Sunday, August 15, 2010

Love Is All Right




Let's call it "The Yoko Syndrome" - a perfectly serviceable friend/bandmate/creative partner meets their soul mate or whatever you want to call her and is gone. It never happens right away, but over time they become more engaged with their new partner and less engaged in the project at hand (the band, usually). Now this kind of stuff happens all the time and for the most part it's pretty benign. People grow up, get married, buy houses and have kids and have less time for the things that occupied them when they were younger. What makes it a "Yoko" situation is when the new partner starts meddling. You saw it happen in Spinal Tap. That was classic. The girlfriend comes in and proceeds to replace the manager and oust the lead guitarist (her main rival). Yoko herself made a place for herself in the Beatles by talking through John, who was completely under her spell. The Beatles, of course broke up very acrimoniously soon after she inserted herself into their midst. I know that's a real simplistic description of what was undoubtedly an extremely complicated situation, but...well, yep, that's what it is.

It happened to me. When Arlene came into my life - we hooked up at the tail end of out senior year in high school - the Bonkeenies of America were me and a ragtag collection of nerdy school buddies with (sometimes only rumored) musical ability. Arlene and I became extremely close extremely fast. Before my friends knew what  had happened, Arlene and I were never without each other. We even started dressing alike. She of course became a member of the band (well, she was an actual musician!) and in no time was helping me get things organized. Within months we became "Sparlene" (an unkind nickname that we proudly took on ).

Arlene was very protective of me and often at odds with other band members. If there was ever a discussion about a song, an arrangement...anything really...I automatically got two votes. During the Bonkeenies' existence - from 1971 to 1975, several versions of the band broke up due to friction caused all or in part by Arlene's diplomatic skills.

In January of '75 when I started working on what would become Won Out, it was a solo project. I was not even using Arlene's formidable keyboard skills. Though sidelined musically, she was still very much a part of the project, helping me set up the label and notating the songs for copyright and publishing. For the time being, My personal Yoko Syndrome was working in my favor.

My friend Chris Troelson, proud owner of a Sony 808 (I think) was doing all of he taping stuff and we were having a blast. Both of us were learning how to do our respective jobs - on-the-job training really of the best kind. Before the sessions ended in March - more about that later) we had recorded nearly two albums worth of music. Many of the songs remained incomplete or were simply not up to snuff, But we worked well together and we worked hard to get the songs down and get everything sounding the way I heard it in my head.

Chris lived in a little cottage in Oakland with his girlfriend Teresa and we were doing the recording in every room in their little house. The first couple of months - January and February - went fine, but in March things went terribly wrong. First, Chris and Teresa announced that they were going to get married.  They'd been happily living together for several years and Arlene and I were puzzled by the sudden change. We were all pretty "anti-establishment" then and viewed marriage as a primitive ritualistic holdover from our parents' generation. Finally one evening Chris and I got really drunk and he confided in me that it was Teresa's idea to get married. Apparently she'd been unfaithful to him and this was her way to make it right. I was still trying to take this in the next day when Teresa herself paid me a visit at home and made a very clumsy attempt at seducing me. "Love Is All Right" was written before the next scheduled session. We recorded it very quickly. I played the guitar - my Ovation Custom Balladeer - in the bedroom with blankets tacked to the walls for soundproofing. Chris and I never discussed the lyrics.

Em              D               C             Em
My friend I can't let this happen to you
                      D        C           Em
There's still so much we gotta do
Am                     Bm                                 C                          D
My mouth could not keep singing and my hands they couldn't play
Am                       Bm                                 C                         D
When I saw them smother your freedom in lace and drive you away
                       Em A                              Em
But what can i do? It's gonna happen to you


My friend I can't stand to see you this way
But I know there isn't that much I can say
I've seen you with your freedom and now I see you in chains
I've been to the scene of the murder where they washed the blood down the drains
As I passed through - It's gonna happen to you

C              D         G                            Em
Love is all right as long as you don't get taken
C               D        G                             Em
Love is all right as long as you don't get taken
C               D        G                   Em               A      D
Love is all right but when you get taken you're through
                                Em
It's gonna happen to you

My friend I can't let this happen to you
But I know you don't see things like I do
I see the windows broken and the sun shining down
And I see your car all painted up and rollin' out of town
What can I do? It's gonna happen to you

Shortly after the session - perhaps even the following weekend - we were burglarized. All of my guitars were taken. It was a devastating setback. The recording sessions came to a complete halt and that particular era came to an abrupt and unhappy end. The one good thing that came out of it was that I was insured and all of my instruments were listed as household property. The insurance company typically tried to weasel out of it by saying I was a professional musician and should have been insured as such, but that didn't hold water because both Arlene and I worked regular jobs. When the check finally came, I spent it all on a brand new Martin D-35S which I still own today. "Young Neil", as I named it, would feature prominently on the rest of the recording sessions for the album.

I purchased the multi-track tapes from Chris later that month and we proceeded to drift apart. we did not attend their wedding and when we moved soon after the break-in we did not give them our new address or phone number.

When I started project I had a list of songs - mostly the pop songs I'd written for the Bonkeenies - that I intended to use for the album. I'd gotten pretty good at knocking out British-invasion inspired 3-minute love songs. The creative process being what it is, however, I started writing songs during the sessions that I wanted to use, too. Steve Hanamura had introduced me to Jackson Browne around this time and we bagen our never-ending discussion/arguement about writing songs - Steve fancied himself a lyricist - should they have deep meaning or just be pop confections? Steve encouraged me to make my songs "deeper" and pointed to people like Jackson Browne and, of course, Bob Dylan as possible influences. "Love Is All Right" was really the first time I tried to write along those lines. I wrote a few more, like "Meet Me at the Gate" and "Lend A Hand" that we recorded but ultimately were not on the record (partially remedied later when Won Out was release on CD - I was able to find the master of at least one song and added it as a bonus track. "Love is All Right" passed the 'Hanamura test' and from that point forward I started running my new compositions past him for critique and lyrical suggestions. As a songwriter Steve could be wordy and pretentious, but he did have a knack for adding just the write lyrical flourish  to complete one of my songs. More about this later.

("Love Is All Right" was released in 1979 on the album Won Out)

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