December 09, 2011

30 Songs #20 - You're On Your Own: Starring the Militant Dictator of Zullitown, USA

Joe Zulli and his legendary leonine second in command.

Okay, children—this one's special for a lot of reasons, so I'm not gonna screw around with any fancy "30 Songs" introductions. "You're On Your Own" is, somewhat inexplicably, the only Mojo Wire song with music written by the fiendishly clever guitarist known as Joseph Sante Zulli of Zullitown, USA. I can't rightly remember why this is so—but it may have something to do with the fact that, circa 2000-2002, I was (among other things) an egomaniacal asshole and unbelievably poor band manager. I still am those things, of course, but hindsight has illuminated many pearls of wisdom for me in the decade since we recorded this song, and—wait, did I say "recorded?" That's not quite true. Oh sure, we started a demo recording of "On Your Own," but the best take we got—and the one that appears on the grab-bag Mojo Wire album of the same name—was actually a curb-stomping live version from 2/16/01:

That's the Mojo Wire as a power trio, with Bryn on drums, me on bass and (what can loosely be described as) vocals, and Mr. Zulli on lead axe. That show eventually went into the record books as "Keir's drunkest, jerkiest Mojo Wire show ever," but at the time, we were all still coherent enough to bash our way through this creepy, grungy thing. "You're On Your Own" is indeed unique—not only as the only Joe/Keir collaboration ever recorded, but also as (lyrically) one of the only things I've written that's not tied to any particular personal experience of mine. It was almost a purely theoretical exercise to write, at least near the end—because it was also the first of many Keir-lyrics to take way, way, longer to complete than it should have. I can't recall exactly why it took so long, but I do remember the process…sort of. I think it happened like this:

We recorded the original "On Your Own" demo at the same June '99 jam session that produced first passes at "Water Into Wine" and "The Peak of My Career," among others. I wrote a first draft of lyrics under the title of "Save Yourself" (mp3 #1 below), probably because I was arrogant and thought I could rewrite John Lennon's "Serve Yourself"—along the lines of "Water Into Wine" and its cheap religious ambivalence. That lyric didn't work out so well, but I loved Joe's tune—it was really dark and weird, and I felt challenged to write something "meaningful" over it. I felt that way not just because I was an earnest 24-year-old man-child and that's what we do, but also because I didn't want Joe to sneer at my lyrics—because he did that so eloquently about pretty much everything. You haven't seen withering contempt until you try to get this man to play "Wonderful Tonight."

See, I'm not sure that Joe actually wanted to be in the Mojo Wire at first. I always had the impression he was doing us a favor—like "Okay, fine, I know you guys need some heavy rock, and I can bring that—but I will extract a high price for the privilege. Muahahahaha." Something like that. No, seriously–Joe did beef up the Mojo sound in a major way when he agreed to join the band for our 1999 shows. The combination of his Alice-In-Chains-inspired riffage and Bryn's instinctively blunt time-keeping forced us to get louder and heavier, and left little room for nuance or bullshit. In the case of "You're On Your Own," I thought that would really help me focus on writing something awesome. Like I said before, if someone does you the honor of letting you contribute to their art, you don't want to fuck it up—so yeah, I felt a little pressure. Enough to whip the lyric a little more into shape. Bryn and I did made a demo of the new version (mp3 #2 below), but it lacked the heaviness without Joe's guitar.

mp3 1: "You're On Your Own" ("Save Yourself" version, 10/99)
mp3 2: "You're On Your Own" (Echo-demo version, 12/99)

The final lyrics (i.e. the set in that live take above) didn't seem to mean anything significant, but I figured that if I sang them as creepy as possible then that delivery would put the song over the top. I was right and wrong—Joe's guitar is still the star—but now that I look at them, the "On Your Own" lyrics do seem to be a more introverted take on the same psychotically spiritual personality running through the rest of my work from that period ("Water Into Wine," "Heart on a Platter," "One Last Hallelujah," "Peak of My Career," and "Fatal Flaws"). It's a bent little nursery rhyme:

"You're On Your Own"

Cause even though you think you're on your own
a brighter light this star has never shown
even though your orbit circles far away from me
our gravity assures we'll meet again eventually
I know it isn't pretty but it's true
and there isn't anything that we can do

As I am yours so you are mine
and you will understand in time

Cause even though you think you're on your own
well I just can't leave well enough alone
I'd leave a good impression if it wasn't such a chore
but there's no difference between right and right now anymore
I know it's going back the way we came
but I think I'll take my chances just the same

As I am yours so you are mine
and you will understand in time

Cause even though you think you're on your own
your past is permanently set in stone
well preserved and on display for all the world to see
so they won't soon forget you if you don't remember me
I taught you everything you ever knew
and no one else will know you like I do

As I am yours so you are mine
and you will understand in time

It's got envy, revenge, compulsion, projection, obsession—the works—and even now I'm still not sure I did the music justice, but screw it—the song rocked when we played it live at Mojo Wire HQ. Where was that, you ask? Well, during summer 2000, when Joe and Bryn joined our friends Adam, Brian, Sean, and Owen at (as Sean dubbed it) "the House of the Lord," a squalid Sabado Tarde Isla Vista apartment, it became the informal Mojo Wire HQ—a nice place for me to visit and record our messy songs before fleeing back to my own apartment. We played at least three shows there in 2001 (the final year of Mojo operations), and all the songs we wrote at the time got their baptism-by-couch-fire performances in dramatically shambolic fashion.

The Mojo Wire as a power trio, 1/26/01.

Oh—almost forgot about the incomplete "studio" version of "You're On Your Own." Joe plays acoustic for a change, and I tried to cover up my vocal ineptitude via echo and reverb. Don't ask me where Adam was—I didn't have his dulcet tones to save me all the time—but sadly I don't think he ever appeared on this song in any form. Anyway, here's the mp3:

mp3 3: "You're On Your Own" (unfinished acoustic version, 9/00)

Aside from the five shows we played in 2001, this song has never again appeared in a live set, which is appropriate since it would be silly to play it without Joe. There are many reasons why the Mojo Wire fell apart when it did—though most may have something to do with my above-mentioned character flaws—but it happened, and we have not collaborated with him since, which probably says more about us than it does him. Not to get all melodramatic about it, though—because I do actually have written proof that Joe Zulli, evil computer-programming genius, came to accept his lead-lefty-axe role in the Mojo Wire—and it's a Joe-penned Mojo Wire biography circa 2001. Behold:

THE MOJO WIRE... the greatest band in... dare I say... the UNIVERSE?!?

The following biography is all true, of course. So shut up.

The Mojo Wire hail from Isla Vista, California, where they rule over their vast Mojo empire. How did the Mojos rise to greatness, you ask? Well, it all started a long time ago. Let's go back to when they first met with a little background info: Adam was a student of animal husbandry down in Tucson, Arizona. The brothers Bryn and Keir lived in Wisconsin where they were the succssful founders and presidents of CP Corporation, a research company that worked on discovering new and exciting uses for cattle urine. Joe was the militant dictator of Pakistan. They were a happy bunch in their respective lives.

The group first met each other on an ice fishing trip in Canada. Things clicked instantly and a friendship quickly blossomed. Someone said, "Why don't we get together and start up a band. Like, that would be cool!" The others agreed, gasping, "Whoa, we could get chicks then!" "I'll play the sousaphone!" yelled Adam. "Damn, I wanted to play the sousaphone" mumbled Keir. "I'll play the sitar!" declared Bryn. "I'll make farting sounds with my armpits" said Joe. "I'll blow into a big bottle of moonshine then," said Keir. "Perfect," proclaimed Bryn, "that's everything." It was agreed. They would move to Santa Barbara, the world's mecca for really, really bad music. There was only one thing left to figure out- a name…
I'm still trying to play that damn sousaphone, dude. A big bottle of moonshine just isn't the same. Maybe one day you'll understand and stop mocking my pain.

Anyway, that about does it for this round of "Keir's Blatant Nostalgia-Tripping via Old Amateur Recordings." Tune in next week for the return of 1) Joe's guitar, 2) Keir's daddy issues, 3) Bryn's Jimmy Eat World impression, and 4) Honey White's greatest pop performance. Okay, maybe 4) is a bit of a stretch, but whatever. You'll see.

Song stats:
Music by Joe Zulli and the Mojo Wire, May 1999
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, December 1999.
Appears on the following albums:
You're On Your Own by the Mojo Wire
Low Fidelity Favorites by the Mojo Wire


  1. Nice, I had completely forgotten about the "studio" version. Interesting take of the song.

    And I *definitely* know what song is coming next this time!

  2. Yeah, I'd forgotten it, too. There's a few interesting unfinished takes in the vaults—particularly some Bryn (drums) and Keir (bass) takes of "Fatal Flaws" and "Key West Tapwater."


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