Tuesday, March 27, 2012


John Prine is one of my favorite song writers. While it's true that a lot of his stuff sounds the same - especially on his later albums - they're still good songs with great lyrics - literate, funny and sad all at the same time. Back in the days of vinyl I used to go to Tower Records in Berkeley and pick up albums that looked interesting. That's how I discovered Mr. Prine. The first album of his I bought was Common Sense. Produced by Steve Cropper, it turned out to be quite different from the rest of his stuff and remains my favorite album of his to this day (give or take Storm Windows. And Pink Cadillac). There's a song on Common Sense called "He Was in Heaven Before He Died" that I wished I'd written. So I did - and the result was "Sleeves". Musically I lifted the waltz time and some of the chord changes and melody, hopefully changing it enough to make it my own. Lyrically, the Prine song seems to be a dense string of unrelated images that probably meant something to him but that I could never decipher. My lyrics were a more straightforward and sad tale of lost love.

I remember recording it in my living room at the Family Compound. Steve Hanamura was there in the room with me although he didn't contribute to the recording. The last song recorded for FSGBOC, it's the only one where I use an electric (my Fender Telecaster) for the rhythm guitar and the only song to feature an actual bass guitar (a 1972 Fender Jazz that passed back and forth between me and Steve for several years. It now belongs to Sally Englefried - more about her later). Unlike most of the songs on the album, the lead vocal is not a first take. I remember Steve commenting that my pitch was a bit wobbly, prompting me to have another go at it. He also made some comments about the lyrics being trite but I ignored him. Steve fancied himself a lyricist - we'd collaborated on several songs in the past - but his romantic stuff was always too florid and overwrought for me. As the years went by I was taking less and less advice from him.

Another song, "Still Wishing" was recorded at this session using the same instrumentation, but it didn't work out. The chorus included the lines "If you wanna laugh, laugh out loud / You're still running with same old crowd / And I'm still wishing - wishing that I'd married you"

D                       G            A                  D               G               D                        A
Last night I was thinking of books never written and diaries that should have been kept
G                     A                            Bm           G                               A
Remember the night in that run-down hotel? Remember how little we slept?
D                      G              A        D                   G              D              A
The lord of the manor was just an illusion and the lord of the flies was a pig
G                    A                           Bm                G            A                 D
Remember us reading the National Enquirer and laughing until we were sick?

G       D           A     D       G    D             A
Time changes everything - time changes a man
G                     A                                       Bm
Sometimes our dreams simply slip from our hands
    G              A           D
I promise that I understand

When you're waking up in your suburban bedroom content and with nothing to fear
I'm already out in the cold city dawn watching the world disappear
If you ever bother to challenge or question the things you've been led to believe
You may find the magicians running your life have nothing but air up their sleeves

(repeat chorus)

Some of the lyrics are goofy and some are vague, but I was writing about the night I'd spent with "Sara". There was actually a National Enquirer in the room which we read and laughed about. During our conversation we imagined that we were in a hotel (instead of a friend's spare bedroom) that was so run-down that it had no furniture and certainly no room service. We were quite drunk and this fantasy greatly amused us. The rest of the lyrics are bits and pieces of the conversation we had that night.\

Here's the album that contained the song that inspired the song!

When I wrote this song I had no idea what had become of her, and in the last verse I'm imagining that she's fallen under the sway of someone, somewhere who has convinced her to stay away from me.

("Sleeves" is available on the album FSGBOC as a digital download)

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