Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Cover of the Week 4

When I was maybe 19, just into college, a friend told me all about these cool new kids she had met in her apartment complex in Charlestown (a neighborhood of Boston). Or maybe she met them at a party or something. But they were students at Berklee College of Music and in this great band called the Blake Babies. She gave me their tape and I recall loving the fresh indie DIY pop with a little aggressive edge. The guitar player John Strohm played in an early version of the Lemonheads and lent the edge. Freda Love played drums and a very groovy (literally) style, very relaxed in the pocket. And Juliana Hatfield sang and played bass. (Edit: not guitar, thanks to Paul for pointing out my error).

Like most indie rock/post-punk boys, I was enthralled with her voice, lyrics, and melodies. It is not by accident that they named one of their collections Innocence & Experience, another allusion William Blake, I assume.

Of course, most of you have long heard of the Blakes and Juliana. Buffalo Tom went on to play a ton of local shows with them starting out, and the toured the US early on in both of our careers. Then Juliana and I traded off opening solo for different shows over the years - me opening solo for her and her band about 6 years ago or so in the midwest and out on the west coast and her opening solo for BT most recently.

It is during those most recent dates, in L.A. and in San Francisco in 2007, that Juliana joined our mutual hero, Paul Westerberg in a "Buffalo Tom gets snubbed by a guest vocalist to help with the Blondie song, 'Dreaming' during the encore" sort of infamy.

Many of you have heard me tell this chilling tale. Perhaps some of you were even present during that dark night in Toronto back in 1988. Buffalo Tom -- why, we were just young lads, peach fuzz on our chins, fresh from wearing out our Replacements and Husker Du records, when we walked into Lee's Palace. At some point, Chris Colbourn came up to me and nervously told me Paul Westerberg was up at the bar. Chris chatted with him a bit about the Replacements, told him we were fans (obviously), and asked him if he would join us for a song. I recall that he was non-committal about it. Anyway, we played our set. I was pretty excited to have Paul W. there, even if by chance he had to split early.

Well, when it came time for an encore (it did happen occasionally), I addressed a vague spot out in the center of the gathered throng, saying "I think we might have a special guest," or words to that affect. I paused, scanning the audience. Nary an ex-Replacement to be seen. But I could tell that some in the audience knew he was there (or had been there). Some of them were nodding encouragingly to me, wide-eyed. I might have invited him once more. But then, shrugging my shoulders, I said something like, "Oh well, maybe if we start the song, if he's still here he can join us." So we started the song, "Dreaming," a song I always loved, was easy to play, and I could see being in Paul's wheelhouse, having seen him sing a ton of covers over the years.

We got all the way through the song without anyone joining us. We assumed he had just taken off. But we had a good time that night. Those were the sleeping-on-floors, driving-the-big blue van, hiding-the-contraband days. Now we have gorgeous supermodel groupies chauffeur us in Rolls Royce limos (hybrids) to the local Four Seasons where we ingest same contraband directly off of the various body parts of the supermodels. But you knew that already.

Months or even a year later in London, we had our actual groupie (yes, there was one and only one and if you have seen Mel in Flight of the Conchords, you should know we have a lawsuit against the show for the lifting of that particular element from our career) approach us with something in her hand. She said, "Oh, someone wanted me to give you this note." She handed it to me and I unfolded it. It read, "Dear Buffalo Tom, Sorry about 'Dreaming.' Paul Westerberg."

It seems she was also one of his groupies and the subject of BT must have come up. He told her to give us this note. I forget the details but I believe he was still at Lee's Palace when we played the song after all, as opposed to someone just telling him about it afterward. (G -- if you're still out there and reading this, sorry I refer to you as "a groupie." If you have another suggestion for a more accurate/politically correct term, let us know. It has been many, many years.)

I know that Juliana holds Mr. Westerberg in similarly high regard. Perhaps this is the reason she reneged on her promise to come out and do "Dreaming" with us in L.A. (or San Francisco, I forget which night came first) even though we actually went over the song with her in soundcheck.; it must have been an homage to him. Or maybe she just took a look at us stumbling around the stage in various stages of lubricity and figured she best hightail it outta there before she got dragged down along with us. Either way, it does not explain the second night in a row that she decided against it. Well, one gets one's feelings hurt when such things happen. Our poor little drummer, Tommy, still has moments of sudden and unexplained tearbursts. The parental look that Chris and I give each other in such moments quickly transforms from befuddlement to one of mutual dawning, recognition that the scar has not yet fully healed. Perhaps it was a double homage to Paul, we tell him. An "homage block party weekend."

Or maybe the damned song is just cursed for us. But those that were in El Rey that night in L.A. did get to see the magnanimous Kay Hanley join us for the song without having any idea she was coming up to sing. What a sport! And she saved the show, as far as it was able to be salvaged.

A handful of you have requested it. You know the request rule. So here it is, along with a little medley into a Stones song. All things seem to end up there in the Stones cul-de-sac for me. Somehow I have managed to pay respect to Paul W. twice in the 2 or 3 weeks of these covers. Sit back, it is epic.

And, as a wise man once said, "sorry about 'Dreaming.'"


Dreaming MP3

Janovitz, Bill -- Guitar, piano, vocals. I didn't want you to think it was someone that knows how to play piano for real mangling the part.

My allmusic.com review of Till The Next Goodbye (from way back).

Here is me if had been in the early Stones. Clearly, I'm running out of Photo Booth ideas.


camille said...

,ok, so, maybe it's the cocktails, but i don't have many comments on the entire post, which was interesting to read, no doubt, but well, not relevant to me. however, the blondie cover certainly is. i nearly worshipped debbie harry when i was about 15 and listened to parallel lines until it was burned into my memory. 11:59 is still one of my favorite songs EVA. i saw blondie at the wollman skating rink in central park before it was turned was into an actual skating rink (or returned to, I don't know). tickets were $5 a seat and you had to wait on line all day long on memorial day weekend to get tickets for the show you wanted, but it was SO worth it. great cover, i love it, bill, and thanks for the memory!

Dougie said...

Thanks for these wonderful little shared moments, Bill! Haven't posted before, but have been listening. I thought my luck had changed when BT did another record, but this is wonderful! :P

Alden said...

AWESOME! I loved reading this post. What a walk down memory lane. Loved the Blake Babies, as well as all of the various projects John, Freda and Juliana.

I remember seeing Buffalo Tom with Juliana opening is late 2000 at Slim's in San Francisco. I remember watching you guys play "Late at Night" and remembering hearing the song/seeing the band for the first time on "My So-Called Life." Apologize in advance if that brings up a crunchy sort of memory, but I actually really liked the show at the time. So when I saw the show advertised at Slim's with both BT and Juliana Hatfield, I immediately ran out and bought my ticket...for $14 (I'll post a photo of my ticket on Facebook)! Good memories of that show.

Saw the Blakes on their reunion tour years ago at the Great American Music Hall, which is the same place I saw BT last year. Love that venue, hope to see BT there again sometime in the future.

All of the covers have been outstanding...but this one's now my favorite! Thanks Bill!

Jason Blumklotz said...

Not really sure how I haven't ever heard the Blondie song before. Beautiful rendition, plus the story makes it that much better. Til The Next Time... is one of those great songs that just doesn't get enough love kinda "I don't know why" by Stevie.


Paul Daddario said...

As always, the prose is excellent and the song is quite good; This one has a nice production value to it, perhaps the nice piano nestled in the background- lending to the ethereal "dreamlike" quality, or perhaps the background vocals- seamless switches between unison and harmony parts. You have a nice little collection of songs building, and I hope these posts and covers continue for quite a while...

Kevin said...

Bill-can these be downloaded for the Mac platform? Keep up the good work! Kevin

Rich said...

Thanks for this and all the covers, Bill. I'm late to the party; never saw y'all live but stumbled across BT somewhere and became a late "groupie". Nice to see BT, Blake Babies, Replacements, Westerberg and a hint of Mysteries of Life (Frieda referehce) show up all in one post!


Mike P said...

Kevin -
I've been downloading them on my Mac, but it was tricky to figure out.

In the player window, click on "DivShare" and it will take you to a separate page that has the player and links to other songs. On the right side of that page, there's a link that says "Download Original."

Click that, skip the ad, and that will start the download.

Bill Janovitz said...

Sorry, not sure how the platform makes a difference. I only use Mac and have no problems. But the downloads have a quota on them from Divshare. I may have to upgrade or move them to another server. Someone made an offer to host them in one of these comment sections. I think Kevin G. also has a server. We'll cross that bridge later.

Thanks, everyone, for the comments.

Randy Reichardt said...

Bill, thanks again for this latest CotW. I'm struck by the superb quality of the sound; you must have a great studio in your home. I love the mix with the piano, which adds depth and foundation to the song. How many tracks did you use? I count at least four - guitar, two voices, piano.

I saw Juliana Hatfield when she came through Edmonton on a cold winter's night many years ago. It was a really good show. And I am always embarrassed admit that I discovered my two favorite 80s bands, the 'Mats and Hüsker Dü, in the early 1990s. I finally saw Bob Mould for the first time this year, in San Fran in March, with full band. Incredible.

Still on my list of top favorite and important artists I've yet to see perform: Buffalo Tom/Crown Vic/Show People. Someday, someday...

I noticed the Mark Sandman Music Project today on FB and was thinking of making a donation there. Would that be an acceptable charity to support as part of the CotW effort? It sounds like such a great idea.

William said...


I love the combination of the piano, guitar, and harmonies. I have always loved BT. Keep up the good work. Been listening to the Crown Vic disc alot lately. Thanks for the gift of your music and sharing it with the folks who love to hear you sing just about anything.

Paul Janovitz said...

Didn't Juliana play bass in the Babies?? I remember seeing her do so at least once.

patrick said...

What a great cover! thanks. I'll be checking here regularly. Patrick (a Belgian BT-fan)

MaineDave said...

Thanks for the tunes Bill. Keep 'em coming. Bracing for another storm up here.

GG said...

Groupie? How very unsavoury. Think I was more like some freakish band mascot, only w/ the pep factor dialled down really, really low. Woo... But shucks, you guys always made me feel like bona fide bovine family.... I mean, heck yeah, like a maladjusted foster sibling, dangling outta the Buffy T family tree, all sullen + fractious. Fun times...

Another wise man said that God is in the details. It's yr anecdotage, so sing it how ya likes, buddy, but my version has a deal less dazed Westerberg groupiedom + a little more civillized post-gig chitchat as he enquires in a gentlemanly manner as to my social engagements for the next evening. Replacements in Leeds? Alas, I am duty bound, as official #1 Tom-botherer, to go plague you lucky people instead, w/ my signature naive burblings + random yelps for attention, at the Borderline. Solo acoustic set from yr goodly self, 'cause the big show clashed w/ the 'Mats' I'm at.

So then Mr Westerberg tells all about the Palace gig - how tore up he felt, after, for the letdown, but he couldn't make it to the stage before you set to playing. And right then, watching you crazy kids do such a goshdarn, kickass job of Dreaming, all on yr pretty little ownsomes, he didn't have the heart to get up there + try to steal yr thunder. Wanted to listen to the song. No snub, just a gesture of respect, + no time left to explain.

Now maybe that was true, or maybe a way for him to soothe the pain of yr disappointment, but whichever - his huge apology was absolutely heartfelt. Made me promise + swear a whole heap that the next night, I'd make you play the Blondie song, gave me the note + said, "Tell them it's from a friend."

So I did. I said "This is from a friend", with hushed tone + enigmatic smile. (Okay, that lastest tiny part's possibly fiction, but jeez, did ya have to make me sound quite so vacant?)
The note said (trust me on this) : Forgive me for "Dreaming".
Made a four word apology sound like a whole damn Irving Berlin musical.
And that's why he's Paul Westerberg.

Playing at the Borderline, you introduced it as a request from a friend, through a friend. So if it's okay w/ you, I'll take 'friend' over 'groupie'. Just 'til the song ends.
Happy trails. x

P.S. Feel free to trash this once you read it, 'cause I'm pretty sure no one will miss it. xx

Gilday said...

That was one of the best stories I've ever read...I can't put my finger on why, but it is.


Max said...

Did you keep the note?

Bill Janovitz said...

Ah ha! One Longlost groupie, Gabrielle (forgive ME for dreaming -- that we had a groupie). I have not been monitoring comments past a day or three after the post. I will need to go back and check through them. G, write me and let me know where you been! And thanks for the clarification. My mind has not completely gone in my old age!.

Anonymous said...

This is my second favorite track so far......

I was also a HUGE Blondie fan at 15...that band just captured my idea of what Rock was in NYC, late night and raw and spoke of the daytime in dreams....mixing it with the Stones I thought was kind of muddying it UNTIL you kicked in the "dreaming" refrain at the end and tied it all together....very nice.....and I liked how you made it ROCK but be quiet and introspective and life as seen from the otherside of 30.....


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