Week 3 in the studio now, not that we’ve been slogging aways 12 hours a day or anything.
Nah man, what you think?
We’re holed up at Villa Nellcôte, making this record at our bleary leisure?
That we spend our days splashing around the Mediterranean Sea before a light supper of chilled crustaceans and baguette, only then retiring to the basement to lay down half a usable track before calling it a day?
It’s more like, hey Jim, book me 90 minutes next Tuesday, my wife has Book Club. I’ll try to get in to lay down some vocals before I start my colonoscopy cleanse-cool?
Such is life. The reality of the mundane world attempts to extinguish the creative ideal.
Who’s gonna finish these goddamn lyrics, I ask you, when the kid just cracked up her car on Sepulveda yet again.
Are we working out this guitar line, or are we calling the Insurance company….huh?
So the guitars are all there now, the lead vocals in the can.
We start listening to rough mixes, throwing out silly ideas for background vocals and horn parts.
You know, the kind of stuff that always gets us in trouble.
If we could only make a full album of Wetspots and Mannequin, ya know?
It would be so easy!
But no, we just can’t help but veer off into the land o cheese.
Our beloved place of the heart that brings you the odd ballads and Aersosmith covers (ahem) that corrupt our every offering, keeping us out of the Hardcore Hall of Fame.
Hey, blame it on our shoddy upbringing.
While you goddamn kids grew up with your Eminem on MTV, we had to stay up late and wait to see who came up on The Midnight Special or Don Kirschners Rock Concert for our musical education.
It was a mixed bag, one night you’d get gloriously rockin stuff by Cheap Trick or Alice, next week it might be Kenny Loggins and the O’Jay’s.
We watched it all, studied that shit.
When you were raised on AM radio hits of the 70’s and the deep tracks of the FM dial, tortured to sleep every night by your older brothers’ Mothers of Invention and Savoy Brown albums, well, that stuff comes back to haunt you.
You look at all the specialized porn categories (asking for a friend), and these bizarre sub-categories are borne from the residual memory lodged in mind if not DNA.
The childhood glimpse at a Sears underwear catalog, the delicious sting of willow switch upon buttock.
Who are we to judge?
So when we roll back on the last odd track, Jay’s final farewell gift to us before heading back to his Safe European Home, it all makes sense.
I mean, why wouldn’t we try our hand at an Irving Berlin number written in the early hardcore days of 1926?!
Jay proposed the idea, and I only had a memory of Willie Nelson’s laconic version.
What, you mean like a ska version or something says I? Nah man, says Jay. Hand me that guitar.
The daughter just rolls her eyes when she sees me sitting on the porch after a jog, scrolling through the ol Facebook feed, that digital excuse for human engagement that has become so shamefully addictive to us old fucks.
Here we find the mindless chit-chat of people checking in at Coffee Bean or filling up their tanks and showing those amazing photos of the gas prices. What would we do, I ask ya, without this in our lives?
Facebook? Oh, please, she says, as she posts to her own mysterious new app, probably some cryptic messenger service based out of the Baltic that filters your selfie with reptilian features before disintegrating the post to the ether within 10 seconds.
The kids, they like to erase their footsteps.
But not in Fbook land, brother.
No, like a helpful nephew reminding us to take our medication and wipe our ass, Facebook chimes in to show us what we posted, were tagged in, like 4 years ago!
Aside from the fact that we have spent the last 4 goddamn years of our lives watching dog videos and sharing Taco Tuesday memes on the page, it jolts an old memory to new memories we had of memories that had to be digitized from memories on film.
See? Now I have a headache.
But this charming little photo that just popped up again, taken by early So Ca scene reporter Marla Watson, captured a nice little moment in time that caused me to pause for just a moment and reflect.
There we are, that innocent lineup of 1982: Kimm and I, of course, along with Larry Kelley and new drummer Jack DeBaun atop the Blue and White Chevy. It is a glorious suburban afternoon, I’m guessing late June 1982. I remember we were just preparing for our first ever real tour, a Southern jaunt that would take us through Texas, playing with the Big Boys and Husker Du. Getting as far East as sultry New Orleans before doubling back through the middle of the country toward home.
In this pic you can feel the excitement of the four innocent lads, all intentions good and clear, woefully unprepared for the decades of indignities that these first baby steps would bring forth.
But it is something else that caught my eye this time around.
There, among the stenciled cabinets and flats of Banquet beer sits the one trusted piece of equipment that saw us through all of those adventures: The CH3 Ice Chest.
That’s a sturdy piece of gear yo.
Now, ya take your modern affairs, all plastic, injection molded monstrosities lacking any soul. Or those hipster brushed stainless barrels, meant to carry around all the fixin’s for fey mojitos or goddamned Moscow Mules.
Nah mate, the Coleman 1978 Long Boy 54 Qt Model16A was a thing of timeless beauty, a modern marvel of the day.
Here we have an empty vessel, void as a blank pad of paper.
Ready to be filled with the individual artistry of the maniacs it fell before.
Old Green, she was the perfect complement to the Blue and White.
The wizards at GM saw fit to leave a perfect gap between the front seats of the 1/2 ton window van, and in an amazing stroke of cubist Kismet the cooler fit perfectly between those seats.
It was a convenient location for the drinking driver who didn’t want to take his eyes off the road whence reaching for a cold beer. Safety first boys!
It also acted as a handy jump seat up front, adding yet another seat for any New Wave chicks that needed a ride home from the Starwood back to Cerritos.
Seat Belts? Hah, I say.
Yet it is even beyond these punk memories that Big Green mythology exists, for we came together one sparkling night.
As with any good talisman that finally finds the proper hand, Arthur & Excalibur have nothing on the Coleman 54 finding its way to us.
Back in 1978 Cerritos was your typical suburban dream/nightmare, something not even Spielberg could present in its quaint sterility.
The youth culture was divided perhaps into four easy groups, jocks, nerds, stoners and vatos, none of these messy sub genre mutations that now leave us blinking in confusion.
But Kimm and I found a nice way to bring the tribes together: the field party.
Oh, it’s just what it sounds like all right. You find a field, get a keg, tell people where yer at. Field Party.
You could easily pick one of the dozens of vacant lots that used to define our infant community.
Cleared of the last lowing cattle, another Dutch family paid off and sent packing to Chino.
But before the last of the manure was scraped away and foundations for yet another concrete tilt up poured, here we had a blank canvas for good old American teenage fun.
Virginities destroyed, curfews broken, Lowenbrau vomit forced through nostrils: these fine acts and more happened among the dirtclods and dust on a few choice Friday nights under the jealous stars.
We’d spread word of the location at lunchtime Friday, all of our stoner pals already onboard and getting tuned up at Heritage Park across the street already.
And because of our good standing in school (Editor of the Paper, Senior Class President? Oi.), the marching band members and math club crew were encouraged to come as well.
By nightfall we were united in the name of obstreperousness and lukewarm beer.
One fateful night, we just happened to pick a field that lay next to the railroad tracks.
The party raged on toward midnight, maybe Joe Jackson or our beloved Starz blaring out of a Datsun pickup truck 8 track.
The keg is now tilted and cursed at for the last dregs, drunken cheerleaders are being convinced to go along to the One Ways in Norwalk with some of the Chivas crew.
A group huddled against a trio of boxcars left on the tracks, smoking terrible mersh weed out of beer can pipes. Those faceless rusting monoliths of the Santa Fe line betrayed no clues of the treasures within their bellies.
Then a shout goes out: Hey, the door’s open!
And the next thing you know, everyone is scrambling into the freight train and emerging with brand new Coleman camping gear.
Jocks and stoners happily thieving together, walking side by side with Coleman propane lanterns and 54 Quart ice chests though the dust and headlights.
Here a lithe surfer chick helps a chubby Korean gal from band up to the boxcar, she in turn offering a hand to the Hesher from home room, too wasted to get up on his own. They each grab a Coleman Two-Burner camping stove then hug in flushed glee.
It became a cheerful night of looting, kids away from any guidance left to make this awful decision against faceless corporate America all on their own. We all became criminals and accomplices that night, and as far as I know, no one was ever caught.
Kimm and I looked at each other, then at the scene with awe.
A moment of reckless abandon and youth unity, I have a sneaky suspicion in turn lead us to start a band.
Have we ever witnessed such a fine night of aim and action since? Doubt it.
Zelig like, the Coleman was in the background of all our shameful moments and victories.
On hungover drives across the blasted Midwestern plains, its content holding nothing but lukewarm water and empty Schaffer cans.
There she is yet again, backstage at Irvine Meadows, stuffed with sparkling clear cubes and bottles of champagne sent in good luck from our Moms.
It became a small piece of home that we could bring along, a welcome target of comfort when we were so far away.
And on return, it would come into the garage and become the symbol of those adventures, centerpiece of yet another night drinking beers and telling the tales of the nights we’d just survived.
You could finish a beer and toss the empty into the dark corner of the garage, then reach for the Coleman yet again.
…you think you come in here with original ideas?
Killing in the name of the Lord?
We’re in the studio day 2, listening to the playback of the basic tracks.
My fingers are grooved and sore. The cruel contour of steel roundwound guitar strings visible from eight straight hours of laying down the rhythm tracks, then doubling those again.
But it’s a good pain, like the catholic glow of hurt after too many situps.
It’s there, concrete. The drums committed now, even though Nick now finds fault in a second verse pattern here, a rushed fill there.
Heh. What was it we were saying about tracking to the grid?
But it all sounds just great to the guitar players in the room , so we move on. We have the sturdy foundation upon which we shall layer on the melty cheese.
We begin the lonely business of overdubs now, that singular experience of adding your stuff to the song all by yourself.
Isolated from the rest of the fellas by glass and headphone, you become that rogue cosmonaut floating around deep space.
Tethered to Mission Control only by a coiled cord and the static clip of the talkback in your ear.
You are alone with the song now, yet you can feel everyone in the booth concentrating on every movement of your fingers, each crack in your voice.
Ready to stop the track and congratulate you for nailing it, and just as eager to call you a dick for fucking it up yet again. Do you need a moment in there?Shall we stop for dinner?
It’s thrilling, to see these things take shape.
We’ve only been concentrating on the basic track for so long, each downstroke and downbeat, that we only now start to see the song emerge.
Everyone has been keeping their own individual ideas for the songs til this moment.
You get your turn to lay down an idea, then just hope you are not met with a roomful of puzzled looks and the suggestion that, hey, maybe you can go do the taco run right now, hmmm?
Carnitas por favor!
I do a quick scratch vocal over all the tracks so we can set all the marks.
I’m still scribbling out verses up to this point, and stumble over the phrases as I try out the words for the first time.
I scratch out words and mark breathing spots with a magic marker, looking all the world like a grumpy community college teacher grading papers as I sing along to the tracks.
I blow out my voice as I have no clue where to breathe or even what key we’re in, but the proper real estate is now claimed for voice. And now the guitars come in to do their sneaky infestation.
Jay and Kimm were out in the lobby all the day before, going through the songs and scratching out ideas. For this track, they submit totally to its shameless roots in Train Kept a Rollin and Ace of Spades.
Kimm comes in and lays the lead, like, quick.
We all take our places on the couch for another playback, check the new color added to the canvas.