Section One: This Looks Like a Job...
The first four songs on the album were all inspired to some extent by the City of Heroes MMORPG. Two of them are rather . . . intense with the MMORPG references, while the other two are more universally accessible to anyone who understands superheroes. The songs are:
Beat Up the Scum (Lyrics)
To the tune of Sheryl Crow’s “Soak Up the Sun”.
Don’t Wanna Be Defeated (Lyrics)
To the tune of The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated”.
To the tune of The Who’s “My Generation”.
Personal Archvillain (Lyrics)
To the tune of Depeche Mode’s “Personal Jesus”. Additional lyrics by Allison Lonsdale.
Section Two: The Final Frontier
The middle four songs all have something to do with space travel. Two are about the late and much-lamented TV show Firefly, one is a cover of a Tom Smith song about Babylon 5, and one is about The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy using the lyrics of Douglas Adams (mostly) set to an original tune. The songs are:
It’s the End of the ’Verse As We Know It (Lyrics)
To the tune of R.E.M.’s “It’s the End of the World As We Know It”.
Take Me Apart (Lyrics)
Music by Eben Brooks, lyrics by Douglas Adams and Eben Brooks.
The Hero of Canton (live) (Lyrics)
Music and lyrics by Ben Edlund, from the Firefly episode “Jaynestown”.
Five Years (Lyrics)
To the tune of The Barenaked Ladies’ “One Week”. Lyrics by Tom Smith.
Section Three: Dark Days Indeed
Three songs with a horror theme … and one piece of Celtic mouth music, just for the hell of it.
Music and Lyrics by Eben Brooks. Inspired by the comic book series Preacher by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon.
Bloody (Before It Eats My Face) (Lyrics)
My version of Allison Lonsdale’s parody of Puddle of Mudd’s “Blurry”.
To the tune of The Beastie Boys’ “Girls!”.
Tha Mi Sgith (Lyrics)
Traditional, my arrangement.
O R’lyeh? Iä, R’lyeh!
Hey There Cthulhu (Lyrics)
A filk of The Plain White Tees’ Hey There Delilah, this song came about when I received an e-mail from a friend which read “Delilah and Cthulhu have the same number of syllables.” My immediate response was that I didn’t think I was up to the task, but that I’d think about it. About an hour later, I had sent her a rough draft.
Bloody (Before It Eats My Face)(Lyrics)
This filk of Puddle of Mudd’s Blurry was written by my dear and talented friend Allison Lonsdale.
This song came about as a direct consequence of a tradition amongst my friends here in San Diego: The yearly Cthulhu Christmas Party. As part of the tradition, we sing Cthulhu Christmas carols. One year, I decided to contribute one of my own, and I though to myself “Hey, Gaudete could be redone for Cthulhu as Timere!” (The latin word 'gaudete' means 'rejoice'; 'timere', on the other hand, means 'be afraid'!) I make no promises about the quality or accuracy of the Latin in this song—I was using a Latin/English dictionary and trying to parallel the structure of Gaudete as much as possible, but I imagine that anyone who actually knows Latin will be either laughing or cringing at it. ;-)
Waiting For the Countdown (Lyrics)
In 1992, about a year after the first Gulf War, I and my friends Enrique and Phoenix were reminiscing about how we had felt at the time the war started, and specifically about how we’d felt when rumors started that King George I (of course, we didn’t call him that back then...) was going to ask Congress to reinstate the draft if the war lasted more than three months. I picked up my guitar and played a chord progression that had been running through my mind, saying that I had an idea for a song called “Waiting For the Countdown”—a phrase which spoke to my feelings at the time that the “other shoe” was coming down any minute. To my amazement, Enrique started singing. Then I started singing. Then Phoenix started singing. Before we knew it, we’d written a song. I consider this song to be the second in a trilogy, the first one being Pawns In the Game from Just Me and My Guitar v2.0 and the third being More to Fear, as yet unreleased.
This song started life as a poetic exercise in my first-semester creative writing class in college, in which I wrote about my feelings regarding work, school, growing up, and life in general. The exercise was to write a free-verse poem with four stanzas of three lines each. The first line was to start “I used to”, the second “But now”, and the third was to be a short phrase, repeated verbatim in each stanza. The poem I wrote for this exercise was even called “Lightbringer’s Fall,” though the refrain in the poem was “I got better, you see.” It was only a few months later that I got the bug to make it a song, and though the actual words were changed significantly, the ideas are pretty much the same.
The title song of this album was the result of my re-reading Stephen R. Donaldson’s The Mirror of Her Dreams during a bout of severe unemployment-induced depression in early 1991. (The Mirror of Her Dreams is an excellent book, but not for the squeamish or the easily depressed.) It was one of those songs that “wrote itself” over the course of an afternoon. All of the situations in this song actually come from just the first half of the first chapter of the book, which deals with the main character’s feelings of isolation and unreality, feelings that I at that time could definitely sympathize with.
Oh, and despite the fact that Allison Lonsdale and I both have had very good luck in using severe depression to fuel songwriting...we don’t recommend it!
God Help Us All(Lyrics)
This song started out as a very PC breakup song—you know the kind, “We’re okay, but we’re wrong for each other, so let’s quit now before things get ugly.” But then, at the first chorus, it swerved into infidelity, becoming completely non-biographical in the process. It ended up taking over a year to write, but I’m so happy with it that I don’t mind. It’s also my first blatantly Country & Western song. But that’s okay, too, somehow.
The other song on this album inspired by a book, this one is based a passage from Roger Zelazny’s The Courts of Chaos, the last book of the first Amber chronicle. It again started with a chord progression, and when I played it for Allison one day, images from this passage started to come to her mind, and she started singing (seems to be a trend, here). I wrote down what she sang, looked at it over the course of the next few days, added two verses, polished it up, and voila—we had a song.
And again, the passage that this song is based on is a very small fraction of the book, but one that is beautifully written. It is about the main character remembering being in Paris at the turn of the 20th century, remembering all of the things that happened to him there, all of the sights and sounds and smells—and all of these memories are flooding his mind as he is trying to stop the end of the world (as is only proper for fantasy adventure books).
Hippie Jack’s Unsmokable Hash(Lyrics)
This song is what I would otherwise call an abomination: a filk of a song that was already funny. The original song is of course Stu Venable’s marvelous “Happy Jack’s Undrinkable Ale” (which The Poxy Boggards recorded on the equally wonderful album, Bawdy Parts, sadly no longer available), a song that was often sung by my former band, The Wild Oats. Well, one day Craig accidentally refers to the song as “Hippie Jack’s Undrinkable Ale,” then realizes his mistake and says, “Actually, that should be ‘Hippie Jack’s Unsmokable Hash.’” To this, I respond “‘One mighty puff knocks you flat on your ash’?”
If I’d been smart, I would have left it at that. But no! I had to go and actually write the thing. And then I had to go and perform it at a concert! I’m just lucky as hell that Stu decided he liked it...
At Night She Comes Home(Lyrics)
Believe it or not, the inspiration for this song was a somewhat bawdy folk song called “Down At the Inn”—one of those songs that can go on as long as people can continue to think up new verses. (I remember an SCA fire circle where the good people of House Ritterwald and company sang it for nearly an hour straight.) The conceit of the song is that one declares what one's spouse does for a living, says what he or she does all day, and then says that “At night he/she comes home and...drinks tea.” For example:
My wife is a glazer, a glazer, a glazer,
A very fine glazer is she.
And all day she blows glass, she blows glass, she blows glass,
And at night she comes home and...drinks tea.
This is followed by the simple chorus, which is little more than a repetition of the phrase “Down at the inn.”
You can, I'm sure, see the parallels to “At Night She Comes Home.” In fact, this song was originally intended to be comedic, but the imagery that came to mind as I was writing it was rather too dark for humor; thus, the song emerged as it exists today: a sad commentary on how the working world can sap the life out of us.
If God Help Us All is about infidelity, this song is about poorly managed polyamory. At the time I wrote this, my girlfriend and I were in an open relationship, and she had pretty thoroughly latched onto a new boy-toy, leaving me kinda wanting for her attention. Needless to say, this caused some strife and disharmony, especially within me. This song came out of that—or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this song tore its way out of that with bloody claws and a mouth like a shoebox full of teeth...
I would like to thank Cameron Campbell for some inspiration as to how to record this song. He did a cover recording of it many, many years ago and included some things that I thought were cool, and which I’ve used in this recording.
I wrote this song because I wanted a musical expression of my therapeutic process. Dr. Arne Liss, the World’s Greatest Therapist™, has been my therapist for the past, well, many years. Probably closing in on a decade, in fact. And he has helped me through some of the toughest times of my life. Even during the relatively calm periods, he’s helped me understand myself better, and I have no doubt that I would not be who or where I am today without him. This song is dedicated to him and the help he’s given me over the years.
I wrote this song in anticipation of my ten-year high school reunion—in fact, the title of this song was originally “Terminally 17 (High School Reunion)”, but I decided later on that it didn't need the subtitle. It was inspired by a song by Allison Lonsdale called “Lost Along the Coast Road”, in which she reminisces in the first verse about where some people in her early life are today. I thought it would be fun to write a whole song like that, so I did.
This was one of those songs that grabs the writer by the throat and won’t let go until it’s finished. I was working as a delivery driver at the time, and I ended up being late (in some cases very late) to about half of my delivery points because I was furiously writing this song. In one case, at a company where a friend of mine was working at the front desk, I entered and immediately said, “I’m so sorry I’m late. My muse is a demanding bitch.”
As a post-script, though I didn't end up attending my ten-year reunion, I did go to the twenty-year and performed this song at it. Of course, no one who is mentioned in the song was there...
This song, begun early in the year that my mother died of breast cancer and finished about a year later, is entirely dedicated to Mom, aka Lani Rose Jeansdottir, formerly Lani J. Rosenberger, midwife, witch, healer, organizer, and the woman who taught me about music. She died in August of 2001, and I still miss her terribly.
Breast cancer affects one in eight women some time during their lives, and kills one in 33. It is the second most common cancer (behind skin cancer) in women, and also the second most deadly (behind lung cancer). However, the death rate has been going down in recent years, mostly due to new detection technologies that can find breast cancer earlier, and thus treat it with a much lower chance of recurrence. For more information, and to help in the fight against this disease, please go to the American Cancer Society website at http://www.cancer.org.
Stay With Me Tonight(Lyrics)
An unabashedly autobiographical song about the first couple of years of my relationship with an ex-girlfriend. I wrote the first verse and all three choruses in one day, then it took a year each for the second and third verses. Sometimes the songwriting bug works in strange ways...
SECRET BONUS TRACK...Shh! Another cover, but very different from last time. I think you’ll like it. ;-)
Just Me and My Guitar v2.0
Pawns In the Game(Lyrics)
This song started out as a short story written by my friend Randall Hickman. When I originally wrote the song in 1987, it had completely different lyrics, but my “renaissance” as a songwriter in 1990 made me look at it again. I decided that the only two aspects of the song that I wanted to keep were the opening and closing lines of the chorus (“We are pawns in the game” and “For we go to earn our glory or earn our grave”) and the music. Everything else changed. Originally, it had been about some generic war a few hundred years ago, with references to swords, bows, axes and spears. The rewrite pulled it into the 20th century. I had the original Persian Gulf War (“Operation Desert Storm”) in mind when I wrote it, but I’m sure that it could apply just as well to any other modern war.
Maybe Next Year(Lyrics)
This was my first “real” song, as it were, written in May of 1990. It was about a girl, of course. And it was the first song I composed on a guitar (Pawns had originally been written on the piano). What I didn’t realize while I was writing it was that I was damn near plagiarizing the tune of Guns ’n’ Roses’ “Sweet Child o ’ Mine”, so when I performed it for a friend for the first time, I got to the chorus and he started in with “Whoa, oh, oh, sweet child o’ mine!” I said to him “You suck....”
Nevertheless, many of my fans really like this song and don’t make the connection to “Sweet Child o ’ Mine”. Even Steve Langdon, my engineer, didn’t make the connection right away, and even when I pointed it out, he said, “Yeah, but it’s such a different kind of song that you don’t hear it that way.” Thank you, Steve; you’re awesome for my ego.
Allison Lonsdale calls this song a “traditional cyberpunk folk ballad.” Despite what one reviewer suggested, “Dancer” is not autobiographical. It is, in fact, entirely fabricated. I wanted to write a cyberpunk song, and this is what came out. The cyberpunk references aren’t blatant, but they’re definitely there: “Metalic nerves”, “A wired eye”, “He coils in” (which is a reference to Coils, an awesome book by Roger Zelazny and Fred Saberhagen), not to mention the continuing theme of “running from a hologram” and “chasing nothing more than specks of light.” No specific book inspired this song, although William Gibson’s Neuromancer was one of the triggers, as well as Coils.
A reviewer called this song a folk tale set to music, and I wouldn’t argue with that description at all, but of course it’s more complicated than that. When I met Allison Lonsdale, she was already a fantastic songwriter and had been for many years. I immediately got a huge case of inferiority complex, which I took to calling “Salieri syndrome”, after the narrator and main character of the movie Amadeus. During a bout of depression, the feelings of inferiority became so intense that I just had to write about it, and I decided it needed to be a story, not just a rant about how I felt. I set it in the past because I had just joined the Society for Creative Anachronism, and I was learning about traditional and early music. And I thought a story about a wandering minstrel who had been out-done and couldn’t bring himself to play any more was a good frame for it.
Of course, when I was done with it, I thought it was crap. But I played it for Allison anyway, because I wanted her to know how I felt. Imagine my surprise when she said that it was the best thing she’d ever heard me do, and that it rivaled her own best material.
This song was actually the first song I ever performed as a singer/songwriter/guitarist. I was at an impromptu gathering of musicians in late 1990 with my girlfriend, and I hadn’t brought my guitar, so I had to borrow one—an absolutely gorgeous-sounding 12-string, I might add—and I decided to play “Amadea”. I was among professionals and long-time musicians of all kinds, so I pretty much expected a pat on the head and a “That’s nice, hon.” The applause I got completely surprised me.
Number on a Page(Lyrics)
In late 1990, I took a job with a company in the San Fernando Valley, which meant I had to move back into my parents’ house after having lived in San Diego over the summer and deciding I really preferred it there (not to mention that that’s where my girlfriend was). To add insult to injury, my job SUCKED! It was a stupid, menial position at a company that taught people how to pass the CPA exam. I felt like just another cog in the machine instead of a person. So one day when I was feeling particularly terrible, I started to write this song. By lunch time, I had a workable first pass, and by the end of the following weekend, I’d finished it.
Or so I thought. Originally, the song was longer—not more lyrics, but with significant pauses between the lines of the verses. The reason I eliminated those pauses and tightened it up was that if I hadn’t, the original album wouldn’t have fit on a standard 30-minute cassette tape. Of course, there still exist recordings of the longer version out there, but I’m sure anyone who’s heard both would agree that the shorter one is better.
Princes, Friends, and Lovers(Lyrics)
Allison Lonsdale wrote (and still writes) a lot of songs about how the men in her life turn out to be complete losers. One of them contained the line “...is it my lousy luck/That my princes all turn into frogs at first @#$%?” With this line in mind, I started to compose this song. It was a halting effort at first (I originally tried to use the turning-to-a-frog image in one of the choruses), but over the course of a few days, I worked it out and honed it down to what it is now. Originally, I sang it in the key of A, but my voice cannot reliably stay in that register anymore, so I transposed it down to the key of D, capoed up three frets to F. I think it works better in this key, not only for my voice, but overall.
I’m sure it will surprise no one that I’m a Pagan. It may surprise a few people that I’m a third-degree initiate in my tradition and hold a legal ministerial credential through the Celtic Witan Church of California. But, after listening to this song, no one will be at all surprised to learn that the story of my initiation and ordination is not a very happy one. My mother, being the High Priestess, sort of railroaded me through the program, and I came out the other end feeling like I’d learned nothing and that my whole initiation was a complete sham. Furthermore, I’d seen so many other “Priests” and “Priestesses” who were so full of themselves it was a wonder they could see past their own noses that I pretty much completely rejected my training—and got pretty angry about it! Taking a couple of images from the Tarot and fashioning them into a refrain of sorts (“I am the Fool who’s been made Magician”), I wove this song around it. It’s not quite about me anymore, but it’s close.
Dancer #2 (Lyrics)
About six months after I finished “Dancer”, another verse came into my head. So I wrote it down and came up with another chorus to go with it. However, it felt to me like it wasn’t the same song as Dancer; for one thing, it definitely takes place significantly after the action in the original, maybe many years later, when the narrator has “given up” chasing Dancer, but still has dreams/nightmares about her. So I decided that it needed to be a “sequel” of sorts, and made it “Dancer #2”. I still don’t know why I didn’t come up with a fancier name, but it felt right at the time.
Deified Hebraic Carpenterial Blues(Lyrics)
The genesis of this song comes from three distinct sources. One is Allison Lonsdale’s “Fat Tuesday Blues”, which is about doin’ it with the Devil during Mardi Gras. This inspired me to try to write a song about doin’ it with God, but that didn’t go anywhere right away. The second was a comment made by a friend of mine: I was in traffic and someone did something stupid which nearly caused me to crash, so I shouted “JESUS!” My friend Mike, who was in the passenger seat, said something like “Now, now, there’s no need to go invoking deified Hebraic carpenters,” a phrase which stuck in my mind. The third was that, when I tried to write the aforementioned song about doin’ it with God, I realized that I’d written a line that suddenly made the song about Jesus reincarnating himself. So I reworked what I had, used Mike’s marvelous phrase, and ran with it. Thus, the original version of “Deified” was born.
Somewhat later, I realized that the middle verse, which contained that fateful line, was crap, so I scrapped it. Even later, in 1994, I did a top-to-bottom re-write, which made the song much better, in my opinion.
SECRET BONUS TRACK...Shh! All I’ll say about the bonus track is that it’s a cover, but it’s a song that I really love and have been playing for a long time. Craig Yerkes, who at that time did reviews for the San Diego Troubadour, had this to say about it: “...when I first realized what song it was, I rolled my eyes and braced for the worst...but then was impressed at how good it sounded.” I hope you like it as much as he did.