Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Feel Better Now

Up until now I've writing this thing in a fairly straight chronological sequence according to release. My write/release schedule is pretty convoluted. Won Out took 4 years to complete and the album changed stylistic focus as the sessions progressed. Le Bonx was recorded fairly quickly (for me) over the course of 2 years but wasn't released for another 21/2 years. FSGBOC and Rodent to Rodent were recorded simultaneously over the course of 3 years. 2009's Winter Comes and Goes was recorded in a little over a year but was comprised of songs written as far back as 1985. Since I've never been on anyone's schedule but my own - I've never had a record contact - and I'm not a big star with legions of fans waiting breathlessly for my next release, I release music when it suites me (and when I could afford to).

Because of this rather haphazard recording schedule a lot of songs have been left behind. There were nearly 3 albums' worth of songs recorded for Won Out.  I wrote songs far faster than I could record them and once I had my own recording capabilities - from about 1976 on - I was always recording. Many of the recordings were left unfinished. If I wasn't happy with the way a session was going I'd usually just move on to the next song.

"Feel Better Now" was written for the Mills College show. It was inspired by a Flo and Eddie song called "Feel Older Now" and was specifically written to be performed live, with 3 identical verse/choruses and two sections designed for soloing . A simple, straightforward rock tune with lyrics that were virtually nonsense , it has been in my live repertoire from the Bonkeenies to the Backorders. I attempted to record it during the first sessions for Won Out but it didn't work for some reason. I remember getting the basic tracks down but the solo sections proved problematic. I've never been a great soloist (although I've improved over the years) so I tried to get a friend - a guy named Larry - to come in and overdub a couple of guitar solos. I think his solos are on the multitrack tapes. We just never finished the song. Although it's never been properly recorded there are several live performance recordings and videos. The attached video is from 2009. We played an impromptu gig at a bar in San Francisco called The Blackthorne Tavern and my son Matt, who I'd only recently met, sat in on drums. He turned out to be - as you can see - a pretty incredible drummer. I was pretty inspired that night and turned in a couple of pretty respectable solos.

C                             Gm
Sittin' underneath the lawn
F                                      C
Thinkin' 'bout the girl who's gone
                               Gm
Sittin' underneath the road
F                                     C
Thinkin' 'bout the girl who goed
D C          D C          D C     DC
She's gone but I don't mind
E                         F
I feel better now, I feel better now
G   C      D
So much better
E                        F
I feel better now, I feel better now
G   C      D
So much better


Sittin' underneath the street
Under all the peoples' feet
Sittin' underneath the grass
Watchin' all the people pass
She's gone but I don't mind
I feel better now, I feel better now
So much better
I feel better now, I feel better now
So much better

solo 1 A Em

Sittin' underneath the ground
Tryin' not to make a sound
Sittin' underneath the sky
Because it costs too much to fly
She's gone but I don't mind
I feel better now, I feel better now
So much better
I feel better now, I feel better now
So much better

solo 2 A Em

I feel better now, etc


It's not fair to say that they lyrics are pure gobbledygook. I was just cranking out a song, but as always in my case there's a deeper meaning. Towards the beginning of my last year of high school I was hired by a neighbor as a sitter for her two young sons. She worked in the UC Berkeley library (with my step-mom at the time, Rene) and was recently divorced. She lived about a half block away from us and I suppose she must have seen me going in and out of the house because she approached Rene and asked her if I was available to help her with some yard work and watching the boys. She identified me as "the one with the car" - I was driving Bonkeeniemobile, my beautiful blue-and-white 1956 Chevy Bel-Air coupe - was available to help were with stuff around the house. She was a little over 10 years older than me - around 30 and was sweet and quite attractive (ironically, or maybe not, she resembled my current wife, Allison) and she could be very businesslike - even bossy. I don't remember how much she was offering to pay me, but I went to work for her totally unaware that I was entering what would turn out to be the defining relationship of my life. I was 17, was about to start my senior year in high school and was living with my dad, little sister, stepmom and stepbrother in a home that always felt like an armed camp during an uneasy truce. I was happy to get out of there. I started to do odd jobs for her like taking care of her yard, doing grocery shopping, small home repairs (I remember climbing up onto her steep roof to adjust the TV antennae - yikes!) and of course, watching her two sons while she worked or went out at night with various gentlemen callers.

Her name was Carol. After a few months of running errands for her I was spending more time at her house than at home. My dad would often crack lewd jokes about her and speculate what was "really going on over there", but that's just how he was, usually drunk and spiteful. But I was pretty happy. Carol and I got along great, her kids liked and trusted me and I was getting paid for my efforts. Carol would also often feed me and buy me school supplies and sometimes even clothes. When she came home from work she liked to sit in the living room with a big glass of white wine and tell me about her day. These were some of the happiest times of my life. My mother passed away when I was ten and I had spent the last 7 or 8 years moving from house to house with various familial combinations, changing schools almost yearly. My father was an abusive alcoholic and I knew my current step-mom would not be around much longer.  Carol's house was an oasis of sanity. I fell in love with her as only a 17-year-old can fall - completely and without reservation.

Carol really liked my car and loved for me to take her - and sometimes the boys - for long rides. She'd buy me a tank of gas and say "Let's hit the road!". We'd drive to Marin County, sometimes out to Martinez where I showed her the places I'd lived back in the 60's. When her ex-husband had the boys on weekends she loved to go to places like Lakeside Park in Oakland or the Berkeley Marina on warm days and just park and talk. It was during one of these "drive and park" excursions that we first kissed. It was the most wonderful kiss of my entire life. I remember she pulled back and said: "We shouldn't have done that" - and kissed me again. We drove back to her house in complete silence. When we pulled into the drive way she turned to me and said: "I hope you don't think any less of me". I just stared at her. I had no idea what she meant and when I tried to speak I almost couldn't. I managed to croak "I love you". I stayed in her bed for the first time that night.

I make no judgments or excuses here - this is simply what happened. Carol had her reasons for doing what she did and I had mine. We became inseparable for the next several months. I was always at her house before and after school and on weekends. I was in heaven. She mothered me, making sure I ate and did my schoolwork. In the bedroom she was a kind and patient teacher. I'm sure my family suspected something was going on, but no one ever said a word to me about it except for an occasional lewd remark from my increasingly hostile and erratic father. Her sons, of course, noticed the change in our behavior towards each other and one of them mentioned to their father that "the babysitter spends the night in mom's room". Then it was "shit, meet fan".

Carol used to joke about adopting me so I could legally be her responsibility and we could live together. The disturbing implications of that "joke" went right over my head. I thought it was a great idea. We talked about how I could move in with her and help me go to college and maybe even get married later. As I write this I realize how insane it sounds, but that's how it was - that's what we talked about. But it all came crashing down one evening.

Carol and I were sitting in her living room on a Friday night. The boys were with their father. One of those fake Duraflame logs was burning in the fireplace and she was holding a big glass of wine. She was crying. I was stunned into silence. Her ex-husband had informed her that he would take the boys away from her if she was going to be "sleeping with the babysitter". Carol told me it was over and that we couldn't see each other again. In retrospect, I can understand why she had to end it, but at that moment I was completely shattered. She walked me to the front door, kissed my cheek and said: "Goodbye, Sparky. I'll never forget you." It was raining when I went outside. I went to the sidewalk, turned around and stared at her house for a while. I walked home in a trance, fell into my bed and pretty much stayed there for the next 4 months. I collapsed inside - it felt like my life was over. I kept going over everything that had happened over the last few months. She said she loved me - didn't she? After a few weeks of staying in my room, not eating, not bathing, just alternating between sleeping and staring at the ceiling I somehow came down with mononucleosis. Not for the first time in my life I wanted to die.

Anyway, a few years later here I was living with Arlene, playing in a rock band and writing songs. As nonsense as the lyrics to this song are, there's no one else I could have been thinking about when I wrote them (An interesting sidenote: I learned later that my current wife, Allison, was going to school with Carol's older son while all of this was going on. It's incredible to think that we may have even crossed paths when I was taking the boys to school or picking them up).

Carol's ghost haunts many of my songs. I have spent most of life since then searching the feeling of complete love and trust that I had with her. I know I'll never find it because even when it existed it was an illusion.

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