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A belated shout-out to a brief sequence in the movie Children of Men that always makes me smile. If you’ve seen the movie, I’m referring to the improbable romantic moment in the fleeing car where Julianne Moore and Clive Owen somehow manage to blow a ping pong ball back and forth between their mouths, through the air between the front and back seats.

While the film is rightfully famous for its stunning set pieces, this little bit of business is one of those inspired inventions where you go, Where the hell did they get that from? (The other characters in the car look on somewhere between aghast and amused at this hilarious left-field display.) It’s a brilliant bit of imaginative problem-solving, a vivid and unexpected means of conveying instantly an infinitude of vital emotional information that the movie doesn’t have time to slow down and show us any other way.

Clive Owen and Julianne Moore play Theo and Julian, estranged lovers who in-spite-of-or-is-it-really-because-of (that really ought to be one word) their estrangement still trust each other. Plot-wise, Julianne Moore’s character only exists to hand off the MacGuffin and then (spoiler alert) die tragically in an ambush, so she and Clive Owen have only two or three short scenes together. Given the structural parameters of the movie, there’s no time to develop their relationship properly, and their back story is officially given to us later on in the time-honored way, through expository dialogue. (Michael Caine, playing an old friend, tells Theo and Julian’s story to another character.)

But because of the ping pong ball sequence, we are given a fleeting glimpse of magic between them. What they have lost is shown rather than told. The rest of the movie gains enormous weight from this small marvel of ingenuity. Not only do Theo and Julian still trust each other, but, as it turns out, these two irredeemably dour people can still make each other laugh as well.

Till The Next Goodbye (Jagger/Richards)

All-Girl Band

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There were — are — some things I definitely plan(ned) to post up here to mark the one-year anniversary of this blog (born November 19, 2006). But, alas, as they are all still in “progress,” this will have to do for the moment. And actually, I think it does quite nicely. A declaration of love undying from a Devastationalist Ur-text, Max Beerbohm’s side-splitting, heart-broke and weirdly beautiful little book, Zuleika Dobson:

“My heart is no tablet of mere wax, from which an instant’s heat can dissolve whatever imprint it may bear, leaving it blank and soft for another impress, and another and another. My heart is a bright hard gem, proof against any die. Came Cupid, with one of his arrow-points for graver, and what he cut on the gem’s surface can never be effaced. There, deeply and forever, your image is intagliated. No years, nor fire, nor cataclysm of total Nature, can efface from that great gem your image.”

And an anniversary song, too, why not? The All Girl Band live, drunkenly defying traditional gender roles! Take that, America!

I Want That Man (Tom Bailey/Alannah Currie)

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Where have I been? (“Got any what?”) Uh, where have you been? Or: Where haven’t I been, more likely. Actually, it’s a rather suspiciously odd coincidence that my involuntary blogging sabbatical just happened to coincide with my return to New York City and its gnatty clouds of debilitating psychic energy. (Even walking down the street is exponentially more difficult here than elsewhere, with the weight of so many people crammed so close together, emitting so much negative mental energy — it’s like being slapped around sometimes just to buy a quart of milk.)

Of course, if I tell people I’m getting the hell out of Dodge because of the bad vibes, they look at me with pity, like I’m crazy. But it’s true. And that’s not only the main reason, that’s the umbrella which covers virtually all the myriad other reasons. Human beings were not meant to live this way.

Allen St. John’s recent book, Clapton’s Guitar, tells the story of a backwoods Virginia musician called Wayne Henderson, one of the tiny and tight-knit community of master guitar builders in the world today. The best of Henderson’s painstakingly handcrafted instruments compare favorably to pre-war Martins, the most coveted guitars in the world, and the book explores the reasons why this might be so, talking a lot about the qualities of different types of wood and the techniques luthiers use to cut, whittle, sand, glue, brace, treat and finish that wood to bring a guitar into being.

It’s an interesting book if you have even the slightest bit of guitar geek in you, but it’s almost all smoke screen. The real truth of the matter doesn’t come out until near the very end of the book, in a scene that takes place over lunch in a shopping-center Italian restaurant in West Concord, MA. St. John is talking to a guy called T.J. Thompson, a gifted and reknowned guitar restoration expert. They are discussing the “Big Question”: “what is it that separates a magical guitar from a merely great one?” What are the reasons that one guitar can channel magic, while its erstwhile twin only sounds pale in comparison? There’s some hemming and hawing (“I could probably list 600 reasons…” says T.J., alluding to the aforementioned processes of cutting, whittling, bracing, etc.), before T.J. finally wears down and confesses the most important thing; really, the only important thing:

“The state of mind of the person building the guitar.”

More on all of this later, but for now here’s a question: If believing T.J.’s statement makes sense to you (as it surely does to me), why not extrapolate from this and work out all the logical implications? Clearly, if you conscientiously did that, your whole life would have to change. And I wonder why our culture can so easily accept isolated glimpses of this aspect of reality, but would seek to ridicule anyone who went ahead and drew the obvious conclusions.

This is the Girls playing “Millionaire,” recorded live at Dick Zigun’s Coney Island Sideshows By The Seashore. It’s like one of those psychological aptitude tests where they try to determine if you know the difference between right and wrong. Sometimes, for years at a time, you lose your perspective — it’s impossible to tell. But if you just took one step in any direction, suddenly it would seem so obvious.

Millionaire

There’s a millionaire underneath the table
I know it’s not right, you know it’s not right
But there’s a millionaire underneath the table

There’s a millionaire underneath the table
Do you think I don’t know it’s not right?
I don’t know anything at all

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Lord only knows what this song’s about. Being present in your own life? Maybe. But then who’s on the receiving end of all the invective in the verse? I couldn’t tell you if my life depended on it.

Don’t get me wrong — I liked this song when it first showed up, and I always figured eventually I would nail it down. But it ended up getting clean away from me. I never could regain whatever feeling sparked it to life in the first place. (It’s often a dead giveaway when a song has a line that goes, “I ain’t got nothing to say.”) And to compensate for that, we fussed with the “arrangement” endlessly in rehearsal (listen in the quiet part for Lori playing melodic notes way the hell up the neck of her bass — I think we had to bribe her like a hundred bucks a note).

Still, for all that, it was fun to play live, and a consistent crowd-pleaser to boot — probably because The Girls would take it and somehow nearly always manage to kick up a decent racket.

You Should Be Here

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

What do you know about
Things that were meant to be?
Can you honestly say
You’re good company?

Do you really _____?
Do you really want a chance?

Then you should be here
Any time of day
You should be here
I ain’t got nothing to say

But if you want to make it clear
And if you want to make it here
Then you should be here
Yeah you should be here

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Next time someone asks me, “What the fuck is wrong with you?” I’ll just play them this. The All-Girl Band live, though just barely.

Harmony (John/Taupin)

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

There’s a scene in the movie “Tootsie” where Dorothy Michaels (Dustin Hoffman playing an unemployed actor who resorts to drag in order to get work, as we all know) has just been curtly dismissed from her audition by Dabney Coleman’s chauvinistic soap opera director. He won’t even let her read for the part, saying she’s the wrong type, not feminine enough. Dorothy unleashes a feminist tirade at him, the producer and the startled crew that has everyone on the set transfixed — all eyes are on her as she storms out.

The producer, a woman, follows Dorothy and catches up with her by the elevators.

She asks, “Was that for real in there, or were you just auditioning for the part?”

Without hesitation, Dorothy replies, “Which answer will get me the reading, Miss Marshall?”

This song was first conceived on an acoustic guitar in Diana Reese’s ostensibly sunny Berkeley flat, but it never really came to life until the All-Girl Band opened it up. I half-heartedly tried to name this “Can’t Come My Way” but that’s such a terrible title I couldn’t even bring myself to type it in now, years later, as the headline to this post. The Girls called it “Day-O” due to certain quirks in the vocal arrangement. Basically, this was me trying to act tough to cover up the agony of crippling heartbreak. Straightforward enough, right? But so deluded was I regarding the efficacy of my charade, I didn’t even realize that I had quite liberally festooned the song with actual howls of pain. Oops.

Recorded live on cassette, in a smokey little club somewhere in New York City. Feel free to think of this as fitting in with “Aloha Bobby & Rose” and “Jazz Song” as sort of a trilogy of late-period All-Girl Band, when we achieved our purest aesthetic distillation of Devastionalism.

Day-O

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

Let’s all plot a course
Forgetting not, of course
That all the roads are paved with sadness

I believed
As surely as I breathed
Only to find this way lies madness

Would you like to see the things I haul around?
Would you like to see me six feet underground?

You had it all worked out
And that’s okay
I’ve seen it all before
It can’t come my way

Standing by the door
And wanting so much more
But all the roads are paved are paved with sadness

I believed
As surely as I breathed
Only to find this way lies madness

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This was the last song I think the All-Girl Band ever did. Not the last song we physically played before crawling off the stage at our final gig (which, incidentally, was opening for Lobster of Hate at the Continental), but the last new song we wrote, rehearsed and performed with any regularity.

Fittingly, this song was, relative to then-current events in my life (or at least in my head), like the Bataan Death March — if the Japanese had served drinks. Disgust, contempt, and a kind of raging, passionate heartlessness. But still, I like how it sounds. The band got right to the heart of the matter without flinching, and managed to provide some genuine perspective through the music and the playing that may have been, er, lacking from the singing department. I still don’t have a lot of pity for the Annies of this world, but I no longer find in this a justification not to feel anything.

Oh, and about the name, “Jazz Song”: This song has a few odd fingerings and atonalities that got it immediately christened “Jazz Song” by the Girls, and it never did recover from that initial rehearsal-room mockery to earn a proper title.

Also, that band logo (above) is from a bunch of peel-off stickers we used to leave all over the place when we played. It was, of course, designed by the fabulous Julie Wilson who we were very lucky to know, and who very kindly did a lot of graphics for us.

And while we’re at it, I’m pretty sure that my ex-wife, Jack, who had a keen, gimlet eye (and who would go on to enjoy great success as a photo curator for Getty Images in London) took the press-kit band photo (below), possibly in the back hall of Brownies (?). But don’t blame her for the results. You should see the outtakes. Lori and I must have been propped up, wasted drunk, Tex apparently didn’t feel up to actually facing the camera, and only Clementine looks presentable. In fact, I remember reminding her to wear something that showed off her decolletage. Ah yes, we were all such troopers back then!

Jazz Song

Amazing All-Girl Band

Annie gave a little sigh
And often she’d break down and cry
She’d shake her head and wonder why
And I’m not saying I know
But I know

That often when you compromise
You’re buried underneath the lies
You hide behind your alibis
And I’m not saying I know
But I know

Well I’m sweeping all the cobwebs
From the corners of my life
From the universe
And all the world besides

Well I knew they’d take the best things first
I knew they’d take my wife
And my heart, and my home
And my babies

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This is the All-Girl Band live, another negative-fi audience cassette. This song was always a good showcase for what was so lovely and personal about Tex’s guitar playing. Well, not always. The arrangement had a lot of tricky (for me) two-guitar stuff and hazardous transitions, and sometimes it fell apart completely, but when we pulled it off, it sounded really beautiful.

“Aloha, Bobby and Rose” was a 1975 movie about a pair of young lovers on the run, starring Paul LeMat (who had just played Milner, the cool drag racer who kicks Harrison Ford’s ass in “American Graffiti,” and who would go on to play Melvin in the rather incredible “Melvin and Howard,” among other intermittent dead-on bulls-eyes over a long and inexplicably erratic career).

When “Aloha, Bobby and Rose” first came out, it’s relentless “four-wall” ad campaign fired the aspirational imaginations of pre-teens across the country (most of whom, like me, probably never even saw the movie), a shining beacon of grown-up romance and rebellion. Someday, someday, we would be as cool and free and sexy as Bobby and Rose.

Like the rest of America, I then forgot all about it, though it must have still been lodged in the depths of my adult memory, when Beth McGroarty made a random “Aloha, Bobby and Rose” reference one day while we were drunk-driving around in Palo Alto. And I realized that I had not been the only 13-year-old whose philosophy of life was indelibly warped watching TV commercials for a cheap-o teen-sploitation flick.

Which is not to say that I either wrote or ever sang this song through a prism of irony or with condescension. The anger and sadness that fuel this song were –are– very real to me. Sometimes people can be so fucking brave, it’s devastating. I don’t how we do it — any of us.

Aloha, Bobby & Rose

Amazing All-Girl Band

He took me by the elbow
And he steered me around and round and round
Over by the water
Where the piers are falling down, down, down

We had a pint of tequila
And a bottle of champagne
We watched the faces in the clouds
As the sunset turned to rain

I tried so hard to learn the things
That everybody knows
You want things a certain way
Well, that’s not how it goes

You might call me bad
But that’s the path I chose
I’ve been waiting all my life to say
Aloha, Bobby and Rose

I could feel his hands
As we hurried to a bar
I start to lose my legs
We hadn’t gotten very far

A much-bandied analogy, and one I subscribe to, is that arrangements of songs are the clothes in which you send them out into the world, from the solo-acoustic fig leaf to a fully orchestrated ball-gown ensemble (complete with horn-section clutch, back-up singer brooch and other accessories). But the skeletal structures of songs can also be used to support the expression of more immediate Devastationalist abstractions, right there on the spot. Which is to say, bands are not machines for playing songs or executing arrangements — they are organic entities who make music, hopefully.

With the All-Girl Band, we left a lot of trap-doors throughout our songs, places where we could “play on” if inspiration, mood or the situation called for it. Or sometimes just out of pure contrariness. 7-minute versions of “Margaret Smith” or “Post-Mortem Bar” were not unheard of. This version of “Maggie” is particularly mean & noisy and the introduction includes an impromptu spelling lesson and an audience re-enactment of a car commercial that was on TV at the time.

Margaret Smith (Live)

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

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Real Live Girls via someone’s bar-top cassette recorder. Not sure of the venue or date. For
better or worse I think this is pretty true to what we actually sounded like on a decent night.
A Devastationalist love song — i.e., terror, alcohol and the feeling that there’s something very
wrong with this picture.

Du mußt dein Leben ändern.

Everyone simply referred to this song as “Ophelia,” and it was Evon Handras from The Fresh Kills who gave me a postcard of the Sir John Everett Millais painting which I think she saw at The Tate. (I should really post some of her songs here someday.)

I Don’t Wanna Be Down

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

I got a friend named Ophelia
And she’s always down
And it’s starting to scare me
To have her around

She doesn’t like this time
She doesn’t like this place
And I’m starting to wonder
If I could ever face…

I refuse to be down
I don’t wanna be down

Getting drunk with Ophelia
It’s the afternoon
And she closes the curtains
We’re alone in her room

Then she brushes against me
And I start to fade
And I don’t even wonder
Because I’m so afraid

I refuse to be down
I don’t wanna be down

Did I happen to mention to you that I love her?
Did I mention that I really, really wanna help her out?
But I’m scared, I’m scared she’ll drag me under
I’m scared, I’m scared she’s gonna drag me down

And I don’t wanna be down