Friday, May 13, 2011

Steve Pick's Cock

For years I've had a cracked and silly idea that all my favorite melodies of a certain kind were actually a song, and that I wanted to call it "Steve Pick's Cock". It's not a song about Steve's cock, though I'm sure a song about anyone's cock would be an amusing and peripatetic tale if done right. I wanted to call it that because there was a moment, long ago, in Webster Groves, right before I left St. Louis, when all of my new wave and punk rock friends of the early 1980s came together in an unprecedented orgy of creative energy and fun.

Dana Ong started going to Webster, and Duwann Dunn, and the punk rock scene of the 80s was turning dark and destructive, but the fun 100 was still running all over the city being fired up with various happenings as sweet and unusual as Duck Feedings and White Castle Weddings, to the usual deathless musical achievements. Everyone was Rene Spencer's best friend, and we all did the Lizard with Tony Renner while dancing to Get Smart at Blueberry Hill. We all knew Alex Weir was really Ed Eno, of course, and Riot Act changed players almost every practice as things veered crazy out of control down in Jeff Roth's north side schoolhouse. Hangouts were walls, next to the Tivoli, across the street from Duff's.

One of the best completely Webster Groves bands was the mighty, mighty, mighty Oozkicks. Yes, three mightys worth. They were among the youngest punks around, supposedly all 16 and younger when they first played at some VFW hall or something and blew all of us old twenty-somethings away with their relentless, incredible energy as they bopped and bobbed in furious punk lockstep with their fractured and unusual beats. The minute they played their first song in front of me I realized they were exploring, with great urgency and depth, melodies and themes I loved that I had never taken seriously enough to develop as fully as they had. I had only gone so far as to allow myself a signature interval as a taste of this more advanced musical thought, which in my continuing ignorance of even the most basic idea of music theory, I called diminished fifths, since it was a love for the note a half step down or up from the fifth of any note. This is why my song "Surf's Up, Gang!" is rooted in a two chord modulation from A to F, a half step up from the fifth of A, which is E, of course.

From the earliest days of Jambox I had been developing tiny melodic fragments that explored this affinity I felt for this diminished fifth idea. When I lived and worked in a medical fraternity house next to Compton Hill Reservoir park on South Grand I taught myself as much piano as I could figure out for myself by spending my lunch breaks playing an old piano I found in their outbuilding across the small yard from the basement kitchen where I cooked them meals. The piece I composed that showcased my primitive ideas I have always called "Diminished Fifths", and it's a pretty standard exploration of the interval with some really basic counterpoint. That's the only real piece of music I ever composed that fits into this idea that isn't included in this rough recording. All the other pieces and snatches are either in my as-yet unrecorded long instrumental piece "18th Street" or here in "Steve Pick's Cock."

The song section of this piece was sketched out after The Obvious dissolved away, so I never really developed it as a song. I can play a song I write over and over to the point of ridiculousness (because what is more ridiculous than singing songs no one knows but you to yourself?) but this song always needed parts that are more like bare melodies than a series of chords, so playing it alone wasn't satisfying to me. I always wanted to put the other parts in there somehow, the tiny little mathematical diminished progressions and scales that make up the rest of the song, and the intro and outro were also Jambox sketches I'm sure Geo Ramsey would easily remember.

A few days ago my buddy Gabe Katz threw up an Amun Duul II youtube of a song he thought remembered featured what he called whole tone scales, and when he was telling me about it on his new iPhone 4 I thought about "Steve Pick's Cock" and the vague plan I had to finish it some day. I thought the intro and outro were maybe whole tone scales, and was hoping he might be able to tell. I realized that now I could record a crude version of it myself at home, at least to preserve the ideas in some form, even a crude form. I revisited the song as I had last revised the lyrics, and changed a few words again, and noticed it was a rare lyric that was a poetic series of impressions about all my Webster Groves punk rock pals from back in the day.

I wondered why I thought the phrase "Steve Pick's Cock" was significant enough to me to be a song title, and I remembered the first time I ever heard the phrase, falling from the rose-petalled lips of the most beautiful girl in the world, as she told me about some famous photographs taken on a wild night at the cemetery with the gang when I wasn't there. It was a turning point for me, because now I saw myself as a point along a continuum, rather than good or bad, strong or weak, but merely as fuzzy and indistinct placeholder that means I'm as good as I can be, but never more, and never less only if I managed to cling to what I have and keep it all as good as I can be. Plus it was funny, the whole idea that such a thing could be the stuff of normal lazy conversation, on the telephone on a school night, homework open on the bed behind her, lights burning in the soft Webster Groves air. And if you love Steve Pick as much as we do, you know that you can laugh about some things because they can't be diminished by anything but time and age, and even then, the eternal reality of the indestructible and immortal past still lends them a strength other things will never have at all.

Download this song if you want to hear it.