October 30, 2011

30 Songs #14 - Island Fever: Epic Minimalism and Other Contradictions

Trouble in Paradise, Part MCLXVIII.

For some reason, one of the most difficult things for me to do as a lyricist is throw the blueprint away. I can do it in almost every other creative project—abandoning something that's not working is not only practical, it's necessary—but like other overwrought, self-absorbed people, I've had all kinds of hangups related to letting things go over the years. Thankfully I've got over most of them—and it's been a great lesson to apply to my professional creativity that pays the bills—but when writing lyrics I tend to fall back into the same patterns. One of these days maybe I'll write a lyric that doesn't rhyme…but not today.

Anyway, one of the best examples I have that proves I'm not completely stuck in a rut is "Island Fever," a Honey White song from 2004/5 and the second track on our How Far is the Fall CD. It's probably the most minimal lyric I've ever written, and it goes like this:

Lyrically, it's the coda to all my whiny abandonment/ending songs—but done detached and clinical as if writing about being lost on a desert island once you're back at home. I sort of go through the symptoms with both a weird, affected "wisdom" as well as a barely-suppressed relief that I probably won't have to relive or deal with those problems anymore. The big steps here were brevity (eight syllables per line in the three verses), and distance (no first person hypersensitive narrative). While the overall maturity level is still developmentally sluggish considering I was 27 when I wrote it, it's at least one step removed from the destructively narcissistic stuff I'd recently obsessed over in other songs like "Oblivion" or "Last Words." I felt like I grew up a little, finally, and was happy to do that, and didn't want to go back. Here are the words:

"Island Fever"

Same old deep blue-green ocean view
It's almost too good to be true

Same bliss and doubt, day in day out
It's all about deluge and drought

and no surprise on this horizon

Same myth is strong in every song
Stuck on the wrong island too long

with no surprise on this horizon

Wham-bam and we're done. Keep the solipsism to a minimum, dude. Less talk, more rock—and really, that's just what the song does: once the singing's done, Brian's massive Strat sound takes over again and blows away all my (now-minimized) melodrama. Like the previous two entries in this "30 Songs" series, Bryn's voice covers for me in a much more expressive form than I could sing it (yes, there is a demo take with my vocals on it, that no one will ever hear), once again injecting the big vowel sounds with just the right amount of emotion.

The "island" metaphor is about as barren as you can get in terms of lyrical fertility—writers have been abusing the community-vs.-loneliness cliché in every civilization going back to ancient Greece and before that—but I figured if I kept it short and sweet, it would be less aesthetically offensive. I tried to strike a balance between the "bubble"-type feeling of Isla-Vista-as-student-ghetto (which I'd done to death on so many other songs for the Mojo Wire) and the very real type of island fever that I only got a glimpse of during my first trip to Hawaii. "Oh sure," you say, "that had to be a really rough trip, man,"—but let me tell you, until you've had the Filipino Pawn Shop Jewelry Tour of Honolulu, you don't know the first thing about crushing boredom (a long story for another time). Throw in the reality of $10 jars of peanut butter, and it's easy to see why people who've grown up there might want to leave.

That's a lot to throw into six lines of verse and one chorus, but I think the music expresses it far better than I could in words. I must have subconsciously underrated the studio take of "Island Fever" over the years, because after listening to it for this essay I like it a lot more than I remember at the time (I'd always felt we nailed it better during the live shows). Maybe it's distance and time (which would be nice and poetic and fit with all that self-centered gibberish I just mentioned), but it's probably because I know how the song was made, and I saw it materialize from nowhere and then grow into this massive thing. Right off the bat, the amp buzz under Bryn's guitar tells the listener something's not quite right here. My echo-bass is randomly panned throughout the mix, itself buzzing around the listener's skull like bugs in a heat wave. Bill's drums are subtle until he hits a fill, when they almost ring like bongos. Then everyone comes in and we do the song until it breaks down into backwards-Brian guitar sounds, which build back up into the epic chorus and closer.

It sounds pretty awesome, but it started fairly small. The tune for "Island Fever" began as a promising little arpeggiation that Bryn would soundcheck with at our spring 2004 shows, like the Wildcat in Santa Barbara (mp3 #1 below). Later at Take Root Studio in San Francisco, we jammed it out as a band on the second day of initial recording for How Far is the Fall (mp3 #2 below).

mp3 1: "Island Fever" (Soundcheck jam, 4/26/04)
mp3 2: "Island Fever" (Studio jam, 8/1/04)

The bass line on that jam is only about half the part that I ultimately played on the final recording, and I remember being really frustrated when trying to come up with a second verse part, and then a chorus part, in the overdub sessions. It was just me and Jon the engineer in the control room (my guitar's signal was set to go direct, un-amplified, into the computer), and I almost panicked when I couldn't think of anything to play. That only lasted about five minutes, though—we got the parts and the song ended up being the album version you all (surely) know and love.

We knew we wanted to play the song live, but like "Blacking Out" (another purely studio-created song on that album) we'd never actually rehearsed the thing. We had at least three practice sessions (two at Table Salt and one in the main room of Billy's then-employer, a drafting/architect/blueprint company) before a January 2005 gig for the "I.V. Live" series at UCSB. Amazingly, the old Honey White magic kicked in and "Island Fever" debuted strong on 1/29/05, one of my favorite takes:

We played it at every Honey White show after (Campbell Hall/UCSB 2/26/05, Nicholby's/Ventura 4/20/05, Red's/Santa Barbara 8/7/05, Derby Club/Hollywood 11/17/05 and Ocean Institute/Dana Point 8/4/06) and it stayed really strong throughout. I don't think there's been a show where we've really screwed it up—the version from Red's is the fastest tempo we'd ever played "Island Fever" (mp3 #3 below)—and it's a hard bass line for me to play, too, so that's a minor miracle. During our last few pre-hiatus rehearsals of 2007, we tossed off an Unplugged-style acoustic version (mp3 #4 below), and when we reconvened in late 2010, "Island Fever" had lost nothing at all—and thanks to Marika it even gained a melodica part (mp3 #5 below).

mp3 3: "Island Fever" (Live, 8/7/05)
mp3 4: "Island Fever" (Acoustic, 5/26/07)
mp3 5: "Island Fever" (Rehearsal, 12/27/10)

"Island Fever" is probably in my top five favorite collaborative compositions—because it's collaborative with Bryn and Honey White, because it's a well-made recording, because the band's performances live and in the studio are spot-on, because I pulled off a relatively unpretentious, minimalist lyric, and because I came up with not one but three (okay, two and a half) compelling bass lines. I executed my parts well and the band took that and made it a great song to play. That's all you can ask for from friends and creative partners in a hobby-rock-band, right?

Okay, I think that's about enough of the Isla Vista stuff for a while. I have a few ideas of where i'd like to go with this series next week, but I haven't decided for sure yet. It'll be the halfway point, so it has to be something special. Stay tuned.

Song stats:
Music by Bryn DuBois and Honey White (2004).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, August 2004.
Appears on the following albums:
How Far is the Fall by Honey White
Deluge and Drought by Honey White

October 23, 2011

30 Songs #13 - Famous Last Words: Gimme Two Chords, and Get Two Melodies

Brian and Bill in the Seville St. rehearsal room, Isla Vista 12/4/03.

This week's "30 Songs" post is shortened a bit—I was in Orange County rockin' out with Radblaster—and for some reason it's a bit difficult to get my head back into "then" mode instead of "now" mode, but let's try anyway, shall we? Okay, carrying on from "Sweet Oblivion" last week, but on a slightly more fatalistic note, is its neighbor at the tail-end of Honey White's How Far is the Fall album, "Famous Last Words." Have a listen:

Like "Oblivion," "Last Words" is sort of a grow-up-and-get-on-with-it lyric, but much more bitter and bewildered, with some denial icing on top. The tune only has two chords, Fm7 and E, and to me it sounded like a steadily-increasing migraine: slow, uncomfortable, repetetive, relentless. The mental pressure seems dialed up more than "Sweet Oblivion"—that one sounded like aimless exhaustion—but "Last Words" has a desperate edge to it, like maybe the character is running out of patience or money or time or all three. That was certainly my state of mind in early 2004 when I wrapped up this lyric; I was still unemployed, 3/4 through a design certificate program that (at the time) showed no promise whatsoever, and I'd had about enough of the cliquey Santa Barbara vibe. There was no work, or so I thought—things are obviously much worse now, of course—and the one refuge I had from that ugliness was Honey White…but Honey White was reaching a turning point, too. We'd proved to ourselves that we could evolve sonically into something more organic and "us," but I still felt like we had to prove it to everybody else before we packed it in and got on with life.

Because we were getting on with life—Bryn was about to move back to Orange County, Brian had (if I recall correctly) already moved up to San Francisco, and Bill's sidestep into punk with Futureman kind of put us on notice that we'd better keep it interesting, and we needed him around in order to do that. We got a few gigs—another Giovanni's fiasco in Isla Vista, and a second Wildcat showcase downtown in April—but we agreed that all the tunes we'd come up with in the past six months were worth recording seriously. If there was a time to do a real album in a real studio with a real engineer & producer, it was now or never. All of that went into the mix for the "Famous Last Words" lyric:

"Famous Last Words"

Familiar wreckage in the aftermath
of fucking up again
As awful as if it took all I had
to fail in the end

Forever overwhelmed too easily
and always so behind
As if I oughtta lose a piece of me
to win some peace of mind

Cause I get along here, but I don't belong here

Ain't difficult to keep believing it
but I'm not gonna crack
If this is all there is, I'm leaving it
and never coming back

Cause I get along here, but I don't belong here
Yeah I get along here, but I don't belong here

I think that's the first time I'd used a curse word in a lyric. I love that the sample on iTunes doesn't bleep it. The music is a tune of Brian's; he was just beginning to churn out big monsters like this in early 2003, when Honey White took a summer hiatus after our first year of nonstop activity. The earliest recording I can find of it is actually from a one-off session on 8/15/03 that Bryn, Brian, and I did with Adam from the Mojo Wire. Bryn played drums, and we mostly jammed around with old Mojo songs. Near the end we did stretch out with this one, though:

mp3: "Famous Last Words" ("F Major 7" version, 8/15/03)

Later I cooked up a demo using that tune as a backing track. The next time Honey White got together in December '03, we were in a new rehearsal space (the Seville St., Isla Vista room shared with Futureman, pictured above), running through the new songs that would eventually become How Far is the Fall. The "Last Words" lyrics weren't quite done yet, but we jammed out the "F Major 7" song (as it was then known) on switched instruments: Brian on bass, me on Bryn's guitar (to test out a riff melody), and Bryn on Brian's guitar for rhythm. It was goofy and weird:

mp3: "Famous Last Words" ("F Major 7" version, 12/4/03)

I ended up using that riff for the chorus melody, and in an unusual fit of melodic inspiration, composed a second for the verse. Two chords, two melodies, and that was enough: I finished the lyric (and Honey White finished the song) in time for our Giovanni's gig the following February, but it was still a little rusty. We'd refined it substantially by the Wildcat show two months later:

For some reason, the double-pick guitar solo wasn't working, and I didn't know why (gee, bass player composes lead guitar riff—what's wrong with that picture?). A few months later, when we were recording overdubs with Jonathan Mayer in the studio, I couldn't justify keeping that solo as part of "Famous Last Words," especially when Jon and Bryn came up with a mind-blowing replacement part with multiple e-bow overdubs. That's what ended up on the album, and it works great—but three years later the band Interpol recorded a song called "Pioneer to the Falls" with a guitar solo using the sound I was looking for. It sure would have helped when explaining my argument:

Anyway, the e-bow carried the day, which like I said proved to be better—because once we started gigging again in early 2005, "Famous Last Words" sounded just as good with it:

That performance from the "I.V. Live" show on 1/29/05, and another from Nicholby's in Ventura on 4/20/05, are the last instances to date that "Famous Last Words" has appeared in a Honey White set. We didn't revive it when Honey White reconvened for three rehearsals in November/December 2010, either—but HW has a tendency to re-interpret our own stuff in weird and interesting ways, so I don't think we've heard the last of "Last Words" yet. Maybe a wild, hard-rock version like that one above with Brian on bass and Bill demolishing his kit.

That's all for "30 Songs" this week. Gotta delve into the Radblaster rehearsal recording now—but next weekend we'll switch back to Honey White for the final example of me successfully flushing the Isla Vista mentality from my psyche. "It gets better," as they say.

Song stats:
Music by Brian Wolff and Honey White (2003).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, February 2004.
Appears on the following albums:
Saturated Songs by Honey White
How Far is the Fall by Honey White
Deluge and Drought by Honey White

October 14, 2011

30 Songs #12 - Sweet Oblivion: Enhanced by Extended Epic Endings

Honey White onstage at the Wildcat, Santa Barbara 4/26/04

Honey White's "Sweet Oblivion" is a simple idea masquerading as an epic song. It was one of several transformative pieces for us back in 2003/2004, when we finally and truly gelled as a band. We also took everything that Honey White had been and blew it up, sonically, to elephantine proportions. Part of this was Brian stepping up to play lead on his trusty Stratocaster; the lyric for "Sweet Oblivion" has, over time, become so completely overwhelmed by Brian's guitar sound that the words are almost superfluous. You'd think this would annoy me, especially if you knew how long it took to finish—about 2 years, on and off—but it doesn't. Brian's guitar on "Sweet Oblivion" is one of my favorite sounds, like, ever. It amplifies, and then overwhelms, all my personal melodrama in that lyric. Listen (and get comfy, cause this bastard is almost eight minutes long):

Epic, yeah? Perfect cross of the Police and Pink Floyd, right? Sure, it's just a mutated, saturated twelve-bar for the actual "song" part—but when the rest of us get out of Brian's way and he lets it rip, all arguments are invalid. Still don't believe me? This is what the song would have been like if we hadn't listened to Brian and Jon the engineer, and split up the song and jam:

That's what I've always called the "single edit" of "Oblivion." The version that was savaged by Garageband.com reviewers. The version that, in a perfect world, we'd send to radio (and which radio would probably have rejected anyway). The version we played when the song was first complete—at our downtown Santa Barbara debut on the Wildcat Lounge stage in April 2003:

mp3: "Sweet Oblivion" (Live 4/30/03)

The short version of "Oblivion" went over poorly in between the higher-energy tunes of early Honey White—but we knew it could work. We'd done epic instrumental pieces before, both good ("My Second Shipwreck," one of Bryn's solo songs) and not-so-good ("Distorchestra," which became the much better "Blacking Out"), but for whatever reason "Oblivion" didn't work that way yet. And then, in a December 2003 rehearsal (when Bryn was back from Europe, Brian back from Tokyo, and Bill back from Futureman), Brian played this:

mp3: "Sweet Oblivion" (Rehearsal, 12/4/03)

Honey White had been steadily jamming more and more during rehearsal—we eventually did it quite a lot back then—and Brian just seemed to spontaneously blurt out this crazy epic instrumental "Oblivion." That was the missing piece that made the song a monster—a laid-back, casual monster, but still a monster. The tune itself originally began around late 2002 as a Brian/Bryn/Keir jam at Table Salt, but by the time we scored a second Wildcat gig in April 2004, the rehearsal jam sounded more like this:

That's another rehearsal jam (from 4/18/04), and one of my most favorite Honey White recordings ever; it's a great example of how good our interplay was at that point. We could take a simple twelve-bar jam and make it an epic within four minutes. After we'd made a proper studio recording (that first version above), the jamming got disciplined, but no less awesome. Here's a live take from 2006:

So…have you noticed how I get so hung up on the sound that I forget all about the lyric? Here it is:

"Sweet Oblivion"

A few weeks into summer and I've yet to see the sun
illuminating anything the way I want it done
It's not for lack of trying and not for lack of fun,

but I got tangled up beneath the losers and the lost,
whipping into frenzy just to get the point across
and desperate to win it all, no matter what the cost

If only you could see me now, if only you could see me now

I knew what I was doing—I knew it all along
I knew when not to worry all about the right or wrong
of ending up anonymous and dying to belong

If only you could see me now, if only you could see me now

Don't know if it'll ever be enough for anyone
to believe me when I promise that I've only just begun
to keep myself from sinking into sweet oblivion

If only you could see me now, if only you could see me now

It's not bad, but it's not poetry, and definitely a vehicle for Bryn's vocals. I was going for something easy and vowel-rich, so Bryn could sing big huge notes over the rest of the song. I wanted the lyric to be good if someone actually listened to it, so it needed work. I pulled this one out of the ether in early 2003, as I was just beginning another long (18 months!) stretch of irresponsible unemployment—the kind that people usually indulge in when they need to "find themselves." The only thing I found was that this guitar part Brian wrote sounded a lot like a ship rocking and drifting endlessly in a doldrum-gripped sea, especially when it flew above Bill's steady, semi-syncopated drums.

It seemed like a wide-screen, end-of-empire, Cecil B. DeMille thing. It also suggested an easy metaphor of holding pattern/denial/endings (how appropriate that Brian's eventual instrumental coda is like a closing-credit soundtrack, right?), so that's what I went for: frustrated aimlessness. It's a relatively soul-sucking experience for someone like me, who'd been spoiled by circumstances up to that point. That's how I felt, though—at the time, no one wanted to give me a job, and nobody "important" wanted to book my band. I think I was unconsciously doing what I'd later consciously do: write a lyric about growing out of/leaving Isla Vista. Emily and I figured that once the freshmen class consisted of kids who were in 6th grade when I was a freshman at UCSB, it was time to leave. By then, she'd finished grad school, Brian and Bryn had moved away, and UCSB/Isla Vista/Santa Barbara seemed like a dead end (though Bill and Marika would be stuck there until this very day).

Anyway, like "Mercy Rule," I had to get that crap out of my system too, and hopefully I don't resemble that guy much anymore—at least superficially. But like I said, the lyrics are almost incidental at this point. They were certainly second-fiddle when we recorded "Oblivion" in San Francisco, and I even got to be the neurotic, bitchy Roger Waters to Bryn and Brian's David Gilmour when we briefly considered splitting the song again. The aforementioned wise and powerful Jonathan Mayer played an anti-Solomon in this case, convincing us that the song should stay in one piece—and he was right, of course.

Oh, almost forgot—here's a version of "Oblivion" from the second Wildcat show in 2004, before we went into the studio:

Ultimately, "Sweet Oblivion" proved to be the kinder, gentler "leaving Isla Vista" song. Next week's entry is the ugly one—but only lyrically. Once again Brian and the band would save me from my own melodrama. Stay tuned.

Song stats:
Music by Brian Wolff and Honey White (2002).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, February 2003.
Appears on the following albums:
Epic Noise Now! by Honey White
Saturated Songs by Honey White
How Far is the Fall by Honey White
Deluge and Drought by Honey White

October 09, 2011

30 Songs #11 - The Peak of My Career: Sloppy Ironic Titles Won't Save You

The tiny fishing village of Isla Vista, California. Eroding coastline not shown to scale.

It's tough to give up a song as a bad job, especially if you've spent a lot of time on it, but sometimes you have to do exactly that. If so, you better do it before the thing actually gets recorded and released—and even then it still might end up like this week's "30 Songs" entry, the sorry saga of a stillborn Mojo Wire-era song called "The Peak of My Career." It's a song that I worked really hard to finish—worked to death, almost—so much so that it went through about three musical incarnations before I shrugged and simply refined what I had as much as possible. I wasn't happy with the result; I initially left it off the final Mojo Wire album, but when every Mojo disc went through a rough remix/remaster process two years later, I tacked "Peak of My Career" onto the digital version of You're On Your Own. It sounded like this:

There are only two players on that song: Bryn and me. I don't think I was confident enough in it to persuade Joe and Adam to play on it, and I'd already highjacked most of the album anyway, so I can't imagine they'd be keen to let me do it any further. Bryn humored me by playing some basic rhythm guitar and tossing off a solo that I later turned on its ear via digital editing. Come to think of it, that's probably the actual legacy of this song—I learned that post-production trickery can't help you salvage a poor composition, but it can get close. Not close enough, but I won't split hairs at this point, because I still like the lyric and believe it's solid, despite the underlying failure of the song. Kind of like the time I worked my ass off in a City Planning class at UCSB, only to get a D and drop out of the Geography major for English, but that's another story.

The tune's lineage went like this: in June 1999, two months after belatedly releasing the Mojo Wire's third album, Bryn and I had a quick jam session at the Bedrock that produced some potential sonic building blocks for new songs. Among these were two variations on a G/C/D chord progression—ridiculously happy-sounding stuff like Buffett or Creedence—that I tentatively called "Jetski" and "Petty." The first one suffered from my own guitar playing, but it sounded surfy/sunny enough to be a retread of past Mojo tunes. The second sounded like something Tom Petty would have done when he was about five years old: simple, swingy, goofy country. It was actually a different, faster version of something I'd done with a drum machine around the same time. Here's mp3 of all three:

mp3: "The Peak of My Career" (Surf/Jetski Jam)
mp3: "The Peak of My Career" (Roots/Petty Jam)
mp3: "The Peak of My Career" (Drum Machine Demo)

That month Bryn, Adam and I also jammed out lots of tunes at the Bedrock as a trio (this was the same time that "Water Into Wine" began life too), including one piece in 2/3 time where I hauled out the echo-bass sound. I wanted to see if I could use that effect on songs not written in 4/4, rock/funk tempos (such as the Mojo Wire song "Under the Sun," from our second album). Turned out I could, if the tempo waltzed at double-time, twice the pace of a regular 6/8 blues song. I tentatively titled this echo-waltz-jam "Saturation," for no reason other than I liked the word. It was eventually (and quietly) released as part of my first Low Tide CD, along with some leftover echo-bass murk from the past year or so:

Yeah, check out the vintage late-'90s "glowing edges" Photoshop cover. Yikes. Anyway, I tried to file the song away in my head as "finished," probably because it got "released"—never mind how obscurely—but I couldn't really let it go. I hated the idea that I couldn't finish it properly, with lyrics and vocals and everything. Could instrumental echo-bass pieces be songs, or just jams? It was still an open question for me back then, because the lyrics I'd written for "Under the Sun" hadn't aged well at all, and I was worried that the epic reach of echo would foist too much importance on whatever words got attached to it. The "Under the Sun" fiasco actually prompted me to tinker with that song and many others, so "Saturation" managed to keep itself in the pool of tunes that I felt still needed lyrics.

I didn't get around to writing them until about September of 2000, though—there were four other songs that happened in between—so by the time I got a draft of "Peak of My Career" ready to record, I was left with the nebulous lyrical dregs of a tired "Isla Vista be so crazy" concept that had already been bled dry for "Water Into Wine," "You're On Your Own," and "One Last Hallelujah." They were pretty bad:

mp3: "The Peak of My Career" (First Draft Demo)

Rewrites happen way more often than it seems. In this case, it definitely helped. The final lyrics are:

"The Peak of My Career"

Crawling toward another beautiful blank sunrise
west of home and east of everything else we prize
with one hand on the bottle and one foot out the door
and one eye shut pretending that we've seen it all before

I wouldn't know I'm having fun, I wouldn't stop for anyone
and if I need to think at all, somebody else can take the fall
It's only the peak of my career, no wonder it's all downhill from here

We know we'll never have it all by any reckoning
but we can't resist the hotter property beckoning
Tonight the power couple is not two of a kind
and two up against the world isn't what they have in mind

I wouldn't know I'm having fun, I wouldn't stop for anyone
and if I need to think at all, somebody else can take the fall
It's only the peak of my career, no wonder it's all downhill from here

we're living in a terrible wreck of our own design
and everybody's reputation is on the line
but no one needs a blessing; we're not on holy ground
as long as we remain inside our happy heathen town

It follows "Wine" and "Hallelujah" as the third installment of my so-called "Isla Vista Trilogy," in the unfortunately weak position of "Return of the Jedi" and other half-assed threequels. The title is purposely pompous—it reflects that bogus idea that "this is it, kid—your life will never be as good as it is in your early wild-and-crazy-college-twenties." It now looks ham-fisted and sloppily ironic, but it still fits with the ham-fisted, sloppy characters it describes. The misconception I'm trying to bottle here is that one where 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 fear-based lie—especially if this is in fact their first spurt of true excess—but we tell ourselves lies our whole lives, and we have to start sometime, right?

The lyric opens on the morning after some raging hedonistic craziness, with our coed hero & heroine doing the walk of shame east to campus from I.V. There's a cheap Biblical allusion here too—to the first failed couple/relationship kicked out of Eden and walking east as well—so clearly I was still trying to wring some venom out of the same snake that bit me for "Wine" and "Hallelujah." One hand on the bottle and one foot out the door, with fake affected maturity—all the while pretending that we're used to this cause it happens all the time. I added the complicit "we" in here just like "Wine" and "Hallelujah" because it lets the narrators (or listeners!) get away with knowing we can't have everything material and carnal but wanting and striving vainly for it anyway. The third verse simplistically reiterates that reputations are always on the line in a fake setting like this, and that reality checks will always fail.

What a mess, right? I dunno—maybe I'm being to harsh on this thing, but it seems to me there's a reason that it was never played live by the Mojo Wire or attempted by Honey White (who covered many Mojo tunes): it's just not good enough. My same old shouty-singing is certainly part of that; it doesn't seem to work with major-key stuff the way it does on "Hallelujah" (which immediately preceded it in my canon) or "Fatal Flaws" (which immediately followed). I guess the lesson here is the same thing I mentioned above—that you can refine and refine and refine an idea, but if it's not a good idea to begin with, for whatever reason, then it won't be a good result. This hasn't happened to me very often, because I can usually realize when something's not working, but when it does happen it's a proportionally significant creative stumble.

It's also not a mistake I repeated for a long, long time. Certainly not for the next trio of songs, all by Honey White, on (nearly) the same subject. Come back next week to find out what the first of those will be.

Song stats:
Music by Keir DuBois and the Mojo Wire (1999/2000).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, September 2000.
Appears on the following albums:
Dive E.P. (as "Saturation") by Low Tide
You're On Your Own by the Mojo Wire

October 04, 2011

Love as Radiation and Other Sloppy Metaphors

Well, here we are ten months down the greasy pole of 2011, looking into a rotten Fall. High time for some comfort food, right? Track 10 in my deathly nostalgic 20 years of "Achtung Baby" series is "Ultraviolet," a show-stopper from both ZooTV (1992/3)…

…and U2/360 (2009-11)…

I wrote some other stuff about it here

"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, 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?
…and here
"Ultraviolet (Light My Way)" - This epic Achtung Baby song had been mothballed ever since the final legs of the Zoo TV tour as it went Down Under in 1993. "Ultraviolet" usually preceded "With or Without You" on that tour's encore, and it did basically the same thing on 360°, a regular feature in which Bono sang the whole second verse an octave higher. Considering how shabby his voice had been on the 1997 and 2001 tours, that was a revelation. Undoubted setlist highlight for all of the 2009 and a few of the 2010 and 2011 shows.
…and despite the inherent hideousness of immature fanboyism, that will just have to do, since I have to gear up for a potentially ugly meeting tomorrow.

In other decrepit-U2 news today, the "Achtung Baby" reissue tracklist was finally confirmed. Literally lots of reissued stuff...but I'm a fool and it will soon part me with my money. Two more U2 song posts left. Lots, lots more of infinitely interesting "30 Songs" posts left. Hang in there.

Related Posts with Thumbnails