Sunday, May 31, 2009

Heaven's Never Letting Me In

Now that I'm finally learning how to play songs I didn't write, after more than thirty years of just playing whatever chords sound good to me, I've turned my attention to a few obscurities that I admire unrestrainedly. So I'm going to blog abut a few of them, as I have "If You Got To Make A Fool Of Somebody" a few weeks ago. The song I'm writing about this week is "Heaven's Never Letting Me In" by the Webb Brothers.

The full, total horror of what the music business has become is perfectly displayed in the obscurity of the Webb Brothers, as it is in many other artists scattered throughout the fringes of our culture today. They've done three full-length CDs, each one better than the last, each one a deathless, timeless expression of pop magnificence, perfectly performed by artists who have more talent in their little finger than fashionable artists such as The White Stripes or Little Jeezy have in their entire bodies.

Jimmy Webb, their father, wrote some of the greatest songs of the 20th century, so it's true that maybe they should have to try a little harder or something. But their songs are incredible works, the kind of thing you'd expect from kids who grew up immersed in music in such a way that all the finest skills and tools that it takes most of us decades to achieve are present at once.

I wish I knew all the lyrics to this song, but this is the best I could decipher it:

No business at the venue, no mischief on the menu
On a bender and it’s bound to bend you tonight
I’m so uncomplicated, underground and underrated
Seeing feeling was reciprocated, let’s give all the people a fright!

California here we come again take this bore and make it fun again
I’m so tired of trying to be good, Heaven’s never taking me in!

I’ve taken all your babies, I’ve pumped em full of rabies
Pulled a carcass through the gates of hades better lock your children up tight

California here we come again take this bore and make it come again
What’s the point of trying to be good, Heaven’s never lettin me in!

Oh oh can’t you hear the whistle blow? California here we go
Never thought you’d hit so low, no, you were much too slow

When I was a boy I pulled the wings off pigeons, now I’m causing class divisions
I’ll start my own religion, oo you’ll never stop me, oo you’ll never stop me
Cause I say I’ll fast my dominion I’ll rule this whole dominion
Run my face on every television till everybody weeps at the sight

California here we come again take this bore and make it fun again
I’m so tired of trying to be good, Heaven’s never lettin' me in!

Oh no Heaven’s never lettin me in

Anyone who's ever read Paradise Lost will recognize the sophistication of the way this song deals with choosing evil over good. It gets right to the heart of the idea of forgiveness, which is seen as impossible because of the sinfulness of the singer. The singer boasts of his sins, and is proud of being unforgivable. The rejection of forgiveness is central to his belief that heaven's never letting him in. The one truly unforgivable sin, as I read it in these lyrics, is the disbelief in the possibility of forgiveness.

And the song rocks so incredibly hard, and goes from circus-like whimsey to slamming power chords behind the wails of the self-damned. This song has haunted me since I first heard it in 2003, and last night I stayed up all night - looking over in astonishment at 4:20 a.m., trying to figure out the lyrics and play it. That's something I've never even done for a Blind Idiot God song!

Download "Heaven's Never Letting Me In", then go to the iTunes store and buy everything they ever recorded.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Hoochie Coochie Poochie

Slash and I loved his dogs Topaz and Cello, who were also David Udell's dogs. Topaz was the stray from nowhere, a medium yellow dog with gold eyes and short fur, tough and wise. He was the alpha dog, but he ran to East St. Louis when Fojammi and Slash had their famous accident on the old MacArthur Bridge going for beer at 4 o’clock one drunken morning. Slash rolled the VW bug with Fojammi riding the roof on one of the dangerous curves entering the bridge, and when Topaz heard the ambulance sirens he took off for the East side, never to be seen again. Fojammi, who should have been killed - legend has it that he lifted the entire car himself - ended up in the old City Hospital. We searched for Topaz for weeks.

But we loved Cello as much, and wrote this song for him long before Topaz split. Slash wrote the melody, and I put the chords to it, which are the same as Big Noise From Winnetka, Hit the Road, Jack, or (I’m not your) Steppin’ Stone. He wrote most of the lyrics, too, though I helped a great deal.

In the kitchen you will find
Strongheart dog food is always on your mind.
A bass, a string, a chord, a thing
Splattering into your brain
Brewed for you a Cello stew
Plain-tasting canine strain
My ears erect, my nose just blew.
Hoochie Coochie Poochie

When we spell O-U-T
He heads straight for the nearest alley
Splashing his smiley face all over the front page
of everyone’s reality
Cello’s my man, you know he can
Show all the world his master plan
Funky Butt Mutt

Cello was a medium dog, mostly a German Shepard of some kind, black with a brown face and Cleopatra eyes with black rings around them that led off toward the back of his sleek head like mascara. He loved to eat ice and once I saw him chew up some broken glass he thought was ice. He must not have eaten it - though it sure looked like he ate it - because he never got sick. He did suffer from flea and skin allergies, though, hence the Funky Butt Mutt appellation.

The only thing in the kitchen at our hippie crash pad was a refrigerator with an empty cardboard bottom or two from the cases of beer we drank each weekend and a pantry with several cases of Strongheart canned dog food piled high. Slash always made sure there was dog food, and we all worked in restaurants, so there was little or no need for any other kind of food.

This song was always one of my favorite Jambox songs. It was the one song I felt always came across well, without as much of the uncontrolled and chaotic meanderings that characterized the Change Music style. But the vocals were always little better than the dog howls that inspired them. Slash’s girlfriend Lisa remarked that she thought we were going to pop a blood vessel singing this song.

The line about ears erect, nose just blew always charmed me, since a dog sneezing and putting it’s ears up is an image that you really don’t find much outside of the tiny Change Music catalog. I’d like to think it was one of my lines. Slash and I wrote songs the way we imagined Paul McCartney and John Lennon wrote their songs: he’d write a couple of lines, I’d write a couple, and in singing them, rephrase them until they worked. Now, over thirty years later, I can’t really claim to remember who wrote what, even though I remember writing this song very well.

I remember Slash came home, and started playing the melody right away. He’d been jamming somewhere, maybe Jeff Golde’s house, and he had seized on the melody and kept it going until he got home. I loved it so much I learned to play it, too, and made it the start of my big guitar solo in the beginning of the song. This recording has several keyboard parts layered over the top of my guitar, which I didn’t like very much. Fojammi will forgive me this opinion, I hope.

Here's a Fojammathon version of this song I like a little better, and the original EP version.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Stuttershark SLEET

Thursday, May 21,
from 8-11 pm
at the Sci-Fi Lounge,
6010 Kingsbury Ave.:

Improvisational percussion performed by William Morris, Tony Patti and Thomas Sleet. With abstract video by William Morris.

Admission: $2

Bill, Thom and I will be doing our improv percussion-based art performance music live with video by Bill. I might throw in some video to the mix, too. We'll attempt to explore the creative side of music, pushing ourselves to sync up and still explode outward in new and unexpected ways well outside of any structure or form that we can't immediately destroy while still presenting beauty.

This is the kind of music that is best live, for some reason, so come and listen. Here's a short piece to give you some idea of what to expect when we gel and flow:

Download "Stuttershark"