“Hello.....is it me you're looking for?”
One thing Mike and I carped constantly about back in the early days of the Apocalypse Krew was asinine, sappy love songs. Part of it was a bad case of Serious Young Man's disease; the rest of it I'll just chalk up to the songs' fault. Yeah---I'm magnanimous like that. Whatevs. A lot of my issues were that I felt a lot of these songs were disingenuous. When Eric Carmen sings “turn the radio on for that sweet sound....make me lose control”----what the hell's he talking about? ! What, exactly is “losing control”? Is it dangerous to do while you're driving? Let's just call a duck a duck, okay? He's basically saying, “make me come”. I guess there's the list of words you can't say on the radio, but to me, it boiled down to how it's inappropriate to lay the cards on the table and just say, “hey, baby, let's fuck!” And at that point in my life I had no patience with what I saw as a very calculated, cynical form of insincerity. To me, it was the closest legitization of date rape to ever be applauded by the masses.
So we'd go 'round and 'round about our mutual disgust with stuff like that.
We were working in this hotel at the time---we were dishwashers, with occasional forays into floor cleaning and food prep....I was sweeping down the floor around the salad bar when Mike walked up to me and showed me a piece of paper....on it were the lyrics to “First Stare”.
“Chuck---check this out----I wrote a song,” he said.
The lyric on the sheet of paper started off innocently (and innocuously) enough....”I love you/ if you don't say you love me I just don't know what I'll do”...” 'Cause tonight's the night I love you/ and tonight's the night I care/ and I knew it was gonna be this way/ from our very first stare”....
So far, so (deliberately) mediocre.....but things got weird quick...the next lyrical passage went
(Revolting)---as if this were a musical notation----
If you don't fuckin' love me I'm gonna shred you to little pieces
If you don't scream for me I'm gonna make you wish you were still alive
Bleed for me!!!!”
Yeah----we were on to some next-level shit, here, as the kids say these days....
Then came the chorus:
“EXPLODE! EXPLODE! EXPLODE! EXPLODE!”
At this point, there between the cook's line and the salad bar, I was doubled over in front of God and everybody, howling with laughter. I knew exactly what Mike was going for, and it was absolutely slaying me.
It was the antidote to every inane, patronizing top-40 romantic ballad making the rounds. And who could beat a chorus that was just repeated screams of “EXPLODE!!!!!”?
I went out and got a tee-shirt made (they used to have these stores that customized tee-shirts back in the day)----a red shirt with the word “EXPLODE” printed in Old English lettering...I still have it. It no longer fits---my wife sometimes wears it.
“First Stare” kinda nominally kicked around our repertoire for years...we never recorded a formal demo of it. We played around with a version that barely came together....my take on the song was that you'd always have this poppy intro but then it would turn into a brutal thrash metal rave-up wherein the song would basically see the various members racing each other to the end of the song while I screamed my fool brains out....
When Mike and I first started talking about recording the old stuff I expressed a lot of interest in finally recording “First Stare”---it'd be the ultimate “fuck you” to the top 40 popsters. Mike confessed to me that his vision for the song was always that there was no real song, per se---it would just be noise. That wasn't ever really my vision for the song, but we were talkin' “First Stare”, here, and I was willing to compromise.
The ideas changed as we went along. At one point, Mike sent me a bare-bones track that was intended for the “fast” part....the track was actually based on an earlier number that fell by the wayside called “Black Harvest”. “Black Harvest” was an anti-nuclear war song that was really cut out of the same cloth as “Black”---it was a moody, dark song that started off acoustic and turned into an angry rave-up. I never thought of “Black Harvest” as a backbone for “First Stare”, but hell if it didn't work.
Later on I was on the phone with Mike and he expressed the further view to me that he had ideas about the track turning into “twenty pounds of shit in a five pound bag”----he recommended “Shine” by Todd Rundgren as a big illustration of what he was talking about. Rundgren, of course, even when he was slinging chaos, was much more subtle than anything the Apocalypse Krew was doing, but I saw the parallel and it intrigued me.
Flash forward to the recording session. I finally got a picture of the monster that “First Stare” would turn into. It sat on the timeline in a multitude of layers that looked to me like a lot of the timelines I did late in the day for “The Abbey of the Lemur”. It was immense---there were layers and layers and layers of audio.
What Mike had laid down was this insane mishmash of the “Black Harvest” riff snarled up with a montage of a lot of our stranger old recorded moments----synthesizer wreckage, demented lo-fi soundscapes, spoken word snippets, me beating on a Baldwin Organ, insane jabbering and distorted racket.
“First Stare” had become a Burroughs-style cut up!!!!! I was absolutely floored. This shit was insane!
We jumped into the ballad-part. I was never sure how to tackle this and we ran through it a few times.....Mike told me after a couple of takes that he thought the best way to tackle the vocal would be just to Lou Reed the fuck out of it and bang out the most insincere delivery I could.
(And yeah, in case it just blew by you, I used “Lou Reed” as a Verb.)
Which works, since our entire genre spoof was on songs we were completely skeptical toward. As I said before, I felt as though the sappy MOR love song was the most cynical, vapid, dishonest form out there, so taking the piss felt like the way to go.
When we got past the intro, Mike told me we were going to approach the main body of the song a little differently. “I want you to do the vocal for this without the music.”
So in keeping with the cut-up nature of the beast----I went into the booth and yelled the lyric minus any musical accompaniment----let the chips fall where they may. I added a few weird ad libs----passages from “Chapel of Love” and Sinatra's “All the Way”, with the same leather-lunged delivery.
I had also expressed interest in playing a guitar track quite some time beforehand. Mike asked me if I still wanted to do it. I had this thought that we wouldn't have time for that, but this was looking good----we'd knocked everything out reasonably early. He pulled out the guitar, and BAM!!! It was happening. I was hooked up top a howling sonic monster, and I just went apeshit, throwing in some whammy bar racket, some Greg Ginn fingers-caught-in-the-strings shit and, more frequently than not, long, caterwauling drones and blasts of feedback right up the Velvet Underground/”European Son” Alley.
This went on for about ten minutes....Mike, at one point, had departed to take care of one thing or another. I figured he could just throw it into the horrendous stewing pot and fade it in and out as he saw fit. I have no idea what the final result will be, but Mike's playing with a pretty insane arsenal of crap. I have no doubt it will be epic and unprecedented.
We were done at the studios at North Main Music. But one more song remained.