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


  1. Actually, in the wedding band photo I was admiring Adam's manly earwax buildup. And he and I watched too much Monty Python too, thankyouverymuch.

  2. Yes, that's what I meant. I claimed no monopoly on Python.


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