As I wrote previously, I didn't know what Mike was going to be bringing to the table with “Black”---I was actually not even sure we'd be recording a new version, as I hadn't received a new recording through Dropbox.
With “Black”, we'd recorded two separate and distinct versions---one 4-Track cut in the late '80s and later on 8-Track in the early '90s....both had a more or less similar lyric but they were very different from one another as far as arrangement and structure went....the first was a gloomy, ominous doom rocker that's probably unlistenable considering the technology we were working with at the time...I can tell you there was a pretty good guitar solo and that shortly after the recording Mike had no idea what he'd done to get the bizarro sound he got, but it was pretty one-of-a-kind.
My template for the song as far as what I wanted to get out of it was actually the Swans' “Blind Love” from the CHILDREN OF GOD album....that's not to say that's what it wound up sounding like but think epic and unnerving----at least as epic and unnerving two guys with a 4-Track recorder and a windup toy of a drum machine were going to get....the song came to a literally-apocalyptic end with crashing chords, thundering windup toy rhythms and me on top of all the din, bellowing, “BLAAAAACK!!!! BLAAAAACK!!!!!! BLAAAAAAAACK!!!!!!” Over and over....it was tracks like this I played at Heather early on in our courtship that prompted her to crack, “aawwww----did somebody need a hug?”
And actually, yeah---I could have used a hug back at that time.
“Black II” had the added bonus of four extra tracks and it was a helluva lot better, production-wise...we were more on top of our game by then. Structurally it was probably more of what they called a “power ballad”----I loathe that term and, generally speaking, I don't have much use for the form. It starts off very quiet, with me whispering, muttering and crooning....I even do backup vocals that aren't particularly good, but they're drenched in reverb so, y'know....the desired effect. “Black II” is probably the best of our old demos and I was of the opinion that, if we wanted to cut corners we could actually stick that on the CD and no harm would be done.
As it turned out, there WAS a new cut of “Black”.
PLEASE GRANT ME THE SERENITY: RECORDING “BLACK”
“There's no sign of the morning coming; You've been left on your own”
----Ronnie James Dio
Giving the track a listen, I discovered that it essentially followed the structure of “Black II”, and that was a plus...it was a nice, Godzillian jam and Mike had totally brought the Rocket Sauce. One thing I was very taken aback by was that the original track had a fairly standard bassline....on the new version, Mike had really jazzed it up! And I mean “Jazz”, literally! Very tasty jazz-bass stylings that were almost a direct contradiction underpinning the big, moody grog-metal.
This was gonna be fun.
It was another game of “finding the arrangement”.....the structure was very similar to the old “Black II” but I was going to have to go through it a few times to learn how my ballpark rewrite was going to fit.
Much like the old recording it starts off slow, quiet and eerie and what I was singing was more or less spoken.
“ Every day the struggle to get out of bed and walk out that door is a more and more insurmountable task
I don't belong here and I never did.
I can no longer stand seeing things and people I can't deal with
Then the main riff---clean tone----kicks in.
“Lying in a pit of garbage and lies
It's a world that's run by politicians and whores
Color it all black, now, 'cause it's more than I can stand
I don't want to see it anymore”
Lyrically you could probably draw a parallel to “Paint it Black” by the Rolling Stones, although that song is about a guy who's mourning a dead lover and he can't get a grip on life anymore. With “Black” there's no tangible catalyst for the speaker's misery; he just can't get a grip on life, period.
I am the other planet man
I don't know what I'm doing here
I don't know what I'm here for
let me out”
And this is where the song just blows open and starts raging.
“Color my world, my world black
Decided I wanna be blind forever
Deliver me from this world of lies
I just wanna shut it out altogether
COLOR MY WORLD, MY WORLD BLACK (x4)
Let it all stop, let it end now
I can't take it, I don't know how
Need someone to shut off my mind
I'd be happier if I were struck blind
Holy Pilgrim, I went hunting
I came back with a fistful of nothing
Living on this planet though I'm not of this earth
I take a look around
and see that it ain't worth shit”
Melodramatic, or WHAT? There was a whole litany in early versions of the song where the speaker lists off a laundry list of everything that's pushed him to the brink, and it goes something to the effect of “a man in a caddilac/ dead babies on my TV/ a government that doesn't care/ millions of people happier than me/EVERYTHING/YOU!!!!!”
That's right----he's blaming YOU. PERSONALLY. YOU!
We had this drummer at the time---he wasn't with us all that long but he was our longest-running bandmate and we hung onto him for dear life because he had a basement we could practice in. I remember during practice one night he picked the lyric apart and goofed on it----”okay---so this guy walks down the street and he sees all this stuff going on that he doesn't like....so what does he do?! He freaks out and he yells and then he goes back home??? I don't know where that's goin'----sixties are over, man....”
Not real sure what my autistic angst had to do with the sixties.....still and all, he took me down a peg or three or five and I rode home all butt hurt over it. Mike tried to play it down a sensible middle---we needed the guy, at least at that point...he'd had experience playing out in bands, he knew music theory, and, shit, maybe we could learn from the guy.
I was very tunnelvisioned by my own ego, though, which might go as far as to say I needed a pin stuck in it. You only need to take one or two steps outside your situation to see the humor in it.
Following the template of “Black II”, though, I eschewed the laundry list in favor of ominously intoning, twice, as the song drew to a close, a line from the AA “Serenity” prayer:
“Please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”
This last bit is crucial----the reason it's important to the song (and to the Apocalypse Krew in general) is that it's a direct contradiction of the band's entire existence. We are classically the LEAST serene entity alive. There's not an iota of serenity in the song, or in the character's head.
With this line of the poem the Drunk (hypothetical or universal) is asking God (however you want to define “God”) to help him/her cut his/her losses and move on, and how to have the wisdom to know how to pick their battles.
The entire ethos of the Apocalypse Krew is based around an inability to accept the things you can't change...the Dreg has no idea how to pick his battles. He's hellbent on running directly into a wall.
Not the smartest way to go through life, but who hasn't gone through that at one time or another? Who hasn't failed to see a way out?
THE NEW STUFF, PART TWO:“FEAR AND HATE”
“The idea had been growing in my mind for some time----true force. All the King's Men cannot put it together again.”
----Travis Bickle, TAXI DRIVER
By the time I actually sat down to WRITE “Fear and Hate”, I'd realized I really painted myself into a corner with “Rise”----It was a busy lyric that followed a busy rhythm and sought to cover damn near every note of that rhythm. I wasn't going to make that same mistake with “Fear”---as frantic a number as it was I knew I was going to need to put every ounce of gusto I had into it and it would be a good idea, given the confines I was in, to let the song “breathe” a little more. And let myself breathe a little more.
I wanted to do “Fear and Hate” from the moment Mike brought it to the table....it clocks in at just over two minutes and it's both furious and abrupt. Hammering, thrashing riffs, very fast and dense, with this layered, atonal, descending chord structure on the chorus that defied anything I think I'd ever heard in straightforward rock music at that time.
Mike gave me the music template back in the '90s...the chorus was, “You gave me the look of fear and hate”. The lyric I wound up writing was couched in the paranoia and isolation I had that last year in Nashua, the year I was living alone in that slum on Pine Street. To my recollection it was another one of those crazy, busy lyrics and would be like algebra to try and tackle.
The way I finally structured “Fear and Hate” was that each individual line would take up two bars...the line itself was essentially over by the end of the first bar, but it would trail over the second, allowing more room for the vocal to breathe and for the riffs to get some naked space.
I decided it would be an anti-bullying song. Bullying has been a big issue for me and mine for years----most incidents of school or workplace violence are the result of one or another form of bullying, and such incidents are bound to continue as long as we, as a collective mass continue to turn a blind eye to the pecking order. I've done my dead best to talk distraught kids out of pulling a Columbine---but I understand the rage that motivates them.
So this was going to go out to everyone who got beaten up, threatened, raped, had their shit stolen or who was otherwise put in a corner...it was also a shot across the bough to anyone who was in the upper strata of whatever food chain----hey, buddy---you know when you do that shit? Here's how that person feels about you. Does that make you nervous? GOOD----keep feeling nervous.
It didn't rhyme. It wasn't stylish. It wasn't witty or hip. It wasn't cute, clever, politically correct or kind.
The whole thing was designed as a scream of impotent rage. One of my favorite old jokes was, Q. How did Helen Keller break her fingers? A. Screaming for help when she fell down a well.
So my aim with this lyric is it was Helen Keller breaking her fingers screaming for help.
For the first time anywhere, “Fear and Hate”.
“Why did you back me into a wall?
I was just minding my own business
back a coward into a wall
you never know what he'll do to get out
I'm afraid to wake up anymore
it's your world, I'm forced to live in it
YOU GAVE ME THE LOOK OF FEAR AND HATE
This is your world, this is your toilet
I have to live with your gun in my mouth
I can't take it one more minute
you've been on top too fuckin' long
people like you should be raped by livestock
people like you should be shot in the face
I can't make it out of your cesspool
so I'm calling in the airstrike
shit can't continue as it is
people like you need your dicks cut off
now's the time for fucking justice
hurt me, motherfucker, I'll make you pay
CHORUS x 5”
Strong statement, I'll admit----not exactly coherent, either....but what right do you have to ask coherence out of someone who's trapped in a well? Or someone who's trying to tell you that your house is burning down around you?
It's the most direct line to the sense of violation that goes on in the brain of a bullying victim all the time. And I'm sure there are all those handwringing PC-types who are frightened by this level of expression, saying it encourages violence. I'd tell them that zeitgeist prevails with or without the song, so rather than look for a scapegoat, why not address the real problem? And I'm certain a few of them might say the real problem is too big. Well, maybe you're too small. Or are you PART of the problem? See, that's half the problem—--those who in some way, shape or form, benefit from the existence of a pecking order can't imagine life without it.
Well then, don't come cryin' to me....
“Fear and Hate” was going to be a rip-roaring screamer. I was prepared to put more into this than any other song we'd done so far. This was not going to sound “cool”----it wasn't going to sound “rock star” in any way, shape or form. My best reference for what I was going for is, if you listen to some really stellar hardcore, like, say, “Pride”, by Husker Du, off their great album, ZEN ARCADE, there's nothing about Bob Mould's delivery that sounds “cool”...he sounds like he's having a goddamned conniption, and I have to listen to that every fucking time---there's something so liberating about hearing this guy---and you're not listening to a “singer”, per se---just this regular guy that could be you or me, losing his shit.
There's little to no acceleration in this song---there's a drum cue and then you're in it. DEEP in it. Guitar, drums, bass, vocal, the whole blood vessel-busting enchilada, and before you've acclimated yourself to it it's rolled right over you and left you for roadkill.
I basically screamed the whole thing, spastic voice cracks and all, like a distraught stockbroker getting ready to jump off a building on Black Friday 1927. I wanted to sound like a man whose world was ending. At one point in the third verse we had to stop and do it over because, headset and all, I couldn't get my cue....I couldn't hear the music over my own screaming.
There was a bridge section where, if I'd had more time to mess with it, might have used some vocals---realistically, throughout the recording sessions there were moments where I went sparse where under more ideal circumstances I wouldn't have. But I figured giving Mike more blank canvas to have fun with wasn't necessarily a bad thing.
Mike perused the result on the timeline and assessed it as “definitely the most ferocious song in our repertoire...”
THE BOUNCY ONE: “OUTSIDER”
“There's a man outside....he wants to come in.”
“Outsider” was the next logical one to tackle....we were in the home stretch at this point.
If “Fear and Hate” is our most ferocious song then “Outsider” is one of our catchiest. Tement he riff is instantly memorable---it would be cool to hear a swing band play this. Mike and I have joked around a long time about doing a big band arrangement for it.
Rhythmically it bounces along in a manner similar to Cheap Trick's “Southern Girls”, with this huge, heavy boogie riff topping everything off. In approach it would be similar to “Black” or maybe “Time Bomb”----more a matter of showing off the song rather than letting loose.
There was an extraneous riff dropped from the old demo, but other than that the song hadn't changed much and it would probably fit the lyrics I had cobbled together without much of a problem.
I tried to approach the vocal with a degree of ease; when we talk about ease, it's not to be said there isn't work put into it---rather it's to say the listener shouldn't hear much labor. Much in the vein of Bukowski----the reader shouldn't have his or her attention drawn to the nuts and bolts of the effort...it should just come off as a smooth, organic whole.
“Residing in your cozy little house
unsuspecting, happy as a church mouse
I'm looking in on your measly little life
I wanna intrude on your measly little life”
The whole genesis of “Outsider” to me....did you ever see “Fatal Attraction”? Remember the scene where Glenn Close is spying on Michael Douglas and his family through their picture window, and she's so disgusted and envious of what they have that she literally vomits? That's the kind of spirit I'm going for.
It's classic American Have-Not-ism.
“Standing in the shadows and I'm looking in
standing in the shadows and I'm looking in
lurking in the peripheries and I want in
I am the Outsider
I am the Outsider
and I want in....I want in...I want in...
Laugh and yawn and take it all for granted
don't appreciate the silver spoon you were handed
you should be destroyed, you should be replaced
standing on your lawn and I'm looking at your window
I don't like what I see, I see a room full of people
happy, happy, happy
a room full of people all happy except me”
Here's the self-contradictory nature of the politically correct---x number of people are going to knee-jerk at our songs and argue that we're insensitive, or they're going to take everything out of context and say we're sexist, racist, advocate violence and so on and so forth....chances are no one's going to tell us we're anti-homeowner, though. Guess they'll conveniently miss the memo on that one.
That happens with extreme idealogues, though----with an old episode of “The Abbey of the Lemur” one of my castmates was wearing a very funny tee shirt that had a fake Coca Cola logo, except it read, “things go better with Satan”. And the local right wing bullet head who was very locked into literalistic thinking was alarmed by this. And our performer was up there cracking jokes about sacrificing children and I put a lower third up in front of her identifying her as a “local cult leader”----and this guy's complaint against us took that and ran wild with it....”this person----this cult leader....” meanwhile, in the same show we had a lower third graphic that identified me as a “local chimney sweep”. He never took me to task for that. Did he believe I was a chimney sweep? Did he just not care? I guess chimney sweeps didn't jibe with his agenda, or his sense of moral outrage. If it were me watching at home, I would've been enthralled---I would have been waiting to see if this guy would start dancing around on rooftops singing “Chim-chimeny-chim-chimeny chim-chim-cheree”....but no. Selective reasoning. Or non reasoning. But I digress. Back to the song.
“I'm knocking on your door
you don't know what's in store
it's the end of your rainbow when your wife starts screaming
you don't know what to do
and I'm staring in your window
I want in!
I want in!
I want in!
I want in!
I want you---and everything you own
You people shut me out and made my life miserable
Flaunt your happiness like a diamond ring”
A little note, here, on the humorous irrationality of the S.E. Apocalypse Krew....nobody actively shut this guy out of ANYTHING. His quarries----the homeowner and his family----probably have no idea who this nut staring in their window is. This shambling pile of crazy takes other peoples' happiness as a personal affront.
“I want to eliminate you
I want to exterminate you
I want to decimate you
I want to eradicate you
I want to reduce you
I want to subtract you from the equation
I want to erase you
I want to erase you
I want to erase you
I want to replace you”
Back in the day Mike and I thought that if we ever did the whole MTV/music video-thing “Outsider” was our first candidate as far as a video we'd like to do, and we figured it could even be done cheaply. The affluent family sit at their dining table and engage in niceties while I, as the crazy, stand at their window in a blizzard, ranting and raving....the band are behind me, all bundled up by a trashcan fire, attempting to play their instruments in the driving snow (obviously fake confetti snow). Eventually as the song hits its peak I crash in through the window, jump up on the dining room table and begin threatening the family, specifically the patriarch, whose position I'm envious of. At one point between lines I lean down, pick up a turkey leg and start noshing on it.
The last image in the video would be a family photo---the patriarch disappears and I fade in in his place. As though I'm a member of the family, replacing him as Dad/Husband/etc. Kinda similar, maybe, to Jack Nicholson appearing in an old-timey photo in the Overlook, I appear in some Olan Mills monstrosity as if I had been the patriarch of this family the entire time. The original family man is lost to the ages.
We banged “Outsider” off without a lot of excessive effort. I felt like I did alright. We were on the home stretch, now...eventually, we would leave North Main Music and hit Mike's home studio to knock out our last number, “The Candidate's a Religious Man”.....but there was one more song we had to tackle beforehand.