ODIN XXV — still more minor secrets
Hey all, I hope you’re having a great pandemic out there. It’s been about a month since the last collation of songs-plus-minor-secrets posts, so it’s time for another and here it is. This month’s posts wound up being all solo Dr Frank rather than band. That wasn’t a deliberate plan, it just happened on its own, but it fits the pandemic zeitgeist, somehow, if zeitgeist means what I think it does. MTX songs, solo songs, a new instrumental, a “rap,” a Sesame Street cover… a weird month, but it’s a pretty weird world.
Anyway this is the twenty-fifth illustrated collation of Songs for Odin posts, covering the past five weeks. For those keeping track, we’ve reached the 132nd entry covering 110 songs so far. (They’re different because several songs have had more than one entry.) There’s a YouTube playlist of all the Songs for Odin posted so far, with their write-ups linked in the description space of each respective video.
If you’re confused because you haven’t been following along for the past couple of years (and why would you?): this is something I’ve been doing each Wednesday, posting a video of a song and writing up some commentary on it. Then every month or so I’ll compile them into an edited illustrated compilation so they don’t get lost and unfindable in the great big pile of trash that is our internet. And it’s called Song for Odin because it occurs on Wednesday, the day dedicated to Woden, the Anglo-Saxon cognate of the Norse god Odin.
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.
[links in preceding paragraph updated, 12.29.2020 — ed.]
Table of contents: “Monongahela Bridge,” “I’m Like Yeah…”, “Green Eggs & Ham,” “I Want to Hold Your Ear,” and “Jill,” plus “Bitter Homes and Gardens.”
1 Dr Frank — “Monongahela Bridge”
A little something different for Wodnesdæg this time — this is a work in progress, basically, something I’ve been fooling around with just to see where it might go.
There are lyrics, but they’re not fit for prime time yet (if ever.) Works just fine as an instrumental, or so I tell myself.
Believe it or not, all the Dr Frank MTX instrumentals released on records originally had lyrics, that I could never finish or didn’t like all that much at the time of recording. (And I probably should have done that — just leaving the lyrics and singing out and doing instrumentals — with more half-baked songs.
I have found, from my experiments with solo guitar arrangements of my old songs, that the ones that work best in that form tend to be the ones with the most coherent melodies; and that these tend to be the most popular songs as well. It’s not rocket science, I guess.
As I always disclaim, I know I’m not the greatest picker in the world, just a beginner really. This stuff is a huge challenge for me, just making it through a song without too many mistakes, let alone doing it “with feeling.” But you don’t learn without doing yeah? I’ve got a good handful of tunes I’ve composed but don’t have any hope of playing. One day, maybe. Just got to catch up.
Anyway, I didn’t feel like writing one of those long-ass essays for no one to read this morning, so we’ve got this instead, still a Song for Odin, sort of.
— previously posted fingerpicked songs:
— original post on minds.com
2 Dr Frank — “I’m Like Yeah…”
Ships that I can’t board: Well, ladies and gents and what have you, it’s Wodnesdæg meaning it’s Song for Odin time. It’s also Spy Wednesday in Holy Week, which is a traditional designation that was, as far as I know, completely excised from the hippy dippy Godspell and Dylan church and attendant education I attended as a kid, which is a shame because I’d have liked knowing about Spy Wednesday when I was a little kid. (The spy in question is Judas, by the way. Just learning all this stuff now that I’m old.)
Anyhow, here’s today’s song for Odin (and, I guess, Judas):
And yeah, it’s another one of those finger-picked “classics” recorded casually on the laptop just for fun. I say “just for fun” but I’m all thumbs when it comes to real picking and getting through a whole song without choking too bad is extremely challenging and nerve-wracking for me. Not exactly “fun,” strictly defined. Nonetheless, I just about managed it here so yay me.
This song in original form (i.e. played live by a punk rock band, with vox) appeared as an entry in the very early stages of Song for Odin, when I was posting a whole lot of songs from that November 1998 show at the RKCNDY in Seattle pretty rapidly with minimal commentary. (And not the lengthy personal essays that started to happen as the “series” dragged on.)
Here’s the link , but the post, in entirety, reads:
If I am remembering correctly, this was one of two Love Is Dead that tracks we more or less threw together while mixing at Hyde Street, because we’d run out of time during the tracking at Bay Records. (The other was “That Prozac Moment”, and I think you can hear the slap-dash-ness in both, though it suits TPM a bit more than ILYBSAN, I’d say.) For what it’s worth, that “I’m Like Yeah…” recording is way too fast. We were in a rush, I guess, and I’m sure we saved a few minutes of mixing time thereby.
That opening arpeggio guitar figure owes a bit to “A Quick One…” by way of “Mirror Star,” I suppose. The song is solid, and certainly one of the most popular of my songs. One thing I like about it is that it takes that “like” / “all” / “going” conceit, which could easily have descended into lazy ridicule, and uses it in aid of “characterization” instead. I love it when that happens, and it turns out it works in narrative fiction as well.
I don’t have much to add to that, other than to re-iterate that it’s too fast on the original recording. But I have also learned that people like things to be too fast. Plus they like the recording tempo because they’re used to it, such that when we do play it at the proper tempo some people get mad and do the “thumbs down” sign at us and such.
The way I look at it is, all your songs can’t all be the same speed. You gotta vary things or else they’ll sound even more the same as each other than they already do. But it’s a lot harder to play slower. Playing too fast covers up problems and creates the illusion of extra energy (though as I said, there are diminishing returns there as you stack more and more songs that do that cheap trick next to each other: they all blend together, and it doesn’t make for a good set, or sequence.) Worst is, though, possibly a bit paradoxically, that’s the swiftest path to losing the rock and roll. Which is a common enough tragedy, but it’s still a tragedy.
I’ll admit that when I’m on stage, gauging tempos can be a challenge for me. I have a lifetime of tempo snafus in mind and I’m always second-guessing and sometimes overcompensating in one direction or another and it’s hard to have the right perspective in the heat of the moment. But I can always tell when this one’s too fast because then I can’t manage to play the arpeggio thing, quite apart from the inhibiting of the rock and roll which is also a side-effect.
Finally, this is another example of the most popular songs just happening to be the ones that work best as solo guitar instrumentals. It’s all about the melody, I believe. It has to be coherent and well-composed enough to work on its own without the words. Some songs that sound as though they would work just don’t, and I suspect that part of that is that the coherence and composed-ness is coming from somewhere else, that is, it’s not contained in the melody itself. And though I don’t think many people are considering the melodic coherence and well-composedness in the faster and louder heat of the moment, either at a show or while listening to a record, it seems to work subliminally or unconsciously. At least, it’s not a complete coincidence. Basically, I’m starting to think that if I can’t do a solo acoustic fingerpicked version of one of my songs it probably means the melody must not be good enough. Which is an exaggeration I’m sure, but maybe also kind of true.
That’s all I got. Like share subscribe upvote comment etc. Have a great Spy Wednesday and we’ll see you next week.
— Original too-fast recording
— Original post on minds.com.
3 Dr Frank — “Green Eggs & Ham”
Nerdy in the Extreme: Wednesday, Song for Odin, let’s do it.
An ancient relic, as obscure as it gets, though quite well-known to old-timers who were in Berkeley at the time it was done. Before I was a pretend rock star I was a pretend DJ (KALX Berkeley for those who don’t know.) This was a stunt I did on my radio show, playing the instrumental side of the Grandmaster Flash 12" “The Message” and reading Dr Seuss’s “Green Eggs and Ham” live on air directly from the book in entirety over it, white ’n’ nerdy fake “rap” style. Just as a one-off gag, like most everything else I did.
I used to do this sort of interact-with-the-record thing from time to time, e.g. singing live on mic over, e.g., songs from 101 Strings Play the Beatles; or a late-night reading of highlights from the Roman exorcism rite over Metal Machine Music that degenerated into sixty seconds of screaming and knocking over of chairs, and then fifteen full minutes of dead air. As one does.
I had no ambition for this stuff beyond amusing myself and annoying the audience. (It usually worked.) And as with all of these stunts, it was never meant to go beyond this one “performance.” This time around, though, someone at the station took the aircheck and totally without my knowledge made a Fidelipac “cart” of it and put it in rotation, under the name “Flashmaster Frank.” And just because it was so stupid, every single DJ played it on every show for a couple weeks and it wound up the #1song on the station at that time. Bam: KALX viral, KALX-famous, not to say: KALX notorious.
I was kind of embarrassed by it at the time, and still am a bit, but I get a lot of inquiries about it, and it’s kind of funny and part of history yadda yadda, so here it is, for my sins.
I’m not the only person to have the idea of ironic insertion of Dr Seuss into contemporary cultural artifacts, thereby co-opting and colonizing both. There have been many such over the years, including a guy who has recently racked up millions of youtube views doing it in a quite deliberate, considered way. (Here it is, by one Wes Tank — it’s the reason I thought of digging this up and Odin-izing it.) So not the only. But I may quite possibly have been the first. Then again maybe not.
But regardless of who did it first, there’s no question in my mind that Dylan Hears a Who — from around 2006 — did it best:
Anyway, there’s this Wodnesdæg done, yeah? Be good, and if you can’t be good be careful and if you can’t be careful be a tree. And if you can’t be a tree, I’m afraid I can’t help you.
Original post on minds.com is here.
4 Dr Frank — “I Want to Hold Your Ear”
Won’t let you breathe or eat until you know the truth: Wednesdays are a bit jumbled up these days like everything else, and here I am going slightly “off book” again, Song for Odin-wise, with a dumb little laptop video of a Sesame Street song.
This song was written by the late, great Jeffrey A. Moss, who wrote a lot of very famous Sesame Street songs like “I Love Trash,” “Rubber Duckie,” and, of course “Up and Down,” which my band did a cover of way back when.
“I Want to Hold Your Ear” isn’t any where near as famous as those, but it has long been one of my favorite songs. I first encountered it on the Bert Sings album (by Bert voiced by Frank Oz of course). I don’t think it was ever done on the show in that form, that is, sung by the Bert muppet, though it has been done in other muppet contexts.
I was five years old when Sesame Street debuted on TV in 1969 and I disctinctly remember feeling a bit above it all at the time, dismissing it with a world-weary, cynical wave as “this new show for little kids, I’m sure they’ll get a kick out of it.” I was a curmudgeon from birth, pretty much. But we did watch it as a family. And we had all the records, too. And despite my scowling all the while I did learn a lot from it, largely by subliminal absorption, so to speak. What I mean is, it was a big benefit to my later so-called career to have all those splendidly-written songs bouncing around in my head, teaching me, though I didn’t realize it, what makes a good song.
And they really were and are splendid compositions. It’s the only “training” I ever had, and I’m sure it is a major part of how I became, for want of a better term, an “ironic traditionalist” as a songwriter. (Also, though I’d never have admitted it at the time, I always felt rather, er, “represented” by the Bert character… but that’s a whole nother story.)
Anyway, “I Want to Hold Your Ear” is just about perfect, a surreal conceit made workable and tied to genuine experience by sheer will and skill, all lyrics building the conceit, nothing wasted or superfluous, a great big ball of well-considered well-constructed silliness that somehow manages to work it’s way into the emotions round the back way, rather unexpectedly. Just great.
So: the Song for Odin “series” began when I posted song old live MTX songs with commentary way back in 2017. But this isn’t really as “off-book” as all that, because this is certainly a song I’d wanted to do with the band, going back all the way to the beginning. We did “Up and Down” instead, as you may know, and there was really only room for one Sesame Street cover, at least an “official” one, in the repertoire. (Wouldn’t want to get type-cast as a Sesame Street band, that would never do.) We were nowhere good enough as musicians to pull this sort of song off, even Neanderthal-ized as we did with “Up and Down.” I’m sure I wouldn’t have been able to figure out the chords right either. They’re deceptively plain, but actually slightly counter-intuitive in the event.
Anyway, there it is. I did it, and if it wasn’t Song for Odin material before, it certainly is now. Who knows what’ll happen next week, if anything. The future’s unwritten so they say and I’m just trying to keep it that way, okay?
(Original post on minds.com is here.)
5 Dr Frank — “Jill”
“I’d like to dedicate the second verse to my beer, that just arrived on the stage. It means a lot to me, my little honey bunch.”
I post a video, of a song, with commentary, each Wednesday, for Odin as it’s “styled,” almost without exception. And here I am doing it again. It’s “Jill” from a show in Nijlen, Belgium in 2012:
This was the second show of the “art tour” I did with Kepi, my first public outing in a quite some time at that point.
I’ve posted one other song from this set (“Who Needs Happiness…”) and in that write-up I’ve described the background and circumstances of the tour, which was personally and, er, “professionally” rather significant. (Link is in notes below.) As you can see, we’re all having a pretty good time goofing around in what was at best a semi-public private party.
That bit dedicating the second verse of the song to a bottle of beer is pretty funny, and very “me.” It got a laugh. But interrupting the song and breaking character like that isn’t the best way to get the song across, and I probably shouldn’t have done it. It is a rather good song, one that, despite/because of its simplicity, I still like a lot and that to be honest I’m pretty proud of. And I’m not sure this rendition is the best way to hear it for the first time, if there is indeed anyone within the reach of Song for Odin who doesn’t already know it. Highly doubtful, I know. We’re a close, tight-knit, elite group and this song has been kicking around among us for years. Fortunately, it doesn’t really matter much anyway. I mean, obviously.
“I can’t stop not knowing why I never don’t feel like crying…” still kinda kills me, and the whole conceit of the narrator addressing his mournful apologia to a lost love who may or may not have hung up on his answering machine is just… well, maybe it’s just me but that about as good as things get around here, conceit-wise. The scene-setting narrative “voice” and its clumsy only-slightly-self-aware rhetoric is the sort of thing you strive for as a writer. I should do more like this. Except, it’s actually kind of hard. When it happens, it’s almost like it’s beyond your control. It “clicks” and you just have to catch it. Later on you think, how’d I do that? It’s a weird process, not very process-like at all.
If I remember correctly, this song dates to around 1999–2000, just post Alcatraz. It was written in a state of deep despair — not romantic melancholy as depicted in the song, but rather just that general existential deep despair that hits you from time to time. Oh it doesn’t? Lucky you, then. Well it hits me. I remember lying on my back on the living room floor that I’m looking at right now, strumming dolefully and randomly, staring at the ceiling wondering if some more of it was going to fall down on me. When the song emerged it made me laugh enough to shake me out of the despair zone if ever so slightly. Thank God for songs, amirite?
I was still recording my demos on the Tascam four track cassette “porta-studio” trying to make the most of what little I had and this song was really suited to that, just a voice and a strum, all close-up and utterly dry, plus some distant bending guitar notes. It wound up on a home made CDR called eight little songs, basically just some of my demos pulled together so I’d have some merch for this singer-songwriter RV tour organized by Ian Brennan that I did in (I think) 2003. Though it wasn’t the plan, that turned out to be a sort of trial run for the subsequent proper MTX album Yesterday Rules. It’s the same recording.
By the way, one of the other singer-songwriters on that RV tour was the great Chuck Prophet. We became friends, and “Jill” was a hit among my tourmates. And believe it or not, Chuck actually recorded a version of “Jill” later that year. It didn’t make it on the album, but it’s great. Maybe I’ll try to get his permission to share it one of these days, it’s really cool.
So, that’s about all I got to say about “Jill,” an old song that still has some life in it. Thanks once again to Arjan (aka iheartweakerthans) for the video, which is nice to have.
I had biggish plans for some newly-created “content” for this week, but it all kind of fizzled. Sometimes one’s fingers are all thumbs; and sometimes one’s voice is all thumbs, too. Contrary to what you may have heard, I can actually sort of sing. It’s just that my voice sounds really really weird. And some days are weirder than others. I was having a bad voice day, basically. Maybe I’ll try again some time, who knows? Either way, I expect I will see you next week, so to speak. Peace.
— “studio” recording, off Yesterday Rules
— that “Who Needs Happiness…” write-up, with notes about the show and tour
— original post on minds.com
The “Bitter Homes and Gardens” Club: It’s not the wishing I was dead that’s killing me….
… throwing you back for Thursday, something I stumbled on the lyrics of when I was looking for something else and started thinking about this record again.
Not half bad.
Kind of surprised there weren’t more songs of this title in the main YouTube search results, as it’s rather obvious, not to say heavy handed. But BMI only lists three, one of which is mine and one of which appears to be a jazz instrumental. Then there’s this one (and boy that’s a lot of modulation, if modulation is the word I want).
I wrote about the Love Is Dead club and the Another Yesterday Club and the You’re the Only One Club here.
p.s. oh and by the way, the high res audio direct from the DAT transfer (this record only survives in that form) sounds around two zillion times better than this.. it’s gonna be fun to re-master.