Friday, October 07, 2011

Friday on (the Canyons of) My Mind

Attentive and/or long time readers may perhaps recall the story of my first high school rock band, The Plagues, and our 1965 adventures in the recording studio. Or not.

In any case, about two years after those epochal sessions -- during the fabled Summer of Love, if memory serves -- Allan Weissman, my old chum from The Plagues, and I were hanging out in his basement in sylvan Teaneck, New Jersey, when he informed me that he had just written a song in a style that might be considered Dylanesque. After he played it for me -- it was called "Cassandra," as in the Greek babe from the ancient legends -- I concurred, and we soon worked out a rudimentary arrangement; Allan was on bass and vocals, while I flailed around on a crappy Japanese guitar of some sort (I hadn't scored my fabled 1959 Les Paul goldtop at this point).

I decided that the song needed some kind of opening figure, a la the stuff Roger McGuinn did for The Byrds, and I finally came up with one. Unfortunately, given my limited guitar skills, what I came up was not merely lame, but in fact The Lamest Riff in History©. Which is to say a simple ascending and then descending single note sequence that was essentially...uh, just a G-major scale. And even that description overstates its level of inspiration.

Undeterred, Allan and I recorded a version of the tune, in mono, on one of those Wollensak reel-to-reel tape machines that everybody, including your high school AV department, had in those days, and I seem to recall thinking even then that my contribution to the track was vaguely cringe-inducing. What I would think now, I have no idea, because the tape itself has long since disappeared. And hopefully will remain so.

Anyway, cut to 2010. I had just reconnected with Allan and the rest of the high school chums with whom, as those same attentive and/or long-time readers mentioned above doubtless know, I had toiled for years in a subsequent garage/basement band called The Weasels. And Allan had given me a CD of (Weasel) The Other White Meat -- a home-made album the guys had recorded (without me, obviously) in 2004.

And suddenly, after I put the CD into my computer -- THERE WAS THE RIFF!!!!

Yes, nearly four decades after it was first committed to magnetic tape, the guys had done a remake, if that is the word, of "Cassandra." A song which is actually pretty cool, despite my...well, you know.

And here it is, exactly as my astonished ears first beheard it again.

The feeble contemplation that is going on inside
The mutilated warnings that they won't let you confide
Oh, ring the trumpets on their ears
The new Titanics come with years
Cassandra, turn your head to other people.

Hold your banner high until it stretches to the ground.
Shake the dead; the old, the buried recognize the sound.
Put yourself in ages hence
Glance, the foundlings never sense,
Cassandra, turn your head to other people.

Shout the call; the air is dead;
They'll never understand.
It echoes off the tired feet that walk upon their hands.
Deny the cradles, rob the graves,
The sirens drone, the prophet raves;
Cassandra, turn your head to other people.
I thought at the time, and still do, that "the tired feet that walk upon their hands" is one of the most, shall we say, remarkable lines ever.

I should also add that it is a mark of what a mensch I am that, despite the centrality of my riff to the entire "Cassandra" experience, I have never asked Allan for a co-writer credit.


Anonymous said...

I feel The Plaques, Weasels, Hounds, Floor Models & Hi-Beams story is becoming the every-man's story of every kid who never quite gave up their rock & roll dreams. It's becoming a garage/basement/cheap rehearsal room universal epic.

Blessings on everyone who never gave up their r & r dreams.

Keep the stories & music coming!


Faze said...

Has a strong "My Back Pages" feel, and reminds me of the Spongetones great "Woodstock II".

(Anonymous is right, these post are an every-rockers tale, except the Weasels, etc., are so much better than the average r&r dream groups.)

Billy B said...

Not a damn thing wrong with that riff, Steve.

Not bad. Not bad at all.

Shriner said...

Reminds me of my band days -- I played bass for a group for a couple of months while the band was between bass players.

Songwriter wrote a new song that had a 16 bar break in the middle that was just power chords -- no vocals, no guitar solo, no drum fills -- nothing. So I "wrote" a bass riff that was essentially an A-Major scale to fill out the break.

When I left the band (amicably), they asked "what was that you played there?" They were stunned that it was just a scale. Next time I heard the band with the new bass player, they had gone back to just the power chords.

Sometimes the easiest things just fit the pocket at the time. ;-)

Jai Guru Dave said...

And it is a comment on what a mensch Allan is that he never mentioned to me, his bandmate of 45 years, that YOU wrote the riff!!!

"Be sure your sins will find you out."

That said however, I'm certain that he will be glad to split the vast royalties that we earned 50/50. (Although, now that I think of it, shouldn't I get a little something for remembering the riff for 45 years???)

buzzbabyjesus said...

The riff is perfectly good, but I don't think it qualifies as a co-writing credit.

Anonymous said...


Can we offer you 10 cents on the dollar?


steve simels said...

I don't think I qualify for a credit in a legally binding sense.

Anonymous said...

Nothing to atone for here -- you didn't mention that the riff turns around on a minor 7th. Kinda Verlainesque.

Also, I seem to recall a scalar guitar line in some throwaway Beatles song, a little thing they did called Hello, Goodbye.


steve simels said...

Oh -- and I should add--


Which means that normal posting, including a Weekend Listomania, will be happening next week.

You're welcome.

rurritable said...

That's lovely. I fully endorse the singer's understanding of caesura.
One of the college radio stations here has a show focusing on some of the lesser known psychedelic bands, and if you listen closely, you can hear a little of the Cambridge sound and some punk folk. Or is it folk punk?
This band gets a lot of college airplay, deservedly. I thought you might like this. It reminds me of an odd collusion between Echo and the Bunnymen and Brian Wilson.

dmark said...

I CAN NOT believe the Byrds did not sue. :^)

buzzbabyjesus said...

What I really want to know is do you still have the '59 gold top?

steve simels said...

Sold it circa 1976 for rent money.

If I though about how much it would be worth today, I would have a stroke and die.

buzzbabyjesus said...

Damn. I was going to ask about the gold top. I'm sorry you had to let it go. I'm trying to think of something consoling to say, to soften the tragedy, but I can't. It will probably haunt you for the rest of your days.