That’s When I Threw The Bottle In The River

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A Devastationalist spends way too much of his or her life being blown about like a leaf, drifting passively in and out of jobs, homes, relationships, rarely if ever daring to actively exercise the power of choice. To choose, of course, implies desire, and desire is the bane of a Devastationalist’s existence — at best, a path to potential disappointment, and at worst, the seed of all ruin lies there. Who needs the responsibility? So much safer to just sit back and rail at the winds of fate!

The night before we hit the road, the topic over dinner (mediocre salads and crummy service, by the way) was how scary and overwhelming it is to actually try and choose what to do, how to live — to impose agency on your own life. But if you don’t get over that, what’s the point of being alive?

And now, halfway through and over a thousand miles in, I really don’t have much to report — not yet anyway. For once, we have thankfully shut down the processing unit here at Devastationalist HQ, running strictly on intake mode at the moment. Though I can safely say there are infinite pleasures to be found in the world out there (pleasure, now that’s an interesting concept, eh?) and also, Liam has a new favorite restaurant.

So, here’s a road song, the All-Girl Band does Dylan. I learned this song off a mix-tape Andrea Kannapell made for me at the outset of another road trip, years ago, at the dawn of the 90s. Tex liked playing it — the half-step intervals and minor-to-major changes, stuff I almost never use in my own songs — so we kept it in our set as a second-stringer until the bitter end.

Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You (Bob Dylan)

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Good Day To Die

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To a Devastationalist, any moment that isn’t abject misery is a potential departure point, a place from which to quit while ahead. Civilians may confuse this with “savoring life’s simple pleasures,” or “stopping to smell the roses,” but the truth is that Devastationalists often allow a successful first step stand in for an entire completed journey and totter off accordingly to collect their unjust rewards.

Not that there’s anything untranscendent about, say, a pretty girl smiling at you on the street. But Devastationalists savor life’s wispier offerings because they lack the emotional stamina necessary to engage anything more substantial. Why bother with courtship, a relationship, marriage when you’ve had the random smile? Surely you can just extrapolate all the rest.

I can certainly say of myself, and here I am not bragging but deeply ashamed, that although I fancied myself to be a die-hard romantic, in reality I couldn’t wait for my “relationships” to end so I could go off and get wasted and write a bunch of sad songs about them. It was always such a relief when things got bad enough that I could give up.

This song was written on St. Marks Place in the Summer of White Zinfandel, and recorded in the very early days of the All-Girl Band at Excello in Williamsburg by Gil Shuster, and mixed by me, Gil and Kris Woolsey. Which is to say, drunk, crazy people were at the controls. (“Hmmm…I wonder what this weird little knob does…”) Gil and Patty were old friends — they had been in a band called Junglefish (one word?) together — and so in the true Brooklyn Woodstock spirit, Gil contrived to give us the favor of free studio time right when Excello first opened and they were still shaking things down.

Good Day To Die

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

I was wondering why something that’s three years old
Seems like the other night
Why I’d rather make a million mistakes
Than do one thing right
I was kicking it around on a stoop with some wine
And a couple of friends
Trying to draw just one straight line,
But it all depends

The breeze was blowing hard
I was watching the girls go by
Any day that’s turning out this good
Would be a real good day to die

Joyce Jillson in the News said today was clear
For travel and romance
I thought of you letting your guard down,
Of taking one more chance
‘Cause giving what is left of me to you
Is just a phone call away
But that would mean going inside now,
And it’s too nice a day

The breeze was blowing hard
Pretty girls walking by
Any day that’s turning out this good
Would be a real good day to die

The wine was flowing hard, yeah
Bright sun in the sky
Any day that’s turning out this good
Would be a real good day to die

Nothing You Can Say

Despite what you may have heard, being a Devastionalist is not all ducks and bunnies.

Nothing You Can Say

Amazing All-Girl Band

I see the marble that you keep up on the shelf
All buffed and polished in the image of yourself
I see the care with which you chiseled in the features
Your final offering to god and all his creatures

It’s time the neighbors came and got me
Nothing you can say will bring me down
It shouldn’t have to be this way
But it can’t be overcome

You strung the lizard lights around your bedroom doorway
You said we’d do it, we just have to do it your way
I saw Mercurochrome and cotton on the table
Picked up the bottle, saw the scratch marks on the label

I watched with interest as you went through your convulsions
More time invested understanding your compulsions
A lamp, a vase, an ashtray, smashed to pieces on the floor
Lots of things around this place that don’t work anymore

More Songs to Dead Friends

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Cake on a Rake

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

My ex-girlfriend Jan sometimes worked for a friend of hers who did balloon-animal shows at children’s birhtday parties, and one day they needed a third hand to help out carrying stuff, driving, etc. The party was at a big, rich house on Long Island. About 50 little kids. After setting up, there wasn’t much for me to do but drink Heinekens in the corner and watch the show. When they brought out this big, humongous cake for the bratty little brithday boy, he burst into tears! “I didn’t want cake,” he bawled, “I wanted Cake on a Rake!” I had no idea what he meant, but for the first time all day I sympathized with him.

Hey Caroline, is it simply divine
Or is it lonely where you are?
I know it’s hard to judge the distance
But it’s really not that far

And in a way I’m glad you never had to see
All of the things you love collapse so easily
Like tissue paper huts in a monsoon

Caroline, don’t apologize
You gave a good fight
You dared to meet their eyes
You didn’t want cake
You wanted cake on a rake

Out in the yard I play your tape
And I think about that spring
I should be sad, but I’m all right
‘Cause I love to hear you sing

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Post-Mortem Bar

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

An All-Girl Band staple. This was the amazing, heartbreaking acoustic song that played over the final scene of the movie “Longtime Companion.” The movie credits said it was by someone called Zane Campbell. This was in pre-Internet Stone Age, and Mr. Campbell proved impossible to track down. Nor could we find any CDs. We asked everybody, scoured little record stores, nothing. We ended up learning the song by renting the video of the movie and holding up a cassette recorder to the TV. Later, it turned out Zane Campbell was alive and very well, right here in New York. He had a brilliant band called The Dry Drunks, and was playing around everywhere. He had heard that there was this other band out there (us) doing his song and showed up at one of our gigs, so we corralled him onstage to sing it. I’m sure he’s still around, though I haven’t seen him in years. I do know that his original version of the song has many more verses and doesn’t go to the bridge directly after the first chorus — the movie people had taken a few liberties with his recording. But it was the only version we knew.

When I cleaned out your room
I painted the walls to cover any memories
But still it seemed like you were hovering over
Still out there keeping an eye on me

We’ll go down to the post-mortem bar
And catch up on the years that have passed between us
And we’ll tell our stories
Do you remember when the world was just like a carnival opening up

If I could have just one more day with you the way it used to be
All the things I should have said would pour out of me

I took a walk I didn’t know which way I was going
But somehow or other I ended up here
Where we said we’d meet again and I guess I was hoping
But the place had been closed down awhile
It was all dark in there

Margaret Smith

Margaret Smith

What a name, right? The real Margaret Smith was a semi-famous comedienne with a devastational, deadpan delivery. I really did have a crush on her. The All-Girl Band, with The Great McGinty playing a Hammond B-3 with his elbows.

Margaret Smith

Well she’s older and smarter than me
That’s why I love her
And when she’s dolled up, it’s something to see
That’s why I love her

And when she walks out in the spotlight
I fall out of my head
Cause I want her
And there’s no doubt to me now
Of who I’ll be with

Margaret Smith
Margaret Smith

Well she’s older and smarter than me
That’s why I love her
And she’s a star child, you better believe
That’s why I love her

And when she walks out in the spotlight
I fall out of my head
Cause I want her
And there’s no doubt to me now
Of who I’ll be with

Margaret Smith
Margaret Smith

A Couple of Lesbians

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The All-Girl Band’s signature song. Two chords, or at least I wanted it to be. In the end I cheated, I caved and threw in two extra passing chords. They appear briefly in sequence, only once each time through. Conceived in a Berkeley cafe. I have opened every set with this song ever since.

Patty was cleaning up the dozens of spent beer bottles from the studio while we were doing vocals, and you don’t have to listen at all carefully to hear the clinking of glass in the background of the song — an accidental but appropriate effect that I always loved, of course.

A Couple of Lesbians

A couple of lesbians sitting around talking
Talking ’bout the state of the world
Into the room, well I come walking
Sucking on a Ricola Pearl

Soon the conversation leaps and bounds
And we’re talking ’bout a thing called love
Lightbulbs bursting over my head
Don’t know what I was thinking of

I can give her laughter
I can give her flowers
We can talk on the telephone for hours and hours

I’m the Rockefellers, Fords and the DuPonts
And I can give her anything she wants
I’m the Rockefellers, Fords and the DuPonts
And I can give her anything she wants

Whatever’s in my wallet, or my closet, or my hand
What little in this world that I can understand
I can give her anything she wants
But a genuine emotional response

A couple of lesbians sitting around talking
Talking ’bout the fate of the world
Into the room well I come walking
Sucking on a Ricola Pearl

What’s the matter with Western Culture?
Is there really such a thing as love?
Lightbulb bursting over my head
Don’t know what I was thinking of

Drunk Pride Day

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The amazing true adventures of the All-Girl Band. The second verse is all true, me, Lori and Tex completely wasted after some gig, crawling through the wreckage of the Gay Pride Parade. It was very likely Lori who said something like we were the “Drunk Pride Parade.” The first verse, well, I don’t know what Neil Young had to do with anything, but I do kind of hate him.

The riff, fittingly enough, was a bastardization of AC/DC’s “Have a Drink On Me.” The “we’re coming off of our barstools” is a nod to Lou Reed’s glamthem, “Make Up.” And if you don’t know where the “My my, hey hey” chorus was hijacked from, you probably are at the wrong blog — but anyhow, by that weird internal logic songs sometimes have, it somehow tied it all back neatly to the first verse.

Drunk Pride Day

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

I have always hated Neil Young
Let me tell you why
‘Cause he supported Ronald Reagan
And he beat his wife

And I don’t like “Southern Man”
Or that Johnny Rotten stuff
And he sang with David Crosby and Stephen Stills
Now isn’t that enough?

We’re coming off of our barstools
We’re coming out in the streets

My my, hey hey
It’s Drunk Pride Day
My my, hey hey
It’s Drunk Pride Day

We were lounging on the sidewalk
Drinking Irish Rose
Tex was picking out some music
I took off all of my clothes

And some passers-by from the parade
Well, they didn’t bat an eye
But my neighbor tried to kill me
He said I looked at his wife
And Lori saved my life

Something Impossible

This one’s pretty self-explanatory.

Something Impossible

Philip Shelley and his Amazing All-Girl Band

There is nothing you can say I won’t believe
I know you think I’m so naïve
But I could list the things that bring me down
It just won’t mean a thing without you

How we end up is no concern
Sometimes you teach, sometimes you learn
And even in a case where I succeed
It just won’t mean a thing without you

I got something in my head today
And I can’t believe it’s true
Though we have to move ahead
I can’t help but think of what I left behind
Something impossible on my mind

I try to take comfort in living hell
It really gets bad when things go well
And let’s not even talk about the upper hand
It just won’t mean a thing without you

Got no big plans, no grand designs
Just wanna stabilize my vital signs
And even in a case where I succeed
It just won’t mean a thing without you

Delta Burke

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A quintessential 90s song. The lyrics were cribbed from a newspaper gossip column reporting on Delta Burke’s much publicized troubles on the Designing Women set. After Delta’s return to the show following a prolonged absence, the show’s creator and producer/writer, Linda Bloodworth-Thomason (who later turned out to be a powerful Hollywood friend of the Clintons) put the following words in another character’s mouth (was it Dixie Carter’s character? — I actually never watched the show, but I do remember Delta Burke crying on Barbara Walters) who spoke them to Delta Burke’s character — a comment on the real-life strife on the show:

When it’s all said and done
All that counts is what was true
And truly said
And how we treated one another.

I still have the clipping in some notebook full of such clippings. I thought I would just use it for inspiration, but I ended up not changing a word.

Delta Burke

Amazing All-Girl Band

Holiday

There was a very real, very cool, charismatic girl called Holiday. I didn’t really know her well at all, but she had grown up in Del Mar with a very close group of friends of mine in California. (I would see her around, and once she lent me her car, risky, as it was an old Volkswagen with a shift.)

The song is not about her, this real person, at all, but I was inspired (obviously) by the idea of naming a girl “Holiday,” and someone named Holiday going on holiday, by the Kinks song “Holiday,” and the idea that all of human history was just one big holiday gone awry. And mental-picture-wise, this particular (real, cool and charismatic) Holiday was easy to envision reclining devastationally, getting drunk and reading –Jim Thompson?– by the pool, so that gave me the second verse. Of course, I make it so that all the vacation in the world isn’t going to help her or the human race very much.

Holiday

Amazing All-Girl Band

While there is little left of holiday
And I have every sympathy
You’ve got to reckon that it’s far away
And there is nothing much to see

We been around for a long time
Rising from primordial slime
Clawing our way to the center of the stage

Just looking around for the right touch
Who expects to find the good stuff
Rooting around at the bottom of the cage

And I hope it don’t cut short your holiday

Balanced her vodka on a paperback
And swung her legs over the chaise
She lit a cigarette with just one hand
And tried to think of better days

And I know when all is said and done
We judge by actions, everyone
Don’t even listen to the clatter of the knife

And if she really had a choice
She’d be out, despite the noise
Looking around for a better way of life

And I hope it don’t cut short your holiday