Screaming Nipples (1999)
in september of 1998, my grade ten english class was given an open-ended assignment that provided us with about a dozen different choices in how to approach it. one option was a song/poem/mock radio announcement about a crime, so i decided i’d exploit that and take the opportunity to write a song. the teacher didn’t seem to understand what i was after, though…while i was trying to explain to her that i would just bring in a keyboard or something and perform the song live for the class, she was saying, “i have a radio so you can play music and talk over it if you like.” i was ready to start pulling out clumps of my hair in frustration, when a long-haired guy i didn’t know turned around and said, “hey man — i play guitar.” his name was gord thompson, and i had no idea what had just been set in motion.
we got together the next night after school, mostly just playing around and getting to know one another a bit. it was nice to have someone playing my shitty acoustic guitar who actually knew how to get some pleasant sounds out of it for a change. gord had an idea he’d been playing around with on guitar (it was in a minor key and kind of melancholy), and we quickly fashioned it into a finished-sounding song. all i had to do was write lyrics the next day at school, and we’d be set. i did, but i knew immediately that the words i had written weren’t going to work with the music we had cooked up.
a few nights later we got together again, with gord’s girlfriend amanda sitting on the floor of my tiny music room in the basement, and the song was re-born as the more uptempo and intense ”pacing the cage”. it evolved over three takes and became gradually tougher-sounding until we arrived at the definitive version, with gord getting into it and letting out some spontaneous screams near the end, which inspired me to scream, which made amanda laugh — all of which was captured on tape.
since gord wasn’t sure exactly where some of the musical transitions were supposed to occur, i turned my directions to him into an odd sort of scat-singing, chanting “middle eight” and “back to normal now” in between verses to steer him in the right direction. we also played pieces of a lot of classic rock songs and i improvised a silly song about jesus. it was a fun night. amanda told me i sounded like eddie vedder (also caught on tape), which i took as a compliment even though i don’t think i had heard a single pearl jam song at that point.
the students in our class seemed to like the song when we played it for them on tape the next day, and we got a mark of 19/20 (one mark was deducted because the teacher thought my lyrics weren’t “clear enough”, which always smelled like bullshit to me). gord and i became fast friends and started eating lunch together and getting together to jam some more outside of school. in march of 1999 i got a roland VS-880 mixer/digital workstation, which was my first time working with something that wasn’t a simple tape recorder. a whole new world of sonic possibilities opened up, and i toyed with the idea of making something of a twisted blues album with gord and i both playing guitar, though my skills on the instrument were still barely there. somehow when i played with him it seemed like i wasn’t such a terrible guitarist after all. we just connected.
unfortunately, i found out too late that the cd burner i picked up wouldn’t work with this particular mixer, so the stuff i recorded with gord in march of ’99 could only be preserved on tape. i dubbed the collection “suck on my arse” and it was arguably the first real papa ghostface album, though we didn’t have a band name yet and most of what we recorded was just fooling around in between stabs at john lennon’s “how do you sleep?” and the clash song “should i stay or should i go?” which we recorded for submission to the people who were putting on sort of a school talent show thing, calling itself the “air jam”. we didn’t make the cut (it’s kind of a long story), but we recorded some messed up things and had fun.
the two best songs on the tape are probably the first and last. “frog song” starts out as silly nonsense and then evolves into a little ditty about a boy who develops an odd symbiotic relationship with a frog he swallowed at the age of three, who only makes his life more complicated than it needs to be. the boy runs away and joins the circus, only to be followed by the frog, and a botched suicide attempt leads to a hallucinogenic journey of self-discovery that includes an encounter with tom waits. it all has a happy ending, though.
“bandoni boodana”, on the other hand, is an epic ballad that begins as a story about a homeless guy, before spreading its wings and spinning a tale involving the muppets, bill clinton and barney the dinosaur. other highlights include “another dick in the hall”, which is a long, atmospheric instrumental, a piss-take of the barney & friends theme song “i love you” with a baby bop cameo, and another instrumental in the shape of the sort of jazzy “uncoiled”. in some places it’s clear that we haven’t quite mastered the art of improvising off of one another yet, but when we hit our stride some cool stuff falls out, like gord’s trippy guitar-playing and my keyboard madness on “another dick in the hall”.
in the summer i picked up a different mixer (a VS-880-EX) that was compatible with the existing cd recorder, and the real fun began. gord suggested sürdaster as a band name, which is latin for the process of becoming deaf, but i didn’t think our music was heavy enough to warrant such a name. i came up with papa ghostface and gord seemed to like it, so the name stuck, and our first cd was recorded over two nights in july, with the title taken from gord’s friend andrew whitelaw (it was something he had said about what it felt like when he had his nipples pierced). still pacing the cage pales in comparison to the original version (the one without the “still”), but the rest is a pretty good start.
by this time we had spent almost a year jamming off and on without the ability to record properly, so we had pretty much honed our improvisatory craft. i unleash a guitar solo halfway through the opening track (she’s my girl) that is painfully crude today, but felt like a huge rush of nastiness at the time. funny how things like time and skill will alter the way music sounds. snowflake learns about life and dark blue champagne shuffle are re-workings of “frog song” and “another dick in the hall” respectively, and they hand their templates’ testicles to them in a paper bag.
snowflake is mostly a guy giving a final speech to his cat before the little critter leaves home to fend for himself out in the mean old world, alternately caustic and tender, and featuring another appearance from tom waits. both incarnations of the song are probably worth hearing, but this one is a lot more epic in scope and i do some pretty crazy singing where i can’t believe my head didn’t explode from spitting out so many words without taking a breath in between any of them. you can practically hear my face turning red from the exertion.
dark blue champagne shuffle takes what was originally aimless jamming and transforms it into something a lot more interesting. back then i wasn’t afraid to play keyboard drums and fake bass at once while pretending they were a real rhythm section, and the result sounds like a lot more than just two guys messing around without any overdubs. in the middle of the song gord suddenly tunes his E string down into death metal territory (all the way down to A!), just for the hell of it, making for a cool sound.
no apologies is the first of what would become a staple of future PG cds (and pretty much every other project i was ever involved in) — the spoken word piece. this one happens to be one of my less cryptic jabs at the ex-family (my mother, her second husband, his family and that whole happy bunch), with suitably happy-sounding music underpinning the touching narrative. there’s a great moment at the end that comes out of nowhere with gord and i each unleashing a speaker-destroying scream. mine is high and throaty, while gord’s is deep and guttural.
the title track, meanwhile, is a warped universe unto itself. it’s something of a love song that starts off with the lyrics, “there was laughter in the sky at night / i was sucking on her nipples”. i have a very vivid memory of leaning over to sing into the microphone gord was holding in between his legs (because i only had one mic stand at the time) a few times, to get some distortion on my voice, and looking at his ripped blue jeans while i shouted into the mic. he adds some nice distorted sounds throughout while i rifle through different synthesizer patches. i had to cut a few random pieces of the song out in order to get it to fit on the cd, but the whole thing is so messed up and fragmented, i don’t think i can even tell anymore where i made the cuts.
falling apart at the seams could almost be a ballad, if not for my oddball delivery and the lyrics about testicles and oysters, and the voice i use to deliver the opening line of “i was hiding in the back of the street” has always been one of my favourite moments on the whole cd for some reason. at one point i try to get gord to play the chords for “bandoni boodana” just for fun, but it doesn’t quite work out. i wish my microphone had picked up the funny “oh-ooh” singing he was doing at the beginning of the song (which i tried to emulate myself before i started singing actual words), but it didn’t happen.
true love in the springtime kind of sums up the adventures i would soon be having with the opposite sex and kills off aunt ronita for the last time (to read about her previous deaths, see SINGIN’ THE OESOPHAGUS TO SLEEP and DON’T TALK LIKE A BABY), while leaving room for a bridge section that features gord screaming into a kazoo and me grunting in harmony with myself.
this was all just a warm-up for the musical weirdness that was ahead.
she’s my girl
true love in the springtime
dark blue champagne shuffle
snowflake learns about life
falling apart at the seams
still pacing the cage