Thursday, May 27, 2010

Portrait of the artist as a young singer-songwriter

(L-R: Jill Knapp, Darren O'Neill, Joe Bergamini (standing), Andrew Durkin (seated))

One of the funny things about having spent 30 manic years writing music (out of the 40 or so years I've been on this planet so far) is that I sometimes forget about songs I've written -- even when, at the time of their conception, I thought those same songs were pretty hot shit.

This song ("Spain") is, in retrospect, definitely not hot shit, but, hey -- it ain't bad either. In any case, I had completely forgotten about it. It's another thing revived by the aforementioned Mr. Darren O'Neill, who is proving (via Facebook) to be a key resource of obscure early Durkinalia. (The master tape of this recording was in the possession of Joe Bergamini, who played drums on the tune. Darren tracked the recording down and cleaned it up for this "release.")

Spain by uglyrug

What can I say about this song? Again, it was written during a pretty dark period for me -- roughly one year after "Just To See Your Face" (so sometime in 1989, when I was 20), and shortly after I had dropped out of Carnegie Mellon and Berklee College of Music. (I was a double dropout! Alas -- for a while there, I just couldn't find a school that worked for me.)

I had picked up a few classes at a local community college, and suddenly I was taking the "quest for knowledge" seriously. Mostly because of a beloved uncle's untimely death, which made me realize how short life really is (if you will forgive the cliche).

Anyway. This song had its origins in a geography course, which was attended by a beautiful raven-haired girl, who, for reasons I never understood, always wore tinted glasses. I never did work up the confidence to develop a friendship with her, but that didn't stop me from taking the artistic liberty of weaving a psychological portrait around that one (probably inconsequential) detail. I was convinced that she had to be hiding something, or hiding from something. Of course, I was actually the one who was doing the hiding -- there were many aspects of myself that I had yet to embrace. But I was content to project all of this psychic drama onto her for the time being.

Here's the lyric:

Why don't you say what you want to say?
Why must you hide from the truth every day?
Do you believe you've got nothing to gain?
Is that your game, Spain?

What must I do to relieve the pain
I can't believe that you're running away
You never were scared of what people would say
Don't be scared now, Spain

Oh I don't believe
That you could sit so idly by
While all your dreams would fly
Fly away

Here is the life you've been looking for
Don't tell me you don't have the guts anymore
You won't take the chance cuz you have to be sure
But you never will be pure

There's always tomorrow, another day
Sleep on your problems, they might go away
And if they don't, well, there's always a way
To fight back the pain, Spain

Oh I don't believe
That you could sit so idly by
While all your dreams would fly
Fly away

In retrospect, it's pretty hilarious to me that this song was conceived of in a geography class, and is named after a country (a connection I never made until now). Of course, the official reason for the title is that the girl in question had a Mediterranean look. On another level, the title may have come from a dipthong-tastic association with Billy Joel's "James" (which probably provided something of a thematic influence as well).

That's right, I went through a Billy Joel period (I have already written about this a bit) -- apologies if this song is too precious as a result. It is, in fact, far less precious than most of my other material from the same period, and, like "Just To See Your Face," is one of the few early tunes of mine that I'd be comfortable sharing in a more "official" context. It's a decent song, goddammit, and I think it holds up, despite its bombast.

If nothing else, consider this: it's not often that you get a fusion of a classical Spanish guitar and rock drums. Credit where it's due: Darren arranged and performed the guitar part, and composed the prelude. Personally, I think the song is much stronger as a result of these contributions.

In addition to Darren on guitars, and Joe on drums, I played synth bass (hardly audible in this mix), Jill Knapp handled lead vocals, and Angela Acosta sang backup.

[photo credit: Jeff Knapp]


Jeff said...

Man, my overriding memory of these sessions was working out the chromatic figure in the backing vocals at around 3:07.

I do think you sell your tuned of this era short.

Maybe it's because they're good songs, or maybe it's nostalgic -- but I always smile when these things come up while shuffling the iPod.

Anonymous said...

I love these blog entries of yours! I never knew the background of any of this. I always made it a habit to "shut up and play my guitar" (in the immortal words of Zappa). This is so great to know the origins of this tune. It is - without a doubt - one of my favorites (next to "For Joan" - which I will never cease to love).