Playing around with Garage Band…
Playing around with Garage Band…
I recorded this (or rather, I should say Raph recorded this) one evening at Raph and Kaige’s place. Raph had introduced me to a wide range of new tunings and we’d been practicing a song in DADGAD (hence the filename). He had to do something, I don’t remember what exactly, but he turned on the multi-track right before he left and I stayed around and played with the tuning a bit and some of the noodling resulted in the following. You can even hear Mika, Raph’s dog, barking in the background. And yes, the digital delay was cranked a little high, and it suffers from the lack of a compressor… if I had to date this, it was probably ‘97 or ‘98 or thereabouts.
After 13 long years of waiting for a new Guns ‘n Roses release, Chinese Democracy is finally, finally released. Here is my review.
My first encounter with the music of Tom Waits happened while I was working at Boeing back in the early 90’s. I always claimed a fairly broad brush when it came to musical tastes, but I’d primarily been listening to Journey, David Sanborn (as well as other smooth jazz of the time), Jethro Tull and various other bits of rock, new age, punk and what have you. Tull was my new love, suggested by a coworker, and has, for the last 17 years, dominated my ‘go-to’ album collection.
Another co-worker at Boeing suggested Tom Waits. He (coworker, not Tom) was a diminutive, quirky little guy who had trouble catching on to simple concepts. He was eventually terminated for making, as well as carrying out, some physical threats against the rest of us. It’s sad I’ve completely blocked his name…
But before that whole ball of fun, he made me a mix tape — yes, that’s weird now that I think about it — of Tom Waits songs. I popped it into the tape deck exactly once and found it completely, utterly unlistenable. Of course at the time I didn’t have any inkling or clue to his influence, nor did I pay one bit of mind to the lyrics in a song (a trend that mostly continues to today, when, very recently, my wife told me that the lyrics of a particular song I rather enjoy were about suicide… I’d no idea). I found him unlistenable in the same way I like to hear other people play Dylan songs. Outside of the Travelling Wilburys, I’ve never been able to listen to a whole album (sincere apologies to both Bill and Paul on that, I know you’ll be disappointed in me!).
After that one listen I lost the tape. I’d not put my mind on Tom Waits for years.
So fast forward to many months ago when I read that Scarlett Johansson was releasing an album. This had to be at least entertaining, I thought to myself, knowing that many of the actors-turned-singers don’t do all that well. And then I read the news that it would be a cover of Tom Waits songs.
Oh, this will be rich.
So on day 1 of availability, I purchased the tracks on iTunes. I read the reviews as I listened to them and tended to agree with the negative ones.
If you’re looking for an album where, by the end, you know how good a vocalist Scarlett Johansson is, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Her vocals are mixed way down, they often seem just a tad beyond her range, high or low, and they’re delivered with an amount of energy that earns a “phoned-in” allegation for most performers. It’s soft, dreamy, padded with complex instrumentation. I kept thinking of it as “this would be really nice backings for a good Roger Waters” song. The mix has an overall Pink-Floyd-ish slant to it.
I played it a couple of times to give it its fair shake but it sat largely forgotten in the depths of my iPod.
One day on the way home from somewhere, Zoe was demanding music in the car and, frankly, I’d had enough of The Lion Sleeps Tonight and my aging collection of Smooth Jazz, so I rolled it over to the playlist I’d set up for the Scarlett Johansson album and hit play.
Three songs into it, Zoe was sound asleep.
I did this again and again. If she was even remotely tired, out she’d go. Bang! I’d found a purpose for this disc!
But this funny thing happened on the way to toddler dreamland — I started seriously listening to what was happening on the record. I started listening to the lyrics. The songs are miraculous. I see now why Tom Waits is so revered. His lyrics paint a picture, sometimes precise, sometimes abstract. There’s a sense of the way he sees the world.
And the CD brings all of that wide out in the open, sets a panoramic wall of sound to match the lyrical vision, and drives each and every song home.
I still don’t know what SJ sounds like. I don’t care. I love this album and not just for its mesmerizing effects on the under-4-foot crowd.
So now that I got Tom Waits, I was prepared to drop coin on iTunes and really check him out. I listened to 20 track samples.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even spend 99 cents on the man. I find it, I find him still, un-listenable. It’s as though Cannibal Corpse went Folk Americana, combining the worst parts of the Death Growl and archaic country-western.
So I shall continue appreciating him from afar and vicariously through starlet’s vanity projects.
On the other hand, I took the change I was planning on spending on Waits and I cherry picked a few tracks from The Essential Bob Dylan. Time to give him another try. Maybe in time I’ll earn Paul and Bill’s forgiveness.
Back in ‘93/’94 (some of the ‘college years’) I was in a few bands playing guitar, flute, sax, doing some drum programming and what have you. The most successful of which was Third from the Sun with Gia (vocals), Kelsey (drums) and Tyler (bass), though we did have our lineup changes before that set was our ‘final’ linup.
We recorded a demo on the cheap (8 hours at an 8-track analog studio) and it lived on DAT and cassette for a very long time until I moved to Austin. I had it transferred on to CD by someone who did a half-assed job and then ripped it from there. All in all, it wasn’t really our best foot forward (as Kelsey had joined the band a mere two days before we recorded), but some really cool things came out of it (such as the place where I totally screwed up in ‘Wait’ except Gia gave me the thumbs up from her half of the recording room and we went with it — a pause in the song that later became part of our live set, probably the most apropos guitar solo I’ve ever done in ‘I’ll Say When’, the ‘C’ section in ‘Romeo’ where the entire band hit the crescendo spot-on, and the vocal ‘oohs’ at the end of ‘Romeo’ still sends chills down my spine). An astute listener will likely detect at least two places in ‘Lost and Lonely’ where the band nearly falls apart.
Night with Romeo
I’ll Say When
Lost and Lonely
We played all our gigs as a half-original/half-cover band doing the latest-and-greatest covers from Nirvana to Tool to The Smashing Pumpkins to Candlebox and Belly (anyone remember them? Feed the Tree! Oh yeah!). I still remember fondly the time when Gia, who was not 18 yet and still living at home, threw caution to the wind and with her family in the audience, screamed ‘Jesus won’t you fucking whistle’ into the microphone…
My favorite tune I penned, ‘Angels Walk Alone’, was written at the very end of the group’s life and never made it on to tape anywhere. I have only vague memories of the riffs and when pressed I can muddle through the whole thing, sort-of. The lyrics are far, far gone, though.
And then one summer, I got a call at home that ended the group. Gia and I did a couple acoustic recordings after that of some of our songs and some of the covers, but that tape too seems to be lost to the ages.
Kelsey and I went on to gather up Scott (guitars) a bassist who I can’t remember his name, exactly, and Mr. Country (vocals) who tossed away his country-ness and helped us form the very heavy, very dark metal band Lunchbox (or was it Boxed Lunch?). But that’s a story for another post.
A recent ‘find’ on MySpace and a couple letters exchanged with the lead singer and I felt the need to reminisce a bit. Oh, and she wanted the songs to download. So, Gia… there ya go!
I don’t get much of a chance to play, write, or record any more, but I did dig this one up from the ‘more recent than the rest’ archives. It’s called ‘Sunrise’:
The origin of this song is a little strange. I’d hit a dry spell and one frustrated evening I was sitting there tapping on the old keyboard when I swapped over to a drum kit. Rolling my fingers across the ‘toms’ (which were mapped to some ethnic instrument), the ‘background beat’ just evolved. I just kept adding layer upon layer of drums and turning any quantizing completely off to get a sort-of primal, tribal feel.
Everything else just fell into place after that. When I was listening to a proof the next day in the truck on the way to work, it was right about dawn. Something about the drive in and the melody just clicked; hence the name.