Monday, October 13, 2008

Sweet Weaving Dancer

The first song recorded on The Change Music Variety Show EP was called “The Sweet Weaving Dancer.” Though I remember I wrote the song and lyrics myself, I also remember many of Slash Brannon’s lines and ideas were part of the song and he has the co-credit for writing it. Rico De Bool claims to have written the bizarre, shuffling refrain, but I remember writing it, too, and find it hard to believe that I could have learned something so guitar-centric from Joe, who played bass. I guess that we worked it out together somehow.

The conceit of the EP being like one of our comedy tapes was typical of our thinking. Having Dice Mosely introduce the recording was unanimously agreed by all.

I was very proud to have been the only person to have obtained an actual U.S. Copyright on the childhood doggerel that opens the song. I used to brag that every time I kid sang that song he owed me royalties. I never thought, being 18 years old myself, that maybe kids had stopped singing this particular song in the last decade or so. I wonder if anyone born in the late seventies or later has even ever heard this song:

Girls are made of greasy grimy gopher guts
Mentholated monkey meat
Chicken’s little dirty feet
French fried eyeballs rolling down a dirty street
That’s what Jambox loves!

A dancer hasn’t got the answer, she’s only a prancer
until she’s the Sweet Weaving Dancer.
I’m not talking bout your mother, I’m talking to you,
And your little sister, too.
Little kids of America, we’re talking to you,
You’re intelligent too - and let’s prove it now!
Everybody right now must get fucked up (actually sung: plugged in)
Everybody must stay high, at least for this party.
We don’t need no pedigree girls tickling curls, stay stray!
You gotta party to play.
You know that you’ve got to party hearty to play
Because this is the law around here
Head for the bar, no matter who you are
We’re not gonna funk near, we’re gonna funk far
Far beyond the farthest star.
Meanwhile back inside the mind of the girl I love
I find her entrancing, but she isn’t dancing!
A dancer hasn’t got the answer until she’s dancing
Dots all do the dance!
I find you entrancing my dear, but you never know
until you’re dancing, entrancing, you gotta party to play! Stay stray!

Dance dance, dance dance, dance
I can do more than just…
Never too cool to…
I just quit school to…
Unbreakable rule to…
I’m much too young to…
Gotta be twenty-one to…
I’m always the fool who’ll…
I can do more than just…
Let’s get up on top of it!

The song started out as a birthday song for a friend of Rico’s, who we hoped would share drugs with us in return. Whether or not he had drugs is impossible to ascertain all these years later, but we believed he did, with the over-excited delusional pothead glee we had for everything intoxicating back then. The song was called Rich Bitch, and had words like “...a bitch ain’t nothin’ but a bitch, unless she’s a rich bitch,” which I guess we all thought was pretty funny when there were no girls around to destroy the illusion of male privilege. But the whole band thing was about attracting girls, not insulting them, so it was kind of a waste of a song after the party was over.

Feeling a vague sense of dissatisfaction with this lyrical bent, I somehow decided to bring my favorite romantic poetical conceit into it instead. I had written a series of tiny prose poems about an ideal dream girl I called The Sweet Weaving Dancer. Though she was not any girl in particular, she was most like Anne Marie O’Conner, who we all worshipped in our own way, except Slash.

This song was chosen to be the leadoff song because of the manic headlong beat and for the way it called out some of the more typical elements of the Jambox P-Funk Playpen philosophy. Also, it showcased the Changels, our beuatiful teenaged West End girls backup singers. The lineup for the Changels on this song was Tammy Stone, Annie Byrne and Sue Leonard.

First off, you have to understand that we all grew up in urban St. Louis around tough cool black kids. We had a shared vocabulary that we assumed everyone else got as easily as we. And we had all come to worship, above every other band ever, the whole Parliament/Funkadelic thang of the 1970s. We aspired to have the same little kid appeal as Bootsy. Slash was the inspiration in this, I think. He loved little snotty kid brattishness and brought it out often when we did our comedy tapes. We agreed that kids were treated with less respect than they deserved, and that when we were kids nobody appreciated our intelligence as much as they should have.

Then, in the second verse, Slash kicked in some classic drunken party lyrics that were left over from the original birthday song. I brought in the cracks about pedigreed girls, and threw in a couple of my favorite catch phrases, Stay Stray and You gotta party to play. Then the lyrics shifted back to drunkenness.

In the last verse I tried to bring back the romantic yearnings for the perfect girl, while still entreating this generic girl to dance, a common lyrical exhortation of the disco days.

Throughout the whole song you hear side cracks, prepared yelps and jokes, all to suggest the wild, party-crazed atmosphere of a real Jambox show up in the attic at the P-Funk Playpen on Victor Street in South St. Louis. You hear The Changels singing “Dance dance, dance dance, dance”.

Fojammi was responsible for producing and recording this mess, and I have to admit that he couldn’t have done a much better job. Jambox actually sounded much worse than this recording might suggest.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Married To Royalty

After my disgust with the hipper-than-thou excesses of the second wave of punk out of L.A,, I turned to the music of my youth, jazz, especially bossa nova, which I love unreservedly. Aiding me in this shift of musical taste was my good friend Norty Cohen, who is also a collaborator and mentor to me in advertising and promotions here in St. Louis where we both live.

Norty had been the conga/percusssion man for Riot Act in the glory days of that incredibly great ska/punk/funk band. But he was an ad man of the highest rank and abilities, and had to leave the local band scene alone while he turned himself into a local legend. But he still liked to jam, and I liked to jam, so we started a kind of group we jokingly called the Fabulous Zantini Brothers. My brother has lately joined us, making us really brothers, too.

One of the first songs Norty and I played together was this little confused rush of mixed impressions, Married To Royalty. I intended to write a song about ridiculous aspirations, around the same time that Diana was marrying Charles, the future king of England. The song never really made any sense, but it has a couple of wry lines:

Whatever you say would go,
we’d go to Tokyo
and if you got bored there,
we’d go to Rio.
Now don’t you be ashamed,
just have some more Champagne,
Why did I ever fall in love with you?

We were riding round in Limousines
and reading Paris magazines
Deciding what you’re wearing tonight.
Why do you why do you
why do you have to marry him?
Just because he’s royalty?

Sunlight on snowy mountains
All of the Alps to ski
Or on your own private island
In the Aegean sea
It won’t bring you back to me
Visions and memories

The last time I saw you you were
Chartering a jet to carry
the aristocracy to marry
someone who you’d barely met before
You! Why do you why do you have to marry him
you know what your mama said
she said “Daddy says you
shouldn’t ought to marry such a bounder
because love will only flounder in
the wings of his endless romances

I could be loving you
and I could be squeezing you
and you would belong to me
and I would belong to you
but things don’t work out that way
I’m just watching your parade
watching the masquerade.

Now it’s not a question
of a kind of morality
and it’s not a question
of a sense of loyalty
But this is how it will be
Married to royalty.

And now I’m riding on an endless cruise
and downing large amounts of booze
Did you know that you ruined my life?

I recorded this at home, overdubbing a few guitars and singing.

Download "Married to Royalty"

Sunday, October 05, 2008

21st Street Time

The Tom Sleet Art Music Setup

I got a comment from my dear friend Tracy on this blog about always talking about the past when I blog about music. That really got me where I live, which is in the immediate past, after the actual present moment that we all watch through the actions of our consciousness recording time, one now after the next. In simpler terms, it got me where I live, which is in the past, since everything I'm conscious of is at least in the immediate past.

Philosophy aside, when it comes to music I feel like once it starts we're in the time of the music, not in the linear time of our lives. Despite the fact that certain songs were recorded at different times, or created at different times, once I sit down and play a song the time is that song. I've listened to too much jazz to think of a song as merely the recording. The song is the music and lyrics and how I choose to sing or play them when I'm doing it.

In that spirit, I've always really loved listening to completely free improvisation like that done by the 21st Street collective, which has always been Bill Morris and Thom Sleet with various other musicians over the years. I also really like the music put out by my good friend Jay Zelenka at Freedonia.

I was pretty excited when I got to sit in with them on guitar and piano last Saturday, so in the spirit of also honoring Tracy's implied request, here is an excerpt from the session:

When I'm doing music like this, or even the more conventional pop songs I write, time contracts down to the moment and a few bars in any directions at the most. One of the reasons that I know that music is good for everyone to play, no matter how poorly, is that getting your mind out of the chaos of constantly juggling long term goals, short term needs, worries, expectations, and the effort of retrieving memories from different times is a needed break from the normal grind of time.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Back to Back Again

The older I get, the easier it is to understand why age is even more important than sex, when it comes to mutual compatibility. There's a certain comfort that, as one slips comfy into the melancholic nighty-night of a lifetime's dotage and dose dere dithering days, that the older one gets the younger the other one gets, until what once seemed old seems gravid, whiskey and stubble-scrubbing young and always with more than a teeny dash of ambergris and anise.

But so much for me, dumpling gums! So much for everything I once stood for, when back I stood with all the ding-dong Daves and Stanlies in yesterday's quiver. Because when sparkling's the rave then gumbo's the mumbo, and jumbo sized is any fries that blows through the drive-by scatterflies of any hipster's passing chance. Hoopties linger in driveways idling mad with the rich thick smoke of leaded gas sweet and insistent on the evening breeze.

In other words, an immature take on gender and love relations, adolescent male categorically and explicitly. "Back to Back Again" is one of the first songs I ever wrote, and it has always had many different parts, which I like as a condition or perhaps more generally an ambition of Change Music is that it change, and change drastically, as much as concievable in any given song.

The opening chords were created specifically to demonstrate how good I was on the guitar to David Udell, who never took any real notice of the song, as far as I remember. So this effort of mine that I expended simply to impress David Udell was basically pointless, since nobody knew it but me, and me mostly in retrospect.

The lyrics were a simple reflection of my own fears of abandonment, and the wistful longing for a sexual prime that has passed. I used to think a lot about how the frequency and hotness of sex would diminish between partners and the range of reactions to this eternal decline between every single partner known to man, excluding liars and braggarts, of course.
I can’t make you be my friend
I can’t even pretend
That I don’t really love you
That I don’t really want you
That I’m not dying to be back in your arms

‘Cause don’t we get down?

You wonder was it ever more than sex?
Looking back to back to with your ex
And you realize that it’s only fair
The need you felt developed into greed
Blossomed into hatred like a weed
And left you there with just sex in the air.

You wake up in your bedroom late at night
You reach out and turn on the light
You look around and I’m no longer there.
Wouldn’t that be less than a delight
Maybe even closer to a fright.
Light, no longer light; air, no longer air?

This was a song I used to like to play acoustically with Slash Brannon in the pre-Jambox innocence of a couple of stoned kids messing around with some chords and violin. The essential nature and sound of the song is pretty unchanged, but the get down parts have gotten more latin and swinging and better. It's interesting to me as a songwriter to reflect on all the changes in this song I've made over years of playing it, all the stuff left in and left out.

I wonder what all my songs would sound like if someone else sung them, but this one might really be fun.

I recorded this song myself at home, as you can probably tell. The vocal is a little loud, I might change it someday and throw in a few egregious little guitar parts while I'm at it. Download "Back to Back"