.V. as Pinocchio's Pleasure Island—a place where little boys and girls eat candy, play games, have way too much fun, and turn into jackasses. I wanted to condense that into some nice pithy lines about noise, alcohol, ether, hallucinations, and other weird neurochemistry, but that doesn't come across as well as it should, which is ultimately why I don't consider it among my best stuff. It works on paper, but not so much in practice. More about that later, since the follow-up lyrics definitely do it better.

The tune's history is fairly lengthy, like all of the 2000/2001-era material, because we had so much time to record and demo and rewrite and overdub and on and on and on. Adam's original demo is from a summer 1999 jam, with Bryn drumming and me on an out-of-place echo-bass. That track got some initial vocal overdubs in early 2000, but then we re-arranged it to the point where Bryn and I did a completely new demo later that same year (along with several other songs). Then in 2001, Bryn and I laid down a third demo with Joe on lead guitar and Adam and I sharing vocals, and that was the take that developed into the You're On Your Own album version above. Even that version has different permutations, though; the final Mojo Wire album was the first one to be recorded digitally, but for some reason all the same tracks weren't there when I remixed it for the Mojo Wire best-of in 2003. Thus there are actually two "album versions" of "Water Into Wine"—the original with Adam's rhythm guitar during Joe's solo, and the remix with more backing vocals instead. They sound like this:

mp3: "Water Into Wine" (Demo Sep. 1999)
mp3: "Water Into Wine" (Demo Dec. 1999)
mp3: "Water Into Wine" (Demo Oct. 2000)

"Water Into Wine" does have a performance history too, but only with the Mojo Wire during 2000/2001. After those shows, it didn't make any public appearances. Here's some examples:

mp3: "Water Into Wine" (Live 2/16/01)
mp3: "Water Into Wine" (Live 4/7/01)
mp3: "Water Into Wine" (Live 4/12/01)

That's not to say my other bands didn't attempt their own takes of "Water Into Wine," because both Honey White and Radblaster have rehearsed it once, but for whatever reason it hasn't caught fire:

mp3: "Water Into Wine" (Honey White rehearsal, 12/2/02)
mp3: "Water Into Wine" (Radblaster rehearsal, 3/27/10)

I think it's gonna need some edits or even a rewrite to give the singer some relief. Maybe it can be another gateway lyric to more interesting stuff. As it was, though, "Water Into Wine" pointed the way to four further Isla Vista-related Mojo Wire lyrics, including the two remaining songs in my so-called I.V. trilogy. We'll get to the second one next weekend. Stay tuned…

"Water Into Wine" Song stats:
Music by Adam Hill (1999)/Adam Hill and the Mojo Wire (2001).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, September 1999.
Appears on the following albums:
You're On Your Own by the Mojo Wire
Low Fidelity Favorites by the Mojo Wire

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails