Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Portrait of the artist as a young alt-rocker


Oh, my mis-spent youth.

I'm afraid it's time to inflict upon you (once again) some of the music I wrote when I was but a wee lad. (In this case, a wee lad of 19.)

Complaints regarding the following should be directed at one Mr. Darren O'Neill, an old friend and musical associate, who recently dug the below recording out of his own files (thus reminding me that this music even existed).

The year was 1988. I was living in Pittsburgh, attending Carnegie Mellon University for the first year of my undergraduate career. I would drop out by the summer, ending up at Berklee in the fall.

Ah, Carnegie Mellon. I initially made a brave attempt to "succeed at college" (whatever "succeeding at college" means). But halfway through that first year, haunted by a deep existential confusion over what I really wanted to do with my life (or, perhaps more accurately, how to do what I really wanted to do with my life), I succumbed to a vampire-like existence, sleeping all day and staying awake all night, and only making it to class, well, once in a while.

(And by the way, while I was at Carnegie Mellon, someone painted a crime-scene-esque body outline at the base of a five- or six-story stairwell in the computer science building. It was an image I could relate to.)

Alas, most of my CMU friends (we all lived in the same dorm, and collectively referred to ourselves as "Monkey Pus") went through the same transformation (from relatively innocent high schoolers to anti-social ne'er-do-wells). Like me, many of them would drop out of this esteemed institution by the end of the school year. At least one would go on to appear in a soap opera. Others were probably involved in the invention of the Internet.

But my closest friend was a fellow named Don Michaels, who (I seem to remember) was fond of saying that he had come to college for the express purpose of starting a band. Which of course seemed like a great idea to me, except that Don and I had very different musical tastes. He came from more of a "alternative rock" scene, and was a fan of bands like U2, REM, and the Cure, which I, coming from more of a classic rock / 80s metal vibe, didn't know much about at the time. (Keep in mind that this was before U2 and REM had achieved true "mega-star status" -- REM's Document was breaking just as I arrived at CMU.) Don was also completely untrained, musically. (So of course he became our singer.)

Still, I have never been one to scoff at an unusual creative opportunity when it presents itself. As we both grew more and more disaffected with the regimentation of higher education, Don and I started working on songs together, in what was probably one of the most directly collaborative experiences of my life.

I actually consider all of my music collaborative to some extent. That is: I know each piece I write is going to be transformed at least a little by the people who perform it. But the stuff Don and I wrote together at CMU was collaborative from the moment of its inception. As I recall, neither of us ever started writing outside of the context of that partnership. Everything would emerge during the songwriting session itself.

The very first song we wrote was a thing called "Just to See Your Face," and it is this song (unearthed by the intrepid Mr. O'Neill) that initiated the post you are now reading. Because even after all these years, I still kinda like it, despite its simple, innocuous catchiness.

As I recall, "Face" came about during an afternoon spent hanging out in the lounge of our dorm. I was fiddling with the guitar, and came up with the melody and, I think, a few of the words. (At least I'm pretty sure I came up with the opening salvo: "Give me sanctuary / I'm without a home"). Generally, when we wrote together, I got the idea of the song going, but Don finished it off, lyrically. He was superb at filling in the details and maintaining the concept of the thing. (Left to my own devices, I might've been inclined to corrupt it somehow.)

The very same evening (as I recall) we stayed up all night recording numerous versions of our first masterpiece onto cassette, with our friend Mark (the above-linked soap star) attempting to provide a bass line. At the time, it was a blast, though I don't know if the documentation still exists. Probably not. And probably for the best.

Fast forward to the summer, after I had, you know, dropped out (cue sinister music). Don (who lived in Rhode Island) came down to NJ for a visit, and we ended up making a "real" recording of "Just to See Your Face" (plus two of our other tunes) with the aforementioned Mr. O'Neill providing an impressive guitar orchestration, and another friend and local heavyweight, Mr. Joe Bergamini, playing drums with his usual flair.

It was, in retrospect, a pretty pivotal period of my life. Shortly before the demise of my first real relationship, shortly before the death of a very close and important family member, and long before I finally found my post-high-school footing, the moment was chock-full of significance for me. This song still reminds me of how it felt.

I can't guarantee that you'll like it too, but feel free to check it out. At the very least, it's a lot different than anything you've heard from the IJG:

Just to See Your Face by uglyrug

Anyway, thanks, Darren, for this stroll down memory lane.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love this post...and I love you, old friend. It's so good to get the story behind your life at the time you wrote these songs.

I am begging you to post "For Joan" on this blog site. There is nothing to be embarrassed about in regard to that song. It's one of the greatest songs I've ever heard.

Please, also, talk about the use of Joan of Arc as the subject of that song.

From Darren...

Andrew Durkin... said...

Thanks for reading, Darren. And the feeling is mutual!

I'm not opposed to posting "For Joan" here... just have to find the right moment for it, I guess. Soon.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear about the kitty...

Fish, next time. We've flushed many down the toilet upon their demise. Alex, at first, was very teary about it. But then he started to get a kick out of it. Disposable pets, if you will.

Maybe a pet tree? They last a long time...

From Darren