#2 in a series celebrating the 10th anniversary of our album We Pitched a Hut and Called it Providence!
We had a really shitty breakup and I couldn't get her out of my head. Everything was so unfair. How she treated me, how she left me, the situation that her leaving put me in, the fact that she now had everything. The perfect job, the perfect relationship, and I was alone. The vast majority of my friends had moved out of the city or moved on – I’d kind of put all my chips on black and it turned up red. I couldn't escape the first part of that equation – “I” and “put” yet still, it didn't necessarily have to turn out this way. It certainly didn't for her. But it did for me.
Now she was in my dreams, taunting me. I was sitting in a subway station and she was barking at me. I tried not to listen. I opened my eyes and I was sitting on the bleacher seats at Coyne Park, a group of baseball fields in Yonkers where I used to play ball as a kid. She climbed up and tried to explain. I was somewhere else. I’d moved to an overpass and her faces were in the cars. I even remember an Atlantic City bar where I drank a $40 glass of scotch after winning 500 dollars in one sitting. I ate a steak and drank a bottle of wine. I turned down a prostitute. I watched a grown man crying on the bus home “Why? Every damn time. Why?” I tried to explain zen to a car full of strangers at Niagara Falls. Not much else had happened in my life at that point. And not much else would after. But that’s not important. What was important was that at each of these she was there, explaining. She was the bartender that served my scotch. She uncorked my wine and held it out for me to smell. She held my hand on the bus. She patted my head at the unfathomable sadness I felt on that bus. She laughed at zen when I realized I was closing a chapter of my life.
All the way she was explaining she was the end of something too. When I finally could ignore her no longer I grabbed her by the shoulders and told her to leave me alone, if what she was saying was true, then go away, leave me alone, if it was new, then leave me to it. I shook her. I closed my eyes again and leaned into her.
Part of the source of the frustration was that I was given what so many people long for but couldn't see it: a fresh start. I’d fucked up beyond belief, made terrible choices, spent other people’s money recklessly, incurred debts I would never pay off, treated people like shit, ran from problems, yet still here I was, with a new apartment, a decent job, a great band. Sure, I’d been wronged too, I’d been abandoned, I’d been forgotten, but couldn't I just call it a wash?
My thinking was – well, not if I wasn't enjoying myself. Not if I wasn’t “happy” (something I still expected and demanded back in those days). Not if I wasn’t able to get past what wronged me. Not if my ex was going to keep showing up in my dreams to torment me. I’d forced myself to believe I didn’t want it in the first place and this cognitive dissonance was lingering. How could I trust that I actually wanted anything if I could just think my way out of it eventually? And yeah sure we’re all part of the cosmic vibration of love and energy; I’d done enough mushrooms to know that. But if I couldn’t be happy, what was the point? Sure everything is perfect, but what good does it do me?
I woke up when I smashed my alarm clock into my face. Great. Fucking dreams. Good for nothing. I had a cut on my cheek that turned yellow and persisted for days. I wrote a poem about it. I prayed, in my way, for release. It came at band practice later that week.
This was a few months into playing with the band. We’d already learned the first batch of songs, had our first show or two, moved into our first rehearsal space and were realizing our sound. Most of the stuff we were working on were songs I brought to the band but every once in a while Joey would bring a riff or part of a song, or an unfinished idea and we would all flesh it out together. I tried at the beginning to get him to sing but he didn't really have any interest so when we would jam on these part-songs I would basically improve melodies over them and then go over the rehearsal tapes and see if there was anything worth keeping.
This was always a dicey proposition because this was my first time being lead singer and bass player in a band so there was always the chance that I would come up with a bass line I really liked but wouldn't be able to sing over it (or vice versa). I was still learning the ins and outs of this. Turns out that this is fairly random for me – even to this day I can’t predict if I’ll be able to do it easily or not. Sometimes the simplest, one note bassline will be just off enough from the melody line that it will be near impossible and sometimes the busiest, most complex bassline will be physically tucked in to what I’m doing just right and I’ll have no problem at all. Over the years I've gotten asked for advice on how to get it right and really the only answer is practice practice practice. I’d been playing bass for ten years by the time Trousers came around and I’d only just started to get it right.
ANYWAY the point is, this one time, a few months into the Trousers story, we were at our rehearsal space and I came back from the bathroom to find George, Becca and Joey jamming on this cool little surfy chord progression. It was just two chords, back and forth, actually. But very breezy and pretty. I picked up my bass and almost immediately came up with a bouncy descending bassline that to this day is one of my favorites. Everyone dug on the song and I asked Joey if there was anything else to it but he said he just had that chord progression, no chorus or anything. We had it on tape so I said I would go home and work on it and see if I could find anything that would work with it.
Later I was working with the song and trying to sing some melodies over the tape when I found the poem I’d written earlier about the dream I had. It took just a few extra words here, a word taken out there, a quick shuffling of a few syllables to make a lyric that worked in time with the melody I lalala-ing over the tape:
Sitting on the platform, stretching my legs
waiting for the subway home
talking to my ex who I haven’t seen in years
Rats on the track below
Something tells me I’m kidding myself
I close my eyes but the light don’t change
this could be a dream but what’s the difference
I feel like shit about it anyway
That’s where the chorus would come. I tried a couple of things but what sounded good was, of course, the A# (the IV). But it didn’t sound exactly right, so I slid it up an octave and dropped it back down right away and that sounded tight for the question that resolved the first verse.
Does that make sense to you?
Then the verse riff again once, for a pause before going back up to the IV and pushing it to the V for the climax of the lyric:
Because I always fall for this
And I always see the same way out
And everything is perfect
But what good does it do me?
I could hardly wait for the next practice to bring this to everyone.
As for the recording of the tune, it might be my favorite tune on the record. It’s definitely my favorite vocal. Joey had a great guitar tone throughout, but it’s really perfect on this tune. There’s a bit of laze and just the right amount of extra verb. Not to mention the great distortion sound on the choruses. This is one of George’s strongest drum tracks on the record. There was a running joke that Becca’s high note at the end of “does it do me?” was supposed to be doubled with a high falsetto background vocal. That never materialized but we always had so much fun doing the meeeeEEEEE at rehearsals. The bass solo at the end was something I worked on for a long time and was thrilled to nail when we recorded. One thing I always loved about our band was that there was always someone doing some great shit musically. Everyone did such a great job of filling the gaps. Instead of just repeating a verse, musically it was always different. There was always something going on, something for someone to build off of. We could do C-Em – Am – G for ten minutes, tweaking it each time through the progression, improving it, building on it, picking each other up, listening to each other and making it swell and eventually building a narrative. Which was instructive. Eventually. But I always had such a hard time seeing it until I’m on the outside looking back. I still do.
Next week: George, stomps, thesauruses, the darkest timeline vs the best of all possible worlds