Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Invisible World

1999. NYC. How to set the scene? I know I have to end my marriage but I dread separating from my son who isn't quite 2 years old. So things are fun.

Refuge comes in the form of work. It has been a busy year for me in that regard, first doing 'The Beauty Queen of Leenane' in North Carolina, then 'Two Gentlemen of Verona' in Santa Fe, and now, in the fall, serving as Rob Morrow's stand-in on a film he is writing/directing/starring in. I've never been a stand-in but this seems like a good opportunity as he'll need me to be able to ACT some scenes a bit so he can plan as the director from behind the camera before going in front of it.

In addition to the theater work, I am feverishly writing and recording songs whenever my son falls asleep. I tend to stick to an acoustic guitar track, an electric guitar track, a vocal track, and rarely some sort of percussion. Often times I would be deep in some alteration, headphones on, when I would hear my son crying in the background. He probably still gets mad whenever I pick up a guitar.

My social life increasingly meant going to meet my cousin Liam at rock and roll shows. I sought solace there. That year we were flipping out over Guided By Voices.

For anyone who isn't familiar with GBV, they were a rock outfit from Dayton fronted by a former high school teacher named Robert Pollard. The 'band' was a revolving door of players who tried to play what he heard in his head. He claimed to have over 1,000 songs ready to go, meaning unrecorded but written. His process was to write reams of song titles, the stranger the better, and then set about writing them.

Some examples...

Portable Men's Society
Hot Freaks
Kicker of Elves
Not Behind The Fighter Jet
Hardcore UFOs
Teenage FBI

The style of the music could be said to resemble an American garage punk rock band playing the lost concept album of The Who; or some British Invasion middle-agers paying tribute to the American underground.

Pollard was notorious for his live performances in which he attempted to channel the Gods of Frontmen. He whipped his microphone by the wire. He guzzled beer by the gallon. He smoked furiously. All this in a body that looked like a gym teacher gone a bit to seed. Curly long hair, beer gut, decidedly anti-hip clothing. He looked like a college professor going through a midlife crisis. Which, I suppose, in some way, he was.

We saw Guided By Voices at some club in the 20's. I never liked this club, with its low ceiling and just-a-bit-too-big room. The combination made for uncomfortable viewing, peering and stooping while on tiptoe. In fact, I can't even remember the name of the club and I don't want to.

Bottom line, they killed. A classic rock show, all sweat and grand gesture. I left feeling as if I wanted to capture some of that in my own writing instead of the constant doom and gloom folk singer fare I'd been endlessly mining.

I walked to the F train nearest the club watching my breath against the cold. I smoked then so I loitered on the curb finishing my last cigarette. Whenever I got back on the train to go back out to Park Slope, I felt a hugh weight descend upon me. I was hurting my ex by staying in the relationship, prolonging the inevitable, and the longer I stayed the harder it would be on my son. But I simply couldn't bring myself to bring about this cataclysm.

I tended to carry pen and paper with me because I was always needing to write things down. The title 'Invisible World' popped into my head and, a la Robert Pollard, I decided to write the song right then and there. I probably still have the scrap of paper it was written on as I was whisked out of Manhattan back to the troubled sanctuary I knew I had to dismantle.

Invisible World

And you know it
When you feel it
The eyes in the back of your head confirm it

The invisible world
Beneath our eyes
It's all we see all we feel

It's all that we can do to deny it
It's all that we can do to rely on it

And if on your life you had to you'd defend it
The process from which all is done goes on
I'm falling off the wall
The scream is breaking down
The inner monologue just won't go off off off

The invisible world
Beneath our eyes
It's all we see all we feel

It's all that we can do to deny it
It's all that we can do to rely on it

By the time I got back to the 9th Street stop of the F train, I'd found the melody and was signing it over and over to myself so I wouldn't forget it. I quietly let myself into our apartment, picked up the microphone, and recorded an a cappella version so I could pick the guitar up the next day and pluck it out on the strings.

Somehow Robert Pollard had brought this song forth, and while it actually said more about me and my predicament than any of the more confessional songs I'd done, it still felt enigmatic and evasive. Just what I'd wanted.

So on that night, I'd been guided by a voice. Guided By Voices.


siobhan said...

i love 'invisible world.' it is such a great song. i didn't know the story behind it though. wow!

Brendan O'Malley said...

thank you! i set out to write a guided by voices song.