Wednesday, August 11, 2010

No Magic

<a href="">No Magic by Sparky Grinstead</a>
As I mentioned in the "Fall On Me" post, I'm currently recovering from some deeply invasive back surgery. At this point I'm on the upswing and can see faint light at the end of the tunnel, but last week it was pretty dark and painful. I spent a few days at Herrick hospital in Berkeley in the rehabilitation unit where I guess they were supposed to get me ready to start walking around and bathing myself and stuff...mostly they kept me doped up and lying around in my jammies. Actually not a bad way to go through the days - that is if you're not anxious to get up and get back to working, playing music, riding your bike, walking around your house - you know, doin' stuff.

It was during this "lying around in my jammies" phase that my son Matt came to visit and we started talking about Rodent to Rodent. 

Matt is 26. For reasons that I will not go into at the moment he and I did not meet until last year. When we finally did meet I was immensely pleased to discover that he is an amazingly talented musician with tastes that are very similar to my own (although I find that at my advanced age my tastes are beginning to veer alarmingly into the middle of the road - Matt is decidedly more in the lefter lanes).  But he's not just a musician - he understands how stuff works - you know - he can , like, fix stuff. I'm completely in awe of his skill set. Plus I think he can read music.

Anyway, anyone who follows my stuff (you know who you are - all 4 of you!) knows that Rodent to Rodent is my 1984 album that I recorded but never released. I often modestly refer to it as my "masterpiece". I've actually mastered it for CD twice in the last few years, but for reasons unknown to me (until now?) I never got around to putting it out. I had given Matt a copy of one of the masters, thinking (correctly, it turned out) that of all my stuff he'd like this one the best. He liked it so much, in fact, that he recorded his own version of it. I listened to it, and of course it was fab.

So, as we sat there in my dingy little hospital room we came up with THE PLAN. Sadly, I cannot reveal this "plan" because there's a lot more planning and stuff that needs to happen before any action can be taken on it and I don't wanna go blabbing all over the place about it now. But trust me when I say that's it's a very interesting - even brilliant - plan, as plans go. I'm just being modest all over the place today!

"No Magic" is a song about Matt's mom. I apparently wrote it (I think in 1976) after we'd had some kind of disagreement. A couple of the songs on Won Out are about her and our at times tumultuous relationship. I don't think we'd even met when I started work on the album. No...wait...of course we'd met. I started working for the phone company at the end of '74 (that's where we met - we were long-distance operators) and I started the record in January of '75 so at the very least we'd laid eyes on each other if nothing else.

Looking back at my songs from those years I've noticed that they were much less "incident-specific" than they became later. Don't know if that's good or bad - it just is. I've never been a writer of songs about anything other than me for the most part - I've never been one for the grand statement (unless it's about me).

As I write this I'm watching a recorded episode of Later... with Jools Holland. This is my favorite show at the moment and I'm trying to take in as much as I can because at the end of this month we're dumping the satellite TV. It suddenly dawned on me a few months back how patently ridiculous it is to have to pay nearly 100 bucks a month for the privilege of watching zillions  of weight-loss and penis-enhancement commercials. When I was a kid, TV was free!!

In case you're wondering - and I know you are - that's me dancing around on the beach in Santa Monica shortly after the release of Won Out. In fact part of my snappy beach attire is a "Sparlene Records" t-shirt!

G      Gmaj7 Em         D             Am                     D
I'll be on the sidewalk when they paint the building brown
     Am                      D                  Am                  D                    G
I'll watch them tear it down but I'm pretty sure you won't need me around
G          Gmaj7 Em    D                   Am            D
Give me all my letters back so I can mark them "paid"
     Am                      D                     Am                  D                            G
I'll wish that you had stayed but you finally found out how the game was played
G                           D
What gave you the idea
Am                        D               Am                  D
That happiness can wait? Rides in from out of state
    Am             D                       Am                      D
Inspires me to write the songs I know I'll come to hate
G                         D
It just occurred to me
Am                             D             Am               D
While watching you undress why it was such a mess
Am                           D                 G
I'd allowed your little mind so little rest

I'll turn on your station when they play your last request
I told you what was best and I knew you'd never figure out the rest
It was never my intention in the end to let you down
This godforsaken town will seem the same the second time around
What gave me the idea
That happiness was sand? You held it in your hand
Convinced me that I was the one who didn't understand
It just occurred to me
While looking through your smile you were just another child
Who could only love while lovin' was in style

That little piano/guitar riff  is just Am D Am D Am D G

The original pressings of the album featured an entirely different version of this song than the one that was finally released, a live-in-the-living-room recording with Arlene playing a Fender Rhodes. I wanted to add a harmony vocal so we had to start from scratch. We went to Xandor Studio - actually this guy Jim's garage out in Orinda - and did it again, this time with Arlene playing a grand. I still wasn't entirely happy, though, and we wound up later at Mike Cogan's Bay Records studio in Alameda, re-recording the vocals and tacking on that little tag that has nothing whatsoever to do with the rest of the song. The tag was actually a separate little piece  intriguingly titled "The Insulting Song" : I know this song is short / Words of no import / The meaning sparse / You stupid arse / What did you expect? It was one of those things that Steve Hanamura and I would come up with late at night, drunk and feeling clever. It was recording using a very primitive overdubbing process - playing along to recorded parts on the stereo. Arlene played the Rhodes and I did the drums, guitar and singing. On my last birthday I was given the massive book "Recording the Beatles" and discovered that a lot of their overdubs were done this way - playing along to prerecorded tracks coming out of a very large speaker.

There's also several sets of lyrics to this song. Some of the lines in the recorded version still make me cringe and to this day I tinker with them. Last year I performed the entire album with the Backorders and I tried unsuccessfully to rewrite some of the lyrics. They are what  they are.....

If you've never seen Later... with Jools Holland then you must, you must check it out. It's on Ovation. Mr. Holland played keyboards for the band Squeeze. If you've never heard Squeeze then you must, you must check them out.

Okay, on to THE PLAN. Rodent to Rodent will see the light of day, but in a very special way: a two disc, vinyl-only release. Disc one will feature my original version and disc two will be, of course, my son's "reply". Matt will be in charge of the artwork and I'm looking forward to what he's gonna come up with. What's magical about it is that Matt was born when I started work on the album (January of '84) - they're the same age! Even though it was ready to go by the end of the year, Arlene and I parted company around that time (yeah, more about that later) and I simply shelved the project. As I'm pretty sure I said above, now I know why. I had to wait for Matt.  It's gonna be called Rodent to Rodent to Rodent to Rodent.

("No Magic" was released in 1979 on the album Won Out)

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