Now there’s an album cover you can take home to meet your mother, and what has to be one of the best ever titles for a compilation. But if you’re curious about The Cramps, I recommend picking up Songs the Lord Taught Us and the Gravest Hits EP (available as an “extra” on Psychedelic Jungle) and making those CDs your introduction to the band.
Both were produced by Alex Chilton who — according to the mythology that’s built up around him — held a gun to Lux Interior’s temple when they were recording vocals for one of the songs and said, “Sing it right.” And Lux, bless his vocal cords, must have obliged, because he’s still alive today.
I’d forgotten just how much I liked The Cramps. Hearing their first EP at Phog recently reminded me how great their demented energy was and still is. Definitely ideal drinking music for me right now. Not that I drink much these days, but still. The high-pitched scream that happens at least twice in “The Way I Walk” is one of the most infectious things I’ve ever heard. It grabs my posterior and demands that shaking ensue. Or at least it used to. Now it’s more like, “Yes. My brain is about to split open. I should be screaming too. More scotch!”
At long last, my laptop is up and running again, which means I can get busy making more copies of the new album. If not for the unexpected power supply issues, I would have built up a pretty nice supply by now and there would be plenty of copies at Dr. Disc and probably some at Phog as well. Instead, I now have to try and make as many copies as quick as I can. We’ll see how it goes.
It’s kind of a miracle this laptop still functions at all. Apparently these HP notebooks — and the crusty old model I have in particular — have a reputation for dying without warning after about a year of use, if that. It’s almost a sure thing. And yet mine has been going strong for four or five years now and still seems to have some juice left, even though I don’t think there are any fans left inside that still work, it sounds a bit like a tank sometimes, and the tip of the power supply that connects to the back of the computer looks like it survived a chemical explosion. Most people who know about computers can’t believe it still functions. It’s a freak of nature. I’d like to see if the keypad eventually just becomes a series of indeterminate black squares with no visible letters left at all. Every so often another one disappears.
Right now it looks like this.
Good thing I can type without looking at the keys.
Onto more pressing matters. I think I have some idea of where the next album is going. And it’s not where I predicted it was going to go. Ain’t that the way it always goes? I have all these projected albums sitting on the meat rack, some of which I’ve already recorded songs for, but they’re all waiting around for me to give them some serious attention. And instead, something else comes out of the woodwork and showers me with slivers.
A few days ago I recorded a song that’s been simmering for a while now. A bit of backstory is required. Actually, it isn’t necessary to explain the song’s inception as much as I just enjoy boring people to tears by typing long-winded passages of text explaining things no one wants to know anything about. I feel this is my calling in life. So, away I go.
A few years back there was this Kids Help Phone commercial that would air once in a while. All I remember is a middle-aged married couple having a screaming match, I think offscreen. A pretty teenage girl was on her bed, kind of half-sitting, half-lying/laying/lemming. As you do. She turned up the music she was listening to on her stereo in an effort to drown out the arguing while looking vulnerable in a subtle way, as if she was used to this sort of thing and it was more of an annoyance than anything, but maybe there was something deeper going on there.
I have no idea who the song was by. I probably never will, unless that commercial is floating around on YouTube somewhere and someone happens to have shared that information in the comments (this doesn’t seem to be the case). But I remember how it went. It was just a snippet. A chorus, or part of a chorus. It sounded like a slightly poppier Shudder to Think song, drained of most of the dissonance you’d expect to hear, and I think there was a recurring hook where the singer sang something that sounded like “you know” but was probably really something more like “moo, row” or “poo snow”. Because lots of cows have a way with oars, and lots of people have frozen things leave their bodies when they’re in the bathroom.
The commercials they make these days tend to make me run for the hills with lye in my heart, but not that one. That song was catchy. I liked it.
Eventually the commercial was phased out of rotation, never to return, just like this Ferrero Rocher commercial I became infatuated with a few years ago when it started showing up around Christmas.
But that’s another story for another time, and one you’ll pull out to embarrass me on my wedding day, I’m sure. Of course, I’ll never get married, so the joke is on you. The point is, if Madonna replaced Michael Stipe in REM, it really would be the end of the world as we know it.
No…that’s not right. The point is, I decided I would take the seed of this obscure song from a commercial I’ll never see again, or at least the feeling of it I’ve held onto (because by now my memory of it is probably quite a bit different from how it really went), and reshape it into something of my own. That’s called plagiarism, kids. But when Johnny does it, it’s called fornication. Remember that.
All kidding aside, I didn’t actually lift the music from the commercial and call it my own. I just allowed it to influence my erection. I mean direction. I mean…yes.
For the longest time I had the chorus riff and nothing else. Then I picked up several funky old acoustic guitars from Folkway Music in Guelph, and one of them revealed some ideas to me that seemed like they might work as attachments to the embryonic thing I’d been carrying around with me. Maybe a week ago I wrote lyrics. They just decided to announce themselves, and suddenly the song started to seem like it had some shape to it. Then I found a few lines I scratched out something like a year ago and abandoned, and they were incorporated into the new lyrics with surprising ease. And then I decided I would record the thing last Thursday.
As is often the case, it didn’t quite turn out the way I thought it would. I do think the “chorus” does a halfway decent job of capturing that sludge-pop sound I was after. Probably could have beefed it up with a few more electric guitars, employed more distortion, and used sticks instead of brushes on the drums, but never mind. The whole thing ended up shifting a little from my initial plan. It ambles along for a while, sounding like the closest I’ve come to “rock” and “pop” for quite a long time, and then it splinters into improvisation and what I guess is a very brief attempt at relaying through sound a little bit of what it looks like inside my head right now. I think it would make a fun opening track on an album. The last two times I’ve said that, the songs in question really have found themselves serving as the starting pistols on their respective albums, so there’s no reason to believe it won’t happen again.
If this song is any indication of where things are going, the results will be at once more and less accessible than the last few albums. More hook-filled, but also stranger and in some cases potentially off-putting. If that makes any sense at all. I could be way off the mark, but after the initial uncertainty wore off I think I’ve decided I like the way the song turned out, and I might as well make use of my current mental and emotional state by doing what I’ve always done in times of distress — channeling my unease into music.
If past examples are anything to go by, the music that comes out of it might not make for the nicest, most inviting album. Then again, the ugly music from the past (which almost no one has ever heard) mostly came out of quasi-romantic entanglements that ended badly, or were in the process of ending badly, or were going badly and would soon end badly after sputtering a few times on their way to the finish line. This time there’s none of that to scream about. So I don’t think there will be all that much ugly autobiography in the lyrics as much as some emotional ugliness will worm its way into the music and the general sound of the thing. I like the idea of taking catchy tunes and warping them, twisting them in on themselves, lobbing cherry bombs, and leaving jagged tears in the fabric of the songs. Maybe that’s what I’ve been doing all along, but this time the stakes are higher. My life is on the line.
Okay, so I’m being silly. The doctors told me I have at least another three hundred years to live.
I said, “Are you fucking kidding me?”
And they said, “We know! Isn’t that great news! You’re a living miracle!”
And I said, “No. That is not good news. You’ve seen how much trouble most people start to have when they get to be eighty-something. Imagine how difficult it’s going to be to take care of yourself when you’re two hundred-and-sixteen years old. Imagine how saggy your tender parts would be at that point. I mean, my breasts would somehow manage to fuse with my chin and abdomen at the same time while still hanging loose, and I would probably have a vocal range of about two notes. How am I supposed to work with that?”
But then they told me I was like the Highlander, Johnny McWest of the Clan McWest, and I would never progress physically beyond the age I was at the time of my first death. And then I realized I’d been drinking Drano with a lawn chair impersonator in an alley somewhere in Belgium, and none of it was real. I was forever changed. And you’d better believe I drew up those divorce papers faster than Britney Spears discovered the wonders of wigs and weaves.
Moving on. People have been playing AN ABSENCE OF SWAY on CJAM (as you can see here), which kind of surprises me. As I’ve said, it struck me as being a less immediate album, and I didn’t expect people would be into it. Maybe I feel that way because there’s a certain strange energy swimming around inside some of the songs that isn’t immediately obvious, but that’s neither here nor there. It’s…elsewhere. I guess it always surprises me when people seem to like anything I’ve done. And it’ll surprise me even more if people like the next album, given where I think it might be heading.
Whatever the case may be, hopefully I’ll be able to drop some copies of SWAY off at Dr. Disc sometime before the weekend so whoever wants it can grab it. Damn that fried pin (which draws power from the AC adapter) for slowing me down. Damn it straight to the computer pin afterlife. Oh, wait…it already went there by choice. Alright then.