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Wednesday, March 31, 2010

13. "Divorce Medley" by The Dovells

The Machine has selected another artifact of the 365 Days project for me. The story behind this '70's relic, along with all of the tunes from this bizarre album, can be found here.

The story behind my "version" of it is far more pedestrian. The track is a medley of four or five songs, and I was taking the kids to Disneyland, so I didn't have time to learn them all. I knew going into this project that there would be days like this, and I've set aside a few strategies to create interesting quickie covers when it happens... I just hadn't anticipated pulling up a song quite so... dense. So I went for what must've been Option #8 or so on the list of time-saving cover strategies, and I promise I won't do it again: round-table discussion of the track as it plays. Seeing as how the song is called "Divorce Medley" and all three of the kids discussing it with me are children of divorce, you might expect some deep revelations, but the best you'll get is "Kitty cat!", which is about as far into the subject as I felt like delving myself.

Rex Broome, Eden Hain, Miranda Broome & Ridley Broome: Family round table discussion group
The Dovells: Tacky homophobic '70's Vegas act in background



Cop-Out Number One, and one of the most egregious ones... people sitting around listening to the music they're allegedly covering. Most conspicuously, the sleeve cover artwork for this one clearly took a great deal more time and effort than the recording itself (check out that "The Broomes" logo in the corner there), which does draw my attention to the fact that I clearly hadn't instituted my "strictly square" policy for the sleeve art.

The writeup for both this recording and "The Sound of Fun Surrounds You" make reference to the 365 Days Projects, about which a bit more should probably be said, because they are in some ways where 39-40 started, and the realm to which it will in whole or in part probably return. The two projects, curated by UBUWeb and/or WFMU, ran daily in 2003 and 2007, and presented, to put it crudely, audio oddities, digitized artifacts way beyond just plain "out of print". Some of it was kitsch, some of it was outsider art, some of it was oddly compelling promotional material from bygone eras; there were limited edition vanity recordings, song-poems, tapes found in thrift shops and dumpsters, and more. When the project started, it was basically unique. Nowadays there are tons of "365" blogs and projects, including, of course, 39-40, so the UBU/WFMU projects get buried in a google search among their spiritual offspring (most of which seem to be photography projects). As a point of personal pride, I would love to see the statistics on what percentage of 365 blogs go the distance, and the average length of time they last before going tits up in the ditch, but I imagine such statistics would be damned hard to generate.

The only way to get a really good sense of what is or isn't 365 Days material is to start poking around and see for yourself. I found even the least of what the projects presented to be thought-provoking as to the very nature of what recorded sound and/or music could/should be, and quickly became a completist. The 2003 project presented a single track daily, but in 2007 the concept was expanded to allow for multiple tracks each day, so that full albums, artist retrospectives.

My total holdings from the two projects combined total 2,943 tracks, so the likelihood of The Machine randomly selecting one was pretty high; the likelihood of such a track being pretty fucked up was almost as strong. So for the first half of 39-40, while iTunes was selecting the tunes for me, the 365 Projects loomed large, not only in the project's aesthetic and conceptual DNA, but in terms of actually providing the covers, and usually that was cool: it would have been inconceivable to the people creating most of those tracks that someone would do to them what I have done to them, many years later and for no easily described reason.

So that's that.

No real Easter Eggs other than the fact that in the artwork, there are a lot of photos of Miranda in Saint Patrick's Day gear. That's her birthday, which, being two days before mine, and mine having been two weeks prior to this recording and marking the start of the project, was pretty recent at the time.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

12. "Space Diva" by Luscious Jackson

I get in trouble for saying this sometimes, but the nineties were really just the worst decade ever for rock and roll (and yes, I know that that is really saying something). Not the worst decade for music by any stretch, just easily the years when the chance of something nominally "rock" being decent at all were the slimmest. All the pop music variants of interest were at least two or three degrees away from rock as we'd known it, drawing on other forms for their primary creative fuel (electronic music, country and traditional music, krautrock, chamber and sunshine pop, sitars and robot voices). Even the great rock songs of the era screamed out about the abysmal state of things: "Who sucked out the feeling?"... "Pretension and fame is a CAREER!" and so forth. So that's why people like me listened to bands like Luscious Jackson. The alternatives were dire, smelling like sex and candy as they did.

This isn't the greatest such artifact The Machine could have selected for me... it might've been a little more entertaining to do a Cibo Matto song or something. But this was fun.

Another neat thing about Luscious Jackson is that they are the answer to the trivia question "What all-female band featured a former Beastie Boy?"

Rex Broome ~ Everything, except...
Eden Hain ~ Subliminal viola on playout



This one held up a lot better than I had thought it would. Wonky mixing issues, but no worse than I would still have well into the project. In the end I like having the vocals out a little too far in front better than the buried mumbles I started to get when I got worried about the singing drowning out the music, but more on that as it develops.

Given that I was working only with the onboard factory-supplied GarageBand loops, the groove hangs together pretty well, and my cut-and-paste keyboardisms are actually refreshing now that I've gotten sick of all the MIDI sounds I eventually discovered. The best part, though, is that I succeeded in something I really doubted I could pull off... building the song up as a slow burn from a tight, semi-funky acoustic figure to a beat-nuts, Chemical Brothers-y finale. I find myself if not elated then at least well-pleased.

Incidentally, I totally don't remember Eden contributing any viola at this early stage. I must've just recorded her practicing in the room and added it in as flavoring... I frankly don't even hear it.


For better or worse, these really start to pile up fast with this track.

-The truncated "...doin' it" was a spontaneous lift from a remix of The Butthole Surfers' "Pepper".

The various other things that "she got" came from all over the place. In approximate order the are:
-"Flesh cartoons" from the Robyn Hitchcock song of the same name.
-"Flesh-colored Christs that glow in the dark" from Dylan's "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)"
-"Toejam football" and other possessions borrowed from ol' Flattop of The Beatles' "Come Together"
-There follows a bunch of stuff cribbed from "The Pigworker" by The Soft Boys (Hitchcock again). The combination of "Come Together" and "Pigworker" would again appear inna heavy dub stylee on, of course, this Kenny Rogers cover.
-"Down in the park" inexplicably comes from the song by Gary Numan, who gets namechecked immediately thereafter.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

10. "Nelly Bly" by Genevieve Schorr & Rex Broome

Like probably all active musicians, and most likely a fair share of formerly active ones, I have a lot of my own stuff in my music library. Not out of vanity so much as, well, where else are you going to put it? And I save just about everything, so there are a lot of incomplete demos and unfinished mixes and so forth, and I had no doubt I'd end up covering myself on 39-40. The one The Machine selected for me today is nonetheless a bit of an anomaly.

A few years ago my wife and I were casually commissioned to write a play for kids with original music (something she'd done before). The subject was Nellie Bly, the pioneering female journalist, who is actually an interesting and sort of stranger-than-you'd-think figure. So we wrote the script and a clutch of original songs for the characters to sing. We also included the historical song "Nelly Bly" by Stephen Foster, written in 1850. Weird thing is, the Foster song "Nelly Bly" isn't about Nellie Bly; in fact, Bly was a pen name given to the journalist by an editor for reasons that aren't entirely clear even now (to say nothing of the spelling discrepancy). The Foster song was actually about a young slave girl (and originally featured some period dialect you just couldn't perform today). Weirder still was the fact that we couldn't find a full recording of the song; what we did find was an instrumental version on an mp3 which I believe was originally some kind of MIDI arrangement. We had to record our own vocals on it for demo purposes, and that's what you'll hear if you listen to the "original" track here... the phrasing and melody were basically best guesses.

The play was rejected and the songs have never seen the light of day. Interesting experience, though.

As to what I did with it this time out, well, I must have somehow equated the phrase "Heigh Nelly, Ho Nelly" with "Hey Ho, Let's Go", because I don't know how else I arrived at this arrangement.

Rex Broome ~ everything



When I recorded this fake-band pop-punk blast, I sort of felt like I was finally caving in and doing the most obvious kind of recording I could do given my background and experience. But having just burned the bulk of the project to CDs and spent some tim driving around listening to them in my car, I found that when this came blasting out of my speakers after a series of experiments that were a bit trying both to perform at the time and to listen to now, this one came as a relief and put a big smile on my face. In the final analysis, maybe I should have done more of these, but I think I'm just too restless. I would end up tending not to do anything this straightforward and simple unless there was counterintuitive and convoluted reason for doing so. I'm not necessarily my own worst enemy, but I must surely be in the top five.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

9. "Massage the History" by Sonic Youth

A few months ago it dawned on me that I don't have a standby answer to the question "Who's your favorite drummer?" and I figured I should come up with one. One part of my mind started churning away at what the criteria should be-- technical skill, feel, good taste in what records he or she has been on, etc.-- but another part of my mind quickly shut this process down and informed me that the obvious answer was Steve Shelley.

It must be much more difficult to figure how to play Sonic Youth songs than it is to write them. That's no slight on the band's enormous inventiveness, it's just that they know what they're doing and we mere mortal musicians by and large don't. You can find tabs and tuning diagrams online pretty easily, but it astounds me that people feel like they can be sure they've gotten them right. I have to assume that it gets easier to decipher SY songs the more you do it. There must be some standby tunings and tricks that start to seem intuitive after a while. I've only ever tried to fake my way through SY tunes in standard tuning, or, the one time I performed one in public, made up my own weird tuning as I was only doing that one song... on an acoustic guitar... as the toast to my friends' wedding. So this blog is not the first insane musical thing I've ever done, no.

This time I rolled with the "official" tuning online and went with my electric 12-string as the instrument, just for the bonus overtones. There was no real point to doing the long jam thing on this tune since I was playing solo, but I tried to play the rest of it loose and weird to preserve the "experimental" intent to the piece. The tuning was so unfamiliar that I was actually surprised from time to time by what came out of the amp... you can hear some little WTF yelps in the vocal for sure.

Rex Broome ~ Guitar, vocal, painting.*

*The "covering the album artwork" aspect of 39-40 has developed as a sort of accident, and one that makes a not especially easy task a little bit more difficult yet (although I like doing it and it is often funny). In this case it was surprisingly easy: the painting you see here is one I did several years ago, and, while it doesn't look exactly like the one on the cover of "The Eternal", it certainly doen't look exactly unlike it either.


As Joe Strummer once said... wait, I already used that one. But it is fuckin' long. And probably even the least ardent fans of Kim Gordon's vocals would enjoy the original a lot more than this cover. It was interesting to play... the wild tuning was fun, although my idea that translating it to a 12-string would compensate in terms of interest for the lack of a rhythm section didn't really pan out. At least I did manage to incorporate some of the melodic "lead" figures into a single guitar part, and the sliding tempos and transitions, while not necessarily as loose and bluesy-intuitive as I might have hoped, do keep it from being not just long and droney but blandly metronomic as well.

At this point in SY's history, I seem to be adoring every other LP and simply admiring the ones in between. I don't know why that should be, but it seems to hold true from year to year. The Eternal was one of the "admire" ones. It seems to be the total sex record that Rather Ripped was sort of tilting toward, and while I like that aspect of it, I wasn't really able to sell the way this tune ends with "I want you to suck my neck"... I had been a little too preoccupied wrestling with 12 unfamiliarly tuned strings to really get my mojo working, even after nine minutes. Frankly, I was kind of tired. So for probably not the last time, I do apologize if I failed to turn you on. I try, I really do.

Friday, March 26, 2010

8. "The Sound of Fun Surrounds You" by Six Flags Over Texas

This selection comes courtesy of one or the other 365 Days Projects, daily collections of audio oddities and ephemera which might well appeal to anyone who enjoys what I'm doing here. It's a vintage record you could buy at the Six Flags Over Texas theme park in days of yore, containing a sort of travelogue-y approximation of a visit to the park. Somewhere between a promotional item and a souvenir, I suppose, narrated in full by Fifties Filmstrip Guy. In other words, the perfect grist for the mill of audio collages and techno pastiches, although I did (again) toy with other approaches, like a full cast recreation of the thing... but it's early days, so I tend towards first impulses as of now.

That said, one line in the monologue suggested an unusual approach for the techno treatment, and I just went with it. If I were prone to subtitling my covers, which I'm not as a matter of principle signifying nothing, this would carry the label "The Sound of Fun Surrounds You (Smell the Horse Mix)". Also of passing interest: the first two tracks to occur to me as sample sources aside from the track picked by The Machine... amazingly happened to be in the same key. Maybe dumb luck, or maybe an indicator that my brain holds onto information about, and connections between, musical pieces on a level about which I hold no conscious awareness. Doubtful, but entertaining to ponder, if you're me.

Truthfully, this was also sort of an experiment to see if I could get samples to match up with each other using a couple of different freeware programs and a lot of scratch paper. At some point in the future I may go into some detail about the limitations of my gear and recording skills, but for now, let's just say... they are both rudimentary at best.

Assembled and mixed by Rex Broome
Art alterations by Miranda & Ridley Broome
Sample credits in comments



I suppose I got through the above without literally spelling out the heavy use of Neil Young & Crazy Horse samples, certainly a rarity in the electronic music field, in order to preserve the surprise for the folks were about to listen to it and would understand what it was. Not sure about that strategy in hindsight.

The editing is pretty good for a moron, which is what I was. At the time I had not learned how to create my own loops and slave them to a tempo, so everything you hear here, while not literally created by splicing audiotape, is done almost less efficiently. There are a few loops, but they are GarageBand freebies; the samples from "Fuckin' Up" and 808 State's "In Your Face" were trimmed and sliced and retrimmed and jammed together to fit the tempo of the loops, which was my best approximation of the tempo of the songs (I hadn't figured out how to figure that out either). The hoppy-skippy quality leant to the track by that peculiarity is something I can forgive myself for-- it was part of the learning curve-- but I don't know why I ended up undermixing the vocal samples. That's the part that's frustrating to me now. However, I do still get a chuckle out of some of the bits, especially the difficult to discern bit where I chopped up the Six Flags narrator's voice and spliced it with Neil's to create the phrase "The SMELL of THE HORSE surrounds you!"

I think this is the first 39-40 entry for which absolutely no new audio was recorded. It's completely made from samples and clips of previous works. That would remain rare, especially once I figured out how to work the sequencers and easily fly transitional bits into the tracks to smooth out segues or hold down the key. Basically, I made this one harder than it needed to be. And it won't be the last time, either.

The album artwork is cool, though... that was Miranda and Ridley drawing pictures based on some of the phrases in the song and then inlaying them into the shapes of the images on the Six Flags cover. Take a moment to look at it... it's at least as worthwhile as the music.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

7. "Öll Birtan" by Björk

I swear to Bowie that these tracks are selected randomly, and not personally handpicked by me for the maximum mutual musically-esoteric and horrifying-to-parody-album-art values, but I won't blame anyone for doubting me.

I suppose there were other approaches to covering a completely a capella track in a foreign language-- I did noodle around with transposing it to guitar for a bit-- but I ultimatelt took what might be simultaneously the most obvious and most difficult approach: just sing it. That meant laying the original Björk track down and singing track after track along with it, trying to isolate parts in the stereo spectrum as I went, scribbling down phonetic approximations of the Icelandic lyrics and hoping I didn't lose my place. I had the kids double me on a few parts for bonus elfin-sounding points; in the end we added a few random bits here and there in other non-English languages for fun. The results are interesting, if not necessarily, how do you English say? Ah yes... listenable.

Rex Broome ~ Faux Icelandic and Dada vocals
Miranda Broome ~ Faux Icelandic and Hebrew vocals, jewelry design
Eden Hain ~ Latin vocals, mask design


This entry became, of course, more famous for the photo artwork (in which I for some reason remind myself of Julian Cope more than anything else) than the musical content, although that got a fair amount of attention, too. With the amount of layering of vocals and effects employed here, it's a miracle that it's comprehensible as music at all, but it manages to hang together and it really sounds like nothing else in the rest of the project.

And that relates to the amount of work that went into it on the "learning it" side of things. The process is briefly described above, but it was, if anything, even more involved than it sounds, generating several pages of faux-Icelandic phoneticisms and obscure notations as to the timing and pronunciation. And don't forget the mixing process... it was a bitch and a half.

The whole package couldn't be described as transcendant, but it did attract some attention and I think it may have cleared up once and for all the fact that I wasn't just doing a fun daily cover of some song I liked... this was going to involve challenges.


In and amongst the mumblings can be heard:

-Eden reading her Latin homework
-Miranda reciting the Hannukah blessing
-Me reciting the Dada poem by Hugo Ball used as the basis for the lyrics to Talking Heads' "I Zimbra", which I would later cover in full

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

6. "To Beat the Devil" by Johnny Cash

Yeah, it's fairly intimidating to find out you have to cover Johnny Cash. This is actually a Kris Kristofferson song, which, I dunno, makes it better? Worse? The Cash version I have is from a bootleggy-type thing of demos for the American records (with which I have a love/hate relationship, but that's a discussion for another time); I don't think it ever saw release in this form. For all I know Cash did another official version somewhere... it seems likely, although I think I've only ever heard Waylon Jennings' version, and that in passing.

In any case, the song takes the form of the "talking blues". Cash really is sticking to Kristofferson's words pretty closely, but it sounds very off-the-cuff and conversational, which is, I suppose, one of those gifts you get when you're Johnny Cash. I decided to try the form out more than the song, and see how well I could improvise the storytelling bits while vamping, and retain the idea and choruses only. I got mixed results... for one thing, my story made the song twice as long and there are quite a few flubs in there (my favorite of which is the word "boke", and my least favorite of which is that I FORGOT TO SING THE PUNCHLINE), but after seven continuous minutes one is loathe to drag the cursor back to the start of the track and start again. So here it is.

SPOILER ALERT: I will put the intended punchline in the comments, so if you care about that sort of thing, listen to the song before you look down there.

Rex Broome ~ Vocal and guitar



To quote Joe Strummer, "Fuckin' long, innit?" Too many ideas. Happens to me all the time. I knew I had a bit of a sprawl on my hands, but I was still pretty surprised at the final runtime. All told I did a fair enough job of hitting my target in terms of pulling off a new genre; there's even one joke (out of, yes, a whole bunch) that, for me at least, works. But by and large what I was getting at wasn't a "song" type of thing, and I definitely find this a slog to hear.

It'll come up again here and there, but throughout (and occasionally beyond) the early months of the project I had it in mind that the songs would serve as a sort of diary of family and personal life during the days in which it was recorded. Sometimes that works well and other times a day simply isn't enough to process a big emotional event, somehow channel it through a song that doesn't really have anything to do with said event or the resulting mental state, and make enough sense of it to translate for a listener who wasn't there. In this case I'd really had my ass kicked in a humiliating fashion in court on an issue which couldn't possibly be more important to me, and on which I couldn't possibly be more right: custody for Miranda and Ridley. Somehow I moved on, but I was pretty devastated by it, and that would continue to haunt me in really odd ways until, oh, let's just say now and the forseeable future.

The preoccupation with smoking has to do with one particularly galling suggestion in my ex-wife's then-current court papers. In response to my suggestion that maybe constantly smoking around my children wasn't, you know, like, good or anything, she magnanimously offered to try to quit smoking if I paid for the treatment she would "require" to do so. Think about that a little bit, because I really can't, other than to say it's not too surprising that this scenario is what first leapt to mind when the title "To Beat the Devil" first hit my cortex.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

5. "Ice" by The Screaming Tribesmen

When The Machine selected this one for me, I didn't know much about The Screaming Tribesmen other than that they were an Australian punk/new wave band, and that information was gleaned from the album title ascribed to this track in my iTunes library: Australian Punk & New Wave Compilation. I'm pretty sure that was creatively assigned by me to a poorly tagged compilation of just such material I found online at some point.

In any case, it's a bit of an angry pop song, and it suits my mood today. Thing is, it's pretty much perfect the way it is. So I decided to latch onto the title of the song and give it somewhat more of a stark, wintery treatment. The guitar solo was added almost literally by accident. I'm also pretty sure this is the first time I've sung any profanity on 39-40. Hope you're into that kind of thing!

Rex Broome ~ Everything



Again, the cover artwork was recreated because it was pretty easy to do, seeing as how the contrasty B&W image was fairly easy to reconstruct around the new red splattery letters of the blog title. In itself no big deal, but I had yet to truly appreciate what I was setting myself up for. It's fairly involved on a daily basis, so I will run it down for you:

1) Do the song. This is of course terribly involved in itself: listen to it, learn it, make arrangement decisions, record it, keep adding overdubs if necessary, mix it. Huge deal, really.

2) Output it to the disc. Add it to iTunes library.

3) Make copy of original song being covered as well. Retag it as part of the "39-40: Source Material" album with the appropriate track number, "5" in this case.

4) Create artwork for cover version. This can be simple, or, as we shall, see, really really not.

5) Edit and add tags to the file for cover version, incuding adding artwork and getting all the credits and track number right, and deleting garbagey tag artifacts left on the info from the creation process, etc.

6) Upload original and cover version to, the universal storage ground for all 39-40 files.

7) Create blog entry. Upload artwork files, write textual meanderings, etc., following the fairly rigid formatting restrictions I've placed on myself.

8) Link the blog to the song files on cinemelon.

9) Make sure the date of the post tallies with when it's supposed to be.

10) Publish the post, hoping I haven't screwed up any of the above.

11) Create a link to the post on Facebook, which is the primary venue of traffic and the place where my regular followers expect a heads-up that a post has appeared.

So that can take a while.

As to the recording here, it's the first time I tried a strategy I would fall back on in a pinch frequently during the first half of the project, until I, without really premeditating it, basically just stopped: I played along with the original track in the headphones. This seemed at the time to make life easier in terms of remembering the structure of the song and, at times, turning the corners on some of the less intuitive bits of the more sophisticated vocal melodies I had to tackle. Listening to this one in the car recently, it sounded pretty decent, nice and taut for a minimalist reading of a rocker, and the lead guitar parts coming out of nowhere worked fairly well. I got a pretty fair sneer on for the vocals, too. I'd call it an early success.

Monday, March 22, 2010

4. "Hold Me Mother (12" Mix)" by Freur

Freur is famous for two things: the new wave single "Doot-Doot" and becoming Underworld. Now, once upon a very in-between-tech time, you could use the internet to find out about bands and recordings, but not easily procure them. So in the process of uncovering the backstory of a great artist like Underworld, you would often as not have to purchase whatever you could find, so I felt I needed to have this, particularly as "Doot-Doot" didn't seem to be easily found on any anthologies at the time. It's okay. You can hear snatches of what would make Underworld great, but only really with the benefit of hindsight. Underworld is subtle and slinky; Freur was a bit more... erm... flamboyant.

I didn't really know this song before The Machine selected it for me, but my first instinct was to make it sound a little bit more like Underworld would record it. Which is pretty much what I did. Lyrics are very approximate; I accidentally reversed the "push" and the "stop" and at one point it sounds like I say "Stop Bush!", but I don't. As a side note, this marks the first recording I've ever released on which I play no guitar (except for the bass); those gnarled power chords are provided by my stepdaughter Eden, best known as the singer/songwriter/guitarist for her own very fine band Wye. This is also my debut on keyboards, outside of very very private demo recordings.

Rex Broome ~ Everything except...
Eden Hain ~ Guitar and chorus vocals



Although there are all kinds of problems with the relative levels in the mix of this one, it's really pretty good for my first shot at a multileveled electronic-style track. There are parts in there which sound like sequenced synth parts, but I had yet to figure out how to use MIDI in any way; however, I couldn't call them "live" keyboard playing, either. I did play a rough, off-time version of the keyboard parts on the only keyboard I have lying around (which can be found somewhere here along with brief notes on almost every other instrument used throughout the project), but I then edited then down to more precise, on-the-beat versions of the figures I was going for that I could copy and paste at will. It got the job done.

Eden was in the car with me a few days ago when I was listening to the newly minted discs of the entire project for the first time. It took a minute, but she did remember recording it, and listening back to it, back when the blog was novel enough that everybody around me generally acknowledged each post. We both thought it held up pretty well for an early effort. The sketchy mixing seemed forgivable, and really would be but for the fact that it didn't improve much on subsequent similar tracks.

Maybe most importantly, for the second time here I post a flat-out tribute/parody of the album artwork, mostly because it was easy and I just happened to have a backlit, fog-saturated picture of myself from a live show which mirrored the original art design rather well. Somehow I missed the obvious tactic of mirroring the overlapping double capital O's in "Doot-Doot" for my own "Broome", but no matter... a dangerous precedent was set.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

3: "Mr. Kennedy (Live)" by The Soft Boys

Well, I knew it wouldn't be long before The Machine spat out a Robyn Hitchcock composition for me to cover. Mr. Hitchcock is one of a handful of artists whose every release (and there are many) I own, supplemented by a healthy dose of unofficial recordings. You'll learn about the others soon enough, I reckon.

"Mr. Kennedy" is a song from The Soft Boys' reunion album Nextdoorland, a record I felt was underappreciated at the time and have recently come to regard as one of the most fantastic releases of the early 21st century. This live version is from a recording of a show at Maxwell's in Hoboken on 10/25/02. The main attraction is probably the amazing guitar interplay from Robyn and Kimberly Rew on the playout, and it was tempting in covering it to do an overdubbed dual guitar duel of my own, but I decided instead to honor the fact that this is a "live" recording by doing it that way myself, albeit in my living room. I've actually never "released" a completely live, unedited recording of myself before, so it's a first of sorts.

This is also an example of me "Bragging it", something that I started recently at some solo shows in the West Virginia/MD border area... singing solo with an electric guitar. I love acoustics and all, but I seem to be able to get a lot more dynamics out of an electric. Plus, it just sounds like me: when you hear me in a band it's almost always my voice and my Rickenbacker 330 with all the knobs all the way up, so it just seems a little less pretentious to keep it that way in a solo setting.

Rex ~ Guitar & vocal
Napkin art ~ Danielle Shriver



This was the first fully live 39-40 cover, meaning that I recorded the guitar and vocal all at the same time without overdubs. I wasn't really sure I'd be doing this very often. I had in recent years gotten good enough at playing and singing, often fairly sophisticatedly multitasking lead guitar and vocals even, with the cover of a backing band to distract from my performance glitches, and had even gotten pretty fair at solo performances... as long as they were just heard live and in the moment, with all the little glitches just blowing by, unpreserved in recorded form, because every time I'd heard a recording of such performances back, it failed to meet my standards, if nobody else's, as something I'd ever want anyone else to ever possess. And it did take me a hell of a long time to get this up to snuff, but it's not too bad. I do like the song, and I managed to put some dynamics into it.

Technologically, I definitely didn't have it together. This was recorded in Audacity rather than GarageBand, because I hadn't yet figured out how to record multiple tracks at the same time in GarageBand... that would take an embarrassingly long time, in fact. Instead I used two mics into the Behringer mixer, panned each one hard left/right, recorded it as a stereo track in Audacity, then broke that stereo track into two mono tracks which I could mix independently. Come to think if it, while using that mixer as my audio input, I couldn't have recorded two independent tracks into GarageBand even if I'd known how to... that simply requires independent input channels. Huh. Well, I guess I've just discovered that I had an excuse for not leaping that little technological hurdle to begin with.

Here commences the sometimes valid, sometimes just smugly faux-clever personalization of lyrics: the town name "Harrisburg" gets replaced by "Morgantown", and instead of "thinking that I must've been here once" I sing "I've only been here once". It's a reference to Morgantown, WV, home of WVU and a place where many of my friends from high school ended up spending a huge chunk of their lives while I went off to Los Angeles and stayed there. And in truth, I can usually only thing of having been there once, which must be strange to a lot of people. Mulling it over, I believe I have actually been there twice, once for some kind of odd drama competition in which, as far as I recall, I wasn't really participating, and then again to see R.E.M. in what basically counts as my first "real" "rock" "concert" in 1989. Neither trip was truly within the realm of my "adult" life and I never saw anything other than the interior of the buildings in which the respective events were being held.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

2. "I'm Waiting for the Man" by The Velvet Underground

Okay, a lot of people have covered this one. My iTunes library alone contains 16 versions of it, including solo versions by Lou, Cale, Nico and Mo, leaving Sterling the only original Velvet not to have a go at it on his own. I don't think there are any Sterling Morrison solo records, which is a sad thing. If I'd had a son, I would have named him Sterling. In any case, with so many versions kicking around already, I decided to throw the kitchen sink at this one.

Of the sounds employed here, I'll just say that I love my Fender Twin to death, but its overdrive sound is really pathetic. Which made it just about perfect for this track.

Rex Broome ~ Everything except...
Miranda Broome ~ Lead vocals on 2nd and 5th verses
Ridley Broome ~ Lead vocals on 3rd verse



As the second-ever 39-40 and the first one into which I roped other humans to participate, this must've been weirder at the time than it seemed. Maybe it just seemed like a one-off project for the kids to do with me on what must've been the day after the Skates & Rays show on my birthday. Eden must have been with her dad that weekend, or else she'd be on here along with Miranda and Ridley.

The overdrive sound on the Twin, which I don't think I ever used again on 39-40, is actually pretty kickass. But recording-wise there was so much I didn't know how to do yet. This was done with the cheapo Behringer jacked right into the miniplug input on the MacBook; the mics were my brand spanking new SM-57s, and the recording application was GarageBand, about which I didn't know much at all. I had figured out how to line up the pre-set drum loops that came with it, and set their tempos, and that was about it. I figured the only way to really learn it was by tackling one recording problem at a time, and I was pretty much right... although it's amazing how late in the game it would be before I worked out some totally basic stuff. Still, most of what's supposed to present here does so, considering the aesthetic I was going for. The acoustic slide part approximating Sterling Morrison's playing sure could be higher up in the mix, though... I was rather proud of it.

Quite a few future mainstay tactics pop up right away... the kids' participation for one, Miranda reacting to part of her performance with "I like that one!" being possibly my favorite moment on the recording. There's also the first of many Doctor Who / Torchwood references audible at the end. The more regrettable trend that surfaces here is the free-form spoken vocal playout. At the time I think I just though I was including interesting Easter Eggs for the listeners, and certainly I was still heavily under the sway of Mark E. Smith and attempting to imitate his style and content at every turn.

Unfortunately, almost every time I did this, the muttering ends up mixed too low to be comprehended even if you try your hardest to isolate it in the stereo picture, and overall it just serves to further muddle some mixes that were pretty murky to begin with. Didn't stop me from doing it a lot, though. As we go on I'll shed a little light on what some of them were supposed to be, to the extent that I can recall. Unfortunately all of the basic tracks for 39-40 prior to September 2011 were lost in a very literal hard drive crash. This is fine in some ways... the temptation to remix this stuff is in many ways a "that way lies madness" proposition of which I should really feel relieved to be rid. It would be nice, however, to be able to check stuff every once in a while and find out what I was really up to where I'd forgotten, and there honestly are a few recordings that have a lot going for them and were rendered sadly nearly unlistenable by last minute mixing decisions, and in those few cases-- "Cornflake Girl", I am totally looking at you-- I wish I could have another crack at it. Alas.


-"Gotta split, that's a quaint old fashioned way to say goodbye" is the first of many lifts from Robyn Hitchcock, in this case from the song "Alright Yeah".
-The occasional vocal "Ksssssshhhhhh!" sound is rather transparently transplanted from another Velvet Underground tune, "Black Angel's Death Song".
-The first part of the buried spoken-word outro is me reading a letter from my dad that was lying on the table in front of me at the moment.
-The whispered word "chino" comes from The Fall's "Chino Splashback".
-"The 21st Century is when everything changes" is a catchphrase from Torchwood.

Friday, March 19, 2010

39-40 IAQ (Infrequently Asked Questions)


I plan to record and post a cover version of a randomly selected song every day between my 39th and 40th birthdays. The original version of the song will be posted along with my cover, as well as some written words about the song or the process or marine biology.


The songs are "picked" each day by iTunes. I refresh the iTunes DJ, and whatever song comes up in the #1 position, that's my assignment. Period. Doesn't matter if it's the between-song patter on a live record or an artist interview or fragment of an audiobook whatever... that's the "song" I have to do.

Yes, there's some pre-selection here since the songs are all being pulled from my own iTunes library. What of it? I have lots of songs on there. Around 92,000, it says here.


Nope. I'm free to interpret the material however I wish, using the tools available to me, as long as it gets done within 24 hours. Most likely the default setting will be voice and guitar, although I can foresee doing more elaborate treatments as time allows; conversely, on a busy day, I might just read the lyrics into my cellphone and post that. Most assuredly my band will be tapped to perform a fair amount of these tunes with me.


If this works, and you download all the tracks posted on this blog at the end of the project, you'll have two 365-track virtual albums, one of the original songs and one of my covers. Just like the This Mortal Coil box set. Only with less awesome artwork and, you know, physical existence.


For the challenge and for the fun of it. Like a lot of artists, I'm more productive with a deadline. As for the "fun" part, well, as a music-obsessive, I spend a lot of time thinking about what constitutes a song, or a recording, or what might make a great recording or performance of a lousy song or vice-versa... so here's a chance to put some of those ideas into practice, and with a little luck, generate some discussion about those ideas. That, to me, is fun. Yeah, I know.

I'm also, to be frank, getting past the age at which one is supposed to be playing rock and roll in clubs with bands and that sort of thing. I'm going to keep on doing that anyway. But I also hope this challenge keeps my musicianship up and pushes it a little further on a daily basis. I'd like to start my 5th decade at the height of my powers as a musician.

So hey, it's my 39th birthday. I guess I have to start, huh?