Sunday, August 23, 2009

Sunken California

Your Weekend Listening • 8.23.09
Monterey • 1999

The sound of a band not quite gelling, while at the same time not knowing what it was that they had. Edz, Rick and I played together for roughly two full years, and there wasn't ever a point where the three of us were on the same page as to what it was that we wanted to do together. This fractured identity wasn't helped by the fact that when the band started, I wasn't even sure what instrument I was going to be playing. When Rick joined, I was jumping back and forth between bass, keys and guitar, little realizing both how that would look to this new player and also not recognizing that this was evidence of my own inability to settle on a 'sound' for the band.

When I first met Rick at a party in South Orange - via mutual friend John Nora - Edz and I were deep in the thick of two simultaneous projects - doing multi-track demos of the material we'd been working on together (a full album example of which can be found here) and trying to find a guitar player so that we could have a real, functioning band. The handful of auditions we'd had up to that point were - to say the least - dispiriting. Little did I know that the search for a guitar player would be the ultimate hallmark of the band that became Copper Man.

At any rate, the above is one reason why I was not tied to any one instrument when Rick joined. I'd come out of Lizard Music being seriously tired of playing keys, and (as noted in the above linked entry), I was really enjoying playing guitar at that point. Curiously, this is happening now as well, which may be a result of me putting together these Weekend Listening entries. Although an all-Zeppelin jam I had just yesterday with me struggling on Page's guitar and Plant's vocals may have me putting the guitar down and backing away, again.*

So, back in 1999, Rick basically said it'd be best if I didn't play guitar, and it made sense, so we cut my available musical options down to two. And for the sake of live shows - of which we played very, very few in the course of our two years as a band - I ultimately decided that the keys weren't worth it, so I mostly just stuck to bass. And if you think it's torture reading about my indecision, I'm sure it was that much worse actually playing in the band with my musical dithering.

The new Copper Man trio - then known as 'Analogue'** - fairly quickly generated an album's worth of material. The last real group of songs that my old Tascam really saw service for. Those songs were mostly of a kind, with about 70% of them written by myself, but with Rick's much more advanced arrangement ideas fleshing everything out in a way I'd never thought about before.

We also started to write as a unit, and that's where this week's entry came in - as an image of a band that had great potential and never found a way to realize it. 'Monterey' was based around a riff and pre-chorus change of mine, a verse change from Edz, and a chorus change from Rick (with myself writing the lyric and melody). The genius idea of turning the rhythm around in the verse was, of course, Rick's.

This is actually my preferred way of working these days - turning a set of band ideas into a workable song - but at the time, it was very new to me. It also started the practice of picking the title for the new jam from something at hand and then writing the lyric from there. In this case, a sweatshirt that Edz was wearing, advertising Monterey Beach.

In a sign of how much at cross-purposes we frequently were, I thought the song sounded Southern California-ish, and Rick thought it totally didn't sound Southern California-ish at all. Since we'd both spent time in Southern California - he in San Diego and myself in Diamond Bar - that may have just been a matter of perspective. But my take on the feel did deeply color my lyric and made me think of the song as a Beach Boys via Weezer number, as covered by King Crimson. To this day, Rick and I can disagree deeply about approaches to music, and we're at this point almost a decade removed from having played together. Curiously, it's Rick's beautifully anthemic guitar solo that really makes the thing sound SoCal to me - Weezer at their finest.

The lyric, I'll admit, I like a lot. It's pretty deeply encoded, so I'll try to unpack it for you as best I can.

Hangin' out.
Check out the Jet Moto
Parking down by the movies.
Stick around -
You're gonna pay for it.
They don't like you around here.1

Listen every word I say -
Lord knows, there's nothing wrong with you.2

I bring water from the mountains.
I bring flowers to the desert.
I bring sun and no accounting.
No accounting.
Noah counting.3

Monterey standing at the ocean.
Many streets open to the sea.
I will pray - I will do the talking.
I will say all that I have seen of this terrible life.

Drive around.
Such a nice day for it.
Take her out with the top down.
Never clouds.
Clear for the sun setting over the bay for the last time.4

Listen every word I say -
Lord knows, there's nothing wrong with you.

I bring fire from the mountain.
I bring power to the desert.
I bring war and an accounting.
An accounting.
Ana counting.5

Monterey falls into the ocean.
Every wave dissolves into the sea.
I will save - offer sanctuary.
On that day.
And I will pray for the ones who survive.

Listen every word I say.
Lord knows, there's nothing more to do.

I see strangers all around me.6

1) I lived in California for most of my tenth year, and it was pretty much an extended period of misery for me. It's the point in my life where I first gained weight, a physical manifestation of my allergic reaction to the California way of life. I felt deeply, deeply unlocked there by the majority of my peers, and school was just not a place where I fit in. Mostly, I felt that everyone my age was really trying to be much older, and I constantly felt like an out of place little kid. This was also coming from a period where I was always academically advanced in New York schools, and I still was placed in G&T programs in California, but my inability to get with it socially made me fall way behind in math and just come to hate school in general. Sadly, I never did catch up in math again, and even back in New York I carried both my new weight problem and loathing of school with me.

On the plus side, California was where I discovered video games big time, and they had arcades the likes of which we'll never see again. The Showboat was a particular favorite, three stories high of now-vintage, then-new classics. California was the first time in my life I'd been at liberty, and Showboat and Chuck 'E' Cheese were the places Iibertied to, in addition to movie theaters.

The 'Jet Moto' referred to here is a video game that wasn't introduced until the late 90's, so I've retroactively added it to the 1980 arcade scene. It seemed to fit better than 'Lunar Lander' or 'Battle Zone,' two of the actual games I wasted quarters on.

2) As you can gather from the above, California was where I really started to hate myself. This is the voice of either my greater self or an imagined God, telling the younger me not to judge myself by the standards of those around me, especially when those around me were so different from what I'd previously been accustomed to. This is meant both straight and with heavy sarcasm.

3) This is where the song gets interesting for me; moving away from abstracted remembrance to a hint of biblical imagery. All of Los Angeles and the surrounding areas were carved from the desert by aqueducts and power plants. Man labors to create a sunny paradise, with green grass and all - literally altering God's creation. There will be repayment, as 'Noah' - the narrator starts to think of himself as a literal prophet - sees a new flood coming, ironically also bringing water to the desert.

4) No longer our narrator, now an average (upper middle class) Californian, image from a Beach Boys song of a convertible with a girl and the beach. But the sun setting 'over the bay for the last time' can't be good. This image in particular is lifted from Carl Sagan's Cosmos, with a reference to the end of the sun's main life cycle, and 'one last perfect day' before the sun swells into a red giant and destroys all life on Earth. The song's apocalypse isn't quite so global.

5) The Santa Ana winds. I had to throw that in. Most likely a lift from Steely Dan, here.

6) This last image is meant both ways - the crowd of survivors meeting the future together, and getting back out of the narrator's imagined disaster and into the real world, where we find again just a socially awkward boy who can't connect in any way with his peers. I'm not sure why, but I've always found this closing refrain to be weirdly optimistic, perhaps acknowledging that the boy has found a way to let down his guard and meet the world at least halfway.


*Maybe people are wondering here why I inflict others with my guitar playing when I think it's the weakest of my musical skills? Three reasons: 1) sitting behind the Rhodes is physically and occasionally musically isolating yourself from the rest of the band, a feeling I've always felt and is in no way what it's like to be behind a drum kit, which is frequently the center of the musical action; 2) I started to write on guitar in college to deliberately get away from the twinkly crap I came up with on piano, and guitar is my preferred writing tool to this day. It's much more pleasurable to bounce ideas around in a band context on guitar than on keys - even if my musical vocabulary is more limited on the former than the latter; and 3) I can't really sing that well while playing keys. I don't know if it's because I'm physically constricted while sitting or because the added musical complexity of my keyboard parts takes away from concentrating on my vocals, I can actually sort of sing on guitar, but on keys I sound lame, pitchy and strained.

**Both names, btw, coined by Rick. We probably would have stuck with 'Analogue' were it not for the booker at (the now defunct) Brownies, who asked us if we were the 'Analogue,' and was not just disappointed but outright pissy that we weren't.


Ans said...

Always loved that Analogue lineup.. Some of my favourite material of yours...

Dave Kopperman said...

I didn't really cover it in this entry, but I've always felt that a big mistake in the 'Analogue' era was not getting a studio recording out of it and not pressing for more shows. Rick was opposed to both, and I really was at his mercy in those decisions.