It’s An Eleanor Day

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Where to begin? Well, once upon a time there was a sensitive young man from Greenwich Village named Alex Garvin, and though he was a bit of a prig, before he completely fell off the face of the earth he had at least one undisputably brilliant idea, which was to have a Big Star-esque pop group that played only toy instruments.

Alex wrote earnest, catchy songs about his bohemian life and he took the whole thing quite seriously — he didn’t make a big camp joke about it, but played things (mostly) straight. He looked at the band as an art project and he was genuinely interested in the unique, off-kilter moods that could only be generated using Toys ‘R’ Us gear. I thought that was genius. That group was called Pianosaurus, and I had the great good fortune to spend a year or two banging on a Smurf guitar with Alex and his cohorts, drummer Steve “Reno” Dansiger and keyboard player Bianca “Flystrip” Miller.

Alex and I didn’t really get along, which is almost certainly down to my bad personality in those days, but after he kicked me out of the group (which happened one night on stage at Folk City, where I finished the set drinking at the bar) at least The Nightmares got a drummer out of it, and for awhile I continued to cover Alex’s pretty song “Eleanor Day,” the title of which was a pun on the actual name of a Philadelphia art-school classmate of his. (And while we’re at it, I also used to cover Bianca’s sucker-punch Devastionalist classic, “Red M&M’s,” which I still do sometimes. Man, I love that song.)

Anyhow, this is all sort of besides the point, which is that around the same time I was in love with a completely different girl named Eleanor who wrote and sang these really strange, beautiful, bad-dream kinds of songs. Which is not to imply that Eleanor and I were ever a couple or ever much wanted to be. Nothing really “happened” between us, and we were both involved with other people. Our romance, such as it was, consisted almost solely in drinking and music and the bond that is forged when two people can listen to, say, a Pretenders song with single heart.

But from a certain point of view, that’s everything right there. Locked inside certain songs are entire universes of information, and when you share the key with someone else — and when that’s your principal way of knowing yourself and the world — it’s insanely seductive. Certainly at the time I thought so.

Our attachment was no less deep or intense than other, more obvious kinds of romance, and our “break-up” continues to haunt me. I still miss her sometimes. The best I can figure in retrospect, our crash was inevitable — too much anger, meanness and self-destructive Devastationalism was mixed into the glittery glue that held us together, and when we both wanted to get better we could only figure out how to do that apart.

Afterwards, too much reflexive fear accumulated over the years around the (unfounded) belief that renewing our friendship — that secret language, the understanding we shared — would mean diving into all that again.

But for a good, long run there, we lived the days of wine and roses together. (Indeed, with me and Eleanor the question was never, “Should we take a cab there?” but, “How many six-packs will we need for the cab ride over?”)

Muse, I think, might be a good word for what she was to me. This is one of many songs I wrote with Eleanor in mind. The Nightmares, from the B-side of “Baseball Altamont.”

Hold On and Pray

The Nightmares

Sitting in a restaurant
On West 4th the other night
All the pitchers of sangria
No they couldn’t put it right

‘Cause you’re a crazy mixed-up darling
Though I’m with you all the way
Now let’s hold on
Hold on and pray

Took a cab to Georgie’s
It was an uneventful ride
I just wanted a nightcap then
To warm me up inside

Back in my apartment
I lit a smoke and drew the blind
Cracked a final tall boy
And I threw on Chrissie Hynde

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

Baby Talk

As I go back through old recordings, it’s amazing how many songs amount to stern & scary warnings to myself. “Shape up! Get it together, man!” Good examples all, of why self-awareness is by itself an inadequate mechanism for healthy change.

And I keep trying to remember the mind-set behind songs like these, to try and determine if I was secretly romanticizing (i.e., bragging about) the behavior I was ostensibly shaking my finger at — but I don’t think so. As usual, I was trying to be funny, but also I think I was genuinely scared. Of course, I had no idea how scary it would get.

Ned and I used to credit all of our songs as co-writes, though we never really wrote songs together. The one exception is, I think, this song, “Baby Talk.” I distinctly remember Ned writing this bridge, words and music.

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Baby Talk

The Nightmares

When you’ve got something good in the palm of your hand
But you throw it away ’cause you don’t understand
Then the mail doesn’t come and the phone doesn’t ring
And you can’t comprehend why you don’t have a thing

You don’t have a thing

Well you can’t stay awake, and you can’t fall asleep
‘Cause you’re wondering why they all think you’re a creep
So you go to the bar and insult everyone
Well you are getting drunk, but you’re not having fun

You’re not having fun

You’ve been watching all the signs
But you just don’t comply
If you don’t want to die alone
You better try

While you’re thinking this out, drinking vodka and lime
You had better drink up, ’cause you don’t have much time

You don’t have much time

Not Like The Others

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Self-awareness is a necessary precondition for spiritual growth. But it is not sufficient by itself. One reason for this is that genuine spiritual growth comes semi-paradoxically from an elevation in one’s level of awareness, which allows one to see things about oneself that were previously invisible and inaccessible by definition. It’s tricky. You can’t change what you don’t know about, but you can’t know about what needs to be changed until you change. Or something like that. What this strongly implies is that spiritual growth doesn’t come to anyone alone — you need help, another pair of eyes.

And of course, one must always be on guard against self-delusion, which can foster the illusion of spiritual growth while in reality offering only a new or different set of spiritual fetters (or worse, pacifiers). The only way to really guard againt self-delusion is, obviously, to get out there and engage with the real world, giving your new, hard-won perspectives a good and proper going-over. Get some mud and blood and sweat and tears on them, then see if they still hold up.

I have always been particularly wary of self-delusion, and perhaps my vigilance has paid off a little. Susceptibility to self-delusion is thankfully not high among my many failings. (Though how would I ever know, right?) But you cannot relax your guard, ever, I say. One look around at the pathetic flotsam people so desperately cling to in this sick, sad world is enough to make anyone wary, if not downright ill.

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Not Like the Others

The Nightmares

I, I see an ocean
Not like the others, who went away
And I, I see a palm tree
Not like the others, who went away

Now I wish you could see
‘Cause I know you won’t believe
We both thought we’d seen these things before

I’m not talking ’bout nickels and dimes
This is not like the other times
Our disappointment is no more

‘Cause these are the real things
Not like the others, who went away

I, I see a mountain
Not like the others, who went away
And I, I see the glory
Not like the others, who went away

Now I wish you could see
‘Cause I know you won’t believe
We both thought we’d seen these things before

I’m not talking ’bout petty crimes
This is not like the other times
Our disappointment is no more

‘Cause these are the real things
Not like the others, who went away

The Nightmares

Good lord, the things that are turning up. Two long-lost songs by The Nightmares. The amazing Ed Shanahan wrote “Paralyzed.”

Little Better Person

Whatever you do for the rest of your life
I hope you remember from time to time
The things we held, the things we planned
The things we fought so hard to understand

When you left me a little better person
At a time I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to be
And when I thought I was burned, that’s when I finally learned
Little better person, that’s me

Whatever I do for the rest of my days
Serving one regret a thousand ways
With nothing to say that isn’t nice
And nothing to wash it down, but that’s allright

‘Cause you left me a little better person
At a time I wasn’t sure if that’s what I wanted to be
And when I thought I was burned, that’s when I finally learned
Little better person, that’s me

Paralyzed