Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Blame It On They Might Be Giants

I distinctly remember the first time They Might Be Giants crossed my radar. They released their debut album 'They Might Be Giants' in 1986 and their first single 'Don't Let's Start' actually caused quite a sensation on late night MTV.

My friend Mike (he of the U2 front row seats and Sonic Youth concert) had a long New Year's Eve party. It seemed to last a week and I got into a bit of trouble with my parents because I was gone for 3 days. And in high school. And I had the car. Oops.

We sat at Mike's house and listened to music and flirted with whatever girls were brave enough to show up and drank beer and watched tv. We were all several sheets to the wind when the weirdest little band we'd ever seen came popping out of that mass culture machine.

An edict was then imposed. MTV would remain on until we saw the video again. People took turns 'on watch', meaning they couldn't mingle with the rest of the partygoers or go to the bathroom. They had to watch for the video of 'Don't Let's Start'.

Great song, great video.

In a seemingly unrelated move in the summer of 1987, The Replacements released their masterpiece 'Pleased to Meet Me' which contained the single 'Alex Chilton'. Leave it to The Replacements to make their catchiest most radio ready song about an obscure cult musician who had recently been washing dishes in New Orleans. If this song had been called 'John Fogerty' or even 'Peter Frampton' it would have been a # 1 smash. Thank god it wasn't.

What does this tribute to Alex Chilton by The Replacements have to do with They Might Be Giants?

Well, in late 1987, They Might Be Giants released a tribute of their own called 'We're the Replacements'. This took the idea one step further and actually had a seed of approximation in the music. It sounded like The Replacements, in a goofy funny way. Lyrically it also aped The Replacements penchant for self-reference/deprecation.

'Hey where's Tommy? Someone find Tommy, we're out on the road
Moving equipment, where's the equipment, soon we're going home
Hi, we're The Replacements!'

Replete with a guttural scream right before the chorus, this song was perfect parody in that it took its subject seriously. I was thrilled that ANYONE was paying attention to The Replacements enough to immortalize them in song. It legitimized my ravings.

Later that summer, Justin and I were roving around the grounds of his rock and roll Colonial mansion armed with his acoustic guitar and some illicit plant material. We decided that we were going to return the favor to They Might Be Giants. We set about writing a song called, if memory serves me correctly, 'They Might Be Studebakers'. If Justin still has that scrap of paper lying around with these lyrics on it I will post them eventually. We had a tune and everything but I don't think we ever recorded this lost classic.

Time passes. I learn to play guitar in France because I need to be writing songs. I move to Providence, then New York, writing all along. The Replacements have long since broken up. Even today as I write this I must acknowledge that the reason I ever picked up a guitar in the first place was thanks to Paul Westerberg.

So I wrote my own ode. It is called 'Blame It On Paul' and these are the lyrics...

Blame It On Paul

Paul called all of the shots
Paul made all of the deals
Paul was the one who planned it all
Blame it on Paul

Paul was my man
Paul was my hero I guess
But if you asked Paul why he kept me around
He'd say to clean up that fucking mess
Always saying 'Clean up that fucking mess'

It was Paul's idea
It was Paul's baby right from the start
He didn't even tell me the goddamned plan
He just told me my little part

The pantyhose were tight on my head
I could barely see at all
And when the flashing lights arrived
I couldn't see Paul at all
Couldn't scale that son-of-a-bitchin' wall

I was Paul's right hand man
I guess you could say I was second in charge
I was the one who took the fall
Now that bastard's still at large
I said that bastard's still at large

So I blame it
Blame it on Paul
I blame it
Blame it on Paul
I blame it
Blame it on Paul
I blame it on Paul

Even though there is nothing in this song about They Might Be Giants or Alex Chilton or my best friend Justin, somehow it contains all of them for me. I've played this song at various shows over the years with very little in the way of explanation and it tickles me to see it taken at face value.

Again, time passes.

Brooklyn, 2001. My ex has a condo on Prospect Park in Park Slope. I live within walking distance. Maria (my ex) decides to try and rent out the basement space to an artist in the neighborhood. She doesn't need the space, it has a separate entrance, and it is an easy way to offset the cost of the mortgage. She writes a hand made sign and puts it on the little metal fence that serves as a gate to the basement.

Who comes walking by not 10 minutes later? John Linnell, one of the two Johns of They Might Be Giants. What do you know, he lives next door and needs a rehearsal/writing space? So within an hour They Might Be Giants is writing songs underneath my son's bedroom.

What are they in the process of finishing? 'NO!', their classic album of songs for kids. Or parents. It might be their finest moment and I got an advance copy handed me by Mr. Linnell himself.

Should I have taken him aside and made him listen to all of the above? Don't let's start.


siobhan said...

did you ever tell john?? inquiring minds want to know!
can't wait to se eyou! the countdown begins NOW

Buckeyballs said...

How you remember this stuff? The classic is sadly lost. And that wasn't simply beer we were drinking. That was the Genesee Cream Ale Beer Ball.