January 01, 2012

30 Songs #23 - Can't Keep Warm: What Foulness Lurks Beneath Storke Tower?


The den of iniquity: KJUC/KCSB and the UCSB Daily Nexus.

Well, what title would you have written if you'd been watching consecutive Hobbit movies all week, instead of typing up a holiday-shortened, quickie "30 Songs" post about a song that doesn't inspire great and profound writing? Yeah, that's right—this week's song is like last week's, except even less so. It's called "Can't Keep Warm" and it's one of the bluesy twelve-bar-by-numbers lyrics I wrote in the very early Mojo Wire days of 1996/1997. There's not much to it—the tune is the first of several video-game-music ripoffs I've made, and the lyrics are meaningless except as a vehicle for Adam to sing something in the ancient-blues-singer voice he was so adept at back then. Check it out:


Not bad, for what it is—but not the stuff that art is made of. Am I making art all the time? Of course not—but it's important to grow as a creative person, and all the growing I did had to start somewhere, right? That "somewhere" is basically the riff for "Fatal Flaws," the whole of "FM Blues," and then "Can't Keep Warm." The latter's tune grew out of a riff I swiped from the theme for World 7 (the pipe one) of "Super Mario Bros. 3," but all that survives from that is the bass line. I finished a workable lyric around Feb/Mar 1997, and we recorded the first version of "Can't Keep Warm" at the same time as the other drum machine demos (summer and fall '97). Most of those demos were for songs that had already been recorded in rehearsal, but I don't think we ever practiced "Can't Keep Warm" in the 1996, Clap-era lineup of the band. The drum machine demo is notable for how loose it is; there's so much space in the slow, nearly percussion-less take that Adam has plenty of room to play a great guitar part:

mp3: "Can't Keep Warm" (drum machine demo, 9/97)

I love that sound he's got there. Just enough reverb to bring it to the front, and yet not overwhelm the whole song. The lyrics go like this:

"Can't Keep Warm"

Since she's gone I shiver
and I can't keep warm no more
Since she's gone I shiver
and I can't keep warm no more
All my nights are so long
cause I'm frozen to the core

Don't wanna see the snow outside
I'm so damn tired of the cold
Don't wanna see the snow outside
I'm so damn tired of the cold
What I need is her warm body near
What I need is her warm soul

Since she's gone I shiver
and I can't keep warm no more
Since she's gone I shiver
and I can't keep warm no more
What I need is her warm body near
What I need is her warm soul

Look at that—it's only two verses, with the repetition that twelve-bars sometimes have, and the third is a combination of both. Easily the least effort I've ever put into a lyric. Pathetically weak, and yet it seems to work for the song.

The album version (in the music player above) that we recorded with Brandon playing drums during winter 1997 was actually trimmed down from a six- or seven-minute jam, the original recording of which I've since lost. The way we'd do those would be to record live jams of drums, bass, Bryn's guitar, and sometimes Adam's guitar (tracks permitting) to the Tascam four-track cassette machine that we lugged around, and then bounce those four tracks to another tape where they got locked in on one track, leaving three more for vocal overdubs and anything else we wanted to throw in. Then Brandon would take the cassette and convert it to DAT, making digital audio files from that conversion.


Mojo Wire drummer Brandon Klopp, rehearsing with us in December 1997.

And so much for "Can't Keep Warm"—because if I recall correctly we didn't ever play it live, and I can't be arsed to look it up in the Mojo Wire archives. The laziness I'm afflicted with during this second holiday weekend is truly amazing, as you can see. I promise that next week (and the run-up to the end of the series) will be compellingly interesting.

Now, about that title—what lurks beneath Storke Tower—that refers to about the time when these first songs were written and recorded: when I wrote for the UCSB Daily Nexus and Bryn and Adam deejayed on KJUC, the dorm-only frequency of the KCSB campus radio station. I wrote CD reviews and a weekly column for the Artsweek section; the (frequently illustrated) column was called "Battery Acid Blues," which ended up also being the title of the Mojo Wire's first demo CD. Like the first few songs I wrote at the time, my columns were amateurish, spastic and weird—and written mostly with the goal of cracking up my friends. I wrote more about them here and here.


Cartoon illustration for the first "Battery Acid Blues" column, 4/24/97 (artist unknown).

Bryn and Adam (with help from our buddy Ian Shifrin) also cracked us all up with their weekly show, called "The Further Adventures of Imran and Bjorn." They played lots of classic (and modern) blues, surf, and rockabilly, tossing in liberal amounts of our own recordings—mostly the "drum machine demos" of which "Can't Keep Warm" was one. The show's intro music will give you an idea of the kind of goofiness they indulged in:

mp3: "The Further Adventures of Imran and Bjorn" (show intro)

Yes, Beavis & Butt-head, Soul-Train Santa Claus, and who-knows-what-else lurked beneath Storke Tower in the bowels of UCSB's fetid media rooms. There was a lot of bizarre crap that went into the stew that was our first band ("Your Mama's a Ho" was the tip of the scatological iceberg, for example), but we did have a few songs that were stone-cold awesome from the get-go ("Long Black Leather Boots," "Whitecap," "12;15 Blues"), and once we figured out how to parse it out a bit—controlling before deploying, so to speak—we improved considerably. I know I sure did as far as lyrics are concerned. Took me a little longer to sharpen up as a bassist, of course.

Okay, that's about enough of that. Tune in next week for the first of a three-song trip through a theme-park of rock. We're nearing the home stretch, children; you won't have "30 Songs" to kick around much longer, so be thankful for that.

Song stats:
Music by Keir DuBois and the Mojo Wire 1997).
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, March 1997.
Appears on the following albums:
Battery Acid Blues by the Mojo Wire

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