Sunday, July 20, 2008


Your Weekend Listening • 7/19/08
Ergotism • June, 1996

Firstly, apologies for the unbelievably lo-fi quality of the recording. That's becuase this was committed to ethnographic record on a field archival trip by Alan Lomax when I was living out in a shack in western Mississippi in the late Spring of 1928, and the only way we could get power to his wire recording machine was to run a line out of his Hudson truck battery, into a single pole Echo IV-2 mic.

Ha, ha. I fucking kid. Actually, I have to confess some serious annoyance at the quality of this recording, because you'd never guess it was put together in the priciest studio I've ever recorded in. And the major source of annoyance is that somewhere out there is a perfectly clear mixdown of this, and chances are good I'll never get my hands on it.

See, this song was my last minute desperate attempt to get a composition of mine into the full-month sessions that were booked for the Lizard Music album. I won't go into depressing detail about it, but suffice it to say that this wasn't the most approved-of use of our studio time. Nor was I allowed use of the band, so I ended up doing a solo recording (save for some very nice backing vocals from Erik and Chris) in as short a time as I could muster. Which is all fine and good, except that the point of being in a band is to be able to avail yourself of the arrangement and performance skills that reside in the band as a whole. Sadly, Ergotism as multi-tracked by me is only proof that I wasn't ready for prime time. Which may have been the point.

The only history you need to know is that I had desperately hoped to be welcomed as a songwriter in the fold of the band, and came to the realization slowly - due to the incredibly dysfunctional communication among the members - that it wasn't ever going to happen, and I was just there to shut up and play.

I certainly can't defend Ergotism as a lost work of genius on my part, but I find that upon hearing it for the first time in about a decade, I still rather like the overwhelming sense of melancholy that comes from one of the saddest extended periods of my life.

I invite you to look up the meaning of the title. One of those cases where I would get obsessed with a word or concept and found myself compelled to fold in into a creative piece, whether or not I could really bring it home. I definitely didn't here, but I guess I own the name, seeing as how no-one else ever got the brilliant idea to use it. A fairly straightforward portrait of the regret that follows the true end of a relationship.

About the only compositional thing that bugs me is the use of the phrase, 'a candle I forgot to put out,' which strikes me as somehow (if such a term applies) lyrically inaccurate. But the whole thing was a rush job, a quick attempt to write and arrange a song that I could pull off in an acoustic context in the limited time available.

None of which really annoys me - frankly, I was asking for too much to be afforded any use of the studio's resources, and I'm amazed and grateful that I was able to pull even a couple of hours out of the full month of sessions. The thing that does annoy me is that when I asked for a dupe of the CD master of the full recordings, the bass player (who lived in a group house at the time and decided to dupe my copy late at night) gradually kept turning the output sound to the tape lower and lower over the course of the dub that by the end, there's more noise than signal.

Perhaps perversely, Ergotism, which is 28 out of 28 tracks on the tape, is quieter than any track before it, by a very wide margin.

It's episodes like this - fighting for a small bit of respect and not even getting that in the end - that made me realize that the only way I could function musically was to head up my own project, for better or worse. Even if the music I made outside of Lizard Music was never at the same level of invention or tunefulness as what was being produced by that remarkable band, at least I would be able to hear my contribution.

Curiously - or not - it turns out that I'm the only Lizard Music alum who hasn't gone on to a decent career in music. The member I replaced went on to play keys with Wilco; the leader is now the bassist with Cat Power, and the rhythm section each went on to play in somewhat successful acts. Someday, when the history of alternative music is written, I hope to be a footnote somewhere to that effect.

Let none of the above suggest that I regret my time in the band - I loved the music and learned a lot. And I strongly recommend the band's three albums - particularly the two without me. The band's chief songwriter, Erik Papparozzi, had a truly distinct and genius voice, the rhythm section was truly on fire, and Mike - the one I replaced on keys - brought a real sense of jangly modality to the proceedings that's the exact kind of sound that I enjoy. Track down Fashionably Lame, or Lobster T, if you can.

Or heck, just ask me. I'll be happy to burn you a copy.



Anonymous said...

What's with the sound quality?

Is this the song you did with them? I remember another one...

Anonymous said...

You're timing was wrong on that whole deal..

Anonymous said...

But then again, it didn't matter in the end anyway.. It was Erik's show and that band was doomed break up anyway.. The drummer despised him with a fury I've never seen before.. except in myself with certain people.. and Mike already had two feet out the door and Chris was just a big pussy...

Dave Kopperman said...

Somewhere in the above entry is the reason the sound quality is so poor, but the gist is that this bad cassette dub from the CD master is all I have.

I don't think I ever did a song of mine with the band - in my entire time with them (over a year) - we didn't play a Dave composition with the band. Everything had to be approved by Erik, and he really just kept dangling that carrot. I do recall that he told Bran point blank "It's never gonna happen," but you'd have to confirm that with Bran.

Eventually, I got the point - one particular practice comes to mind, when we started rehearsing the post Dear Champ material, and Buxton started to play a new song that he and Erik had written, and Erik looked at me nervously and said, oh, that's not ready yet.

Oh. Got it.

Not sure what you mean with my timing being wrong...?

Well, I REPLACED Mike, so not only was he heading out the door, the door had closed and locked itself behind him. The rest of the band seemed pretty bitter about it, I have to say.


Anonymous said...

Yeah right.. Ive forgotten so much now.. Forgot that you were in the band a year.. I don't think I ever realized that until you just told me now..

Yeah Erik basically has always been a fucking asshole.. just bad vibes.. the last time I saw him he was such a horrific putz.. it was unbeliveable..

Dave Kopperman said...

I actually do like Erik, and certainly admire him - but he was just a completely dysfunctional band leader. I don't think he's an asshole, though. He's just one of those people who views the world in terms of people who can do things for him, and people who can't, and if you're in the latter category, he really doesn't know how to deal with you.

Speaking of assholes: the reason you don't remember the length of time I played in Lizard Music is that you never came to see us perform live while I was with the band, yo.


Anonymous said...

To me that's the definition of an asshole..

As for me being an asshole for never seeing you live..

I accept your condemnation.

"He's just one of those people who views the world in terms of people who can do things for him, and people who can't, and if you're in the latter category, he really doesn't know how to deal with you."

Dave Kopperman said...

I won't say I think it's a great way to be - Lord knows, I use Erik's behavior in this regard as an example of how not to treat other people. But - and this is going to sound odd - I don't really hold it against him, because a) it's just part of who he is, and b) I honestly think he doesn't know any other way to be.

An Erik anecdote that perhaps sheds light on all this: he once asked me what my father did for a living, and I replied, 'oh, the real advanced type topology math stuff that you wouldn't get.' And Erik got genuinely pissed at that, snipping right back (in a deeply wounded and sarcastic tone), 'oh, I wouldn't get it.'


Anonymous said...

Yeah exactly.. like he WOULD get it or something..

He's got everyone beat in the ego department..

Hes a total douchebag, I don't care who knows what I think.. If you were there the last time we saw him.. you would know what Im talking about..

dodo said...

Not your best song, but surprising you could produce anything under those circumstances

Personally, I think you brought a lot to that album 'phanton toll booth' , 'sketchy angel' 'we are the egrets' all of that shit had a lot to do with your influence on the boards...

Erik is a great musician, but he never made it with his own stuff... WIth all his connections, and shmoozing and interpersonal skill and UNBEATABLE stagemanship and showmanship, he was just never able to make it to that next level, and it really doesn't surprise me all that much, as the same undefinable 'whatever' that lacks in his music lacks in HIM as well as a person...

I think we never made it for completely different reasons, chief among them horrible social skills, bad luck, an unwillingness to release anything remotely commercial, and just a bad fucking attitude..

I do give erik props for continuing to do what he wants to do, and making a living at it.. I also admire his unabashedness, and complete lack of guilt in how he treats people, or takes advantage of them..

dodo said...

One quick ironic note... One of the few shows I busted my ass to get in on time from LA to catch at Brownies, was the one you chose to not show up to!!...

Dave Kopperman said...

Was that show at Brownies? I recalled it as being at Webster Hall (not the main room). On the other hand, I wasn't there, so my memory is questionable at best.

Yeah, dropping out of that show - and the band - the afternoon of is not one of my prouder moments. In my defense, one of my reasons for not continuing with the band was that there were sets where I didn't play on something like half of the songs, so I figured (correctly) that they could easily play a show without me. The keys in that band - a dual-guitar five-piece - were pretty much an afterthought, anyhow.

Ergotism is pretty weak. I think there's a good song in there somewhere, but I lacked the ability to bring it out on my own, and no-one was going to help me do so. It was a foregone conclusion that it wasn't ever going to be a Lizard Music song in everyone's mind but my own.

Honestly? I think the reason Erik's music never found a broader audience was because he didn't want it to. Writing a direct lyric with identifiable emotional content or a song with a straightforward structure really wasn't his 'thing.'