Friday, February 27, 2009

29 Greatest Albums: Bull Cancer - '...Meets The Brown Recluse of Hwy. 54'

I wrote and played everything on this album. Here's why this entry isn't merely tooting my own horn.

For me, this top 50 list is not really even about quality in any comparative way. It is all about the emotional connection I feel to whatever album I choose to highlight. Going by this criteria alone, my top six would go like this...

Bull Cancer - ...Meets The Brown Recluse of Hwy. 54
Bomer B - Id City: Act 1 - Out of Charactor
Bomer B - Id City: Act 2 - Americana Subversive
The Mahoneys - Live From The 20th Century
Rhode Island Red - Cocksure
onion - beauty is ordinary

Are these albums as GOOD as The White Album by The Beatles? Of course not. But they are more important to me than any album I own because they came from inside of me, I found a way to put them on tape or little digital bits, and they perfectly represent what I was going through at the time I recorded them.

The Mahoneys album is recorded live in a basement in 1993, Cocksure and Beauty Is Ordinary are in essence compilations of work I did from '93-99, preliminary attempts at using a 4-track, and both Bomer-B albums were recorded after being influenced by Timothy and his expertise with drum machines and mixing/editing. They are more advanced. They were mostly done after 2000.

But for me, the first true ALBUM I recorded wound up with the title Bull Cancer...Meets The Brown Recluse of Hwy. 54. It was recorded between March and November of 1999. All of my previous recording had been more or less a process of delving into the vault and deciding which song I'd already written that I was ready to codify. This was more a process of actual writing through the 4-track itself.

The album was spurred by three cataclysmic events in my life. First was the disintegrating character of my marriage. Second was the chance meeting of Melody Garren at Cat's Cradle in Carrboro, NC on Feb. 20 or 21 of that year, and third was the new sense of manhood that had come along with the arrival of Cashel two years prior.

Upon my arrival in North Carolina, I'd hunkered down to get to work on my first Equity acting job. I'd purposefully not brought my guitar with me so that I'd be forced to laser in on the process. Well, I met Melody (chronicled elsewhere on this blog under 'Cat's Cradle Pts. 1, 2, and 3 Til Now') and she happened to have an old guitar lying around. How could I resist Melody having found me? Or melody, for that matter.

The album, save for one song, was written chronologically.

1. Hymn to Her

The first song on it I'd written before I met Melody but after I'd gone to North Carolina. It is called 'Hymn to Her', a title I thought very meaningful and clever. Which Chrissie Hynde could have agreed with, having written a song of the same name many years earlier. I'd rented 'Night of the Hunter' in my first week in NC and it had perfectly echoed the terrible struggle going on in my heart. I felt like Robert Mitchum, like I'd have no choice but to leave the woman I was married to strapped to a car at the bottom of a lake. But also that I was married to her for false reasons. For Mitchum it was the $10,000 hidden God knew where. For me it was some unknown, no less wrong for being ill defined.

I walked all over campus singing this song in my head without a guitar to play along. But I knew I'd write it as soon as I got back to NYC to my guitar.

The recording is one vocal and one acoustic guitar.

Then I met Melody. (See rest of blog.)

2. Underestimated Melody

First I wrote a song for her on the guitar she lent to me. It is the second song on the album and it is called 'Underestimated Melody'. The title might seem like a slight but in actuality it is self-directed. I'd neglected to bring my guitar out of some hair-shirt bullshit philosophy. I'd underestimated melody. And I also could sense that the world took Melody at face value, expecting certain things from her because of the way she looked. I played this song for her in her small apartment off of Highway 54.

The recording is one vocal and one acoustic guitar.

3. Mel & Jeff

I also wrote this in NC and played it for Melody before I returned to NYC. Jeff was the guy she'd been going to meet the night that we met. Ex-boyfriend. Turbulence. I'd seen him before I met her and somehow linked them in my mind anyway, one of the more astounding bits of ESP I've ever heard of. This song imagines them as hyper-masculine high school football playing best friends who spend all their time chasing tail and never admitting that they are actually in love with each other. They fight over a girl but really they are angry because they'll never be able to admit their love.

The recording is one vocal and one acoustic guitar.

4. Hellbent

I return to NYC. I am now in a strange mix of heaven and hell. I am in love. I am still married to a woman I care deeply for and loved. I have a gorgeous young son who is the light of my life. I must contemplate leaving them. I am happy, unhappy. This song attempts to portray all of this at once. Key line?

If Nature made me as I am
If what I was is what I'll be
That Mother's running quite a scam
Charging all a mighty fee
Just for leaving Pangea behind
To do this continental drift
Disparate lands become aligned
And mountains out of valleys lift
From the depths a sky-kissed gift

The recording is one vocal and one acoustic guitar.

5. Wise

This song actually had its beginnings many years earlier. I'd had a dream in which I was at a bowling alley trying to sing a song called 'Wise'. Chaos reigned at this bowling alley. I re-read this dream journal entry one day randomly when I'd had to drop my car off to get serviced. The only place to wait was a bowling alley across the street. I happened to have this old journal with me and read the entry. More ESP. So I transposed the old dream into a new song which also examined the strange pressure that love can bring.

Key line?

But I can't do it
I can't be wise
I can't even try
To be wise
Buddha would tell me not to try to win
Buddha would tell me not to force my grin
Buddha would tell me not to kick old men in the shins
But I killed him too
I guess that makes me wise

The recording is one vocal and one acoustic guitar.

6. Miss St. Tropez

The album takes a stylistic turn here. Acoustic becomes electric and the folk vibe gives way to a strange claustrophobic sensuality. The song title is a play on the word 'misanthrope' which when spoken in a French accent can be pronounced Miss St. Tropez. I was in agony, feeling guilt over the giant sexual attraction I felt for Melody. Was I considering throwing away hearth and home for a swimsuit model? Was I blaming her for being so pretty? Could I fight a tidal wave? Should I?

I imagined myself as a corrupt judge of a beauty pageant. Hence, 'Miss St. Tropez'. One of my favorites.

The recording is one vocal and one electric guitar.

7. Miseducation of a * Fucker

This was a collaboration. Melody sent me these lyrics, one of the few times we communicated once I got back to NYC. I set them to music. This in itself was a powerful thing for me, not only had she truly transformed my music but we were actually together in a way by me writing this song. I like its placement here because it gives her side in the midst of mine. This balances it out for me and is like a second voice on an overheard telephone call. Without it everything is one-sided.

The recording is one vocal and one electric guitar.

8. Myth Maker

This is the song that is out of order. When I finished recording this song I knew the album was done and I knew it would come in after 'Miss St. Tropez' and 'Miseducation of a * Fucker'. Why? I thought it would be funny to create an inadvertent lisp.

'Miss St. Tropez'
'Miseducation of a * Fucker'
'Myth Maker'

It also had to follow '* Fucker' because both deal with the mythification of what had happened between us...this myth has been hard for us to deal with in everyday life. It has a different feel to it than much of the album, an ethereal jam-like quality, more melodic than rhythmic.

The recording is one vocal and one electric guitar.

9. Wonders Never Cease

This little ditty is as close as I get to a celebration. Hard to celebrate the arrival of something that shines a bright light on dark corners you'd done your best to conceal for years. But this song could actually be an up-tempo rave-up extolling the virtues of the new love that had infused my heart. As it is, it is a muted cry.

Key line?

Wonders never cease
I'm tucked inside the crease
Of the diary of a titan
So nothing more can frighten
Me not in the least

The recording is one vocal, one acoustic, and one electric guitar.

10. Summers Torture

This I wrote in Santa Fe. I'd been home from NC for a couple of months when the chance to work on a Shakespeare play in Santa Fe with the director of 'Beauty Queen' came up. I took it. At this point Maria knew nothing about Melody and I struggled along in hypocrisy and torment. The chance to get out and work on the Bard was, needless to say, one I could not turn down.

The heat and sand of Santa Fe did not rejuvenate me, it merely mirrored the arid wasteland between my heart and my life. The song reverts back to the stark approach of the beginning of the album, stripping away the little bells and whistles that had been creeping in over time. Have to include all the lyrics.

Blues and whites stream towards my eyes
Make me wish for 3-D shades
Yellow axes from the sky
I squint but still everything fades
Short skirts make the earth seem small
And midriffs crash 10,000 cars
Rollerblades make you so tall
Stick out your tongue
And you'll kiss Mars

I'm digging up through dust
I've been burning at the core
I'm coming up out through the crust
In time to hear the ocean's roar

Dear please tie me to the rack
Leave me here I'll beat that sun
I'll take the clouds and throw them back
I'll shoot the sky out from a gun
But blue and white and yellow win
They've got summer on their side
Just like a bouncing dolphin's fin
Not full in view nothing to hide

I'm digging up through dust
I've been burning at the core
I'm coming up out through the crust
In time to hear the ocean's roar

At summer's torture I will crack
I'll tell you what you want to know
Then like a fish you'll throw me back
And tell me just where I can go
The birds will pick I'll drift and float
I'll hear you singing far ashore
For spiders I'll be one large boat
They won't mind the blood and gore

I'm digging up through dust
I've been burning at the core
I'm coming up out through the crust
In time to hear the ocean's roar

You're like a siren in reverse
You send me off and then you sing
I'm still not sure which one is worse
The wound or salt-in-water sting

The recording is one vocal and one acoustic guitar.

11. Eulogy for a Death Wish

Here is the false ending, the epic almost. After paring everything back for 'Summer's Torture' I add sound with a vengeance. Compared to a full lineup band with drums keys bass etc. it isn't full but after the bleak singularity of 'Torture' it sounds like a punk anthem. And for the first time ever in song I say the words 'I love you'.

There is even a dual rip roaring guitar solo after I say 'You know that I will love you forever/You know that I will love you when I die'.

The recording is one vocal, one acoustic, and two electric guitars.

12. Go to LA

After the emotional bombast of 'Death Wish' and 'Torture' there is a gentle quality to this song, a mixture of the melody of the earlier songs on the album and the muscularity of the later ones. In essence I tell Melody with this song that I would want her to follow her dreams even if it meant that she weren't to follow me.

It ends on a colossally bizarre note with whispering and chanting 'go to la' competing against a strange guitar figure for attention.

The recording is one vocal, one acoustic, and two electric guitars.

As I finished 'Myth Maker' I knew what it meant to have written an ALBUM and not just a collection of songs thrown together in as good an order as you could choose. These songs are one, they could not be extricated from themselves. My friend Jon, a great musician in his own right and far more polished than I, cringes at a lot of this stuff because it is so crude. He implored me not to try to release it as it stood but to refine it, hone it, rewrite it.

Maybe someday I'll take him up on that. But do you know anyone who goes back and rewrites their diary?

Thursday, February 26, 2009

30 Greatest Albums: Pimp Fu - 'Coffee, Pot'

Cousin Timothy had disappeared from my life. If you know the O'Malley's, you know how unthinkable this is, to LOSE track of a cousin. But that's what happened. Timothy's father (my uncle Joe) passed away when we were both 6 or 7. His parents had already divorced so after this ultimate tragedy it was just not a common occurrence for our paths to cross.

In college we both were up for Irene Ryan Scholarships and we couldn't believe it when we ran into each other at the regional competition. But we each had scenes to prepare so that was a short-lived reunion.

Before Timothy moved in with me in Brooklyn, I'd seen him at my grandmother's funeral in college, my uncle's funeral in '96 after I'd moved to NY, and then my own wedding that same year.

Now, my marriage was over and Timothy was coming to live with me in Brooklyn. He'd been traveling America demonstrating digital cameras in a giant van. Needless to say he was exhausted. And I wasn't much better.

We discovered that we'd each been recording music on our own almost all our lives. I had a 4-track recorder and we decided to collaborate. Thing was, I was a folk/rock singer and he was a rapper/beat producer. Strange bedfellows, yes. But we thought it'd be a hoot to put the two together.

At the same time we started a rigorous exercise program. And when I say rigorous, I mean rig-the-fuck-orous. We were up at 5AM and in the gym shortly thereafter. We used creatine, protein powder, and 5 protein packed meals a day for fuel.

Arms as heavy as anvils I'd drag myself over to pick up Cashel, bundle him up into the stroller, haul that damn thing over turnstiles and head into the city to audition for a commercial or two, TV shows, plays, you name it. I auditioned a lot in those days. By the time I dragged Cash back in the evening I'd be spent beyond belief.

Timothy wasn't working. He was shell-shocked from having been on the road for almost a year. He showed me a postcard he'd gotten that came to his address but was labeled not for Timothy O'Malley but 'Pimp Fu'. I told him the universe had given him his rap-handle. There he sat all day, drinking coffee, smoking pot. Thus, 'Coffee, Pot' was born.

He went with it. I'd re-enter the apartment and he would play me what he'd been working on that day. Often there was space left on the tape for me to give my modest performance, either rapping as Pink Fu or playing some guitar to beef up the track.

I can't tell you how much fun it was to come in and get to witness this act of creation.

Pimp Fu is hard to describe. He is part sage, part fuck up, part hard case, part tragedian, part comedian, part lover, part bad ass, part juvenile delinquent, and all beat.

The first thing he ever played for me was called 'Cot In The Corner' which described his sleeping arrangement. This never made the final cut of the album.

The first thing we ever recorded together was called 'Goddamn King Kong' which involves a story of its own. A buddy of mine had spent a summer working in a fish packing plant in Alaska. A giant of a man would sell whippets on breaks. He constantly belittled the size of the hit the whippet purchaser would take. My friend avoided him all summer. Then on the last day he decided he wasn't going to let the summer end without doing a whippet at lunch. He was determined to avoid the scorn of this Grizzly Adams drug dealer. So he paid and then took the biggest hit he could muster. The giant looked down at him, almost perplexed, and said, "God Damn King Kong."

I always swore I would use the phrase in a song.

I told Timothy the story and we set about crafting an appropriate piece of music. Imagine a distorted little punk guitar gently scratching its back on an early hip hop drum machine. To this day it is still one of my favorite songs.

The track list is as follows...

1. O2
2. Pimp Fu Style
3. The Wistle Song
4. God Damn King Kong
5. Blind
6. 37 Yeti
7. It's Alright, yeah...
8. Open Your Mind
9. Anybody?
10. Take It On
11. Q-U-I-T After I D-I-E
12. Interstelic
13. The Joe Gene
14. The Mike O'Malley Song

What is great about Timothy's songs, style, and production, is that he veers wildly across the emotional spectrum. One second he is telling you his balls hurt and the next he is contemplating the specter of his very real demons. It is intensely personal music that perfectly reflects who Timothy is. He's funny, scary, fucked up, wise, lost, found, sexy, stupid, angry, quiet, kind, perceptive, empathetic, and FUNKY.

Now, you can't buy this album in stores. You can't download it off of the internet. But if you ask me to, I'll make damn sure you get a copy of it. Because it will blow your balls up behind your ears. Unless you're a chick in which case it will tie your nipples together and swing 'em on a chain.