I get asked about "Jerk" a lot, which makes sense -- it raises a lot of questions about my self-esteem, and it rings alarms for some. When my cousin Eugenie heard it for the first time, she had kind of a tear in her eye as she raised the point that maybe I was pushing the self-deprecation a bit far, and maybe hating on myself wasn't a healthy thing to do. I feel like I should blog about it. So, here goes!
When I moved to New York, I lost touch with a lot of people, and some of them took it extremely personally. I've always been a fairly solitary person -- while I love my friends dearly, they'll all tell you that I'm not around all that much -- so it's always strange to me when they're surprised that I've been to Pittsburgh and they haven't seen me. Usually, when I visit, I try to arrange a few playdates and plan at least two public outings -- one for a gig, one for hanging with a large cluster of friends (bar, movie, whatever). It doesn't always happen that way, and when it does, it isn't always all-inclusive, but that was how I always was.
One particular person got steamed about things, and told me over Facebook chat that I had become a jerk after moving to NYC, that I wasn't making time for my 'real friends' anymore. My contention was that I had always been this way, but something about this proclomation was sticking in my craw, and every day for weeks I was apologizing for any screw-up with, "I am a jerk:"
(to person on the subway)
"Sorry! Didn't mean to bump into you. I am a jerk! I'll back up."
(to boss, at office)
"Nope! Forgot to do that. I am a jerk! On it now."
(to Autumn Ayers, after she was taken aback by a tiny rip I made on her:)
"What? OK, sorry. I am a jerk! I say things that jerks say!"
AUTUMN: There's a song there, I think.
AUTUMN: "I do things that jerks do, I play games that jerks play?"
ME: "It's just the jerk's way...."
We laughed about it, then went to a ballgame. Later that night, we were at Mark Willson's house, on his back porch, and I had a guitar and started messing around with the lyric. It became Family Feud: Paul's Flaws Week:
MARK: You're stubborn.
ME (singing): Yeah, I want things my own way -- it's been like that since my first birthday, my first cake was a twinkie, my first word was 'lame,' I'm a jerk....
KRISTY STRICKLER: You neglect your true friends!
ME (singing): I'm ungrateful and selfiiiiish,
ME: Loving me must
KRISTY AND I: ...be HELLISH!
KRISTY: That's awesome.
At that point, the chorus said "You can't touch me now" -- that didn't change until the first performance, where I changed it on the second go-by to "You can't change me now" (You can actually see that performance on YouTube, and watch my mind change in mid-song) -- and it felt dark but funny. Mark and Kristy went to bed, with Mark's final advice being that I keep it funny and end with the joke I was developing about how, despite being a jerk, I could make a lot of money with my first hit single (this later evolved into, "All this, and ladies, the boy's still single," which he agreed was a better joke.)
Autumn and I stayed up until about 4, and at some point, she said, "Listen, you know you're not a jerk. You come off that way, but you're not. You don't need to spend a whole song beating yourself up over this -- maybe turn it around in the bridge and talk about how people see you one way but you're actually a decent guy."
I don't think we finished the song that night, but as I was writing the bridge, I had Autumn in my ear the whole time, and I'm very grateful to her for willing this number into my life.
It is my niece Cassie's favorite song.
Friday, August 19, 2011
So, last night we played "Hotel California." Andy and I had no previous discussion about Hotel California, like, ever. I used to sing it with Mark Pipas, but had never put it in my own show.
I walk this line with covers -- I try not to play the commonly done ones, because I feel like you could get them from anyone, and I want my shows to stand out. The best cover artists have an identity that stands out even while they're playing covers -- If you're picking between John Malone and Martin Rivas, you're picking between a pop/powerpop-medley bent and one that swerves towards Motown and Stax/Volt, for instance. If you're choosing to come to my covers-heavy show, I'm going to show you as much of my iPod as I know how.
I own a 160-gig iPod, that's about half-full once I put all my files on there (I recently had to wipe it, and have been gradually adding things back onto it instead of just letting a day happen where it gets loaded up, but that will change soon.) It's got a buttload of stuff, from the '80s to present day, with verrry occasional dips into the '70s. My father stopped listening to pop music very early in my life, because he felt nothing new was happening that he wanted in on, so my influence kind of stopped when the Beatles broke up and picked up again when Survivor hit #1 with "The Search Is Over." The '70s meant so many things to so many different people, that I never really wrapped my head around the fact that disco, "Classic Rock" (Who, Floyd, Zep), and the singer/songwriter boom with James Taylor, Carly Simon, Bill Withers, Carole King, and the Eagles, that all this was happening at once. In any case, most of that stuff just kind of sailed past me, and by the time I picked up on it, it seemed like old hat.
The tableau of the troubadour in a bar is so familiar that if you see a drawing of a dude singing in the corner, you probably imagine "Brown-Eyed Girl" coming out of him. Solo dudes are expected to sing "Brown-Eyed Girl" the way chicks in bands are expected to sing "Me and Bobby McGee," and damned if both songs don't result in Paul-shaped holes in the wall of whatever club I just had to get the hell out of so as not to sit through them again. Tell me I'm not an entertainer, but I'm willing to sacrifice the easy win for something more universal -- "Crazy Love," for instance, fills your Van Morrison craving (or helps you to understand that Van Morrison is more awesome than you knew he was, because you only play track 3 on your Greatest Hits album), without alienating all the blue, green, hazel, and purple-eyed people in the room.
Somehow, that bled onto "Hotel California," and I don't know why. I almost never hear people do it -- it's crazy long, it's in a weird register, and it ends with a guitar solo. Also, when I discovered that the song existed at age 15, I found a 45 of it and played it over and over again until it was a chip through which all of the other circuits in my brain had to go to get work done. Why have I not been playing this song? A few weeks ago, when I was doing the show on my own, a new fan, Elaine, asked me to play it, and scoffed when I said I didn't know it, and I took her side -- it's inexcusable that I didn't have that song on hand.
So, last night, I started noodling with the progression, then turned to Andy, and he, without asking what I was doing, said, "Yeah. But do you have the chorus down?"
"No. Does it..." (strum strum)
"No, it resolves to the Bm the first time, then it does the F#."
"Oh, like" (strum strum)
Two hours later, I started noodling again, then just kept going.
"You're gonna do this?"
"Yup! Let's do it."
"It's crazy high, dude."
"I think I've got it... Aaaah, aaah,.... Yeah, I've got it."
"OK, if you say so..." *BOMP BOMP*
"'On a dark desert highway...."
At the end, I sang the guitar solo, and hopefully next week Andy and I will have worked out a way to do the harmonies at the end -- we wrapped up on the "Hell Freezes Over" ending, and I think we'll keep it that way, because any medleying I do out of this song will get me stabbed with a shiv fashioned from a broken drum stick.
By the way, if you haven't been to the show in a while, here's some covers you might not have heard us do yet:
"Right On" occasionally medleys into "Roxanne" by the Police, then "Fuck You" by Cee-Lo.
Fall Out Boy's "Sugar We're Going Down," to which we've seen some fist-pump reactions lately that have won me some arguments about cover choices that fall outside of Andy's familiarity.
Wilco's "Jesus, Etc.," which is just bad strategy on my part, because like Crow said, you should never put bits of a good movie in the middle of your shitty movie.
Wheatus' "Teenage Dirtbag" mashed into Radiohead's "Creep" -- no choruses from Dirtbag, just verses, but the rhythm stays throughout the medley. I don't think Andy's in love with it, but he tends to humor me until it gets out of hand, like when I tried a doubletime version of the "I Think We're Alone" medley, or when the "Everybody Knows" section of the "Crazy/Crazy" medley needed some whittling down (I used to do three verses and a chorus, now I just do one verse, because while he wanted it out completely, it actually does make a thematic impact, and the people who recognize and love the medley for it are satisfied that it's quoted at all).
We tried Matthew Sweet's "Sick of Myself" for the first time last night, too, and I think it went pretty well. If I can find a way to make "Girlfriend" compelling, I'll add that, too.
Anyhow, hope everyone's having a great week, and I'll talk to you soon!