Kissing the Bald Spot (2002)

A collection of out-takes and one-offs compiled in July of 2002 and then re-compiled some years later, this somehow manages to work pretty well as something resembling a proper album. It might even be one of our more consistent CDs from the pre-STEW days.

While gord and I were trying to figure out what we were going to do in the aftermath of Guys with Dicks breaking up, I thought I’d check out some of the unused tracks from the PAPER CHEST HAIR sessions. There were quite a few things we recorded that didn’t end up on the album, and I figured it might be interesting to revisit them.

I was stunned by how good some of them were. I couldn’t believe we didn’t think they were album material in the first place. I guess there were just too many ideas to work with at the time, and I chose to eject some of the stranger things we’d recorded instead of putting together yet another double CD. We also recorded some scattered songs later on in 2000 and 2001 that never ended up on any proper album, because GWD had all but taken over by then.

I thought pulling together a collection of lost songs was a good way to give all those homeless tunes a place to go.

C’mon has to be one of our all-time best songs. It’s one of the most menacing things we’ve ever done, with just an acoustic ten-string guitar and Gord and I singing. I’m playing with delay in real-time to make it sound at times like there’s more than one of me, and my scream at the end is still one of my favourite things I’ve ever done with my voice. Gord scared the hell out of me in the middle of the song when he started singing while I was deep in my brain trance, snapping me out of it for a moment — hence my cry of, “Oh, Jesus! Jesus Christ!”

The rest takes in everything from becalmed instrumentals (Xmas on Venus, which borders on New Age music with my piano runs and Gord coaxing some alien sounds out of a synthesizer, and Leaving Home with a Pickle in My Pocket, which sounds like happy campfire music), to a twitchy song about holding a man hostage in an abandoned warehouse and feeding him stale bread before surgically removing and forcing him to eat his own feet (Eat It Up), to the self-explanatory Mama Had to Kill Me (‘Cause My Hair Was Too Long) — another one that was written as a country song only to morph into something different at the recording stage.

In hindsight, the ending of that song, with its descent into explicit sex talk, paves the way for what was just around the corner with the explosion of late-period Guys with Dicks songs. Mama Had to Kill Me was recorded only a few days before the first session for what would become SUBLIMINAL BILE, which helps to explain why Gord says hello to his mother and then invites the listener to do something dirty at the beginning of “Ring Around Me”. He was quoting my lyrics.

There’s also Gay Animal Rights, which is still the closest I’ve ever come to writing a protest song. All profits generated by the single were used to aid the Sexually Ambiguous Animal Coalition (SAAC).

(There never was any single released. But you didn’t hear that from me.)

Mannequin is one of those marathon songs of ours that’s difficult to describe. It’s not really a proper spoken word piece. It’s not really a proper song. It sounds something like what the brain of a chihuahua might look like while in a coma brought on by drug-induced psychosis, and it features the long-overdue reappearance of Gord’s gourd — a strange little instrument that looks something like an Indian guitar with dental floss for strings and only ever showed up on one other PG song (the title track on SCREAMING NIPPLES).

Even the stuff that’s sort of throwaway, like the fragment She Tries to Hide (a warm-up/sound test right before C’mon was recorded) and my ten-second guitar riff that ends the album, feels like it fits. Things like The Street That Got Laid and Knife Fucking Chocolate aren’t fully-formed “songs” in the conventional sense, but they create a mood and explore it, which was something I often found more interesting than just setting up marks and hitting them at the appropriate times.

One mood I’ve always dug is KFC (Knife Fucking Chocolate), even if it’s little more than a profane disambiguation created as an intentional perversion of the Kentucky Fried Chicken acronym, a groove, a riff, and some vocal nonsense. Gord’s phased-out guitar is the sonic equivalent of having peroxide poured into your ear, I like my funky bass line and chord organ runs at the beginning, and the vocal insanity near the end takes the song somewhere unexpected before it disintegrates.

For years I thought this album was complete as it was, with the sequence I put together in the summer of 2002. A few songs recorded from CHILDREN HAVE NO EYES were included, and it would be a while before I scraped together what there was of that ill-fated album and put it all in one place. When that happened, it no longer made sense for any of its songs to be hanging out on a Papa Ghostface CD.

Still, dropping those songs was going to shorten the album. And if you’ve ever followed my music, you know the words “short” and “album” don’t often go together for me.

There were other Papa Ghostface out-takes, to be sure. They just weren’t up to par with what was already here, or else the sound quality was a little lacking and they weren’t in any format that allowed me to remix them. Seemed like this CD had reached a bit of a stalemate.

Then I remembered a one-off recording Gord and I did in late 2002, given a working title of “The Magic Fatty” (it was supposed to be about a life-altering marijuana cigarette). A stab at improvising a weird spoken word piece in the classic PG style didn’t quite work out, and the music didn’t seem interesting enough to justify making the whole thing an instrumental affair, so it was relegated to a backup CD, unmixed. I remembered it as a half-baked idea with its promise never really realized.

Eight years after the fact I decided I might as well mix the thing, just to have it in some form i could listen to. So I dumped it back on the mixer.

I was flabbergasted to discover an off-kilter instrumental that didn’t sound half-baked at all. I wasn’t expecting to like it half as much as i did. And it was a lot easier to mix than I thought it would be. That made me rethink the whole album, and i decided i would re-sequence it, with the half-forgotten instrumental becoming the title track (a Papa Ghostface album with a title track? Don’t expect to see that happen again).

I think the whole thing flows much better in its second incarnation. While it’s more a collection of songs than one organic whole (probably to be expected when the material comes from different places over a two-year period), I feel it’s more than worthy of being considered an official part of the PG cannon. I’d even put it up there with the likes of PAPER CHEST HAIR and SHOEBOX PARADISE. You’ve got some of our best instrumental pieces, a few tracks that are pretty accessible, at least one extended foray into sonic madness, a few mood pieces, and a few of our best songs no matter what you want to call them.

In short, it’s a good cross-section of some of the places we’d been, and some of the places we might have gone if our two-man operation didn’t take a long leave of absence right after this one was put together. About the only thing missing is the designated spoken word piece, and C’mon and Mannequin more or less fill that void while morphing into very much their own things.

All in all, I think this makes for a satisfying conclusion to the first chunk of the PG story, even if it was pieced together after the fact. Mark my words — someday Knife Fucking Chocolate will be played at weddings.

TRACKS:

Kissing the Bald Spot
C’mon
Xmas on Venus
Gay Animal Rights
Eat It Up
The Street That Got Laid
Leaving Home with a Pickle in My Pocket
Knife Fucking Chocolate
She Tries to Hide
Mama Had to Kill Me (‘Cause My Hair Was Too Long)
Mannequin
Johnny’s Fuzzy Riff

LISTEN:

Xmas on Venus

C’mon

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