Sunday, October 10, 2010

Major Networks

<a href="">Major Networks by Sparky Grinstead</a>

I have been trying over the past few nights, with little success, to get through David Lynch's Inland Empire movie from just a few tears back. The movie is like 2 1/2 hours  long and is the most boring, incomprehensible thing I have witnessed since the last state of the union address. I simply cannot stay awake long enough to see what happens at the end - if anything does actually happen at the end. For all I know there is no end.

Don't get me wrong - I am a HUGE fan of Mr. Lynch. He is responsible for one of the best things to ever happen to television - the mighty Twin Peaks - and 2 or 3 (give or take Eraserhead) of the greatest movies ever. What makes his stuff great for me is the weirdness that he incorporates into the stories in his films. The problem with  Inland Empire is that it's all weirdness and no story.. Laura Dern walks around looking concerned and/or confused while lights flash on and off and things are generally spooky. Every now and then someone - usually Ms. Dern, but sometimes one or another of the interchangeable supporting cast - screams and runs around. At one point there was a menacing-looking bald  man with what appeared to be a light bulb in his mouth - Uncle Fester! This movie (for me, at least. I know there's Lynchites out there who are gonna say I'm not "getting it". Fine. I'm not) works better than most sedatives. And that's not all bad. I'm still recovering from back surgery and need the rest!

Recently I cancelled cable television and now I only watch stuff I stream from Netflix. I like this arrangement much better - I watch what I want, when I want and no more "lose weight get a bigger dick buy this lose weight get a bigger dick buy this" commercials. So, I'm catching up on movies I meant to see but didn't get around to....kinda like 1980... (no, not really but I need to connect this to the main part of the blog)....

Toward the end of 1980 it was becoming clear to me that the rather esoteric single "Wa" / "Whatever You Want" was not going to catch on (it wasn't getting played - even on the stations that loved the Won Out album). I decided that the next thing I did needed to be a bit more mainstream if I hoped to regain any career momentum. I had recorded an album's worth of "Wa"-like material (some of which would end up as part of Rodent to Rodent a few years later) and the Le Bonx project was in the can (more about that - much, much more  - later) but I really didn't have anything that could remotely be considered "commercial". Since I'd purchased my own 4-track tape machine after the release of Won Out, my muisc had been moving away from traditional song structures and I needed to find my way back. It was then that I became involved with Dianne, a young lady who would be my muse for years to come.

Arlene and I stayed together despite my frequent affairs. Nancy and I had stopped seeing each other for the time being - we'd had a disagreement at the end of '79 and simply stopped calling each other. I had left the phone company in '76 and by ,79 was working at the Zellerbach Paper Company in South San Francisco. Since Arlene was working at The Gap headquarters in nearby San Bruno it made for a convenient commute. I met Dianne at Zellerbach She worked in customer service and I was on the order desk -  a classic workplace romance.

These were the days before cable television -the days before cell phones (even pagers) were on every belt and in every purse - the days before i-anything. There were the major networks - ABC, CBS and NBC, whatever the goody-two-shoes PBS station was and 1 major local independent.. The UHF band - a new thing then - featured reruns, cartoons, game shows and old movies on stations with a range of 2 or 3 blocks. Slim pickings by today's standards, but back then it seemed like a lot.

"Major Networks" documents the very beginning of my year-long affair with Dianne. It was November of 1980 and I was home sick with my yearly bout of the flu. Dianne, at this point a good friend, took an afternoon off and visited me. The next day she came over in the morning and we spent the day in bed making love and watching cartoons. When she left I sat down in the kitchen and wrote the song, obliquely describing the day's events. I've always thought of this song as my "Norwegian Wood".

About a week later I recorded the vocals and guitars - the 4 track was set up in the living room (at the time we were living in the rear unit of a duplex on MacAuley Street in Oakland). I was in love and I'd started to write pop songs again. I was at the beginning of the most productive songwriting cycle of my life. Throughout its many ups and downs, this would be the most well-documented of my affairs, and although I didn't know it at the time, I'd already begun work on my next album, FSGBOC. "Major Networks", with drums added later at Mike Cogan's Alameda studio, was released in '82 as the b-side to "Rollin' Home". Throughout 1981 I wrote dozens of songs, many of which I still perform with the Backorders: "50 Miles An Hour (in the wrong direction)", "Get In", "As Graceful As She Seems" and many others. Since I had my own home studio I was recording on a regular basis. Any of these songs would have made a fine single a-side and returned me to more commercial music after the decidedly unusual "Wa".  Typically, however, I didn't release any of these songs that year. Instead, I decided to foist upon the world the most uncommercial, musically obtuse piece of work I'd ever committed to tape: it was time for Le Bonx. "Major Networks" and the song that became the single a-side, "Rollin' Home" were recorded and mastered by the summer of '81, but not released until '82 because I wanted to put out Le Bonx first. But that's another story. And another. In fact, several more stories.

D                                                  G
I don't feel like interacting - there's nothing much to do
            Em                    A                     D
Except read about some murders in the news
Life is surely wonderful but sometimes it gets slow

Me and you watching the major networks

Me and you watching the major networks
Me and you watching the major networks

It might have been the weather, it might have been the booze
Sometimes I feel like kickin' off my shoes
Couldn't get to sleep last night - had nowhere to go


Em                                      D
I've got these pictures in my mind
Em                              D
I fall in love fro time to time
Em                                                   G                                              A
I know it sounds silly but I just about fainted when we kissed the first time

So I'll just sit here dreaming and when you do arrive
I'll have the TV tuned to channel 5
Don't get good reception but who cares what's on?


Later I changed the last line of the break to:

I know I ought to be more careful 'cause it's my heart that I'm puttin' on the line

because the part about nearly fainting - while only a slight exaggeration - was a bit embarrassing. Otherwise the lyrics stand the way the were first written down that afternoon. I'm usually pretty meticulous about the grammar in my lyrics - the "me and you" part is a notable exception. But it sings better than "you and I watching..."
Sparky meets Buck

I wrote many songs for and about Dianne over the next few years. She was a beautiful young woman with large, luminous cat-like eyes (her best feature) who was extremely high-strung and given to alarming  emotional outbursts and dramatic mood swings. After a few weeks of cloak-and dagger surreptitiousness, we gave up any pretense of trying to hide our relationship at work. Arlene quickly found out but chose to ignore it, saying later that she knew the affair would burn itself out within the year and it wasn't worth getting excited about.

Recently Greg wandered into a music store in Pleasant Hill (of all places) and there, hanging on the wall was a battered but original Buck Owens American - the red, white and blue acoustic guitar marketed by Sears in 1970 and '71. Knowing that I'd been on the lookout for one of these guitars for years, he haggled a bit with the owner and bought for a price that I will not repeat here. He brought it over to my house only to find me fast asleep. The next day I called him and said: "I had the weirdest were dancing around in my bedroom with a Buck Owens guitar". I went up to Greg and Olga's later and played it - and the first song I started to strum was "Major Networks".

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