I've Got Nothing

What is this? A stalker's confession? No, it's me - looking through my head to see what I can find.

The chorus here is what rings autobiographical. I had just left the dreadful bunny painting phase of my life for a new and exciting job in an auction house. I felt like I had an empty mind for the first time in many, many years. What a luxury. I certainly did not appreciate it enough and it surely did not last long. The rest of this one is a result of an empty mind - wordplay, blank characters, half thoughts, funny images. For a gem, listen to the last seconds, after the last chords ends and you can hear a police siren from the mean streets of Lincoln MA. Priceless.


Up Twice

Another work song. Work is work: get up - think about it - eat dinner - do it again. Like Leadbelly's "Pick a Bale of Cotton", except not nearly as historically significant. But it is personally significant. The dread of the working man is in blank repetition. An awkward banjo illustrates it so well: being off balance, being out of place, bumping into the walls on your way through your day.

Imagine going through your day with this as your theme? It is one of the weird things about writing songs. You have these companions that are always around. The can help you through difficulty. For example, one time I had to go into the hospital for an hour long MRI. All alone in the narrow metal tube, I turned to my songs and sang them in my head to pass the time and deaden the clang of the magnets. But, conversely, songs can mock you. They can point out the truth when you need it least. You cannot escape from those truths that you set to music. And if they are the least bit catchy, you cannot hide either.


Make This Mule

I wanted to write a old fashioned work song, like the kind that would be sung by a group on a ship. Or maybe a song that soldiers would sing around a fire after a battle. This is right out of my autobiography:

That old mule, ain't no hawk. He can't fly, can only walk.

On good days you feel like a hawk - strong, focused and maybe even a little bit vicious. On bad days you are a mule - here for just one purpose, to drag that mound.

This was recorded by TW Walsh in a spare room/studio on the second floor of a house in Melrose, MA. We recorded with the window open for atmosphere. I wanted to be Tom Waits. I learned there was more to it than that.


A Penny is Not Enough

I'm not sure. I once wrote, somewhere, that this was the most positive song I was capable of writing. What does that say? A morbid sort of confidence emerges here. I will not leave behind a legacy of unopened letters, boxes of shit, problems in my name. Really Brian? Take a look in my basement and you'll see I am all talk. But still, this is a song of understanding. I'm working through it casually - lazily even - I am bumping against my mortality here.

The highlight of the recording is the timid vocals, percolating up in this mix, by my friend Jennifer Arbour. I recall the recording of this number. It was in an attic apartment. Jennifer sat on a stool when she cut this track.


Every True Thing

Another break-up song. Not a traditional boy/girl break-up but a boy/home break-up. This is all caught up with leaving - leaving behind a bedroom, leaving behind the eternal drunken neighbor, leaving the last drop of childhood.

When I moved away to go to college, I realized I never felt like anyone listened to me until then. A perception - maybe not reality - but what I felt. This song lives in that space. Always one of my favorites on the record.


What Have We Done?

Some would call this song plaintive. The Roland "flute" sound weeps and coos. My banjo playing has never been more rickety but it has a fitting clunk. I am often left thinking this way. Oh, what have I done. Can I do it over? It all happened SO FAST.

This was written while sitting day after day painting bunny rabbits for a small pottery company in Concord MA. They called it production work - I called it slavery. It was where I came up with the idea of living in Misery, Massachusetts. This was it. But at this job my savior was the radio. I listened all day long. One of my escapes was Jammin 94.5, Boston's home for today's hottest R&B and Hip Hop. That era of hip hop was a fine vintage. Eve, DMX, Aaliyah, Missy, TLC and others. I was so into this station except when the slow jams were played. Which is why, in the original lyrics for this song, there was the line:

"It's not like those programs, the ones with slow jams"

Because to me that was the one of worst things - to have to listen to a slow jam while working in Misery Massachusetts.


Oh! California

In this song California is some sort of person. California likes to pretend that John Lennon isn't dead. That makes me California.

Singing about assassination is about as much fun as singing about suicide. Certainly there are less songs written about celebrity murders than suicide - neither are cheery subjects. Many of my childhood memories are bad. Not that I had a bad childhood, it is just that I tend to recall the bad over the good. So it is no shock to me how well I remember the day Lennon was murdered. This year I almost succeeded in forgetting it. In fact, I nearly erased the name of the wretched gunman from my mind. Sadly it was let loose from where it was lodged.

This is a collage of sorts. Odd and ends pasted and cut up to form this piece. As for the recording, Tim Walsh did it in a spare bedroom back in 1999 (I think). He helped with that percussion, which is a plastic bag full of cassette tapes and the bass drum is me pounding on an old suit case. I am playing my Dad's National Resonator Mandolin and use it for a ripping blasphemous solo. Plus there is the fake Theremin sound courtesy of the Roland Juno.


The Useless Two

In 2000 my parents moved from my childhood home in New Jersey to New Orleans - A major shift in all of our lives. This song represents that shift in all its excitement and wonder. On my first visit, I took along a tape recorder and made travelogue with the texture of this odd land. It is a different country within this country. I wrote this song when I got back. This is not the last time I till this subject.

"Notice, this place is hot. Notice, the other's not."


You Dented Your Heart...

Ah, the chugga chugga. I relied on the chugga chugga a bunch on this record. In my head it was about urgency...maybe? But further back there I always saw it as an homage to PJ Harvey and her much more accomplished chugging guitar. No matter - a device is a device and that is one I like to revisit from time to time. This song was actually written for my prior band but not like this. In fact this song may have been the nail in our coffin because we started our indefinite hiatus around the time I brought it to rehearsal. This is a very playful opener. Wordplay, voiceplay and playing with the Roland Juno.

Truly obfuscatory lyrics, which was the style back in 2000. I was starting to turn away from lack of defined content but was not fully there. It felt like a good light way to open the record. Even as things are being "built with weeds, folk medicine beads", there are bits of honesty here. Hopeful, I mean we all hope our records will show that we tried.


The Way Things Work (CD 2000)

Consider this blog a journey through my musical past. I'll be digging through the ins and outs of the songs to provide background and insight. This exercise is as much for me as it is for you.

Each day (hopefully), I will post a track from my history - in chronological order, starting with my disc from the year 2000, The Way Things Work. The record name comes from the great set of books, The Way Things Work vol.1 and 2 (the originals, not to be confused with the superb David Macaulay series The New Way Things Work). These are wonderfully illustrated volumes and fired me up with the way they detail how common mechanical items function. I want to know how things work - how I work and how I work with them. The packaging started my obsession with rubber stamps and Kraft paper sleeves - which may have been contagious.

The record was recorded mostly by me at home with a few things done with TW Walsh (I will point those out when I get to the tracks) and it was mixed by Tim and I. I think it was done at an apartment of his in a spare bedroom. No mastering on this one folks - I like it that way.