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Welcome To My Century Outtakes

It took a long time to make my second album, Welcome To My Century. That’s because I was working as an SAT tutor in New York City on evenings and weekends and couldn’t travel to/spend blocks of time in Tommy West’s studio in New Jersey. Also during this period, Tommy’s presence was required in Canada, where he was making a Christmas album with Anne Murray. So, there were logistical challenges.

But there has also been speculation that Tommy might have been stalling. He denies it vehemently, but if it’s true, he’s a freaking genius. First, I was making strides as a songwriter, and the newer songs were better than the older ones. Second—and perhaps more importantly—much of the recent material reflected my having been dumped. There’s nothing wrong with break-up albums, but this wasn’t going to be the next Blood on the Tracks.

Some of the replacement tunes centered on break-up themes, but they weren’t so sad and bitter. Valentine’s Day, for example, took a more graceful approach than Forget About You, Secondhand Apartment, or Burn. Greenland and Too Bad For You suggested that I’d located my sense of humor, which must have been nice for my friends. Movie Star mined someone else’s relationship, and Tolstoy – the newest song that made the album – concerned a new relationship of my own. Onward!

Actually, upon close examination, most the songs we worked on but abandoned were NOT break-up songs. I understand why we left them off: too angry/edgy, too random, missed the mark, etc. Still, there are things I like about all of them, and they remind me of an exciting time in my life, when I was developing quickly amidst a number of formative experiences. Here are eleven of the twelve outtakes, in alphabetical order and annotated:

Are You Now Or Have You Ever Been 

 

started with a line I heard in another songwriter’s song. I didn’t rip off the song, only the title. Which, of course, you can’t copyright. I’ve done that one other time that I can think of, and I don’t feel bad about it, because my songs have nothing else in common with their progenitors. This version is unfinished, and doesn’t even include Brian Mitchell’s accordion, which I know we recorded. There’s a certain boldness in this lyric that I like, and the melody would have jumped out when we added harmony vocals.

David Hamburger Electric guitar
Sal Maida Bass
Dan Vonnegut Drums

Burn

 

is a super-bitter take on my first experience Iowa City, where my girlfriend attended the Iowa Writer’s Workshop. Interestingly, my next girlfriend also went to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, suggesting that I have a “type.” She and I ended up living there for six years and loving it.

Billy Masters Electric guitar
Sal Maida Bass
Dan Vonnegut Drums

Far Out Baby

 

stands out in my mind because it’s complicated, and I could never remember the chords when I tried to play it. There was one big concert where a friend kept yelling out for it, just to mess with my mind. Another thing I remember is that my friend Tim wrote a song featuring George Peppard the very same week. How is that possible? The subject matter is attributable to a woman I was dating, who loved Audrey Hepburn and had shown me a bunch of her movies. The title, I think, derives from my wanting to write a song with a “baby, baby” kind of thing. The songwriter Greg Brown had one of those on his Further In album, which I was listening to at the time.

David Hamburger Dobro
Sal Maida Bass
Dan Vonnegut Drums

Forget About You

 

is about my New York City existence in the wake of a break-up. My best friend was a bartender at the Ear Inn on Spring Street near the West Side Highway, and I spent a fair amount of time there. Actually, I spent a lot of time there even when I wasn’t heartbroken – it’s a great bar  – but this song concerns that period. I kinda like that line, “my flush will beat your pair.” Too clever?

Dave Schramm Electric guitar
Sal Maida Bass
Dan Vonnegut Drums

Going Out

 

does not bring back a lot of memories. There’s an anti-business thread, and drugs come in towards the end. I remember my friend Mike telling me that “downtown” was slang for something having to do with heroin, although I’ve never heard that since. That business about throwing our credit cards into a hat was straight out of my life: I played “credit card roulette” at a dinner at Mickey Mantle’s with a bunch of friends from the professional beach volleyball circuit. Our bass player, Sal Maida, called this one “The Police song” because the riff has an Andy Summers-type sound. Finally, I forgot all about the reggae ending. You know, I kind of like this track, even if the lyric feels phony or forced.

David Hamburger Electric guitar
Sal Maida Bass
Dan Vonnegut Drums

History

 

was my first or second of only two or three co-writes, on assignment with Matthew Puckett from an ASCAP workshop. Puckett has had a successful career writing music for TV and film, but at the time he was just another New York singer/songwriter doing gigs at The Living Room. He came over to my apartment and we worked up the music and a general theme. Once he left, the lyric came to me in less than an hour and the song was done. It was actually an awkward situation: we were supposed to write the song together. He understood, of course—you can’t look a gift horse in the mouth—but in the end it wasn’t as collaborative as we both would have liked it to be.

Dave Schramm Electric guitar
Sal Maida Bass
Dan Vonnegut Drums

Ian and Lydia

 

names names. Ian and Lydia are the actual names of friends who totally should have hooked up. My girlfriend and I tried our best to put them together—even housed them in adjacent rooms on a weekend getaway—but there was no spark. I kept my hopes up for years, but they were dashed in the 00s when Lydia married someone else. At least I got this song, offered here in a decent take with David Hamburger on pedal steel.

David Hamburger Pedal steel
Sal Maida Bass
Dan Vonnegut Drums

Long Live the Revolution

 

started with the title on an airplane between New York and Cedar Rapids. That line and a modified minor chord are what still excite me about this song, which was recorded for Welcome to My Century but left it off for reasons I can’t recall. The WTMC version features David Hamburger on a Jerry Jones baritone guitar he bought explicitly for these sessions. I re-recorded it from the same basic template for If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home.

David Hamburger Baritone electric guitar
Sal Maida Bass
Dan Vonnegut Drums

Secondhand Apartment

 

describes the Gramercy Park apartment I shared with my girlfriend. It was her apartment, and I overstayed my welcome, a subject I revisit in Lost Soul. As you may have figured out, we cut this one during my “sing high” period, which coincided with my “rock hard” period.

Dave Schramm Electric guitar
Sal Maida Bass
Dan Vonnegut Drums

Suicide

 

is about the actor David Strickland, who co-starred in Brooke Shields’s TV show, Suddenly Susan. He went to high school in my home town, and was a huge and hilarious presence on the party scene. You could see, however, that drugs and alcohol weren’t going to work for him; he also suffered from bipolar disorder. Despite the good things in his life—he was, after all, breaking out in show business—Dave committed suicide in Las Vegas in 1999, when we were 29. The song I wrote about it is a heavy, heavy bummer, and audiences disliked its raw intensity. I might not take the same approach if I took on the subject today, but at the time that’s how I was feeling.

David Hamburger Electric guitar
Sal Maida Bass
Dan Vonnegut Drums

The Deep End

 

is about twenty-somethings on a weekend binge at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. I went for the songwriting contest and stayed in a condo with a group of people who were determined to have a good time. Normally, I would have appreciated the party atmosphere, but for whatever reason I wasn’t into it. I did side with the revelers when the neighbors objected to late-night hot tub use, which is un-American. My “bed” was on the floor of a small room with two friends who were about to get married. How romantic! David Hamburger’s guitar playing is pretty great on this one…

David Hamburger Slide guitar
Sal Maida Bass
Dan Vonnegut Drums

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