Back to School, Unfortunately Not Starring Rodney Dangerfield: O Mercutio

School boltThere was not a single thunderbolt of realization. There was no sea change. Epiphanies were for students. James Joyce, please. Somewhere, sometime around the age of 30, I could no longer avoid, escape, or mitigate the very real possibility that a career in music was not going to happen for me. Not unless I got the hell out of Chicago and started over somewhere else. Frankly, a fresh start was the least of my concerns. What I needed was a clean break.

By this time, fooling myself was a survival mechanism. Obscurity is dim, but there’s always a bit of light. Light is the most invasive of all properties; it will find a way in. While I held on to the hope that someday we would arrive at our moment in the sun, hope is worse than any drug.

Drug and alcohol abuse are intensely anti-social, personal activities, while playing in a band is inherently social and communal. No matter what happened, if there were barriers in front of us, I’d always push them a back a little bit further. Clinging to a strand of hope was worse than having one beer too many, or needing to be high in order to do my job. The effect of every band-related decision was multiplied by how many members are in the group, and as the de facto leader, that responsibility can weigh heavily on your conscience. It did mine.

A feeling of wanting to “give up the ghost” started the age of 27 or so, which is basically over-the-hill for aspiring rock stars, and articulated by Henry Miller in Tropic of Capricorn, who was in the process of becoming my favorite writer and something of an inspiration. To be fair, we didn’t have delusions of proper noun Rock Stardom – we didn’t aspire to Metallica or U2 – but we definitely wanted to make critically-acclaimed records, tour the world, and play to sold-out venues. As an independent musician, if that’s not on your dance card, you don’t show up to practice in the first place, right? You stay home and study for the CPA exam.

On a personal tangent, if you’d been on the scene for nine years and only felt whispers of interest from the most minor league of record labels, you might have felt like you were done, too.School Tropic

Of all the bands I played in, two had their chances both within and without the Chicago indie rock scene. In fact, both had multiple shots to make good impressions on people in positions of power. And clearly, we didn’t do that as many times as necessary. The point is, we did (most) of our homework. We got our music out there. We played as many shows as we could get. We made demos and sent them out; but most of the time, people didn’t respond, or when they did, their enthusiasm was lackluster.

If you had the gumption to start your own label and distribute your own records, more power to you. Running an indie label was a little different then. You were dealing with actual CDs and albums. Record stores. Sniff. Unsavory elements.

None of us wanted to do it. We were not businessmen. We never had that economic mentality, that competitive drive. We said, “Let’s make this record, man. Who cares if it sells?!?” And no big surprise, we rarely if ever sold anything. Every band I ever played in used to argue about who would have to organize, set up, and work the merch table (merch = merchandise: CDs, T-shirts, etc.) before, during and after shows.

Maybe this has been articulated by someone bigger and better, but I’ll tell you straight-up why I hated wrangling with merch. Sitting or standing behind a table with all your stuff out on display reminds me of being in middle school and having to do bake sales or sell raffle tickets for the Kiwanis pancake breakfast every miserable year, and you’re sitting there, dumb and purposely cheerful as a cartoon character, and it was most powerless, desperate and pitiful situation to be in – with your hand out. “Hey, please buy my record. How ‘bout a t-shirt?” It was flea market bullshit.

School LemonadeLike the neighbor kid’s sidewalk lemonade stand, even though much respect for the entrepreneurial spirit, there is a subtle guilt trip behind the whole thing.

What a resourceful little dude! Sure, I’d love a cup of your refreshing and thirst-quenching lemonade! What’s ten bucks to me? I want to support local lemonade vendors!”

At the level we were at – bargain basement – Tuesday night opening slots at Club Nowhere, if someone was ever interested in our merch, they could just walk up to me after the set and ask, “Where can I get a copy of your new EP?” Right here, son. It happened so infrequently that we were spinning our wheels by putting effort into merch. And besides, if you were a band with a following, you had people – non-band members – who handled it for you.

At any rate, my last band from the Chicago era was unquestionably the best and most artistically rewarding thing we’d done up until that time. Lo and behold, we actually got some interest from Spin Magazine and a couple of local labels. Unfortunately, we more or less fell apart before anything life-changing could materialize. That’s when I understood that my failure didn’t have anything to do with the industry, or my choice of friends, and least of all the merch table. Perhaps I simply wasn’t that good.

School_zero-recursionIn real life…I mean…it’s so hard to say exactly what I mean here but, half of my “thoughts” told me that we were special, that we were way ahead of our time and fucking geniuses. The other half told me that we were shit, plain and simple. Perhaps my biggest mistake of that era, was when I thought about what I would do if I hadn’t “made it” by the time I was, say 27 years old, I never had an answer. Music was all I ever wanted to do. Though my parents constantly warned me about having a backup plan, I chose foolishly to ignore them. And so, following a 10-year run of dead-end jobs and failed aspirations, “I can’t keep doing this” became a recursive loop.

Everybody has to have a limit or a breaking point. Most of all, it comes down to the most tired of clichés. Being lucky is better than being good. Being in the right place at the right time. It wasn’t how good you were, it was who you knew. E-T-C. Connections trumped all, but the bottom line was always: Draw a good crowd, get invited back. Clear the room, and don’t call us, we’ll call you.

Coincidentally, in early 1999, closing in on the odd age of 31, my grandmother gave me a modest amount of money as an early inheritance. Upon discussing this windfall with my parents, they said, “What are you going to do [with the money]?” and I replied, “Go back to college. Get a degree.”

“That sounds like a brilliant idea!”

“In California.”

“Even better!”

So that was it. A couple of months later, I packed up and left for San Francisco. It’s hard to regret this kind of decision. Had my grandmother not given me the money at that time, it cannot be said what I would have done, or if something else would have come along and changed my course. But it can be said that I most likely would not have moved out to California and I almost certainly would not have a college degree. Not that I wouldn’t have wanted to live in S.F. – in fact, I’d been out there a couple of times and fallen in love with the joint. It was Disneyland for crackheads. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and those only came around once.

It would have been real easy to squander the money on the band and everything that came along with it. At the same time, the band was falling apart; it just wasn’t happening. So we took a month long break in March 1999, and before we could get back together, I told them of my plans to move. They were like, “Hell yeah, that’s cool! Do it!”

School RodneyIf Caddyshack (1980) is my all-time favorite movie, Back to School (1986) starring legendary comedian Rodney Dangerfield is Top 10. Mock me at will. Don’t care. Neither film is the greatest comedy ever made, and Back to School wasn’t even the funniest movie to come out that year – Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, One Crazy Summer, and Ruthless People were easily as good. Yet Back to School out-grossed all of them at the box office.  However, the above-mentioned films represent what I want most out of a movie. Stupid, mindless fun, which manages to resonate on a very human level. Good-natured slapstick. Think: Marx Brothers, Benny Hill, The Three Stooges. Put it this way, I would rather sit through the entirety of Adam Sandler’s The Waterboy – again – than the first five minutes of Dangerous Liasons. No offense to John Malkovich, et al.

Whereas Caddyshack – in addition to Rodney – had Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Ted Knight and many more familiar faces, Back to School was pretty much Rodney and company: Adrienne Barbeau, Burt Young, Keith Gordon, Ned Beatty and a young Robert Downey Jr. In short, they didn’t have the same collective star appeal. They were great, but Sam Kinison’s minor role as an unhinged history professor almost stole the movie. Never mind that this movie screams: NINETEEN-EIGHTY-SIX! OH! OH! OHHH!!!

The plot may run a bit thin, but Sally Kellerman was easy on the eyes, Rodney’s character (Thornton Melon) actually had some depth to it, and a cameo by Kurt Vonnegut was the coup de grace, as far as I was concerned. Plus, Oingo Boingo.

The Internet Movie Database (IMDb) gives Back to School a 6.5/10, and Rotten Tomatoes has 84% positive views. Black Sunshine Media gives it 11/11 supernovae.

Back to School has a special place in my heart, not just because of Rodney, and not because I went back to school at an advanced age, but because it was released the same week I graduated from high school. It was the first movie I saw that magical summer of my emancipation into adulthood. On acid. Two months later, I was still tripping as a freshman at Illinois State University. Ah, yes, but I was not ready for college, and I was destined to be back in Darien, bussing tables in a Mexican restaurant, and trying to put a band together.

“The Triple Lindy” isn’t my favorite scene from the movie, but the dive itself is sort of a personal metaphor – it reminds me of my life’s journey.

SFSU ccsf 03Thirteen years later, having abandoned several attempts to get a degree, once again I went back to school – unfortunately, without Thornton Melon. With only a handful of transferable credits from junior college, I would be starting from scratch. Therefore, in the Spring of 2000, I enrolled at City College of San Francisco (CCSF) to satisfy all the core requirements and matriculate to San Francisco State University (SFSU). At the same time, I got a gig at a downtown restaurant, first as a food runner, and later as a waiter who just happened to know a little bit about wine.

While the overriding goal was to get a degree—any degree—I figured that it would be a good idea to major in something I liked and was good at, for instance, creative writing. The music program required advanced reading skills that I didn’t have, so that was out. Anything with a shitload of math was out. In fact, I was surprised to learn that you could earn a degree in creative writing! It boggled my mind.

This determination fulfilled half of the equation; at least I enjoyed writing. Whether or not I was any good is subjective and beside the point. Was there a career in it? Who knew? Didn’t matter. The degree itself mattered.

Meanwhile, not long thereafter, I met a dude who taught English in Japan – something I’d always wanted to do – visit Japan, that is. Not necessarily teach English, although I wasn’t above teaching if that’s what it took to make the nut. Teaching would have been a step up from my current restaurant gig. Regardless, this dude told me that in order to get a working visa in just about any foreign country, you needed a college degree. That was just one more reason to go back. Asia was a permanent fixture on my radar. The day I left for S.F., when I got in the truck and turned the key, the first thing I thought was that there was no turning back and we’ll just keep heading west until we run out of west.

Clearly, at my age, going back to school was serious business. Almost overnight, I became a hardcharger – academically and financially. Not only was I paying my own tuition – [with help from Oma] – but every hour I spent on campus was an hour I wasn’t working, hence, making money. So I quickly became adept at time management, perhaps one aspect of my life that desperately needed an overhaul.

0_School_ccsfCollege demographics were a little more diverse than I expected. There’s much more at stake than the basketball team and Spring Break. My fears of being the only “old guy” were confirmed first semester at CCSF, but that’s because I was taking core requirements like astronomy and biology. As the late Greg Giraldo said, “Community college is like high school with cigarettes.” It wasn’t until second semester that I had another adult classmate.

By and large, I considered CCSF to be utilitarian at best. In those days, it was a little rough around the edges. People didn’t seem to linger on campus. I didn’t, that’s for sure. If I had an hour or two between classes, I would walk down to Ocean Avenue and hang at the coffee shop, or I’d hop in my car and cruise around. Every now and then, only when the weather was bad, I might have lunch in the cafeteria and then poke around the library.

In summer 2001, I matriculated to SFSU with Upper Division standing, majoring in English Literature with an emphasis on creative writing. One of the smartest things I did at both schools was to attend summer and winter sessions. A majority of students on a four-year track skipped these sessions for fair enough reasons: To work, to travel, to relax, etc. Therefore, registration was always wide open, and you could pile up a bunch of hours in a short amount of time. That’s reason I got a degree in less than three years as opposed to four.

0_School_SFSU Logo

All in all, I was enjoying all of the academic experiences I blew off the first few times around: The studying, the lectures, the notes, the essays, the exams, and the environment of learning—all of it. Not to mention the fact that as a single man, college was crawling with women. Never putting myself out, I took what came my way and had a good time. Most of all, I learned to make the system work to my advantage. There were right and wrong ways of doing damn near everything. It’s funny that I hadn’t figured that out already.

0_School_SFSUThe demographics at SFSU were considerably weighted in my favor, considering graduate students and teachers. Most importantly, I blended in with the crowd. The university’s facilities were first-class, and I wasted no time getting familiar with the ins and outs. The 2001 summer session went smoothly. It was chop-chop, serious business now. The fall semester started in August, and then…

9/11.

You know. You were there. You saw it. You felt it. Everything changed. Even though life carried on, it was the same place and the same people, it was different. People were weary and wary. We were all affected. Likewise, in search of comfort or numbness, I started drinking at the pub in the Cesar Chavez Student Center between classes. Prior to this, I had a rule about “No drinking before sundown”, which became “No drinking before sundown or at any time on campus,” which came into play the minute I discovered that there was a pub located at the heart of campus. Of course, at first I thought, “Awesome!” and then I thought of my mission, and I thought, “Ohhh nooo, this could be dangerous.”

0_School_pub
The Pub in the Cesar Chavez Student Center

Going to school during the day and working at night was manageable up until a certain point. The events of 9/11 shook me up pretty good though. The managers at the restaurant were very accommodating as far as scheduling and switching shifts. For once in my life, I was actually planning ahead. I’d be working out the logistics for next semester midway through the current one. By registering for classes as soon as they opened, I never had an issue until my senior year – 2002 – when many of the classes I needed to take were in the afternoon or evening only.

My memory is a little fuzzy, but I would estimate that 70 percent of students in the creative writing program were full-grown adults. Most of the “regular college kids” – who lived on campus or in the dorms – didn’t make much of an impression on me. The point is, almost everybody in the program was a commuter with a “real job”. The program was certainly tailored to an adult schedule, one which didn’t include an unreasonable amount of morning classes.

After discussing my options with a manager and a counselor, I decided to cut back on hours at work and go for 25 units-per-semester. In order to make the nut, I had to take out a student loan, which was not really a big deal, but not something I wanted to do. Anyway, this meant that I would basically spend all day every day on campus, which was new and uncomfortable. It was then that I decided to move out of the shared flat in the Richmond District and into a studio near campus.

The only reasonable joint I could afford was an in-law located in Oceanview; a no-man’s-land neighborhood but a fair 20-minute walk to school. To be frank, Oceanview was sketchy, especially at night. It wasn’t Oakland – but it was dangerous enough that you had to be careful. My car got broken into within a week, and there were certain streets I tended to avoid whenever I walked to school, which was whenever it wasn’t raining. Parking at SFSU was either expensive or impossible, so I tried to avoid driving. The M-Line was a block away, but it was notorious for (among other things) breaking down and taking 15 minutes to get across Junipero Serra (19th Avenue); thus, I could walk faster.

[NOTE: The below map is pretty cool. Just scroll over to get the paw thingy and move it around.]

Being on campus all the time had its pros and cons. The benefits were mainly academic. I spent a lot of time in the library and the student center. The main drawback was getting everything done ahead of time, and then idle hours with nothing to do. The “No drinking before sundown” rule had been suspended after 9/11, and consequently, there were many afternoons that I would roll into my 4:00 p.m. class with a decent buzz. Of course I was smoking pot every three or four hours. During the break I would jet down to the pub and chug a pint before heading back to class. We’d get out at 6:15, so I’d have 45 minutes to continue drinking before the next class. The cycle would repeat itself and there were many times that I was hammered by the time I got home at night.

0_School_roofSmoking pot in California, especially S.F., was such a non-issue that I could get two or three times as high as normal, and nobody would have noticed or cared. There were unofficially approved smoking sections on campus – particularly the roof above the student center, where they had bleacher seating. Anyway, sometimes you can get too high and paranoid. That never happened to me in California. On the other hand, I wasn’t trying to impress anybody.

For the most part, I rarely participated in class discussions or socialized with my peers. On the other hand, I met and got involved with several women and had a few male buddies in the pub. Otherwise, I kept to myself and at first, this anti-social behavior was based on focus; I couldn’t let anything distract me. As time wore on, I didn’t want to talk to anybody because they would know I was drunk. Or high. Or both. Occasionally, someone would try to make conversation and I would vaguely shake my head, as if to say, “I’m not interested. Leave me alone.”

Despite being this highly motivated yet functionally dysfunctional character, I only had one vaguely embarrassing experience at SFSU – thanks to Shakespeare.

0_School_sfsu_gatorsAlright, first of all, somebody is bound to be thinking, “But, it’s SFSU.” As in, it’s a shit school; a weigh station for soon-to-be or incomplete washouts. Or teachers. The university was originally founded as a teacher’s college, and the English department of any California State University is the main conduit to a teaching career in the state. Granted, SFSU is a second-tier school compared to UC-Berkeley, but overall, 30,000 students can’t be wrong.

And then we have our school mascot – God bless him – Ougee, this green and purple little alligator – an allusion to the Golden Gate Bridge and a play on “Gate” = “Gators”. Don’t call it conspiracy, but I think Ougee may have been the inspiration for Barney, the most insipid and evil of all children’s cartoon characters. Our main outdoor “stadium” had reeds growing in the bleachers. I kept looking for posted signs saying, “This is a get in and get the fuck out type of school. Got it?”

0_School_tamingshrewTaylorTo be honest, I may have “read” Shakespeare back in high school, but I didn’t get. At all. They jammed us with A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet, et al, but the only work that I even slightly understood – or cared to understand – was The Taming of the Shrew, and that’s because I had to watch it one Sunday afternoon at my grandmother’s house. It was either watch the film or go downstairs in the basement and amuse myself with an empty coffee can.

It may not be the case that Shakespeare is required at all predominantly English-speaking universities, but the way the creative writing program was rigged at SFSU, you were virtually required to take at least one semester of Shakespeare. Somebody please correct me if I’m wrong – Do we have any Gators in the audience tonight? Raise your hand if you went to SFSU! – but I was looking to get through this ordeal without Shakespeare, and it simply wasn’t possible.

Regardless, I wound up taking two Shakespearean courses, and while I wouldn’t say I enjoyed them, I did gain a better understanding of the man’s work.

In the second class, the course syllabus opened with The Tempest, and then to Romeo and Juliet, when the professor announced plans to read the latter out loud in class, while extrapolating on the meaning and significance of every scene. Unfortunately, she didn’t say there would be a line-by-line autopsy. She asked for volunteers and there were a total of two dudes in the class vs. multiple male roles, so I piped up and said,”I’ll do it, but only if I can be Mercutio.” Of course, it wasn’t really like I had a choice. I was going to read at least one role.

Having seen multiple versions of R&J, I was familiar with the Capulets and the Montagues – the whole she-bang, really – how could anybody not be familiar – but the role of Mercutio just kind of stuck to me. Plus, he gets killed halfway through, so I’d be off the hook in a couple of days. This was an afternoon class, so my number one concern was not drinking before or during class. That put a serious damper on my daily routine.

tumblr_lxwvceIzuQ1qzxdgfo1_500
Harold Perrineau Jr. as Mercutio in Baz Luhrmann’s modernized version, William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet. By far the best I’ve ever seen.

So Mercutio gets whacked, and I figure I’m done with reading. Back to the pub we go! Did I remember to refresh and read ahead? No. I showed up to the next class hammered. The professor says, “Oh, Trevor [Romeo] won’t be here today. Why don’t you take his place?”

“Um, I…was a terrible Mercutio.” This is true. I read the part in a flat monotone from the get-go. “Friar Lawrence? I can do that.”

I looked at the kid reading the role Tybalt, who also got whacked yesterday, and he shrugged and made the “Ain’t got nothing” face.

The teacher pshawed and said, “Just go for it! Have fun with it. You’ll be great.”

“Yes, but I don’t want to be great.” Alright, lady. That’s what you want? Is that what you really want? For me to have fun?

Though I’d only ever been in a couple of junior high school theater productions, but I had loads of experience on stage. Being completely loaded gave me the courage and carelessness to take the reading bit to the next level. In short, I went full Shakespearean – emoting and articulating like I’d heard it so many times in the past. Standing up – which no one had done up to that point – I roughly pushed my desk aside and played Romeo to the best of my drunk-ass ability. It was the only time I remember anybody laughing in any of my classes, ever. We had fun.

At the end of the class, the teacher waved me over and said, “Wow, that was great. Have you ever done any acting?”

I said, “No, I’m a drunk.”

She tilted her head, squinted and said, “Ohhh. I figured that. Actor, drunk. Same thing.”

You might think that it would be impossible to pass some of these classes when you’re half in the bag – scratch that: out of your mind – but I’m living proof that it can be done. Unfortunately, within a month of that first semester living in Oceanview, I had essentially become a full-blown alcoholic and now dabbling in narcotics.

0_School _mark
I spent a lot of time at this joint, and eventually wound up dating one of the clerks. That was trippy.

Cut off from my friends and living down in this unpleasant and unbelievably windy pocket of Oceanview, whether or not I had classes, I’d start drinking around noon and continue until midnight or whenever I passed out. During the few shifts per week I actually worked, the party continued. All of my course work was completed under the influence of something.

One of my best friends was a manager from the restaurant I worked at. He got promoted to GM and transferred to our sister restaurant in Palo Alto. He’d been bugging me about coming down to visit him and have dinner – Palo Alto was about a 45-minute drive – and finally, I promised to come in on a Sunday night. Currently, I had been seeing a young woman from school, so I asked her to join me. The date and reservations were made.

On Sunday afternoon around 3:30, I drove to the woman’s house to pick her up. The plan was to hang out at my place for a few hours. The reservation was for 8:00 p.m. Arriving at her house, I rang the bell and there was no answer. I called her cell phone but it was turned off. Her car was parked out front, and I figured she had to be home. So I sat in my car for a few minutes. I tried her cell phone again to no avail. She lived about five minutes from me, so I drove home and tried to rationalize the situation.

Waiting an hour, I tried calling again. No dice. Wherever or whatever she was doing, she had no intention of talking to me. Another hour passed – it was about 5:30 by now – and I tried one more time. Bewildered and a little heartbroken, I called my manager friend and told him I wasn’t coming. He did not take the news well.

“Dude, you’re coming without or without that stupid girl. Forget about her. Get your ass down here and let’s have a good time.”

I opened a bottle of wine and put on some loud music.

0_School_palo-alto-mapBy the time I got in the car for the drive to Palo Alto, I was buzzed. Not drunk, just feeling good. Arriving safely at 8:00 p.m., my friend joined me for dinner and we went through at least two bottles of wine. There were shots of ouzo as well. As I said my goodbyes, my friend said, “Dude, are you sure you’re OK to drive? You can come crash at my place if you want.”

“No, man. I’ll be fine.” As I wobbled to my car, I thought, “Man, I don’t know if this is a good idea.”

It was not, in fact, a good idea. Within minutes of getting on 280 headed north, I was pulled over by a County Sheriff. He walked up to the window and after I handed over my license and registration, he said, “You been drinking tonight, sir?”

I looked up and said, “Listen, you got me. Let’s make this easy on everybody and just run me in. I’m not gonna blow [submit to a breathalyzer].”

“Well, alright,” the cop said, “I respect your honesty, but I’d at least like to have you step out of the car for a field sobriety. Just to get a gauge of where you’re at [in terms of a BAC level].”

“If you insist.”

Though I didn’t blow or let them draw blood at the police station, the cop said I was probably in the 0.16 – 0.20 range, but cut me a break and wrote 0.14 on the police report; karma for the cooperation. Anything higher than 0.15 is considered Aggravated and comes with an Enhanced Penalty. Not quite a felony, but close.

Look, I’ll be honest with you. Getting a DUI was the worst thing that I have ever done to myself, ever. Especially at that point: my last semester before graduation; it’s supposed to be a time of celebration. My parents were planning on coming out to S.F. for the ceremony. What a buzz kill. It happened in October and it was next summer before all the legal stuff was over, and a year later I got my license back. I will say this: I have never again gotten behind the wheel of a car with even a drop of alcohol in my system.

The rest of that semester was just grinding and ugly. But I got my degree.

And hey, so did Thornton Melon. In fact, Rodney Dangerfield was 50-something years old before he “made” it. He gave up a bunch of times. He came close on many occasions. As Jim Carrey once said, Rodney showed us that it’s never too late to make your mark.

For the duration of this essay, the one thing I avoided was the power and value of knowledge.

We constantly hear about “never giving up on your dreams” and all that, but I think quitting is underrated. You should quit if you’re doing something you don’t want to do. You should quit even if it’s something you want to do but aren’t making any progress. In a particular way, there’s a difference between learning how to do something and trying to make something happen. If you’re having a problem trying to solve an equation, giving up is apathetic. If you’re chasing a dream, giving up is closure.

DFW 4

The title and reference to Mercutio from Romeo and Juliet more or less came fairly late in the writing process, and didn’t have much to do with the song, although I had just recently read through Hamlet a couple of times, on a search related to David Foster Wallace and Infinite Jest.

The working title was “Crabtree and Madeline”, and the original lyrics were scrapped or incorporated into other songs. The vocals seemed to take forever but it was really only four months. And then I accidentally (and irreversibly) recorded over the drums. It was by far the most labored and problematic writing and recording process for one song I’ve ever experienced.

Coincidentally, I interviewed Mike Watt during this period. He told me that people (he knows and likes) send him tracks and he’ll play on them, free of charge. For a split second, I considered asking him to play on “O Mercutio”, but then I chickened out. Honestly, it seemed a little presumptuous. So then I thought, “I’ll just try to play like Watt. I’ll do my best Watt impersonation.” And that’s what I did.

The Byrds - Fifth Dimension
The Byrds, Fifth Dimension (1965)

Like a couple of other jams, there is a heavy Roger McGuinn and the Byrds influence with the electric 12-string guitar. Overall, the vibe I was shooting for was The Minutemen and Firehose meets the Byrds. Post-punk vs. country psychedelia. There’s also a bit of Can, Wire and the Fall in terms of dynamics, which was definitely intentional.

The idea of a preacher with a megaphone has always struck me as incongruous. A true man of God shouldn’t need a megaphone, microphone or 30-foot video screens. Religious zealotry is basically unacceptable in my world view. The antics of evangelism are repugnant. However, there’s something intolerant about my own intolerance of their belief systems and behaviors. I don’t have the right or the will to judge anybody. So the proper response to a hypothetical preacher calling for apocalypse is “OK, that’s cool. Fine with me.”

“I didn’t get there cuz I wasn’t trying to go” was inspired by John Cheever, who said that as a critic, you can’t blame a writer for failing to achieve something he never set out to do in the first place. In rock music terms, it would be like saying Bon Jovi is OK, but they’re certainly no Queen. Of course they aren’t. That was never their goal. At least I hope it wasn’t. They may have wanted to be as big (read: popular) as Queen, but that’s where the similarities end.

The line about “fingernails and razorblades” is a reference to infants, not narcotics.

There are direct references to songs by R.E.M. (“Harborcoat”), Genesis (“Dancing in the Shadows of the Moonlit Knight”), and Ethyl Merman (“There’s No Business Like Show Business”).

Some of the lyrics are too cryptic and personal, which means I’m the only one who will catch the reference to “Doing push-ups in the party line.” It was actually “push-ups in the parking lot”, but I messed it up and just decided to leave it.

O Mercutio

Thanks for reading and listening. Much respect.

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