December 17, 2012

"Christmas 1994"

First and last attempt to write a Christmas song lyric. Definitely a limited audience for this little toss-off. I also remember getting my hand crushed by Alexis Bonnell's boyfriend, but maybe that was a different night:

October 28, 2012

Part III of "...I Was in a Band Once Called..."

Threequel to the original dumb band names post and its sequel from a few months ago. Not sure how old some of these are, so I think we'll call this the "Special (Mostly) Election 2012 Edition." Duck and cover:

"I was in a band once called Eeyores Of The Left. Our big hit song was called 'Oh Pooh.' We wore black and shoegazed all day." (to Amanda Marcotte)

"I was in a band once called Gorbachev Sunburn. Our big hit was 'Wormwood Fallout Blues.' (to...I can't remember)

"I was in a band once called Novelty Couch Meme. Our big hit song was 'Charlie Don't Surf.' We toured the living rooms of America." (to KK Holland, who responded "the hit single was 'Sofa King Big!'")

"I was in a band once called Coco Lederhosen. Our big hit song was 'Cuckoo for Krautrock.'" (to Matt Welch)

"I was in a band once called Neck Uvula. Our hit song was 'Super Big Gulp Blues.'" (to John Scalzi, the king of band names)

"I was in a band once called The Replacement Refs. Our big hit song was 'Peeling Scabs.'" (to Michelle Via Jones)

"I was in a band once called Well Rehearsed Zingers. Our big hit song was 'That's Gonna Leave a Mark.'" (to, uh, I can't remember this either.)

"I was in a band once called The Paul Ryan Experience. Our big hit was 'The Bronson from Wisconsin.'" (to Josh Marshall)

"I was in a band once called Binders Full of Women. Our big hit song was 'Trap Her, Keep Her.'" (to Emma Nesper Holm)

"I was in a band once called Sucky Checkout Flow. Our big hit song was 'Someone's Gonna Pay For This.'" (to Whitney Hess)

A few good ones in there, but mostly otherwise. Ah, who cares. New York is about to get hit with a hurricane, the Giants just won the world series, I'm turning a year older next week, and then soon after that we'll be rid of this eternal presidential election campaign.

October 20, 2012

Offensively Huge Election Yard Sign Sweepstakes: East Ventura Edition!

My neighborhood tends to be 1) dominated by huge ugly yard signs for jerky conservative candidates, and 2) flooded with junk mail by squishy liberal candidates, so as a squishy liberal myself, I usually assume that the bigger the yard sign, the jerkier the conservative. In 2012, that comes down to three guys: Tony Strickland (U.S. Congress), Mike Stoker (State Senate), and Bob Roper (County Supervisor). Let's find out who wins the all-East-Ventura insecure-projection smackdown, shall we?

Round 1 (above): Corner of Harbor & Olivas Park
Okay, so clearly all three candidates are lording it over their opponents (Dems Julia Brownley and Hannah-Beth Jackson; supe Steve Bennet doesn't even bother here). While Stoker and Strickland have the bigger signs, for some reason, Roper felt compelled to stake not one, but two claims to this intersection. His buddies in the local Big Ag companies clearly demand satisfaction. Advantage: Roper.

Round 2: Corner of Harbor & Seaward
Tony Strickland is basically conceding this big empty lot in at the entrance to Pierpont. Stoker, who is pretending to be independent in that silly superficial way that many California Republicans do, is apparently making a grab for the Pierpont beach-bum constituency. The farm fields are close enough for Roper to make inroads, however. Advantage: Roper, for acting like empty dirt is a fallow field.

Round 3: Corner of Main & Telegraph
Poor Tony Strickland is clearly falling behind. What a wanker. This ugly empty lot can always be counted on for ugly Republicanism—in 2008 it had a garish, gargantuan "McCain/Palin" sign—so I use it as a good indicator of who NOT to vote for. Stoker is clearly keeping pace with Roper here, but the latter nevertheless still has the sack to invade the hospital district. Advantage: neither. The contest holds steady. Oh the suspense.

Round 4: Market & Valentine
Holy insecure projection, Batman. Nothing says confidence like this hideous thing. Monster truck tires, seven coats of paint, and flags. "I'VE GOT FLAGS, MOFOS!" Bennet better get his own all-terrain-campaign-vehicle or he'll risk losing his supe seat. As for the other two dingbats in our contest, they didn't even bother. Strickland and Stoker obviously realize who the big dick in East Ventura is. Advantage, and win, to Bob Roper.

Come to think of it, there was one jerky conservative candidate that failed to assert his manhood via Big Ugly Yard Signs. Yep, this guy:

No wonder Romney looks so pissed. Bahahahaha. Ventura County went Obama in 2008, at (if I recall correctly) the same percentage split as the national vote. My guess is Romney won't win it this year either.

September 23, 2012

Baseball Stadiums I Have Known, 2004-2012

The 2012 baseball season is almost over—the playoffs will start in a few weeks—so I thought I'd mark that with the stadiums that Em and I have been to since we decided to visit them all. So far, it's only been 9 of 30…but progress is progress, as any Padre fan knows. Anyway:

#1. Photo on the left is from the Dodger-Cardinal playoff game in Oct. 2004. Right side is a game against Miami in June 2012. About the three billionth time I'd been to Chavez Ravine.

#2. Angels played a late-season meaningless game against Detroit. About the five billionth time I'd been to the Big A.

#3. Petco Park is a great ball yard. We went to all 3 games in this series vs. Atlanta & stayed in the Gaslamp. We'd done it the previous year as well. Super fun.

#4. Giants vs. Arizona. Fantastic place to see a game. Another highlight of this day was going to see the Frida Kahlo exhibit at MOMA.

#5. A's played Texas. We were all wearing hats from other teams: Braves (Nick), BoSox (Lis), Padres (Em and I).

#6. We caught two games in a series against the White Sox. Em wore her old-school trident M's hat. Also saw the Avett Bros. & Inception.

#7. Saw the DBacks win the west against SF with Em, Stacie and Jules. The next day we saw Oregon stomp Arizona in football down in Tucson.

#8. The Nats are actually good this year. Steven Strasburg destroyed Miami. I was in town for the AEA web design conference.

#9. Orioles lost to KC in a game nearly rained out. Em and I also had a debilitating adventure on the Maryland public transit system.

We've also been to Fenway, in 2005, but it was October and the Red Sox didn't make the playoffs that year. So naturally, we gotta go back...

July 17, 2012

I've Always Wanted to Say This

I've always wanted to say this, and now I finally can: "Buy my book!"

"The Weapon of Young Gods" on Amazon

Yes, just another cheap, self-aggrandizing pile of vomit in the sea of vanity pressed-pulp, but this is MY pile of vomit, children, and that makes it so much better, right?

But yeah, after five years, vanity has finally trumped sloth, and I get to pretend to be a writer. Like all deluded, self-important people, I'm not letting silly things like reality get in my way.

Well, sort of. I mean, the vanity-press novel description says:

Set in mid-1990s Southern California, this demented, surreal, and dubiously executed slice of gonzo sunshine noir is narrated by two struggling students, their friends, enemies, and families. Roy (an underachieving freshman trying to stay sober and sane) and Derek (a failed athlete who's starting over and can't catch a break) get sucked into parallel paths of casual mayhem and spastic melodrama. The Weapon of Young Gods is a garbled, spoiled, questionably hilarious tale of arrested adolescence and amateur hedonism hitching a ride on the dying American Century.
...but it should probably say this:
This book is the kind of thing a 20-year-old white American man-child would write—except I was 30 when I started it, so…oops. Sometimes it reads well, and sometimes it reads like a compilation of amateur mistakes and hopeless clichés, like something pretending to be much more profound than it is...but that's how I've always behaved anyway, so hell with it. Might as well leave the thing how it is and move on to writing something better that might supersede it. For a novelist, I sure am a great graphic designer.
It's probably neither of those things, but now it's on Amazon so we'll all just have to live with it. Or at least I will.

And yes, you might need a map. Yes, the Spanish is kind of sketchy. Yes, it's supposed to be that way. And yes, this story is a work of fiction, but some people may find it familiar.

And now I can move on, I guess. This ends the current naked self-promotional spasm of vanity. You may now return to your regularly scheduled happy lives.

July 03, 2012

After Five Years, Vanity Finally Trumps Sloth

Yep, finally gonna self-publish ye olde novel. That's a crop from the CreateSpace e-store, and it's also on Kindle. In a week or two it'll be on Amazon as a paperback. If by some miracle you can't wait, a free PDF version comes with every purchase of the book's soundtrack album I released back in 2008.

June 20, 2012

Part II of "...I Was in a Band Once Called..."

Sequel to the original dumb band names post from a few months agoThe latest cringeworthy ideas:

"I was in a band once called Graduation Caribou. Our big hit was 'Horny Matriculator.'" (to Brett Cipperly)

"I was in a band once called Splenda Yoga Mom. Our big hit was 'Got MILF?'" (to Mike Monteiro)

"I was in a band once called Zebulon Sneed. Our big hit was 'Take Me to Your Reliever.'" (to Rob McMillin)

"I was in a band once called the Two Devitos. Our big hit song was 'Vincent Benedict Lives.'" (to Adam Green)

"I was in a band once called Fat Cancer Knuckle. Our big hit was 'It's Not A Tumor.'" (to Sean Blackshear)

"I was in a band once called Tempura Twinkie. Our big hit was 'Thick and Creamy and Covered in Oil." (to Sean Blackshear)

"I was in a band once called Prehensile Coalition. Our big hit was 'Flipper? I Don't Even Know Her!'" (to Georgia Logothetis)

"I was in a band once called Dr. Davis and the Mad Mac. Our big hit was 'Psychological Programming'" (to Bill MacAllister and Jefferson Davis)

"I was in a band once called Pre-Baby Jeans. Our big hit was 'Screaming at the Inseam'" (to Marisa Brenninkmeyer)

UPDATED 6/23/12 with two more, since I'm apparently on a roll:

"I was in a band once called The Uncontrollables. Our big hit was 'You're Not My Mama (You Can't Tell Me What to Do)'" (to Meghan Sheetz)

"I was in a band once called Teen Paranormal Romance. Our big hit song was called 'This Sucks.' We broke up after high school" (to David Atkins)

Yikes. Okay then, until next time...

May 31, 2012

Serious Answers to Serious Questions, Part LMCXXVIII

Answered a Very Serious Question today, posed by Martin Longman (the one and only BooMan): "What was the best summer of your life so far, and what did you do?"

Probably 1997. I was 20 and halfway through UCSB and had just spent the previous spring quarter stoned and depressed after a bad breakup (and despite living in Isla Vista with a minimal class load!). My brother and his friends had just finished high school, so when I came home to Orange County for the summer (for the last time) I got to be the cool elder sibling who allegedly knew all about parties and girls and bands. I played bass in a retro-blues-surf '60s band with my brother and his friends, too‚Äîwe were terrible but it was so much fun. My mother remarried that summer and it was great‚Äîeverything that my father's second wedding was not (two years prior).  
Another friend and I worked as a cashiers at the local community college bookstore, and I became infatuated with the Colombian girl two years my elder who was our supervisor. For rush week at the beginning of the semester in August my friends and I would work from noon until 8pm, go home to change, go back out to party by 10, stay awake until 2, and then sleep in til 10 am the next morning before doing it all over again. We drove down to Rosarito with the Colombian girl and she drank us all under the table. At the end of summer when my temp job was over she kissed me in the bookstore parking lot. 
My big albums at the time were "Being There" by Wilco, "OK Computer" by Radiohead, "All This Useless Beauty" by Elvis Costello, "Peace Beyond Passion" by Meshell Ndegeocello, and "Like Swimming" by Morphine. I was re-reading all of Hunter Thompson's books up to that point, and felt immortal. I had all my hair and was young, pretty, and stupid. It was glorious.
Photo: the Mojo Wire as a wedding band, 8/22/97.

May 20, 2012

Don't Call it a Comeback (First Novel Edition)

New cover design for ye olde WOYG, because it WILL be self-published in some form before 2013. Good lord, whatever was I thinking when I started that thing?

April 20, 2012

"...I Was in a Band Once Called..."

Long-overdue big dumb band names post, but that's what y'all get on a Friday night when I'm a bit too fried.

I have this thing that I do when someone says a word or phrase that would be a great band name: "Hey, I was in a band once called [great word or phrase]. Our big hit single was called [ridiculous pun for song name]." Mostly this happens on Twitter, but it's erupted into everyday conversation so frequently that either a) my friends and family should have named my bands a long time ago, or b) I'm beating an undead horse and everyone's already sick of it.

The original classic was "Command-Z." As in: "I was in a band once called Command-Z. Our big hit was 'Undo Me, Baby.'" (originally said at unknown date, but repeated recently to Jennie Jacobs)

...which eventually opened the Twitter-floodgates:

"I was in a band once called Teddy Roosevelt Nerds. Our big hit was 'Rough Rider Stew.'" (to Matt Welch)

"I was in a band once called Nymphographics. Our big hit was 'Gooey Interface.'" (to Jeremy Keith)

"I was in a band once called Reduced Fat Cheese. Our big hit was 'Betta than Chedda, Sweeta than Velveeta.'" (to Amy Grossman)

"I was in a band once called Amtrak Cheetos. We broke up when we realized we'd never be as good as Pipes." (to Emma Nesper Holm)

"I was in a band once called Duty Free Death. Our big hit was 'Get Bent, Taxman!'" (to Mia Bortolussi)

...and then even more names invaded perfectly innocent conversations, but too fast to think up hit songs:

Fridge Trash (inspired by Sean Blackshear)
Snakeflag Syndrome
Recreational Scolding
Free Trade Secrets
Hidden Sausage (inspired by Bryn DuBois)
Duct Tape Island
Naked Salad
Extra Buttons
Bodydude (inspired by Emily DuBois)

Those are all copyrighted, by the way—even the ones that I can't remember who inspired them. If you want to use them, you'll have to write regular big fat royalty checks to me, my immediate family, my wife, her colleagues (and their spouses), and all the people mentioned by name above. It's only fair, right? Righto, bubba.

Anyway, some other random crap for today:
Honey White played our first-ever gig ten years ago today.
• I got a new bass guitar, a Fender Modern Player Jazz Bass. Her name is Olivia and she sounds great:

That is all. Happy Friday, boys and girls.

February 11, 2012

30 Songs #29 - Stranded (Keep it Surreal): Broken Things from a Broken Past

Boring scenery shot #1: Strands Beach, facing north/Monarch Bay.

I've never been that interested in writing ballads. Most of my own songs are uptempo, faster pieces, and when I do write ballad lyrics it's usually because 1) I wrote a slow tune (which is extremely rare), 2) one of my faster songs has been revised ground-up, by the full band, as a ballad (which has happened at least twice), or 3) one of my bandmates wrote a really fantastic tune and it totally inspired me (usually by Adam or Brian in the vast majority of cases). Today's "30 Songs" entry is definitely in the latter group, and even though it's relatively new and mostly untested, I'm willing to bet it's easily one of my best. That's a bold statement, which will never be proven by an amateur demo, but hey—I can always try, right? The song is called "Stranded (Keep It Surreal)" and it goes like this:

That's "Stranded" as Radblaster recorded it during an April 2011 rehearsal at Wall of Sound in Anaheim, over a year from when Adam first presented the music to us at our reunion rehearsal in March 2010:

mp3: Stranded (Instrumental Demo)

That's Adam singing on both versions (he does a guide vocal on the 2010 instrumental). The finished, semi-syncopated 2011 demo is still a bit rough in a few small places, but I'm really happy with it, and I know the other guys are too. As with the other new Radblaster songs, it has no live history, but there's so much relevant backstory to this thing that I'm not sure I'll be able to condense it into one post, but here goes.

Adam said something very gracious about me a long time ago, something like "some of the best Mojo Wire songs are my music and Keir's lyrics." Now, I would not for a second discount anything that the other guys came up with—Bryn could very well write his own great "30 Songs" series for all his tunes, too—and of course Adam didn't mean it that way either, but truthfully I'd felt for a long time that I hadn't lived up to my half of that particular bargain. Adam's music for songs like "Wishing Well Blues," "Kid Icarus," "Wound Down," and "Sunset Down" are all great, emotionally moving tunes—but personally I don't think my lyrics for those have ever done them justice. At long last, however, "Stranded" put that problem to rest.

It was sort of a perfect storm. Adam—who'd always been a gifted composer thanks to his classical training—had spent a few years stockpiling music while Bryn and I played in Honey White (for me, a crash course in texture, dynamics, and other musical subtleties with help from Bryn, Brian and Bill). After that band went on hiatus in 2007, Bryn and Adam began making music together again while I got lost in my own wild opus of bass-driven, ambient nostalgia that was the Weapon of Young Gods novel and soundtrack album (which included a prophetically-named instrumental):

That project, with its setting in my O.C. home town and vague projection of rewritten history, primed me like no other for some major retro-navel-gazing. I can't stress enough how much of a cumulative inspiration it was when Adam brought a new instrumental ballad to the first Radblaster rehearsal at his San Clemente home (the first time he, Bryn, Kevin and I played in the same room since 1998). Like I always do, I recorded everything, and spent the next three months with that song boring into my retro-wired brain.

Boring scenery shot #2: Strands Beach, facing south/Dana Point.

The big moment was actually when I was driving back to Bryn's after our second rehearsal (later in June), up PCH in Capo Beach during the late afternoon. The heat, the sunset, the exhaustion from rehearsal, the sluggish traffic, and especially the feeling I've always had about Dana Point ever since my parents moved away—that I'm a tourist in my inevitably-changed hometown whenever I go back, even though my brother and many other friends live there—all contributed to this overwhelming feeling of sad weariness. Not a bad feeling—more a benign observation—but certainly a big one, in an epic-scope-of-history way, like the decline and fall of (insert your favorite ancient empire here). Profound and final. I'm sure every thirty-something goes through this at some point—looking back, that is—so I know it's not exactly an original impulse, but I knew it could be a great lyric and I could do it. I'd already run the full emotional gamut with lyrics drawn from the novel or my experience writing it ("Tempting Fate," "Historical Friction"), so I figured this would put a killer coda on the whole shebang. I finished the lyrics within two months:

Stranded (Keep it Surreal)

Coppertone and Churchill fins
tourist season's about to begin
and you get used to it all
sure as summer decays into fall

but I need someone to blame
when the scenery don't look the same
sacrificed to entropy
in this subdivision by the sea

cause time never heals, it only conceals the damage we do
I keep it surreal but that's how it feels to get over you

superficially profound
memories echo all over town
from Aliso Pier to Palisades,
and Harbor House out to Saddleback Lanes

until I'm hung out to dry
underneath the Naranjastan sky
sacrificed to entropy
when the locals don't recognize me

I need this to be familiar to me and foreign to you
but you understand it, I know, you were stranded in paradise too

cause time never heals, it only conceals the damage we do
I keep it surreal but that's how it feels to get over you

Coppertone and Churchill fins
and yesterday's sand on her skin
do you miss me at all?
we should talk, but I don't want to call

"Stranded" is essentially my attempt to write a David Lowery-style ballad. Lowery is one of my songwriting heroes (his "300 Songs" blog inspired this series), and seems to express his epic heartfelt side often in his bands Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker. For my money, three of his best in this vein are Camper's "All Her Favorite Fruit" (1989) and Cracker's "Big Dipper" (1996) and "Sidi Ifni" (2006):

Those songs wouldn't be what they are without crucial contributions from the other Campers and Crackers, of course, but Lowery has a particular talent for elegaic pathos and I really respect that. "Fruit" has the same stark, Faulknerian/Old Testament austerity that all the songs from its (excellent) parent album Key Lime Pie possess, and I always imagined it as some late Victorian-era narrative from a distant British Indian colonial outpost (even though it's actually more Pynchon). "Big Dipper," with its bittersweet nostalgic tone, is one of several Cracker songs about Santa Cruz, where Lowery went to university and where Camper Van Beethoven formed. "Sidi Ifni" uses a Casablanca-era Morocco town and its UK/WW2-expatriate past as a metaphor for The End Of Everything, with nothing to do but drink and stare west out across the Atlantic.

I'm a total sucker for stuff like this—I've mentioned my susceptible weakness for nostalgia many times, right?—but (I assume) as with so many other creative people, I was only ever really able to express this impulse as art once I'd been removed from the subject (or person, or place) for a while. Thankfully I had some great examples of how it's done. Where "Big Dipper" uses the Giant Dipper roller coaster, I use Strands Beach—which has changed dramatically from my childhood playground into a sandy doormat for new luxury mansions—because it's familiar and foreign all at once. Experiencing the juxtaposition is as surreal as any other jarring change, so the idea of "entropy" when applied to my home town seemed like a great metaphor for the passive, semi-destructive passage of time. Keeping it surreal is much more fun than keeping it real anyway.

Citing specific artifacts (Lowery's "cigarettes and carrot juice," my "Coppertone and Churchill fins") and calling out place names (like "Sidi Ifni") helps rope the lyric in from that personal vagueness. I really like Aliso Pier being in there, since it literally doesn't exist anymore—a perfect metaphor! Harbor House and the bowling alley are both places my friends and I spent time at (and they're in the book too), and Palisades is simply the street in Capo Beach above Hole in the Fence beach. The key line though is about "superficially profound memories." These things only seem profound in my head—and maybe I'm not even remembering them correctly—but then since this is fiction, that doesn't matter, right? "Naranjastan" is my pet name for Orange County, as it is both a Spanish and somewhat crypto-fascist religious name. There's a real Naranjastan somewhere in central Asia, but they don't have McMansions like we do, so I stole it. Hilariously, I've also seen it used to describe another place where I've done too much time: the lefty/liberal website Daily Kos.

Boring scenery shot #3: View of the mansion lots going up in 2007 from above Strands. They're mostly full now.

The narrator in "Stranded" is one of the two main protagonists from the novel (the other narrates "Tempting Fate"). Writing "I" vs "you" lyrics is an easy fallback for me, but I think first person vagueness is ok as far as making something sound personal. I mean, you don't have to name your antagonist if you get specific with other things. In my songs "you" is usually a stand-in for either a) a girl who dumped me, b) my father, or c) something cool and literary like Satan in "Paradise Lost" (which was what "Lightning Rod" was, all rolled into one!). This song can be about any of that or none—like "Big Dipper" I also repeated the first verse at the end with a cowardly twist, which gives the "you" all kinds of scattered potential—the point being that something bad happened in the past, but now it's so far distant that the only reminder is a vague ache in the narrator's bones.

That's a lot to put into one lyric—especially since I've only recently shaken myself out of that prolonged nostalgia fit—but I like it, so I don't care how much it drifts into "Keir's a pretentious egomaniac" territory. It also hopefully justifies all the drivel I just wrote for this post, which may or may not be enough to balance out a filthy truth I'm gonna lay on all three of my faithful readers: thanks very much for indulging me, and I hope you enjoyed this series, because it's over. Yep—sadly, as of right now, there is no 30th song. I've been trying this whole series to finish the next lyric, but it hasn't come. Maybe it will, though, now that I've got all the others out of the way. We shall see. If it happens, it'll be here next weekend, or more likely in the distant future. Thanks again for reading/listening/commenting. I really do appreciate it.

UPDATE 2/19/12: I made a video for "Stranded" from some old family film: early-'60s Super 8 footage. Check it out:

Song stats:
Music by Adam Hill and Radblaster, March 2010
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, August 2010.
Appears on the following albums:
Hecho En Naranjastan by Radblaster

February 03, 2012

30 Songs #28 - Historical Friction: Writing is the Most Hateful Kind of Work

Cover artwork for my "novel," The Weapon of Young Gods.

"Writing is the most hateful kind of work. I suspect it's a bit like fucking, which is only fun for amateurs. Old whores don't do much giggling." —Hunter S. Thompson
Whappo! How's that for some Friday Night Freakiness? Well...sort of. It's more a reaction to a lousy week that I will happily wish goodbye and good riddance. However, that HST quote is tangentially relevant to this week's "30 Songs" post about a new-ish Honey White song called "Historical Friction." It's a great little syncopated reggae-like groove (sounding like the bastard spawn of "Blacking Out" and "Mercy Rule") with lyrics that are essentially a massive piss-take on the time I spent in recent years attempting to write my first novel. Have a listen:

I described the novel, titled The Weapon of Young Gods, a bit in last week's post for "Tempting Fate," but what I forgot to mention was that for that four-year-period, I re-immersed myself in some of my favorite old fiction and non-fiction, just to get in the right headspace. I read way more in that time than I had for years, probably since college. I mean, I never stopped reading, but I'd usually drift into exclusive binges like reading only non-fiction for a while, or plow through all my books by a particular author. For example, I took the opportunity to re-read all my Irvine Welsh when Reheated Cabbage came out, and did the same with Bret Easton Ellis when Imperial Bedrooms was released. The 2008 election happened during that stretch too, so of course I had to revisit all my Hunter S. Thompson and Matt Taibbi stuff as well.

Speaking of Thompson—another exercise I committed to back then was blogging like crazy, as a way of warming up and cooling down from writing the novel. Thompson, of course, did that in a way—after long nights working on the "Strange Rumblings in Aztlan" Rolling Stone piece in 1971, he'd let it loose with the goofy, deranged semi-fiction that eventually became Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. Now, I'm not saying I came up with anything remotely near as awesome, but some of my wild screeds that ended up on silly lefty sites like Daily Kos were pretty fun to write, and I'm only slightly embarrassed when I read them now. They're still collected on this blog, in posts like this. Might have to unearth some of those ugly things just for a laugh.

Back to the novel though (which I wrote more about here, here, and here), because it's the real impetus behind "Historical Friction." The whole idea seems a bit ludicrous these days, but after Honey White went on hiatus in spring 2007, I felt like I needed another creative outlet. The lyrics weren't coming (though "Tempting Fate" anomalously highjacked most of 2006), and I guess I just felt compelled to express, in novel form, that weird nostalgia that people sometimes succumb to in their early 30's. Well, maybe it was just me—but I vaguely noticed that people seem to think along these lines once they become secure enough with themselves to own up to their past. I didn't fully do this—even though the novel is set in the town I grew up in, and the novel's plot and events are often grossly distorted versions of real things that happened to me, my friends, and my family—I mostly followed my grandfather's advice and "never let the truth get in the way of a good story."

So, my New Year's resolution for 2012 is to finally self-publish the thing—it's been through two drafts at this point, the second wrapping in about January 2010—and I feel like I have enough distance from that period of debilitating nostalgia to accept the work for what it is and just let it go. I'd decided to avoid fiction as a career ever since I failed to get into the UCI and SFSU fiction MFA programs back in 2001, so I'm not about to barf out the Great American Novel. Maybe the Great Suburban Novel, but not likely. Anyway, by the end of the second rewrite, in fact, I had such a healthy sense of security about it that I could churn out a self-deprecating lyric like "Historical Friction." It goes like this:

You call this archaeology? It's desecration, man
Exhuming ancient melodrama just because you can
You're way too busy ripping fiction from the facts
to notice that the fossil record's still intact

but I know what happened, I know what went down
and nobody rewrites history as long as I'm around

You call this therapeutic? It's reckless shuck and jive
manipulating dead emotions just to feel alive
cause everything was epic until you lost the plot
and wound up with an epilogue that everyone forgot

but I know what happened, I know what went down
and nobody rewrites history as long as I'm around

You call this creativity? It's kleptomania
you keep a muzzle on the muse, she'll keep betrayin' ya
she knows all your secrets, she knows when you lie
she knew all about you when you were some other guy,

and she told me what happened, so I know what went down
and nobody rewrites history as long as I'm around

There's a lot going on in there, and I think it's just restrained enough to not tip the thing into serious "pretentious asshole" territory, but who knows? I thought it might be interesting to see if I could dismantle any alleged original motivation; "archaeological," "therapeutic," and "creative" are all essentially ways to figuratively bullshit my way through explaining what exactly I was up to, and why I even bothered. The narrator is calling the writer out, like I'm arguing with myself, and the bit about the Muse is probably the best; as much as I now know how to bait the creative impulse, whether at work as a designer or on my own time as a writer and lyricist, I can't force it, and conversely I can't redirect or alter pure creativity too much, or else it gets watered down and boring. It's kind of happening to me again on a lyric I'm currently trying to finish, too. But none of that matters much where "Historical Friction" is concerned. Seriously—one of my favorite things about the recording above is Marika's laugh near the end; it's almost like the Muse brushing off a creative's attempts to control or direct her.

Bryn had a different interpretation of it altogether—as a history teacher, he is well aware of how the past is manipulated and distorted when the winners try to tell their stories—and it's definitely a legit one. Perhaps he can elaborate in the comments. We've all been through enough bizarro looking-glasses in the past decade to lend credence to his take on it. And hey, it side-steps all my self-absorbed egomaniacal shit too—double trouble. There will be plenty more of that next week, though, so let's get back to the music. The tune for "Historical Friction" has a long and roundabout genesis. Its main riff, for instance, began as a guitar part, played double-time by Bryn. You can hear it crop up at the end of this jam from a Honey White rehearsal in April 2004 (listen to the left channel):

mp3: Historical Friction (original riff 4/25/04)

I always loved that riff but was never able to mold it into anything lyrical at the time. Then three years later, when I was writing some music that ended up being the novel's soundtrack, I remembered this riff and tried to make it work there. I slowed it down, overdubbed lots of bass and effects, and created a low-rock ambient monster. It ended up being the main "soundtrack theme" for most of that album, and specifically drove at least two of the 16 songs. They were:

"Morbid Frieze" and "Archaeology" were actually two different attempts to give the riff some identity, and for the most part it worked. I thought that's all it would be, but when the lyric bug bit me again (after finishing the novel's second draft), I thought I could build an actual song out of it. I've joked before about not really being much of a composer, but I think when the time is right I can make things work—in that simple, repetitive, groovy way that bass players do. About the same time (late 2009) Honey White's drummer Bill Fedderson began shaking off the cobwebs using this fancy thing:

Billy's electronic kit.

He sent us several samples of what that kit was capable of, which Brian and I promptly raided for use in demos. For my part, I built a drum track from about 20 seconds of Bill's original sample, and melded that with the vibe of "Morbid Frieze" to create the first demo of "Historical Friction":

mp3: Historical Friction (Keir's demo, 4/10)

That makes me woozy just listening to it. It's way more trippy and dubwise than what we ended up with when Honey White actually rehearsed the song in November/December 2010—the lighter-weight, less-pretentious Bryn-sung version at the top of this post. It was hard to get there, though; we struggled with it almost to the point of frustration, eventually omitting the original demo's fast bridge in favor of a more uniform syncopated groove. We haven't actually played the song all the way through in rehearsal—the "Corridan" version above is pieced together from a few different takes—and obviously the song has no live history. However, it's probably one of my better compositions—definitely living on the low end of my best stuff, but still not bad.

It's also not the last gasp of crippling nostalgia either. We'll have the best example of that next week. Hang in there sports fans—we've reached the "30 Songs" two-minute warning. The fourth quarter is almost over, but I intend to go out with a bang: one of my very best lyrics ever. Seriously. Stay tuned...

Song stats:
Music by Keir DuBois and Honey White, January 2010
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, April 2010.
Appears on the following albums:
The Weapon of Young Gods (as "The Morbid Frieze" and "Artificial Archaeology") by Low Tide
Corridan E.P. by Honey White

January 27, 2012

30 Songs #27 - Tempting Fate: Just Enough Awesome to Power Two Bands

The I-5 freeway near Santa Ana. This is what I'm doing while you're reading this.

Okay, so today in "30 Songs" we have a real treat—or at least I think so, and you all will just have to deal with me. This week's song is called "Tempting Fate" and I love it. It's one of my favorite songs that I've written and I think it's one of the best, too—not least because of a stone cold killer opening lyrical couplet, but more about that later. This song was a gift. Well, it feels like that now—but at the time, I sure earned it. Writing "Tempting Fate" was tough (bass player composing = hard), it took too long to finish (eating up all of 2006), it was pillaged for scrap (for my side project in 2007), and it was rebuilt from the ground up (by Bryn in 2009). On top of that, both of my bands had their way with it in 2010 before it was finally considered "finished."

One of the great things about playing in two bands at once is that you get to see how each group plays some of the same songs. In our case, it's not that different—my brother and I play in both bands, and he sings this song in both settings—but it's interesting to see how the other players in each band take the song and run with it. Namely, playing this particular song made both bands reach back to previous sonic incarnations in order to get it right:

That's Honey White's version as it was recorded in December 2010, about a month after playing it for the first time. Then there's this:

That's Radblaster's version from April 2011 (later added to our debut demo), after that band had been rehearsing the song for about a year. Originally, we seemed to pick up right where we left off in 1998, when Adam, Bryn, Kevin and I recorded initial backing tracks for the Seaside Hamlet Skids album at Kevin's parents' Laguna Niguel living room. I think that was the last time we four had played together before we reconvened in March 2010 at Adam's in San Clemente. The setting (O.C. beach town) and recording method (three rinky-dink microphones capturing the vibe in a small room) more than ensured that the classic Mojo surf-noir sound would survive. Adam took on the solo like a pro, first swaggering through it on his old Hamer, then flat-out shredding it on his new Strat. We even tried to segue "Tempting Fate" from another old (and now re-made) Mojo surf instrumental, "Blue Lantern Cove," and it almost worked.

Radblaster rehearsing in San Clemente, June 2010.

When Honey White played the song during rehearsals in November and December 2010, that band ended up harking back to its own early days as well—in this case 2002, when we'd padded our live sets with older Mojo Wire songs, including several of the surf-rock ones from Seaside. Thanks to Bill's background in punk, we'd played songs like "Shivering Sand" and "How Far Away" at relatively blinding speeds, but Bryn and Brian still managed to rip through some reverb-drenched solos before the songs crashed to finale. Well, in the recent rehearsals, Bill noticed "Tempting Fate" was really similar to those songs, and drew on that to power Honey White's take on it. We syncopated the breakdown, so Brian added a more laid-back solo, and Marika added first keyboards and then melodica in the background. Et voila: the leadoff track for a new Honey White demo E.P.

Honey White rehearsing in Santa Barbara, November 2010.

The song obviously has no live history—Honey White hasn't gigged since 2006, and Radblaster hasn't yet, at all—but it took a long time to get "Tempting Fate" to the point where it was ready for either band to play. It all started (I shit you not) in a dream. Seriously. I dreamed that for some reason Emily and I were being chased (by unknown pursuers) though a train station (or ferry port, or something), and the whole time an ominous bass line played in the background. Now, I rarely remember my dreams, so when I do, they're worth mentioning. The riff stuck with me, so I transcribed it and, the next chance I could, recorded it with a band. That just happened to be a Bryn-less version of Honey White, during summer 2005 (July 3 to be exact), and the short little jam that resulted was this:

mp3: Tempting Fate (original snippet)

I thought it could go somewhere, so I worked on it for the rest of 2005 and into 2006—but while the song gained a chorus part, it got fairly overblown pretty quickly. Here's a demo I assembled from Billy's drum samples and my own hyper-processed bass guitar sounds:

mp3: Tempting Fate (2007 Demo)

It's a bit too much, isn't it? Furthermore, only I could take samples from a real drum kit and make them sound fake. On the other hand, after a year of work it finally had lyrics, and good goddamn, for the most part I did well here if I do say so myself:

"Tempting Fate"

when I was younger I was still insane
I looked like Abel and I felt like Cain
I learned to fear, I learned the art of war
until I guess I couldn't take it anymore
or else I got too callous

so I grew up and I approached the bomb
with automatic cool and heroic calm
methodically defused her right in time
and now our reason overrules our rhyme
and interrupts our rhythm

as I hang in the balance sometimes I feel
okay and deal and I give up but then
sometimes I feel sometimes I feel

sometimes I feel like tempting fate again
or wreaking havoc every now and then
or risking everything I got to slash and burn
up past another point of no return
and leave the rest in ruins

so why upend the balance? sometimes I feel
okay and deal and I give up but then
sometimes I feel sometimes I feel
sometimes I feel like tempting fate again

so why upend the balance? sometimes I feel
okay and deal and I give up but then
sometimes I feel sometimes I feel
sometimes I feel like tempting fate again

The big win for me here was the irregular verse structure: five lines instead of four, with the melody coming in a whole line ahead of e chord. Great, great opening lines too. I mean, really—we learned last year that Herman Cain really was insane, right? I was prescient when I knocked this one out four years ago. That first line is also the first line of my as-yet-unpublished novel (in which, surprise surprise, I write about the mid-1990s angsty antics of suburban O.C. teens not unlike myself). That's kind of what inspired the lyrics, in a way—or maybe the lyric and the novel's concept of childhood nightmares and creeping nostalgia fed off each other. The narrator in "Tempting Fate" is (like most of my narrators) projecting like crazy; not only is he still insane, he's in denial about it.

I wrote more about the book here, here, and here, but the short version is that it's a stereotypically amateur first novel, with all the good and bad aspects thereof. It's a distorted version of things that happened (and didn't happen) to me, in that "write what you know" vein. The two main narrators are pretty transparent versions of me, too; they're not exactly Mary Sues but they're not developed enough as characters, either (and therefore I'd assume that none of the book's characters are sufficiently developed). I know, I know—we've crashed through so many levels of ego by now that it's probably unbearable—but like all self mythology, what I remembered was less true than what made the book (and now the song) a good story. I mean, I really did dream about defusing a bomb when I was 10 or 11 (see? Dreams again!), and was sleepwalking through it, too. Really.

I did get a good creative boost from the book project though—in the form of a self-produced, all-instrumental soundtrack that I released under my old "Low Tide" side project name. The songs are all ambient, bass-driven mood pieces, and several of them share riffs and other musical concepts. I took inspiration from all over for these tunes, and "Tempting Fate" (along with "Hold Still" and other semi-finished songs) was part of that. Since I'm a better lyricist than musician, songs where I wrote the music are either a) laughably simple, b) loose re-workings of other people's stuff, or c) relatively complicated stuff that I had to work my ass off to finish. My bass playing has thankfully improved over the last fifteen years, but I'm definitely not the world's most gifted composer. Lyrics are much…well, I was almost going to say "much easier" for me but sometimes they're not. I guess what I was thinking is that for me, words are easier building blocks to play with and plug in or replace or adopt or abandon.

Anyway, all of that got tangled up in the solo side project I did for the novel's "soundtrack" in 2008. "Tempting Fate" got disemboweled and buried beneath some echo-bass murk for my Low Tide "Weapon of Young Gods" CD, and these two tunes that are based on it make for kind of a weird listen now that I know the song's been revived in a rock-band context:

Those worked fine for what they were, but the original song and lyric were too good to simply shelve, so I asked Bryn for help, and in late 2009 we rebuilt the song acoustically (like "Lightning Rod" and "Hallelujah"):

mp3: Tempting Fate (2009 Demo)

From there it was a hop, skip and a jump to full-on Rock Band Awesome. We taught "Tempting Fate" to Adam and Kevin in March 2010, and Radblaster has played it ever since. Honey White learned it even faster when that band reconvened in November after a 3-year hiatus, and I gotta say I love both versions equally. The RB version is a great flat-out rocker, and the HW version is agile in obtuse ways (I was super-stoked on my backing vocal part and Billy's syncopated breakdown).

So much for "Tempting Fate." I could write more, but I've already barfed out too much already. I guess I should warn you all now that for the "30 Songs" home stretch it's all gonna be about recent work—songs and lyrics that inspired (or were inspired by) my four-year detour into fiction writing. I do that a lot—the O.C. nostalgia thing, I mean. In fact, I'm doing it again this weekend; by the time you read this I will probably be snarled in southbound I-5 L.A. Friday night traffic, but no matter. Maybe we'll find out what this song sounds like when Bryn plays mandolin on it.

Song stats:
Music by Keir DuBois- w/Radblaster, January 2010; w/Honey White, Nov. 2010
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, February 2007.
Appears on the following albums:
The Weapon of Young Gods (as "Concussions" and "Leave the Rest in Ruins") by Low Tide
Corridan E.P. by Honey White
Hecho En Naranjastan by Radblaster

January 20, 2012

30 Songs #26 - Blunt Instruments: Throw Back a Twelve Pack and Write It All Down, Jack

100% authentic Naranjastani Radblaster, unearthed in Anaheim, 2011.

Yes, you may be cringing now, but that's not just a painfully stupid rhyme, folks—it's the magic formula for "how to name your band." Of course, the catalyst of choice could be any reality-altering controlled substance, but here at the roving My Band Rocks HQ, we have usually chosen alcohol. Why start off the latest "30 Songs" post with this drunken crap, you ask? Aside from it being Friday, you mean? Oh, well that's easy—we have reached our third entry in the "band theme song" sequence, a lyric called "Blunt Instruments" that I shoe-horned into Radblaster's theme song. Because every band needs a theme song—it doesn't matter if we've only rehearsed seven times in almost two years, and have yet to score a gig—some things are simply imperative. My bandmates were somewhat reluctant to acknowledge this critical fact, but they changed their tune after I laid some serious Wisdom on them. Check it out:

Okay, so maybe it's not so convincing, but I Stand By My Point (as I sit down with another beer). That mp3 is a loose, not-ready-for-prime-time demo of "Blunt Instruments," with ugly-shouty vocals courtesy of yours truly. We haven't actually rehearsed this song together as "Blunt Instruments" yet—if you listen closely you can probably hear Adam in the background singing another song entirely—but more about that later. Let me get back to the stupid post title, because it all starts there, sprawled in the wreckage of numerous wasted band-naming sessions. When Adam, Bryn, Kevin and I first formed a band way back in the last century (1996), we played messy surf instrumentals and dirty blues songs and named ourselves The Clap. Naturally, much man-child hilarity ensued from there, complete with stern looks and exasperated eye-rolls from parents and girls that we failed to impress. We let that joke play itself out (it took less than a year, but oh, what a year it was), before Bryn deemed The Clap an "unpoetic" name (and an unlikely gig-getter) and we frantically searched for a new one.

Adam does his 007 impression in 1996, with the original orange Radblaster.

As surely everyone knows, we then named ourselves after Hunter S. Thompson's annoying, anachronistic fax machine, and as the Mojo Wire we spread sub-musical terror across two Southern California counties and (mostly without Kevin) countless backyard keg parties. There was a brief identity crisis around the year 2000, when we conducted several mind-erasing band-naming sessions at the infamous Adam/Bryn/Sean/Owen/Brian/Joe apartment in Isla Vista, but nothing we came up with was any better than the Mojo Wire, and so we carried on for another year. Then some other stuff happened and we played in different awesome bands for a while (Los Sindicate, Honey White, etc.) and let the Mojo Wire wither on the vine as an archaeological curio. I was particularly irresponsible, releasing our domain name ( into the ether of nefarious online auctions.

And oh, how I paid for that mistake. At the end of 2008—with Honey White on hiatus and myself deep into a massive novel-writing nostalgia-trip—I made a frightening discovery: another Mojo Wire had formed and was stalking Southern California, fronted by a semi-famous singer who used to front another band in the 1990's. Of course, like anyone else would in this situation, I...uh...totally lost my shit—and my shamelessly dumb little online temper tantrum earned an inbox-full of too-bad-so-sad condescension from said famous person (plus some man-dance threats from her prison-tattooed boyfriend). After screaming like a child, then coming to my senses and realizing I was beaten, I remembered my sweet auntie's best piece of advice when it came to Surviving Shitty Times In The Entertainment Business: "you're the creative person, so come up with something more creative." I meditated on that wisdom for almost two years. Two long years.

Bryn at Wall of Sound in Anaheim, 10/22/11.

Then in March 2010, the stars aligned and Adam, Bryn, Kevin and I re-formed the original band and began playing the rock again. Since we couldn't be the Mojo Wire (and wouldn't be the Clap), a new band-naming session was needed. Now, as Responsible Men Of A Certain Age, we couldn't get hopelessly trashed to generate wisdom, but nevertheless came up with many possible suggestions: Contact Hangover, Electric Hubris, Spastic Melodrama, Bingeworthy (can you tell we were projecting?), Obnoxiousaurus, Towering Cumulus, Dolphin Jail, Moses Cadillac get the idea. All hilarious, all shrugged off or outright rejected for one reason or another. And then—like a brutal ass-kicking from Zeus himself—it came: RADBLASTER. There was another musical entity out there called a Radblaster, but it was merely an mp3 player. We were a BAND, goddamnit, and we would not be denied. Or rather it went something like Bryn saying, "fuck it—the name's good, and I'm sick of this crap. Let's just do it." And so it was that we became Radblaster.

Such an epic tale deserves a song, right? I mean, that's how epics came into being, right? They were sung! Surely we could wring three minutes out of this—and I was just the dude to do it. The lyric for "Blunt Instruments" was actually the fourth or fifth attempt, however—and it had to be cannibalized from other nascent Keir lyrics called "Creative Class Yuppie Blues" (which morphed into "Dilemma By Design"), "Crippling Nostalgia Blues" (which I'm still struggling with), and a lousy chorus for something called "Do Your Business" (i.e. "you can do your business baby, but we're gonna do our thing"). What really drove me to finish it, though, was a great tune of Bryn's (part of his current "Black Keys Riffage" phase) that we rehearsed in early 2011. Unfortunately (for me), he'd already written lyrics for it, calling it "Superconductor." It goes like this:

mp3: Superconductor (original slow riff)

mp3: Superconductor (rehearsal, 2/19/11)

Adam at Wall of Sound in Anaheim, 10/22/11.

I won't say that Fate smiled upon me, but for some reason Bryn soon soured on his lyrics for "Superconductor" and he temporarily shelved the song—and then like a pestilential vulture (or maybe Mitt Romney) I convinced him that the best possible solution would be for me to write a Radblaster theme lyric for his bouncy, bluesy, boozy tune. He wasn't thrilled, but trusting in my skillz, relented with honor and courage. Then I went to work—and it was work in all the worst, frustrating, soul-crushing ways (i.e. an over-serious dude like myself trying to lighten up)—but in the end I beat the bastard and smote its ruin upon the mountain side:

"Blunt Instruments"

Circa nineteen-ninety something
when we rose up from the slime
of spastic melodrama in superlative times,

dumb bingeworthy electric hubris
and contact hangovers galore
always made a lotta noise - but we made more

with Radblaster, yeah Radblaster

Four blunt instruments and then some
are only gonna go so far
but reconnect the Mojo Wire, and here we are:

now with swagger by Los Sindicate
and style by Honey White
fifteen years evaporating overnight

in Radblaster, yeah Radblaster

Certain disaster, sober or plastered
we're Radblaster, we are Radblaster

Elliott and Yeats it ain't—but I did manage to pack in four real band names and four fake ones, including the chorus. And then I crippled the "Superconductor" demo by singing like Bob Dylan's senile evil twin:

mp3: Blunt Instruments (Cranky Old Dylan vocal)

Yikes. However, this version also includes the "blaster" sound, made by the orange toy Star Wars gun that I unearthed in the wilds of Disneylandia (or as the locals call it, "Anaheim"). I'm a sucker for novelty gimmicks in our recordings (examples too numerous to cite here), and I assumed this could be a fun, swingy song that introduces the band—the way "12:15 Blues" did for the Mojo Wire so many years ago. I think I've done that—but of course we haven't actually played it in this form yet, so who knows?

Another open question: could I, Mr. Painfully Serious Man, write a non-serious song? Ever? Well…yes and no, apparently. If you consider stringing together disparate, semi-funny non sequitors into a semi-coherent whole, then yes. If you consider this in competition with Bryn and Adam's greatest hits of hilarity from yesteryear—"Your Mama's a Ho," "This is the Chorus," "Drunken Asshole Bitch Blues," "Margarita," "March of the Idiots," "Broken Nail Blues"—then no. It doesn't even come close to my clever audio-collage from 1999, "Rocked by the Magnum."

Kevin at Wall of Sound in Anaheim, 10/22/11.

Ah, but who cares? It's Friday night in Southern California, my wife is asleep, and I am less than sober. We can get back to being Serious Keir next weekend. Until then, my trigger-happy, em-dash-laced wisdom will surely rattle around in many impressionable brains, right? Right?

Song stats:
Music by Bryn DuBois and Radblaster, January 2011.
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, October 2011.
Appears on the following albums: None (yet…)

January 13, 2012

30 Songs #25 - Unprofessional: All the Gatekeepers Can Go Straight to Hell

Honey White rehearsing at Table Salt, Oct. 2002.

I like to think that my dreams of rock & roll stardom died quickly and painlessly, but they didn't. Someone's always too happy to tell you why you won't make it, especially if that means they think they're putting you in your place. I'm not too hung up on that stuff anymore—believe it or not, I've actually learned to take criticism less personally, even when it's painfully stupid, but the few times I've run into people "in the industry" who claimed the authority to know who has "what it takes" and who doesn't, they've never hesitated to tell me that I didn't have it. I always assumed that meant I didn't have the all-consuming manic bloodlust to Succeed No Matter What the way we're supposed to in America, and once I got over the idea that people who believed this were worth my time, I was much happier.

Until then, however, there were all kinds of useless gatekeepers in the way: sneering promoters, bored A&R people, clueless commenters, blah blah blah. Today's "30 Songs" entry is called "Unprofessional," and at its worst it's how I chose to deal with those people: stuffing their lame arrogance into four verses and a chorus, and dispatching it all within two and a half minutes. At its best, though, "Unprofessional" became the de facto theme song of my second band, Honey White. It's the first song on our debut studio recording from 2002, and a great way to kick off our epic garage rock run:

I almost can't believe it's literally ten years old this month. The studio take doesn't quite do the song justice but "Unprofessional" became a constant live standby, a two-minute burst of gritty garage-rock often sped up to near-punk tempos when played live, galvanizing the rare tanking gig back to life. It would have suited the final Mojo Wire lineup just fine, and in fact the first demo was based on a Mojo jam from Oct. '01:

mp3: "Unprofessional" (composite demo, 1/02)

That's me sing/sneering, but I had my reasons for putting up a front. Fall 2001 was a strange time. The horrible things happening in the world certainly made people rethink their priorities, even if they weren't personally affected by terror or war or whatever. For me, silly as it sounds, that meant wondering if I might be better off as a recording engineer instead of a struggling UCSB bureaucrat in a crumbling, no-hoper band. The Mojo Wire had been on hiatus since our final gig in June, and I was sort of feeling like that group had run its course. Adam spent the summer working, Joe spent it in New York, and Bryn and I endured university paychecks while we figured out what the hell we were supposed to do with ourselves. We all reconvened for a few rehearsals at our then-new digs at Table Salt, but for whatever reason the spark wasn't there and we just let it fall apart.

Normally that would be another story for another time, but I got the itch to Do Something Important Because Of The National Tragedy Of 9/11—or something like that. It was a dumb, reactionary move, but I did it anyway—signed up for (what amounted to) a mail-order course for recording engineers. The company that did it hooked me up with a semi-retired engineer named Mark Anthony, who was a nice guy but who also proved just a little too jaded and cynical to really be a good teacher—or so I thought. After about three weeks I called the recording school and spoke to the owner, some smarmy Hollywood asshole who basically tried to shame me out of giving up. I believe his exact words were "well, don't you wanna quit your day gig, dude?"

Honey White at Giovanni's, Feb. 2004.

Mark Anthony, the engineer, simply shrugged when I told him I wasn't interested anymore. He also said it would be a waste of money, and I guess he felt bad about that because he offered to use up the rest of the time recording my band. I explained I was sort of in-between bands at the time (this would have been about December '01), but he put the idea on layaway until I was ready to do something about it. Between that fiasco and a few others (the cold exclusionism of the "Taxi" A&R service, the sheer brainlessness of, I was pretty burned out on trying to make the world care, and "Unprofessional" was the annoyed result. The lyrics go like this:


Survival on the naked truth has saved another boring youth
from having any bit of fun or getting close to anyone
and by the time I bought the myth an amateur can deal with
I heard the luck was running out for everybody anyhow

come on love, forget about the pressure and the fear
come on love, we can't afford to waste another year

It used to mean the world to me, but chasing down elusive dreams
and second-guessing everything is so unhealthy mon ami

come on love, forget about the pressure and the fear
come on love, we can't afford to waste another year

Here we come now, here we come, so unprofessional to some
but we know better, we know best, and we'll endure nevertheless

you're wrong love, you'll never know if it's a revelation
you're wrong love, the payback isn't any consolation
come on love, forget about the pressure and the fear
come on love, we can't afford to waste another year

I still like them a lot—they're a great snapshot of my state of mind at the time. I'd finished college and felt stuck at a dumb series of jobs where nobody trusted me to not be stupid. It didn't matter to them that I kicked ass in school or was a gifted and talented designer/wordsmith/rockstar. No one cared, and I didn't have the patience to make them care if they couldn't figure it out. It still smarted years later, when successful designer me was asked to write a piece about my background as a "gifted" student.

But enough about all that. Back to the story: in early March 2002, Bryn and I had our first rehearsals with Brian and Billy (Bryn recruited Brian on guitar, and in February we'd placed an ad for a drummer, which Billy answered—and to this day I love him for it). We all clicked instantly on a musical level, and Honey White was born. "Unprofessional" was one of the first songs we did really well—it merged Billy's punkiness and Brian's cool with Bryn's earnestness and my bitchiness. We played it faster and livelier than the earlier Mojo Wire jams, and it grew from there. When it was time to record a demo, we went back to Mark and he helped us make it work—recording the My Band Rocks! E.P. in summer 2002.

Honey White at Embarcadero Hall, Jan. 2005.

The original tune for "Unprofessional" was my own, but as with most of my ideas, it came out much better when the band got ahold of it. As a musical composition it's probably most like a combination of two early '90s songs from my youth: U2's "Zoo Station" and P.J. Harvey's "Dress." Check it out:

That last clip is us on local Santa Barbara TV in April 2003. We came off a bit stiff, it has to be said—which is a bummer because "Unprofessional" was never really like that in concert. It quickly became our opening song at almost every show, mostly as a tag-team, one-two punch with Honey White's giddy take on the Mojo Wire song "Heart on a Platter." Here's a better live take from a bit earlier, December 2002:

Honey White at the Derby Club, Nov. 2005.

Several years ago, I did the numbers on Honey White live shows just for fun. Perhaps unsurprisingly, "Unprofessional" was our most-frequently-played song. We kept it in the set for a long time. Sometimes it ended up later in the show—on one occasion at the UCSB UCen it was a nice wham-bam quickie after "Lightning Rod," on another it jump-started our Derby Club set after "Blacking Out." Here's another live take from 2006, where Bryn explicitly describes it as our theme song:

Even when Honey White got sloppy and goofy, we still managed to stay sharp in one way or another, and this song is a great example of that. Because really, why is being a rookie such an awful thing? Why do you need to be recognized and respected and validated, by a group of random elitists who barely know you, in order to get anywhere in the world? I decided to make noise about how I don't think it's all that bad to be unprofessional, at least in the music business, and (despite my early '90s exposure) not for all the old dumb reasons about selling out. We don't need to be famous to do what we like doing, so why get all worked up? I know I'm a rock star, so who gives a shit if some coke-addled record label exec can't see that?

Well, because I hate elitism and gatekeeping in all its forms. I hate how people seem to expect you to play the game according to their rules and if you don't, you are deemed to "not have what it takes" to succeed in your efforts and you should pack it up and go home. I guess I should be glad that it bothered me enough to dedicate three minutes of my time to eviscerate it with this song. "We know better, we know best, and we'll endure nevertheless." Damn right.

Honey White at the Ocean Institute, Aug. 2006.

These days, as someone with small amounts of pull in the local design business, I've tried to keep that in mind when training younger designers and interns. I still can't believe they actually listen to me, but they do—and I think it might be my life's mission to not be a sneering, condescending prick (or even a passive, apathetic one!) when working with other creative people trying to break into the business. I want to prepare them for all the other assholes who will try to step on them. I know I can't always be the perfect one-man-envy-eliminating machine, but unless someone really is acting too big for their britches, there's no reason to stomp their dreams before they even know what those are. I don't mean to get all earnest and righteous on a Friday night, but the world's always too full of pompous, arrogant gatekeepers. If I can puncture their egos one at a time—especially in a two-minute-thirty-second rock song, I'll consider it a job well done.

Okay gang, that's all for now. Tune in next week for Radblaster's theme song. Hopefully I'll have lightened up a bit by then, but today swung between boredom and stressed annoyance a bit too much for me. Thanks for enduring.

Song stats:
Music by Keir DuBois and Honey White (2002).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, January 2002.
Appears on the following albums:
My Band Rocks E.P. by Honey White
Live and Unprofessional by Honey White
Saturated Songs by Honey White
Deluge and Drought by Honey White
Some Reassembly Required by Honey White

January 08, 2012

30 Songs #24 - Wishing Well Blues: Same Thing We Do Every Night, Pinky

Guest backing vocalists on the faux Mojo theme song.

For the final Mojo Wire post of the "30 Songs" series, we have a song that's almost the perfect synthesis of the entire Mojo Wire ethos and outlook on life: "Wishing Well Blues." It's an eight-bar blues arrangement, sun-kissed by reverby surf guitar; a simple, unpretentious lyric supported by a novelty-song feel and silly vocal overdubs. In short, it could be the unofficial Mojo Wire theme song. This isn't the case, of course—a more likely Mojo theme is probably our notorious song "Your Mama's A Ho," a tasteless, scatological blob of slime—but humor me here, folks. I'm running out of ways to be a pretentious bore about all the music and lyrics I've written, so it's time to get figuratively self-referential with three posts in a row about "theme songs." The first of those is "Wishing Well Blues," from September 1997 or so (and our first album), which goes like this:

Sometimes I forget how much fun that bassline is to play, in the original four-on-the-floor funky tempo we used. I had to chop it up a bit when we revived the song (in a garage-y, punky version) for our 2001 live shows, but more on that later. What I'd really like to start with is something I wrote in last week's entry that has bugged me ever since I posted it. I dismissed that entry's song, "Can't Keep Warm," as "not bad, for what it is—but not the stuff that art is made of." That's true, but it's also perilously close to being hung up on "serious art" and "meaningful creativity" and other such empty, earnest platitudes spewed by arrogant jerks. I do get hung up on that stuff a lot, and it detrimental to my creativity. I don't really know how to neutralize or offset it these days, but back in the Mojo Wire era of 1996-2001 I had plenty of balance for my serious sad-bastard routine. That balance was called "Bryn and Adam" because when they wanted to, they could be riotously funny—funny in the way that teenagers who watch too much Monty Python (or in this case, too much "Animaniacs") can be. Honey White had our goofy moments, but those rarely ended up on tape; there's a long line of Mojo Wire silly craziness that was recorded, for better or worse.

My ill-fated "happy on the outside" period, April 1997. The bleach clearly affected my brain.

Some of that found its way onto the break of "Wishing Well Blues" in what we've always called "the Pinky and the Brain vocals." Also to the "drip drop" falsetto in the chorus, which may not be the goofiest thing we ever committed to tape back then—but it's certainly the gutsiest. I mean, think about it—how self-confident would three sensitive young men have to be in order to record their own fatuous attempts at falsetto, looking totally stupid, and for what reason, again? Well, because we could, frankly—and because to us it was some funny shit at the time. I remember Adam's dad didn't think it was that funny, but Adam did it anyway. So did Bryn and I, but since it was Adam's tune in the first place, it was up to him. To his vast and unflappable credit, Adam always sang whatever lyrics I've come up with for his tunes, and he sure humored me when I presented these:

"Wishing Well Blues"

I wish I was in rock & roll, I wish I were a star
I wish I had some plastic pants and a big-ass fancy car
I wanna hear 'em shout my name when I walk into a bar
and I wish that all that alcohol would stay there in its jar

Don't toil in no piss factory, ain't got no busboy blues
Never had no dead-end job and I ain't here to abuse
Yeah I've heard there's naught to gain and far too much to lose
But guitar and me and the other three's the only way I'd choose

drip drop drip drop—dancin' in cement shoes
drip drop drip drop—damn those wishing well blues
drip drop drip drop—dancin' in cement shoes
drip drop drip drop—damn those wishing well blues

I wish I were the wiser for everything I haven't learned
I wish that I could see the world when my back was turned
I wish I'd seen it coming when a woman had me spurned
and I wish I had a cigarette for all those times that I got burned

I wish I beat the system but I wish I hadn't tried
I wish I had a conscience every time I tell a lie
I wish I had a weapon against the things that make me cry
don't say I'm never happy when the blues don't pass me by

drip drop drip drop—dancin' in cement shoes
drip drop drip drop—damn those wishing well blues
drip drop drip drop—dancin' in cement shoes
drip drop drip drop—damn those wishing well blues

I'm sure I was trying to be clever with the references to Bono ("plastic pants"), the Police (their song "Dead End Job"), and Patti Smith (her song "Piss Factory"; I'd just interviewed her for the UCSB school paper a few months before this), but it either looks too showy or obscure now to really matter. I think what I was trying to do was shoehorn as much of my weekly Daily Nexus/Artsweek "Battery Acid Blues" columns into this lyric as I could. The column was supposed to be about music in popular culture, but it ended up as a semi-fictional weekly diary on the trials and tribulations of our first year as a band. The term "band" is used very loosely, by the way—we had very few real gigs, we barely knew how to record, and we rarely had a permanent drummer until Bryn finally took over behind the kit in 1999. The lyrics for "Wishing Well Blues" reflect this, sort of—they're semi-fictional, mostly non-sensical, and again serve as a vehicle for Adam to extemporize in his fake-bluesman voice.

The Mojo Wire as a wedding band, August 1997. Bryn is obviously attempting to read Adam's mind. I don't know what's up with Kevin.

I might have also been trying to translate something that I obviously couldn't express at the time, but explained better in an "introduction" written for a 2006 band book project that never went anywhere:

"I just can't picture you doing that."

I was watching a bad swing-revival band play an outdoor gig at Chico State in late April 1996 when the girl next to me told me this. We were in the middle of one of those "this relationship isn't going to work and this is why" talks, and for some reason I'd mentioned that I'd wanted to play bass guitar in a band, and that I'd wanted this for a few years now. I'd actually bought a bass the month before, after being dumped by a different girl for a guy who I'd eventually end up in a band with.

This was on top of getting thrown out of my dad's house the previous Christmas, so I had sort of been through the wringer in the last few months, and apparently the only thing that would fix my problems was Loud Rock Music. Naturally, when informed that this wasn't a sensible thing to do, or that it was unlike me somehow, and by someone who thought they knew better than I did, I immediately chose to become absolutely bent out of shape enough to become exactly the opposite of what everyone expected.

Well…that didn't happen either—at least not in that exact way. What did happen involved me spending the next decade of my life making much more music, noise, art, and fun than I had any right to expect from something that was originally a blatantly selfish act of revenge.
Well, the one thing that hasn't changed is that I'm still a pompous ass. Way to go, dude.

On to more interesting things: musically, "Wishing Well Blues" started as a surf instrumental Adam brought to us in summer 1997. I have a very strong memory of Bryn and Adam recording it (using the keyboard drum machine) in Bryn's room at our parents' house in Dana Point. The guys had just finished high school, but I can't remember if they'd been accepted to UCSB yet. We were also gearing up for our third-ever "gig," which was being the band at my mom and stepdad's wedding later in August. Bryn's room was unusually clean (we were packing up for either his move to UCSB or for my parents' in-town move to a condo) so we had plenty of space to set up the equipment. The old Tascam four-track had actually been living with Bryn all year, and he'd recorded a metric ton of stuff on it—drum machine versions of the old Clap songs we'd originally demoed at Kevin's house, guitar-only improvisations, new instrumentals that were waiting on lyrics from me (or any of us; we weren't that choosy), and some totally random covers like the Beatles' "Polythene Pam" and Petty's recent "Zero from Outer Space." That drum machine demo of "Wishing Well" got vocals soon enough, when we all moved back to UCSB two months later:

mp3: "Wishing Well Blues" (drum machine demo, 9/97)

In Isla Vista, we began assembling "real" recordings of all the Mojo Wire songs to date around September 1997. We didn't know much, but we did know we wouldn't be able to get any gigs based on the drum machine demos. When drummer (and next-door-neighbor) Brandon Klopp agreed to help us out, we nevertheless discovered that the easiest way to re-record the songs was still via drum machine: his electronic kit had a single input cable that only took up one track on the Tascam. The difference was that there was great, versatile drummer playing the machine this time, instead of a computer metronome. We basically got a chance to enhance and/or improve everything from the original drum machine demo; the surf guitar shone a little brighter, the background vocals were slightly less annoying, and the break still sounded like the perfect balance of genius and insanity. The result is the final Battery Acid Blues version of the song at the top of this post. When the album had twelve songs and not ten (its first few pressings or so), "Wishing Well" held the seventh position—the first slot of Side 2, even though by then the idea of album "sides" was basically dead. I just liked the idea of structuring an album that way, since it was full of classic, album-era sounds.

The Mojo Wire version 2.0: Bryn, Keir, Adam, Brandon, December 1997.

"Wishing Well" has a live history too—it closed most of our Bedrock-era shows in 1997/98—but since we didn't record any Mojo Wire gigs until 2001, the best live take I've got is probably from the show where we revived it after several years in mothballs: the April 7 '01 backyard keg party rehearsal for a Giovanni's appearance on April 12. Like many other performances from the Adam/Joe/Keir/Bryn lineup, it was messy, loud, unsubtle, and totally rock & roll. We punked it up a bit, which meant the tempo increased too much for me to effectively play the original bassline, but I still pulled off a passable solo in the break, and for better or worse decided to keep the falsetto backing vocals. It was lots of fun to play. I think it was a result of our contemporaneous "re-imagine the Mojo classics" project that revived a few other songs too; reinvigorating old songs is always such a blast when it works this well. Check it out:

mp3: "Wishing Well Blues" (live 4/7/01)

We haven't done much with it since then, so "Wishing Well Blues" has been dormant for over ten years now. If I recall correctly Bryn thought it might work for Radblaster, but so far that hasn't happened; the new band seems to be skewing to the rootsy-blues-rock end of things instead of the surfy-reverb end (despite some fantastic instrumentals and the "Stranded" ballad). But who knows? Maybe there's a home for it somewhere. So yeah, it's probably a stretch to call "Wishing Well Blues" the Mojo Wire's theme song, but it'll do in a pinch. It is, however, less a literal or figurative theme song than say, "Unprofessional" for Honey White or "Blunt Instruments" for Radblaster, both of which we'll get to in the next two weeks—so stay tuned.

The Mojo Wire version 3.0: Joe, Adam, Bryn, Keir, November 2001.

Song stats:
Music by Adam Hill and the Mojo Wire, July 1997.
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, September 1997.
Appears on the following albums:
Battery Acid Blues by the Mojo Wire

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