Meanwhile, Back In The States

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Driving into Portland, Maine the other night in a torrential downpour I couldn’t help but be reminded of my first visit to Portland, years ago. Kris Woolsey’s grandmother lived there, and his nuclear family was convening for a long weekend at her house in the woods.

We flew up on the renegade 80s airline, People Express, armed with a couple of fifths of Stolichnaya. I remember we had to wait for over an hour on the runway while President Reagan conducted some of his nasty business at Newark Airport, so I was passed out cold before we even took off. I don’t recall Kris’s family being too overjoyed to meet me.

It was a strange and tense weekend, and I kept pretty much to myself and my guitar. After everyone went to bed, I would raid the liquor cabinet and talk on the phone with my girlfriend, Mary, back in New York, then stay up all night reading. And somewhere in there were a few too-bright-and-too-early canoe trips and other awkward lake-style adventures. (I think things loosened up a bit after Kris’s family left, and we were just hanging out with his grandmother, who was cool. I remember her showing us the harbor and all the little islands that dot the Casco Bay, and even then I was awed at the sight.)

Anyhow, the flight home was even worse than the flight up — a huge, terrifying thunderstorm and an interminable delay. We sat nervously sipping Manhattan after Manhattan in the little airport lounge there, staring out glumly as waves of water crashed against the windows and I silently prayed for the flight to be cancelled. I was sure we were all going to die.

Airport Lounge

The Nightmares

Airport lounge in Portland, Maine
Our flight’s been held ’cause of pouring rain
Pouring rain

Thunder and lightning but it’s warm inside
Everybody’s going for a little ride
Little ride

I wish I could be a little stronger
And I wish I could stay a little longer

Everybody had another round
So they’d be prepared if the plane went down
Plane went down

Finally got our clearance, so we filed on board
I was thinkin’ ’bout the harbor, thinkin’ ’bout the lord
‘Bout the lord

I wish I could be a little stronger
And I wish I could stay a little longer

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Little Things

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I don’t generally advocate weeping in public places, but if one were to insist on shedding tears in public, I can think of no better place to do it than on a long train ride in the dead of winter. Listening to music, head against the grimy window, looking out as endless bleak landscapes roll by. It’s really the ideal setting. And actually, if you think about it, it’s kind of a miracle that everyone on trains isn’t sitting there sobbing, that entire train cars aren’t loaded up with people bawling their damned fool eyes out.

The heartbreakingly faithful Johnny Johnson, who in the late 1980s led The Siddeleys into total obscurity, says this:

“It was as if we were swimming against a tide that changed direction whenever we tried to swim for another shore. There was no way through, no matter how true our compass points were. Buffeted by impossible waves, we began to tire. The walls inverted and suddenly I was on the outside again, a refugee from the Tower of Babel as the people who shared our language faded away like ghosts.

What an irritating paradox. A real outsider will always remain outside, doomed by their very nature. After all, once they’re on the inside, how can you ever be sure that they meant it, that they were what they appeared to be from the other side of the wall?”

Shane McGowan adds:

“The most important thing to remember about drunks is that drunks are far more intelligent than non-drunks. They spend a lot of time talking in pubs, unlike workaholics who concentrate on their careers and ambitions, who never develop their higher spiritual values, who never explore the insides of their head like a drunk does.”

This world is decidedly hard on those who bypass the banquet in order that they might more slowly savor instead life’s divine little crumbs. One begins to wonder if maintaining an interior life is worth the trouble.

This is The Nightmares performing “Little Things,” live at CBGBs. I wrote this song on a two-string guitar and an out-of-tune piano in Jon Frankel’s mother’s living room in Larchmont, one stoned and sunny afternoon when everybody was out of the house for some reason. (Though the breakdown is all Nightmares, of course.) And I also ought to point out that the chorus of this song contains the most audacious appropriation I ever made — melody, lyrics and vocal inflection lifted whole from a couplet in a song (a flat-out masterpiece, at that) by the indomitable Pointers Sisters.

Little Things

The Nightmares

I want you to take a vow
Oh, won’t you do that for me?
It’s very simple, this is how
Just cross your heart complacently

I guess I don’t understand
I’ll do what I came here for and go
It’s gotten so out of hand
But there’s one thing you should know
Each time I open up my heart
It seems to just get torn apart
That’s why I want to remember those little things

I want you to follow me
It’s not too far, just down the street
There’s something there you ought to see
Some people I think you should meet

I guess I don’t understand
I’ll get what I came here for and go
It’s gotten so out of hand
But there’s one thing you should know
Each time I open up my heart
It seems to just get torn apart
That’s why I want to remember those little things

All I want to remember
All I want to remember, baby
All I want to remember are those little things

What Went Wrong

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The opening line of this song is “Well, it’s been quite a month here,” which brings flooding back into my mind an actual and very tumultuous month in which our very sweet Irish friend, Derek, saw fit to hurl himself in front of an oncoming subway train; the “Six Degrees of Separation” con man David Hampton came to live with me and my roommate Keith at 21 First Ave; and I fell in love for the first time, with a girl named Mary Garvey.

Does it go without saying that I wish I could go back to that month now and find the blithering idiot who wrote and sang this song and kick his stupid fucking ass to kingdom come?

This is The Nightmares, recorded live. Some people may recognize the unique cardboard-box clarity of the sound as characteristic of a CBGBs soundboard tape.

What Went Wrong

The Nightmares

Well it’s been quite a month here
No I don’t want to hear
What the hard liquor does

All my friends are leaving
No I’m not believing
And I’m not the only one

I’ll keep drinking ’til I find
Exactly what went wrong

They’re calling the last call now
And I feel appalled now
At the things I do for fun

As I sit alone here
I could try the phone, dear
But that’s just not the way it’s done

I’ll keep drinking ’til I find
Exactly what went wrong

Maybe you can get behind it but I can’t
Maybe you can see a reason

Well it’s been quite a month here
No I don’t want to hear
All those things they said you’d done

Everyone is leaving
But I won’t sit here grieving
That’s just not the way it’s done

I’ll keep drinking ’til I find
Exactly what went wrong

What went wrong
What went wrong