…and the “minor secrets,” they keep on a-comin’
Yes, folks, it’s the thirtieth collation of Songs for Odin, bringing it all up to date with 167 entries covering 127 different songs. (Those numbers don’t match because some songs have more than one entry.)
I’ve done this collation of the weekly posts every month or so for three years and a bit, so the math basically checks out there, but it’s still kind of surprising to see that triple X up there. I feel a little sheepish about it, to be honest. Still I keep doing it, for reasons I can’t articulate. It is a testament to the Folly of Man, if nothing else, and maybe there’s some value in that, somehow (though if so, such follies are quite thick on the ground.)
But, in case you don’t know, the basic idea is, I post a weekly video of a song and type up some comments, styled “minor secrets,” and call it Song for Odin because it happens on Wednesday, i.e. Wodnesdæg, i.e. you know, Odin’s day, sort of. It’s precisely the sort of dumb conceit I’m known for, run into the ground till it comes all the way out the other side, which I’m also known for.
Anyhow, every month or so I compile them, lightly edited and illustrated, into a document like this, so they may be found in future.
Details about how and why I started doing this can be found in the intro to the first installment; and the Odin conceit is explained, somewhat, in the intro to the second. The subsequent installments may be found here: three; four; five; six; seven; eight; nine; ten; eleven; twelve; thirteen; fourteen; fifteen; sixteen; seventeen; eighteen; nineteen; twenty; twenty-one; twenty-two; twenty-three; twenty-four; twenty-five; twenty-six; twenty-seven; twenty-eight; twenty-nine.
Table of contents: “Parasite”; “We’re Not No One”; “I Fell for You”; “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”; “I Believe in You”; “The Empty Experience”.
And, here we go…
When good enough isn’t good enough: Hey, it’s Wodnesdæg, and after a couple of weeks off we, somewhat to our own surprise, are back with a Song for Odin, the first of 2021. Our holiday was weird but good, and we hope your was similar.
So here we go, it’s the MTX doing “Parasite,” from a show at the Rivoli in Toronto, October 5, 1997.
As I’ve noted when I’ve posted songs from this set before, I was deathly ill at the time, which possibly accounts for my relatively low-key demeanor. I know it’s a little hard to tell the difference — deadpan is about as exuberant as I get. You know me: in love with lethargy.
Anyhow, this was already an old number at the time, from the 1990 album Making Things with Light. We’re basically covering our own song. And I like what we’ve done with it. It’s an understated, simple arrangement of a tune we were never able to do all that well before, and it comes off a whole lot better like this. Plus, that guitar sound is outtasight, always. I’d say we took a deflated old thing and breathed new life into it.
Whether or not it was worth inflating is another question. I’m weirdly fond of the song, though I certainly see its flaws and I’m not sure I could defend it beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s perfectly okay but not that… good, I guess you’d say, even if it ain’t half bad (which it may not be.)
What it’s got going for it is a pretty good melody, and glib syllables that fit it well and that include some memorable, though willfully obscure, lyrical absurdities; plus a fair bit of attitude. And maybe that’s good enough. I know at the time I thought it was good enough. And for all it mattered, at the time, it was. It could have been way, way worse and still have been good enough for the purpose, which was to give us something to do while we were standing around on the stage.
But good enough isn’t always good enough, if you know what I mean. What’s missing is a purpose for all these not-half-bad elements, beyond just jostling against each other at random. Write the word “parasite” at the top of the page and scribble a bunch of glib free-associations below it, hoping it’ll all congeal into something worthwhile, somehow. This parasite person sounds like a pretty disagreeable character, about time someone denounced him properly. These parasite people are getting away with murder. (I no longer recall if this song referenced anyone in particular, but: probably not.)
Many, many a song has been “written” this way, including, I suppose, some genuinely great ones. But the odds are against this method in re.: producing greatness. I’d “written” many such songs by this point, some of them pretty good by accident. It still hadn’t quite dawned on me that you could, with a little effort, make them do more than this, a lot more. It took me way longer to figure that out than it probably should have.
On the other hand… well, a ways back I considered the song “Christine Bactine” and found it surprisingly focused and coherent in terms of “standard rock poetics”; and I suppose you could say the same about this one? I’m going to go ahead and say that, but, on the other other hand, maybe all it needed was a wild guitar and some new backups, as here. Anyhow, in both iterations, it’s what happened.
One further “minor secret” and I’m out: you’ll notice a strange drill-like “outer-limits” sound fading in and out in the studio recording. This is an actual drill they were using at the machining shop that shared a wall with Sound and Vision Studios in San Francisco, where we recorded Making Things with Light and much of the “middle period” MTX stuff. Not the ideal situation for recording: the drill and other such machinery came through the mics and through the amps and the board, and basically affected anything you plugged in. It’s probably there to some degree in all those recordings. Of course, the thing to do with such sounds is, use them. Don’t try to hide them, but rather make them the focus. And in context with all those “come back on my next show” TV referencing lines it almost sounds planned. All self-deprecation aside, and despite the fact that this recording and arrangement is no great shakes, that’s recording magic right there.
— that studio recording on YouTube.
— playlist of songs already posted from this show.
— original post on minds.com.
2 Dr Frank — “We’re Not No One”
We’re nervous wrecks, we got the world breathing down our necks… It’s Wednesday again, is it? Okay then, time to post a video of a song and do a bit of typing about it, as I’ve been doing pretty regular for the past three years.
And what we have here is yours truly playing “We’re Not No One” live solo-acoustic round about 2013 at 1234Go! Records in Oakland, captured by our friend Franz when his band Miss Chain and the Broken Heels came through town:
I remember this show very well. It’s truly hard to believe it was seven years ago, but the math checks out. Kepi and I were supporting Miss Chain who’d come all the way from Italy. It was a great time, of course. Back when we were still allowed to have shows, I used to love playing at 1234Go! because it’s more or less right across the street from my apartment, so I could just roll out of bed a few minutes before show time, amble up to the stage, plug in, and unleash hell very cleanly and casually. You hardly had to put any planning or effort into it at all. Next best thing to playing in your living room.
So I rolled out of bed, ambled up, etc. I’d worked up the nerve to attempt a cover of the Kinks’ “Life on the Road”, and surprised the hell out of myself by getting all the way through it. It’s long and more complicated than you probably think, and very hard to remember for a guy who has a hard time remembering even his own songs. That was a one-off, never to be attempted again because why tempt fate. The small crowd waited kindly and patiently through it. I also did a Wombles song, plus “I Helped Patrick McGoohan Escape,” and “Some Broken Hearts Never Mend,” believe it or not.
Also: “She’s a Snowman”, which is an ancient re-excavated song I reconstructed from scribbled semi-legible lyrics found in the old Love Is Dead notebook. This is the only time I’ve ever played it live, though I do hope to record it one day, so I’ll have to do it at least once again for that to happen.
So it was an unusual set, which is why I remember it. But the only document of it is a couple of more familiar tunes, including this one. Besides bringing back memories like this, I think it gets the song, one of my favorites, across pretty well. That girl singing along in the background (and dancing as well, though you can’t see that obviously) was the future Mrs Dr Frank. True story. It was a night to remember.
As for the song, it was a Song for Odin a little over a year ago and rather than recapitulate what I said then in slightly different words I’ll just quote a bit of it:
“We’re Not No One” is one of many slightly paranoid “you and me against the world” songs in the catalog and I believe it’s probably the best of them overall. When you’ve done enough of a certain sort of composition, it almost becomes a sub-sub-genre of its own, with each essay at the topic standing on its own yet also reprising and commenting on those that have gone before.
“We’re Not No One” draws a line under the sub-sub-genre of Dr Frank “you and me against the world” songs. While “Population: Us” is glib and clever with everything tightly nailed down, “We’re Not No One” leaves room to breathe. Not knocking “Population: Us” at all — I think it’s also one of the best ones. It’s my favorite sort of song. But loose and unconstricted is more challenging than nailed down, at least for me, and I guess I tend to be prouder of the loose ones that work…
I’m not going to squash it all by over-explaining. I think people get it. Like a lot of my songs, it all springs from the germ of the title, which sounds ungrammatical till you hear it in context, and plays on the tension between singular and plural that is inherent in the language of “coupledom.” (The lyrics of “Two of Us” on the same album do that too.) “Dream of things” / “scheme of things” is a great rhyme because the verb plus “of things” leading to the noun plus “of things” knits the lyric together like nothing else could. And that melody is quite well-conceived and -constructed if I say so myself….
There’s more at that link, about the studio recording’s struggles among other things, but to re-iterate: sometimes songs transcend their own mishaps.
Finally, that guitar: it’s a real honey of a machine and seeing this makes me want to dig it out again. (It’s currently in the closet buried under several layers of time and storage, somewhere around the Mezozoic Era, not yet fossilized… at least I *think* and hope it’s still there.) It’s a J-150 from the Bozeman, Montana Gibson factory, ca. 1995, basically the same as the J-200 from that era but a bit less flashy. If you can find one of ’em, grab it. I’m prejudiced against anything from outside Kalamazoo and much past the early ’60s but these Bozeman babies are all right.
And that’ll wrap it up. I’ll see you here next week, unless I don’t.
— that studio recording, on YouTube.
— original post on minds.com.
3 “I Fell for You”
Kind of a mysterious game: Just another Wodnesdæg like any other Wodnesdæg, everybody, and I’m here to keep the Song for Odin fires burning. What that means is, I’m going to upload another video of another song and type about it.
And I figure since the 25th anniversary of the release of the Love Is Dead album is round about now, I might as well do this one:
That’s “I Fell for You”, live in Rome, Italy at what was then called the PalaEUR, this huge stadium we were playing only because we were opening for Green Day. I’ve posted a few songs from this set as Songs for Odin before, and as then I apologize for the fragile, echoey sound, but that’s what it sounds like when you record a dumb little band from the rafters of a cavernous sports arena. I have to say it hardly sounded all that much better from the stage, as I remember it.
You know how the Beatles used to say they couldn’t hear their own instruments above the screaming of the girls in the crowd? Well, it was kind of like that for us, too, and we couldn’t even tell what they were screaming either. And we weren’t even the Beatles, we were just the warm up band for the Beatles. We were Brenda Holloway.
Anyway it was a weird, unlikely, absurd thing to happen, and I think the video gets that all across. You can read more about the whole thing, the set, the tour, Italy, etc., in the various other “minor secrets” write-ups linked in the descriptions of the other videos on the playlist (see link in notes below.)
As I mentioned in my post yesterday (see notes below) the Lookout Records official release of the album was January, 1996, but it had been recorded and mastered by November of the previous year, and it was released in Europe first to give them a head start at trying to do some promo for the Euro-tour with Green Day. That’s why some versions say 1995. At least that’s my understanding and memory after all these years. (I only mention it because I know there are people who are interested in keeping track of such things.)
The song, qua song, speaks for itself, I’d say. One of the good ones. The conceit, wherein the narrator argues that his “falling” has placed a reciprocal obligation on the one for whom he has fallen, is absurd to be sure; but it is nonetheless precisely the sort of absurdity that lovers do, in my observation and experience, from both ends. Most people, I imagine, can remember applying this sort of reasoning to someone else, and /or having this sort of reasoning applied to them, as well as the awkwardness that follows. In real life, it’s an argument that almost never works, but in a song it’s dynamite, because people are funny and we are them.
I will add one further “minor secret” here, and then I’ll let you go. We borrowed an old keyboard from Univibe up the street from the studio to use for the solo on this track. I remember carrying it rather clumsily, as it was big and awkward. I don’t think I dropped it. I mean, I definitely didn’t drop it, I’m positive. But when we got it to the studio and plugged it in, it turned out one or two of the keys were broken, in that, they didn’t look broken but when you pressed them down they didn’t make any sound. And they just happened to be notes we needed for the solo. So what we did was, we slowed down the tape so we could play it with different notes and then sped it back up again, no one the wiser. It sounded alright. I bet the Beatles did the same thing with the keyboard they borrowed from the shop up the street from Abbey Road and definitely didn’t drop on the way.
— that studio recording (Mtx forever remaster)
— playlist of songs posted from that set so far.
— my Love Is Dead 25th anniversary post from yesterday.
— my essay from last year on the subject, “My Love Is Dead, and Yours”.
— original post on minds.com.
4 Dr Frank — “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba”
Everything else is our oyster: Hail and well met and good morrow, for it’s Wodnesdæg once again and time for another Song for Odin (that thing I do where I post a song a type up a little thing about it.) Been doing this just about weekly for some time, three years, and now is no exception.
I have to admit, though, that what with one thing and another I wasn’t able to prepare anything this week like I usually try to do, and I’m not going to have a lot of time to devote to it today.
I was all set to hang a gone fishing sign on the operation and say check back next week, but then I realized that this particular rendition, though referenced in other write-ups, hasn’t ever been an “official” song for Odin in its own capacity. It dates from just a month before the “series began, that’s why.
So even though I suppose many of you have seen it before, here I am doing “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” solo acoustic, fingerpicked:
I’ve written a fair bit about this song since, and I’ll link previous write-ups in the notes below in case anyone’s interested. Here’s what I said at the time:
The original title of this song was “The Little Things”. I was informed by my band that there was at that time (94–95 ish) a song called “The Little Things” already on the radio, by some grunge band or other. That wasn’t something that ever bothered me — there are around ten thousand songs called “I Believe in You” for instance. In that situation I always figured, why not one more? But for some reason I started the song once on stage by saying “this song is called ‘Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba’…” and then immediately launching into singing “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba.” It got a laugh so I kept doing it and it had got stuck as the song’s title by the time it was recorded.
As for the song itself, I’d imagined it with a sort of 60s folk-pop-psych sound, at least on the chorus. Kind of a semi-ironic hippie vibe. But of course I didn’t happen to have the capability to produce much of a 60s folk-pop-psych sound with a kind of semi-ironic hippie vibe so… it came out how it did, became part of history, and is still one my most popular songs. It’s fun playing it this way too, though. (I’ve found the songs that lend themselves to being played like this also happen to be the most popular ones. Not sure if that’s a coincidence, or if so what kind of coincidence it is.)
I’ll only add that a good, discernible melody makes all the difference, obviously, when it’s an instrumental but also even when there are words. This seems too obvious to need stating but in fact I don’t think melody per se is something people tend to consider very often when writing in the various popular music idioms, considering how important it is. Speaking for myself, I never thought about it specifically at all back in those days, and when good melodies like this popped up it was not much more than a happy accident. I was just doing what feels good, like most everybody. However, these are the songs that work best in solo arrangements like this, and they also happen to be the songs that are most popular in the original form as well, thirty ish years later.
As for this arrangement, it was pretty hard to work out. If and when I ever do it again, I’ll record it better and (I’d hope) play it a bit better. This was one of the first ones I tried, and though it probably sounds a bit corny to say, you really do learn something about a song when you deconstruct it and rebuild it like this. At least, I did.
I’ve heard from many people that they’d welcome an album of such recordings if I ever were to record one. That’s a daunting prospect, as it’s something I still find rather difficult to plan and execute and there’s not a whole lot of room for fudging things when it’s just a guitar and your own clumsy fingers making the noise. Then again, that’s kind of what’s cool about it. Maybe one day. I’d need maybe six or seven more, and it’s possible there are that many songs in the catalog with melodies that are good enough and physically feasible to play. (Still working on “Hey Emily” but as of now there are still too many areas where I just can’t make my fingers go.)
Anyhow, that’s that. Have fun, and I’ll see you Sunday at Grant Lawrence’s Lookout Zoomout.
— original studio recording/music video.
— original post on minds.com.
5 Dr Frank — “I Believe in You”
My guitar can fake sincerity as well as anybody can: Happy Wednesday, hail Odin, hail rock and roll, and hail yourselves. I regret to say that what with all the Lookout Zoomout craziness as well as a bit of extra craziness, Song for Odin finds itself once again caught with its pants down this Wodnesdæg with nothing “prepared.” And as with last week, the solution is to resort to another old thing, not part of the “series” because it was put up before the “series” started.
Last week, if you’ll recall, it was me fumbling my way through “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” fingerstyle, and here I am doing the same with “I Believe in You”:
This was the first one of these I tried, and while it is a bit sloppy and on the edge of falling apart, it has a certain energy. My reaction at the time was, I just couldn’t believe it was possible to do this, and by that I mean, to do it at all, arranging and performing. I’m a pretty clumsy person, especially in the fingers, and every time I try to do something fancy I nearly always choke embarrassingly. And even though there’s a bit of that classic Dr Frank choke factor here, it still works, a song whose main strength is its words, presented without any words. And the fact that I’m not bellowing all over it for once is probably all to the good.
I’ve done a handful of other such arrangements, and I’ve worked up a couple more that I’ll most likely present one of these days, but this is probably always going to be my favorite. There’s an old saying that there are three things you can’t possibly do right the first time you try: kiss a woman, drink a martini, and record on your laptop a fingerpicking arrangement of a punk rock song you’ve written twenty-five years previously. (My grandpa used to say that, I think.) But they also say (and by they I mean the marketing department of the St Pauli brewery) — they also say, you never forget your first girl. Sometimes you do things wrong in interesting ways. So, you know, cheers.
All that stuff I said in last week’s “Ba Ba Ba…” entry about how melody in songs is deceptively important even in “genres” that don’t tend to emphasize it goes for this one as well. See link in notes. Also see link to the previous Odin write-up of this song, in which I typed:
I consider this to be one of my best songs, unusual in that it is well-structured, rather complex in fact, but not over-written (which is something I struggle to achieve to this day.) It’s also, perhaps, a bit unusual in that it drops the sardonic parole of my usual sort of narrator (something the narrator actually refers to in the first pre-chorus.) That’s hard to do for a guy like him, and me. Anyway if anyone remembers any of the stuff I’ve done after I’m gone (which I expect some will for five minutes or so) I’d be good with this being the one.
I still think that.
Now, a word on that guitar: it was built for me by Jason Ingrodi around five years ago. It really doesn’t seem like it’s been that long, but also it’s hard to remember what it was like not to have it. It sounded great when it was new, but sometime in the last year or so it turned a sort of corner, becoming noticeably smoother, sweeter, and, I don’t know, “woodier” I guess you’d say. I’m well aware of how old wood determines a guitar’s tone, but my only experience till this one has been with archaic items whose five-year mark I wasn’t around for, decades in the past. It’s really something to experience, a science experiment you can feel. They grow up so fast. Imagine how it’ll sound in fifty years.
The moral of the story is that there’s nothing like a solid wood acoustic made by a good luthier. And yes, that’s an endorsement! He does great work. Thanks again, Jason.
Finally, thanks to everyone who showed up for the Lookout Zoomout #1 on Sunday. I had a good time, something I hardly ever have or like to admit. Doing it all again next month, Feb. 28, with me, Rose Melberg, Dan Vapid, Kepi, and Larry Livermore. So sign up if you want in, and feel free to request songs. I’m still keeping track. See ya next time, I suppose.
— studio recording, re-mastered Sounds Rad version.
— that “Ba Ba Ba Ba Ba” write-up from last week.
— previous “I Believe in You” write-up.
— original post on minds.com.
6 “The Empty Experience”
OOF FOREVER: Well, looks like another Wednesday has rolled around, meaning it’s time for Song for Odin, that thing I do where I post a video of some song and type up some stuff about it. Been doing this for over three years now. Nobody knows why, least of all myself. But, here we go again, nonetheless.
As you may have noticed from recent posts on the internet, Alex, who was the original and continuing MTX drummer from 1985 through 1993, sadly passed away last month. So I’ve been thinking a bit about the old days. And you can’t get much older in MTX reckoning than this:
That’s from Gilman, May 2nd, 1987. It may have been our first show at Gilman, but if it wasn’t it was very very early on, maybe the second or third? We played there a lot, around four times each year in that initial decade according to official records.
There’s a couple of songs on video from 1985/6 (links below) but other than those, this is the earliest documentation of the band I’ve come across. Not the highest quality video or audio, obviously, but it’s what’s there.
This was a NOMEANSNO show, with Bl’ast, Unit Pride, Primal Scream, and us. (Flier here.) We’d played with NOMEANSNO at least once before the previous year, at that now-well-known Own’s Pizza show with the Lookouts and Victim’s Family that many regard as the germ from which Gilman was to germinate. Like most Gilman shows in those days, it was a sparse but indulgent audience, the best kind for the likes of us. We were having ourselves a grand old time, as always, and the crowd didn’t particularly care one way or the other — also pretty much as good as it got back then.
A young band just fumbling our way through whatever it was. The song is no great shakes, just a bit of rote silliness to provide a sort of “theme song” for the self-released vanity project album we’d recorded the previous year, but it worked in that capacity and was pretty fun to play. And for better or worse, that ironic pop-culture referencing cultural-existential pseudo-nihilism was very much where my head was “at” at the time. I was feeling my way blindly forward, and as it happened this wasn’t what I turned out to be good at (which was more along the lines of “Disconnection” from that record, I suppose.) Only the stones remain. It’s got the fewest chords (2) in any MTX song. I still like that open string jangle arpeggio thing. We, that is to say, I, could and did do a whole lot worse song-wise.
One further “minor secret” now that I think of it: Order of Fries (referenced in the lyrics) was thought of as a possible alternate band name back then. Arguably just as stupid but arguably stupid in a slightly different way; or, arguably, not. Anyway, in that timeline we’d be saying “OOF forever”. What might have been. Empty is as empty does.
Anyway, Alex is back there bashing away like he did for seven more years or so, through all the bad times and the worse times. Well, some of them weren’t so bad really, now that I look back. The guy had inexhaustible energy, and hit the snare harder than anyone I’ve ever seen before or since. Rock and roll never forgets. RIP, man.
— studio recording on YouTube.
— playlist of songs posted from this show.
— “Just Your Way of Saying No” from some campus room, ca 1986:
— Theme from The Munsters, same time and place.
— original post on minds.com.