Odin xxvi

Still again yet more further minor secrets of the Mr T Experience

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ere we go again. This is the twenty-sixth illustrated collation of Songs for Odin posts, covering the past seven weeks. For those keeping track, we’ve reached the 139th entry covering 113 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.

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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; twenty-five.

[links in preceding paragraph updated, 12.29.2020 — ed.]

Table of contents: “I Love You, but You’re Standing on My Foot”; “Surfin’ Cows”; “The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful”; “All My Promises”; “Tapin’ Up My Heart”; “Deep Deep Down”; “Love Is Dead”

And away we go…

“I Love You, but You’re Standing on My Foot”

God, guts, and guns… Well now, my friends, it seems another Wednesday has rolled around. Wodnesdæg, that is. Odin’s Day. In which, by tradition, I post a song and type some words about it.

So here’s one:

That’s “I Love You, but You’re Standing on My Foot,” live at Emo’s in Austin, November 4, 1995.

This is from a handful of short tours we did with the Dickies around that time. Love Is Dead had been recorded but not yet released. And even though it had only been three years since the release of Milk Milk Lemonade, I very much remember feeling like we were reaching back, way back, in time to dust off an old half-forgotten artifact, the folly of one’s youth, like when Paul McCartney plays “Long Tall Sally.”

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The audience didn’t much care what we did, which can be a mercy. It was the Dickies’ crowd, mostly, but that line-up was a good match because unlike most of your run of the mill legacy punk rock acts, the Dickies had an audience that was well primed for silliness, not to say zaniness, and for pop songs with nice hooks and such. No one was looking at us darkly, their eyes saying: “you have desecrated and disgraced the sacred spirit of punk rock with your irreverent hijinks and I for one will have nothing to do with you or your kind.” This was something people’s eyes used to say all the time, and though it sounds sort of perversely fun maybe, I can tell you that it got old pretty quickly.

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Anyway, they seemed to like us okay. But it’s a good thing they were primed for silliness and at the same time not necessarily paying all that much attention, because silliness is what this song delivers, and arguably more of that than most. I know it is quite beloved, despite (or because of) the fact that it’s a huge mess. In that it’s par for the course for its album and era. There are a lot of funny bits but they pop up as unrelated gags rather than elements that do any “work.” That was something I only learned to do later; when it happened back then it was usually mostly an accident. That said, it does rather clearly articulate a vaguely present sub-theme of the album, the bit about self-imposed stagnation in immaturity, and is yet another case of inarticulateness actually serving as an example of itself and making the point, such as it is, inadvertently. You couldn’t do it on purpose. Nor would you necessarily want to.

But it’s got a good feel and it’s fun to play. These things happen.

Just a few further points before I go:

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1. Leonard Graves Phillips, Dickies singer, savant, and personal hero to me, was very kind about this song in our conversations back then. Probably he was just being nice, but at a couple of points he seemed to intimate the possibility that he might want to consider some sort of cover of it. I didn’t think that would happen, obviously, but I did fantasize about it of course. The song would have been much greater in such a version than any of our songs but not nearly as good as any of theirs, which is a sound argument for not doing it. Good call, Leonard. But a boy can dream.

2. I argued with Kevin Army over the production of this track more than most. I wanted something much fuller, richer, with thicker guitars that saturated and filled every available space, and I really didn’t like how distant the guitars were and how much prominence the clattery trash can falling down the stairs drums were in the mix. I guess this was the usual argument we always had, but moreso. It’s truly ridiculous how much I fretted about it, but fret about it I did.

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3. The original line in the second verse was “we do crank every Saturday night,” but Kevin complained about the drug reference and I didn’t really care all that much so I sarcastically replaced it with the most wholesome, aggressively inoffensive thing I could think of at the time, which was playing a board game. I knew nothing at all of Parcheesi beyond the name and have never played it, though now I learn it’s an American adaptation of a traditional Indian game. I think I meant to change it back at some point in the process, but didn’t. So that’s why there are too many syllables in that line. Too many cooks.

And that’ll about do it. Kind of surprised I managed to do so much typing — I was *this* close to hanging a big Gone Fishin’ sign on this thing, taking this week off and pointing you to the playlist. But, as you can see I didn’t. Odin continues. We’ll see what happens next week.

notes:

—that studio recording from Milk Milk Lemonade, on Youtube.

— original post on Minds

“Surfin’ Cows”

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…inadvertently or on purpose, but mostly somewhere in between the two…. It’s Wodnesdæg once again, and so once again, in honor of the ancient god for whom the day is named, allegedly cognate with Mercury, though not particularly convincingly so — just, or nearly just,Tacitus’s fancy, but I guess someone had to be Mercurius and they both sort of carry a staff — interpretatio romana baby… wait, where was I?

Oh, right: Odin. I post a song with some comments each Wednesday, in a series I’ve done under the name Song for Odin for so long now it’s too late to change the name. Fortunately, it matters not, neither the name nor anything else about it. Still, I do it, mostly out of pure stubborn-ness these days I suppose, plus I worry what would become of my fragile mind if I relinquish one of the few ties to reality it still retains. At least I know when it’s Wednesday, which isn’t something I could always say about myself.

Anyway… that’s the introduction done.

Now come back with me through the mists of time to Gilman Street, in Berkeley, August 6, 1988 and witness the Mr T Experience doing “Surfin’ Cows”…

If you’ve been following along, you may recall that a couple of months back I posted “Surfin’ Mozart” from this show. That began as an attempt to play “Surfin’ Cows,” aborted because the kick drum pedal broke during the intro and we resorted to “Surfin’ Mozart” just for something to do while the kick drum situation was being addressed. (Here’s that write-up — for reasons explained therein, the “Surfin’ Mozart” method led us no closer to a fixed kick drum pedal and merely forestalled the inevitable scene of a bunch of guys standing around awkwardly on a stage, vaguely embarrassed and questioning the choices they’ve made in their lives — really the defining feature of our live set. I’m genuinely surprised we had any audience at all, but you know: it was Gilman; and it was the Mr T Experience. Standards were low.)

Anyway, as you can see, we did do “Surfin’ Cows” eventually, a bit later in the set, and we didn’t do too bad a job of it. We used to have lots of fun playing this tune and our audiences, such as they were, used to dig it too, a lot. And it’s great, good enough to survive even the rough treatment we gave it when recording it and when playing it here.

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Of all the tunes on that first album, it’s the easiest on the ears, that’s for sure. The surf instrumental, as such, is tried-and-true rock and roll territory. Everyone knows what it is, what to expect from it, and how to respond. You sure couldn’t say the same for our other material, the off-kilter fractured yet traditional pop songs we were clumsily edging toward. Nobody knew what to expect from them, particularly at that time in the “scene” when “punk” had largely abandoned pop songs. The usual response was distracted befuddlement. Plus it must be admitted, we weren’t all that good at pulling them off. (And, of course, they would get better as time went on as well.) But what I mean is, “Surfin’ Cows” was an easier “sell” than “Dictionary Girl,” for better and for worse. We still had a lot of work to do on that score, and there’s still room for work to be done I’m sure.

This tune was a Song for Odin a couple of years back (the media resource being a video montage made by bass player Byron’s neighbor way back when.) You can click here for that write-up is in the notes below, but here’s a snip:

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“Surfin’ Cows” was one of three cow-themed (or rather, cow-named) surfy instrumentals from Jon von’s old Boston band the Sacred Cows, brought with him when he headed out to California after college. The others were “Skatin’ Cows” (which wound up on the Night Shift album the year following this) and “Hang 4” (get it?) which I don’t believe we ever recorded but which we used to play all the time in The Early Years. Sometimes we’d play all three in a row in fact, because Alex the drummer liked playing them and was the guy who started them out, so he’d charge into them serially and there was nothing we could do but play along. I suspect that may have been too much of a good thing all at once for our sparse audiences but it was by no means the only thing we did that was probably too much of a good thing for them.

We, shall we say, “challenged” our audiences in all sorts of ways. Like good, standard-issue “punk rockers” we were offensive inadvertently or on purpose, but mostly somewhere in between the two.’

Read on, at that link, for the unlikely story of how Jon von and I teamed up to form a punk rock band named after the guy on the A-Team that is still a thing thirty-five years later. People still listen to this stuff, on purpose. Which is a kind of miracle.

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At Club Foot, ca. 1986, photo by Murray Bowles

And that’ll wrap it up for Song for Odin this week. It is my sincere hope that you are having the best of all possible pandemics. And I look forward to chatting again with you all next week. Peace.

notes:

playlist of songs from that show posted so far

— Original post on minds.com

“The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful”

I got a lot to say, there’s nothing not to say anymore… Well friends, it appears that another Wednesday, that is to say Wodnesdæg, that is to say óðinsdagr, is upon us, which means it’s time for another Song for Odin, that thing I do where I select a video “resource” of a song, add some commentary, and post it on the internet. I’ve been doing it weekly for well over two years now. I’m not sure it’s a thing worth doing, but like a lot of things of debatable value, I find myself doing it anyway, so here I go again…

What we’ve got here is the MTX of 1997 doing “The Weather Is Here, Wish You Were Beautiful” in in Forlì, Italy on the Euro-tour with the Groovie Ghoulies ca. November, 1997.

This is the only live version of this song I’ve come across, which is not much of a surprise: though it’s a good tune and quite a popular one as well, it wasn’t included in too many sets in those years because there were even more popular (and easier-to-play) songs from the same album in the same vein and only a few slots in which to fit them.

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And this touches on the heart of my ambivalence about the Revenge Is Sweet album at the time (and continuing, though I’ve gotten over it by now, mostly.) People love that “sound,” that approach, that treatment and I know why they do: it’s something I love, too. But too much of it all in a clump can be too much of a good thing. “Here She Comes,” the lead-off track from that album, was exactly as it was meant to be. I didn’t mean for them all to be arranged, performed, and produced like that, but for a variety of reasons, there was a sort of leveling process that sort of nudged most everything in that direction, even songs that weren’t all that well-suited to it.

I wrote an essay last year going into this ad nauseam (“My Stupid Revenge”) if anyone’s interested. It was a long time ago and I’ve made my peace with it, but I still wish we’d been a little less heavy-handed with some of this stuff. It would have made for a more interesting album in which the virtues of the songs per se were less… concealed; though I have little doubt it would have been less loved and less successful.

That’s known as the artist’s paradox I think: the worst thing you can do for your art is to get what you want.

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As a case in point, this song, one of my favorites and indeed (I can say it) one of my very best, wasn’t meant to be quite so generic, nor so pummeling and in your face. I had a sort of British Invasion feel in mind, which maybe you can kind of hear vestiges of in the opening riff. I had a rather complex arrangement in mind as well. I don’t know if we, as a band, could have pulled it off, frankly.

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The Action, in London, swingin’ ’60s: they coulda done it I bet

Anyway, in the end we did what was comfortable and familiar, the usual beat, the usual feel, the usual guitar sound. And it’s fine that way. But in the context of a whole lot of other songs with that same approach, well, I feel there’s a risk of songs getting lost in the generic flow. And this one was, as I say, kind of special.

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That said, as I’ve observed before a few times, in the broader view matters of production and arrangement and so forth, though important, really fade away in comparison to the song itself. Ultimately that’s what matters, much more than the minutiae of production or the foibles of the band playing them. It’s why the Revenge Is Sweet album works in the end not only for diehard fans of the “sound” but even for a curmudgeonly member of the “loyal opposition” like me. Good songs equals good album, almost come what may. In my old age, I’ve learned not to take that for granted. Sixteen good songs in a row, that’s a lot, and not something that happens too often. Sometimes I’m amazed I can manage even one.

A ways back I wrote about this song vs. the Jimmy Buffett song of the same title.

Snip:

The title is, in both songs, a well-known joke switching the terms of a conventional phrase people write on postcards. And the conceit of my song is that the lyrics are the actual message written on such a postcard, reflecting, in effect, a darker reality beneath the cliché. There is a narrative of a wistful love-gone-wrong scenario that can be filled in around the edges, a backstory. By the end, it’s the actual postcard speaking (“I’m a message you won’t return…”) with an air of finality that has developed during the course of the actual writing of it. The narrator, by then, has left the building, so to speak.

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In other words, as a composition, it was rather high-concept, and not all that generic, as generics go. At any rate, it was what it was and it is what it is, and this isn’t a bad rendition of it, all things considered. I miss Italy.

So, yet again, we did it. I wrote it, you sat through it, those of you who did. Let’s give ourselves a pat on the back and a round of applause, and an award just for being us. And we will, I’m sure, do it again next week. Ciao.

notes:

— that studio recording on YouTube

—original post on minds.com

“All My Promises”

The sound of a songwriter finally getting his act together in front of an ironically disintegrating band… So… as another Wodnesdæg rolls along in that way they have of doing, so does another Song for Odin.

And here’s what we’ve got today, “All My Promises” from the The Mr T Experience …and the Women Who Love Them ep:

The test pressing of the forthcoming Sounds Radical re-issue is in, and it sounds great, and I thought it’d be kind of cool to show it off, so to speak. (Read to the end for news and details on “dibs,” release details, etc. — as of press time in this aggregation, you can still get on the back-up list for the first pressing if you want, and that link is here.)

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This EP was originally released in 1994 in the “CD 5” format on Lookout Records (LK 106.) The Sounds Rad re-issue (RAD-13–01) is the first time on vinyl for the full EP and it sounds really swell at 45 RPM. A lot could have gone wrong in the rescue mission from locating and restoring the master, through the mastering, and cutting, but the results were great, really couldn’t have come out better. There isn’t a better format for rock and roll music than 45 RPM and fortunately these eight songs were short and succinct enough that we could do the whole thing on a 45 RPM 12". (The audio in the video is, of course, the digital master — but wait’ll you hear it on vinyl, it’ll knock you out I bet.)

Eight songs, you may be saying, in that confused, slightly thick way you have. Weren’t there seven songs on the original ep? Why, indeed there were. We added “How’d the Date End?” which was an unlisted bonus track on the 7" to round out the total to four songs on each side.

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This has in fact been a source of confusion in the catalog, because this project was originally budgeted and planned as a 7" only. But because we weren’t sure if we were ever going to be able to record or release anything more after this, we tried to cram as many songs as we could into the session. As I’ve written before, this recording is, basically, the sound of a songwriter finally getting his act together in front of an ironically disintegrating band. The band would, as you probably know, subsequently rise from its own ashes, but at the time the theory was that we should get down as much as we possibly could since this was most likely the last shot. So we recorded the “extra” songs as quickly and dirtily as we could, and shoehorned them into the release, which meant the main 7" plus an extra CD ep. Both had the same matrix/catalog number, with …and the Women Who Love Them officially the title of both, though in fact (and for the first time) it was the CD rather than the truncated vinyl version that was the “real” one.

Then, of course, we added to the confusion with the CD re-issue of these eight songs plus seventeen extra tracks as a compilation a few years later (the “Special Addition.”)

It always killed me that the whole thing never got a vinyl release, and now that we can rectify it, we’re rectifying it. And as I said, it sounds phenomenal. As for “All My Promises,” it’s not, as far as I can see, generally thought of one of the great or “important” tunes, but I have always been quite fond of it, and I think it holds up rather well after all these years, as a song per se, and as a performance. It rides a difficult line, where its mostly ingenuous candor and honesty is tempered just enough by deliberation — or maybe you could say, “artfulness” — to make it coherent, but not enough to squelch it or make it look contrived. It is helped by the fact that the wistful love song has deep foundations in song tradition, so it doesn’t take much “artfulness” to steer it: the audience starts out knowing the parameters without needing them to be spelled out, and the idiosyncratic elaborations can do their thing without being a distraction. There’s a backstory referenced but not articulated, and everyone knows its basic outlines already: so you can borrow that structure, and build a narrative on it that is almost pure “voice.” This is a neat trick when you do it on purpose, a kind of miracle when it just accidentally happens, as here.

I’m overthinking this. It’s a swell song, and straightforwardly so.

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One “minor secret”: the intro guitar line was very loosely inspired by the That Girl theme tune (“Diamonds, daises, snowflakes, that girl…”). In fact, while it was still slowly coagulating into its own song in my head, I thought of it as “That Girl” — and I had a vague idea of commandeering the “original” and making it genuinely “referential” along the lines of “Love American Style.” Had it turned into a song in the Milk Milk Lemonade era — and it did exist, half-formed, back then — that’s what would have happened to it.

But, as I’ve explained above and below, we weren’t making that sort of record in 1994. We had to be more “in and out and no one gets hurt” about it, with little time for frills or expansive, high-concept production conceits. It was a frustrating time, but I’m sure you’ll probably agree that it was in the end the best thing that could have happened to the song.

And now, finally here are the details on the Sounds Rad re-issue of this record. Official release date: August 14; “dibs” opens June 8; orders begin July 6. (We already did a “dibs” routine for special people already in our unholy alliance — that is, those who have dibsed our releases before. That list still stands. This is a further list, for the greater public. More details on this come on Monday, so watch this space.) Once again, the “dibs” link is here.

Thanks. And, peace. And, love.

notes:

— original post on minds.com

“Tapin’ Up My Heart”

Not to be used as a flotation device… Happy Wodnesdæg one and all. It’s hot. I can feel my brain melting in real time. Nevertheless, I have pledged to post a Song for Odin each Wodnesdæg regular, so post it I shall. If my words get a little weird, it’s probably the brain-melt, so… not my fault. And as always, but perhaps now even moreso, I am more to be pitied than censured.

Fortunately, we’re still in the midst of “dibs” for the The Mr T Experience… and the Women Who Love Them re-issue so I don’t have to do much digging for an appropriate track. So here’s another advance taste of the remastered “Tapin’ Up My Heart”, test-pressing style.

That was easy. As you can hear, it sounds great, and that’s basically the argument omnia in unum, if omnia in unum means what I think it does. You can follow this link to reserve a copy of the special limited thick heavy colored vinyl first press. (Still active as of press time for this aggregation.) Seems worth doing.

This song was a Song for Odin a couple years back at the beginning of the series, and since it’s been awhile (and because melted brain) I’m going to quote from that early entry here:

…it became one of the more popular tunes and largely set the tone for what was to come in the next few years, song-wise and arguably sound-wise. It’s got some pretty nice lines and it performs what I like best in a song fairly well, the feat of taking a dumb or unlikely conceit and making it work by sheer force. I brought in my old pal Dallas Denery to sing some basic backups for the recording. His verdict on the lyrics: something like “far out, daddy-o.” Well, they are that. And that cat was dynamite.

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I was studying Greek at the time I wrote this and the other …and the Women Who Love Them songs while hanging out at a Cole Street cafe in between visits to my father in the hospital, scribbling lyrics in the margins of Plato’s Meno and wondering what to do with my life. (The fact that the answer turned out to be “the Mr. T Experience” is as questionable now as it would have been then. What can I say? I wish I had a better life’s work, but you work with what you’ve got and it’s the only one I had.)

Just a couple more “minor secrets” before I wrap it up:

The odd, slightly but not quite all the way off-kilter timing in the verses resulted from my not being able to communicate to the band the (very straightforward and simple) placement of the “bumps” with regard to the vocals. I meant it to be completely ordinary. But no one really knew where the beat began and the result is this screwy timing that turns out to be one of the best, or at least most interesting, things about about the track… it makes the driving rocking and rolling that follows in the B part of the verses much more pronounced. It’s a nice effect, and you couldn’t do it on purpose.

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Secondly: that extremely fuzzy guitar that comes in in the second half of the intro bit — I guess you’d call it the “lead” guitar — was done with a fuzz box. A Big Muff I think it may have been. To my knowledge it is the sole time a fuzz box of any kind was ever used in any MTX recording, at least in the Kevin Army era. We tended to try to create our own effects by overloading pre-amps and turning everything really loud, etc. The other super fuzzy guitar tone I can think of, the one on “When I Lost You,” was done, if I recall correctly, by plugging directly into the board and smashing the board’s preamp — and frying that channel, I think, but don’t tell nobody. So, there you have it. A minor secret if there ever was one.

I’m seriously excited this release. It’s been a long time coming, putting this on vinyl with the proper presentation. Twenty-six years later! Like I said, call “dibs” and reserve a copy if you want one. It’s a cool, cool sound.

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Have fun and see you next week, or so I’d imagine.

notes:

a bit more on …atWWLT

— original post on minds.com.

“Deep Deep Down”

I guess nobody ever really does know why they do the things they do… Welcome, friends, to another Wednesday, which is to say Wodnesdæg. I post a song and type some words about it, weekly, and style the thing as a Song for Odin. I know it’s absurd, but it’s far from the most absurd thing I do in my day-to-day life. In fact, you have no idea how absurd things can get around here.

Accordingly, or nevertheless, here’s “Deep Deep Down,” from a little show in Forlì, Italy, November 1997.

This is the only video of a live performance of this song I’ve come across in “native form,” that is, done by the line-up that originally recorded it.

It has been one of the top most popular songs since we first started doing it, but to judge from its absence in most of the sets I’ve seen from the time, we must not have played it live all that often. Not sure why, but it may have to do with the sense (that I’ve always kind of had but don’t recall having articulated, ever) that we, as a band, couldn’t quite do it justice. I think it is so popular for good reason, but even in its recorded version, and possibly more than many other such songs, it requires a great deal of “filling in the blanks” from the listener as it stands. You know what it’s getting at, and it pretty much almost gets there. If you like it enough, you make up the difference in your head, maybe without even realizing that that’s what you’ve done. Either way, thanks.

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I’ve talked before about the “head version” of songs, where as a listener you import the missing elements (or mitigate the garbled ones) to correct for the ineptitude of the execution, and once you’ve done that, that’s the way you hear it, despite the fact that so much of what you experience isn’t literally there in the recorded “information.” (See links in the notes below: the examples cited are Husker Du’s “Celebrated Summer” and, more generally, the personal, often mistaken, mythology people build in their heads about various sorts of art, stepping off from the TV Personalities. “The stuff you got wrong, yeah, is almost more important in a way, because that’s the part that comes from you.”)

Possibly this is just what happens when any sort of art is presented and processed by its audience. I’m acutely aware of it when it comes to sound recordings because I’ve perpetrated so many of them, and because sound is so momentary and elusive. Even when it’s “canned” it can’t be separated from its “flow.” Any recollection of it relies on subjective reconstruction. I imagine leaving things unsaid and questions unanswered creates a sort of mystery that can function almost as a “hook,” and maybe that’s what happened here. I’m not good enough to do it on purpose, at least not all the way, but it’s nice when it happens on its own without going totally off the rails.

Well, I’ve said it before and here I am saying it again: a good song can survive almost any treatment. That’s what’s special about the good ones. And that’s the story of, that’s the glory of song or something.

You may have heard me introduce the song this way:

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The guy who sold me my first guitar, who looked a bit like Kris Kristofferson, gave me three pieces of advice: “Always pay cash. Never ask her age. And never go lower than 10s.”

Another, separate guy, who incidentally also resembled Kris Kristofferson, gave me another piece of advice: Never eat anything larger than your head.

Finally, a guy I saw on TV, who may actually have been Kris Kristofferson, said: “There are love songs about shipwrecks, and there are love songs about trains; there are even love songs about love; but the best love songs are the ones about murder.” Just following instructions here…

This is all strictly true, but it exaggerates the deliberateness of it. I didn’t literally set out to follow the Kris Kristofferson “advice” — like a lot of things, it just sort of happened. I only realized it was a love song about murder after it had substantially materialized, and it was only after that that I remembered what Kris Kristofferson or equivalent had to say about the matter. The timeline, like so much else, is all mixed up.

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Anyway, all that said, this is a pretty good performance. And I know a lot of you people like the song, so maybe you’ll like, or at least tolerate, this entry.

Goodbye, more or less. See you next week, I suppose.

notes:

— studio recording (from Mtx forever) on YouTube.

“Yes, darling, but is it art?”

“I Summer Where I Winter At”

— original post on minds.com

“Love Is Dead”

Emotional Vertigo: Hi. Song for Odin here. Song for Odin posts a video of a song with some commentary each Wednesday, by tradition in the morning, but Song for Odin got off to a late start today, for reasons best kept between Song for Odin and itself. At any rate, here we are with “Love Is Dead” live at the Rivoli in Toronto, October 5, 1997.

A few songs from this set have turned up in the “series” before (playlist here) and as I’m sure I must have mentioned, the main thing I remember about this show was that I was deathly ill, chain-sucking Fisherman’s Friends and sedated with Theraflu and bourbon. That’s why I’m a bit more listless than usual.

Also, the Revenge Is Sweet album had just come out and we were still feeling our way towards figuring out how to play this stuff live, for an audience that was way less familiar with the material than the equivalent crowd would be even a few months later. And this can affect how much confidence and verve a diffident, self-critical so-called artist can summon up to bring to the table. This song, it turned out, had what it took to get the seal of approval of however many dozens of people at a time we were trying to interest and engage. I know that now, but I sure didn’t know it then.

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You get a big “assist” from this type of familiarity, like the recording has already done most of the work and all you have to do is sort of reference it with your live performance to trigger the warm response. I often wondered, and still do, if songs like mine, done by a band like this, with production standards like this, could make it on their own without the assist, that is, without the audience having “done the reading” beforehand. Some maybe, but not all, and maybe not this one.

Here’s something I wrote way back when this song first came up as a Song for Odin, way back at the beginning:

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As for the song itself, it’s a pretty good essay at that Tin Pan Alley approach to lyrics and structure that I’ve sometimes stabbed at. The bridge is particularly ridiculous (meaning good), illustrating the initial vague notion of “emotional vertigo” with subsequent climbing of what turns out to be a tree, one of the limbs of which the narrator is “out on” etc. I love it when you can take things too far, to the point of stupidity, and somehow it simulates brilliance as long as your words are nice. Or so I like to think.

Looking at it now, I’m struck by how much “work” that bridge does. Before it pops up, things are pretty straightforwardly conventional/traditional (not that there’s anything wrong with that) but then it gets all poetry-y and baroque for four lines and that twists things up — just enough, I’d like to think, to justify its existence.

Anyway, I still like it, which I can’t say about every song twenty odd years later.

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One further “minor secret” — those “la la la la” back-ups included Kim Shattuck and my nephew Michael and niece Susan, little kids at the time, but I don’t think they were in the studio at the same time. Regardless, it’s a cool sound. Song for Odin will see you all next week. Bye for now.

notes:

— studio recording, on YouTube

— original post on minds.com.

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I am Dr. Frank. I write books and songs. Mtx Forever.

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