Sunday, February 8, 2009

Cover of the Week 15

See, this is that this Cover of the Week project is good for. Here I am, Sunday night, was out until 3 last night playing at Toad, worked all day today at the day job, home for dinner and a pummeling from my 4 year-old dude (boys are way more punishing than their sisters on old fellas like me), my voice rough from the previous multi-set night, a couple of glasses of wine and the couch. That would usually be the end of it. It was a long week and I have another busy one coming up, so I knew I had to get this week’s installment of my little self-assignment going if I was not going to lose any momentum.

When Buffalo Tom first went on a tour, it was 1989 and it was in Europe. Until we got there, we couldn’t fully comprehend that there were people who listened to our music over there. It actually started to happen for us overseas -- in the UK, Holland, Belgium, and Germany – before we even started being able to headline clubs in Boston. They were gobbling up pre-grunge-era indie label American guitar rock in these countries. We hit the road for a six-week tour that took us all over the continent and England. It was a quick lesson in the extreme highs and lows of being in a band on the road, playing in foreign countries, carousing, having a blast every night, walking the streets of new cities every day. But it was also a long time to be away from home, the longest I had ever been away, and I was homesick and trying to hold together a serious relationship at its early stages with the woman who became my wife. And the band was also dealing with the extreme closeness of each other in the squalid confines of cheap hotels, crowded vans, phallic-graffiti-strewn cold dressing rooms, hangovers, lack of sleep, and basically just learning about our own and each other’s individual personality features and failings in the highly unnatural test-tube rock-tour lab.

But the highs were exhilarating, all experienced for the first time: our first festival set; first time in all these countries; first time headlining in clubs to hundreds of people who knew our songs; and the first time seeing real press attention in anything, never mind big national weeklies like NME, Melody Maker, Spin, and so on. Getting taken seriously in interviews and seeing thoughtful and at-times glowing reviews was extremely encouraging. All the bands that were from our particular era and milieu were going through the same sorts of experiences. We had known about such friends as Dinosaur, Lemonheads and bands we loved like the Pixies and Throwing Muses going overseas and coming back to Fort Apache studio with exciting tales from the road about the level of enthusiasm and how well they were treated.

One of, if not the single most important and immediate influence on Buffalo Tom was the band Husker Du. I was still a kid in high school when I first heard them. I had been obsessed with REM, Talking Heads, Clash, Elvis Costello, Buzzcocks, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen and other song-oriented artists. It was a natural progression from my days growing up listening to classic rock and pop. Many of the bands I listened to, even the punk bands like X and the Gun Club, were rooted in traditional American music. I appreciated the continuum and aspired to that. I enjoyed going to see and have a laugh at shows from Flipper and such Cali punk. But very little Boston, D.C. and other sort of suburban hardcore did anything for me. It was really what made me feel closed-minded musically for the first time in my life. I needed some melody. And I also liked soul and this stuff just lacked any semblance of boogie. But I felt like a lot of my friends were hearing something in the fast, loud, non-melodic rat-a-tat of some of these bands. It just wasn’t my thing. I would rather grow out my bangs, put on some flannel and paisley and mumble some impressionistic lyrics over folky electric melodies like Michael Stipe or Boston’s Neats. I guess I was more of a romantic than an anarchist. Not sure where I fall on that spectrum nowadays.

The first band to make sense of hardcore for me was Husker Du. I got Zen Arcade while still in high school. The band had been drifting away from their more straight-up loud-fast-rules hardcore for a few records. This record was a sprawling double-LP set of youthful angst and alienation played through most of the set with a primal urgency and reckless abandon (the record was completed in a few days, I recall). But there were truly pretty moments of almost quietude – a piano vignette here, a meditative feedback squall there. And one of the prettiest melodies on the record is song called “Pink Turns to Blue,” sung by Grant Hart and set to a driving attack from the band. It was the perfect record for a high school kid like me, lyrically and musically. Probably a lot like Born to Run was for kids a little older than me, and how the Hold Steady, another great Minneapolis band, might be for a kid hip to that sort of thing now, songs about fearing life in a dead-end suburb, factory jobs, drug abuse, broken homes, inability to keep young relationships together – in other words, complex emotional subjects that were far different than the didactic coldness of most hardcore.

But of course, this meant that Husker Du was no longer “hardcore.” This was fine for me, even as I went back and delved into their more raw early records. But it was Zen Arcade, New Day Rising, and Candy Apple Gray, which form one of those classic mid-career trifectas for me and many more like me, including Chris and Tom from Buffalo Tom. Our shared love for these records was one of the main impetuses for bringing us together to form a band.

So you can imagine how excited we were when Grant Hart named our first record as his favorite of the year for NME or one of the British weeklies. “Giddy” might be the word. And you can further understand my thrill when, on one of those late-night post-gig phone calls home from a telephone booth somewhere in the streets of England, my girlfriend told me to guess who called me at out apartment in Boston. Just tell me, I said. Grant Hart, she said. You gottabefuckingkiddingme.

“No, he was very nice,” she said. “We chatted for a long time. He’s a fan of the band and just wanted to talk.”

I don’t really remember much beyond that. I am sure I went back to tell Chris and Tom. I will have to see if they have any recollection. But over the years, we got to meet Grant, saw him play various shows in Boston with the Nova Mob. I still have never met Bob or Greg. We had the honor of having Grant play some solo sets with Buffalo Tom not too, too long ago, in Chicago and at First Ave. in Minneapolis. I think I got him to sing “Diane” with me. I even drove around his home city with him during that little string of dates, in some old bomber of a sedan. He’s a good guy with a big heart, though I can’t pretend to know him much more than that. But if you had told me when I was a senior in Medfield High that I would even have this much to tell you, I would have been dazzled.

One of those major-impact songs on me, as a writer, a singer, a guitarist, in founding a band, and just as a plain old music fan is my Cover of the Week this week, from Candy Apple Gray, “Hardly Getting Over It.” I played this acoustic-driven ballad to death when I got this album. Those suspended folk-rock chords – pretty much the basis of all songs I wrote for Buffalo Tom. Please excuse my gig-worn voice and relative lack of inventiveness with this one. It is simply a lovely song that needs only to be played simply.

Hardly Getting Over It Mp3

My allmusic.com review from the turn of the century.

10 comments:

Randy Reichardt said...

OMFG...Bill - please forgive me for responding right away to CotW 15, but I am almost in tears (of joy). This is one of my Top 5 HD songs ever. Even though I discovered Hüsker Dü after they broke up, this song always resonated with me. I was in a local band called The Flicks, and one night in 1990 we had finished a rehearsal and were sitting upstairs in the apartment of the husband and wife guitarist and lead singer. This song came on, I had had one or two drinks, and the song transported me away somewhere. I had to know what the chords were, and realized I was being transfixed by that B note over the C chord (the Major 7th) playing metronomically at the end of each line. Maybe hypnotizing is a better word to use. I had to hear it two more times before the other band members said no more, play something else.

I can't believe you are asking us to excuse your voice and the laid back phrasing of the song - both are great, especially given your previous 24 hours of activity! Your voice has a smoky, late-night feel to it. Please, you are doing such a favour for us with these CotW offerings, no need to apologize for your effort!

During that early 1990s grunge time, Grant Hart come through with Nova Mob to play at our campus pub, Ratt (Room At The Top). It was a small, intimate show, and afterwards he held court with a bunch of us who stayed around to listen to him tell stories. A very memorable evening, and he was very gracious to us with his time and tales of rock.

I whine about not being able to see your shows because I live 7 light years from Boston, but tonight I pulled out the Rainsong after hearing 10 seconds of this CotW, and have just finished jamming with you for about 15 minutes. What a wonderful way to end the weekend. Thanks for putting me into such a great mood!

I'd be very curious to know which Buff T songs you feel might have been the most heavily influenced by songs like this. I'm thinking Taillights, among others. I play that C with the D (pinky finger) all the time, and tend to make a G chord with the same fingering.

Finally, I hope you do not mind my lengthy responses to each Cover. I am overwhelmed by your generosity to those of us following you on your blog, and it is important to me to thank you for each effort. Maybe one time I'll just write, "Thanks Bill". Probably not, but you never know.

Have a great week, and thanks again.

- Randy, back to jamming...

GG said...

Mmmm, Hüskery goodness... Had you down for this, else maybe '2541'. I only ever caught the first Nova Mob tour. Grant Hart kinda shambled awkwardly onstage looking like a housepainter turned up at the wrong address, but soon as he started to sing it whooshed into one of those moments where God parts the dusty clouds + reveals the glories of the heavens. Just beautiful.
So anyhow, cheers for choosing the melancholy option. I cried like a girl. x

Kay Hanley said...

Bill -

A couple of things spring to mind for me:

1. Candy Apple Grey is one of my favorite records of all time. I'm gonna give that one a spin today.

2. I could easily recount a similar tale about the first time I met Bill Janovitz, one of my top rock + roll idol/crushes and he had actually heard of my band!!

3. You are an excellent writer - can't wait to read more.

Kay

Jeff said...

Nice job. I have the remastered CD's for Zen and New Day, but I think I have "Candy Apple Gray" on original vinyl. I recently unearthed my vinyl copies of "Signals, Calls and Marches" and "London Calling", so maybe it's in with them.

In any case, I was listening to Sugar's "Copper Blue" on Sunday (after night 1 of the Rez). I think you could crush "Fortune Teller" or "A Good Idea".

Of course, what I'd really, really like to hear is some Replacements; either "Alex Chilton" or "Kiss me on the bus" (for Valentine's Day). I listened to those on Sunday, too.

The highlight of night 1 for me was "Roadrunner". You hit a Manny over the Monster, over Lansdowne St blast on that one. See you this week!

Bill Janovitz said...

Thanks all, and especially Ms. Kay for such a sweet little post.

will said...

Nice choice, Bill. And what - no love for Flip Your Wig? As you and I discussed once, that was the album that got me into Husker Du. My roommate at the time was blasting Flexible Flyer, and I put away my Dead bootlegs and began to pay attention.

Bill Janovitz said...

Plumb forgot about Flip Your Wig. Very good one. Would I put it up there with the other three? Hmmm not sure. Probably not. In fact, "Never Talking to You Again" from Zen Arcade came on random today and boy o boy did it send me on a little high. Great harmonies on that one.

Greg King said...

I was listening to Sleepy-Eyed on the bus into work this morning and found myself musing on trying to nail down exactly what is was about Buffalo Tom's music that always seemed to just grab hold of me and just not let go. I really couldn't nail down what it was and just chalked it up to some intangible thing.

Listening this morning also prompted me to check out the blog, since I hadn't done so in a couple of weeks. There, at the end of this weeks entry, was my answer.

"Those suspended folk-rock chords – pretty much the basis of all songs I wrote for Buffalo Tom."

"Hardly Getting Over It" is one of my all-time favorite Husker Du songs also. I followed pretty much the same path to them as you Bill (though probably a year or so later, I didn't pick up Zen Arcade until just after graduation in 1985) and they soon cemented themselves as one of my all-time favorite bands. Bob Mould's guitar-playing was an absolutely huge part of stoking my own desire to learn to play and I am constantly trying to emulate (with little success) his sound.

Thanks for sharing all of these covers with us, this one especially.

Greg

Earthdog70 said...

Great job Bill-I think you are inching a little closer to that Naked Raygun cover I know you have in you!

courtney said...

Bill, what a great post, and I'm enjoying your blog tremendously. I find it simply AMAZING, however, that you, local rock royalty, have never met Bob, whereas I, lowly local rock fan, have managed this feat several times. He's actually quite easy to meet; just go up and say, hi.

Thanks for this cover, and all the rest of the music over the years.