Tales of the young, drunk, and reckless…and other random thoughts

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Dead Ends and Girlfriends – “Boysenberry”

As I mentioned in my last post, most Friday & Saturday nights in the dreary college town of Charleston, IL  were spent wandering from house party to house party.  I didn’t get my first car until I was 21 so my party hopping was always done on foot.  If anyone remembers the back half of the 90’s, you may recall that the fashionable look for punk rockers back then were “fat” pants.  Some people called them “pipes.”  For reasons that seem silly now, most of us wore extra-wide legged pants with extra large pockets in both the front and back.  The beauty of this wardrobe (in my opinion) was the ability to semi-successfully carry and obscure and 40 oz bottle of beer.  As a college student I didn’t have much money.  Thankfully, high class 40 oz beers such as Big Bear or King Cobra could be had for a scant $0.99 back in 1997.  I usually had no problems digging through my couch cushions and pulling out the requisite $3 in change it would take to get me drunk for a night.  So, we’d load up our fat pants with beers and wander the streets of town.

The genesis of this song clearly came out of one of these nights.  We practiced the song a few times and even played it live without giving it a title.  That came one morning after a late night of drinking.  Skippy (our old guitar player) and I were having breakfast at IHOP and we decided to order stacks of pancakes.  If you’ve ever been to IHOP you know they specialize in providing unique syrup flavors.  I’ll give you one guess what flavor we used on our pancakes that morning….

Dead Ends and Girlfriends – “Friday Night”

I believe it was Homer Simpson who coined the phrase, “Alcohol, the cause of and solution to all of life’s problems.”  Such truer words have probably never been spoken, and no phrase could better capture the essence of my first two years in college.  “Friday Night” was written somewhere around this time.  I did fairly well in school but, like most college students, Friday nights were spent wandering the streets of town, stumbling from one house party to another.  I certainly have no regrets and wouldn’t change anything about those formative college years.  But if I’m being candid here, (which I’d like to think I am) there was usually a brief moment during those Friday nights when the robed and haloed voice of reason perched on my shoulder would deliver his standard soliloquy.  “What are you doing with yourself?” he would say.  “It’s time for you to wake up and turn yourself around.”  (I suppose he still says these things but thankfully not quite as often)

In true college fashion, any problems from the night before were solved by beginning Saturday with a drink.  And, in true, lyrical fashion, I simply decided to repeat the chorus line a few times, “Throw my problems away…”  I remember really liking this song when I first wrote it and I’m not really sure why.  There isn’t anything terribly special about it.  However, it still remains one of the more requested songs from this particular record, and that is always very cool.

Dead Ends and Girlfriends – “Timing”

As I mentioned in a previous post, most of the songs on this record were either written while in high school or just after.  This particular song doesn’t fall into that category.  In fact, I’m almost sure this was one of the last songs I wrote before heading out to Hollywood to make the album.

I tend to have a bit of a soft spot for this song for a few reasons.  I remember sitting down and writing it and thinking, “Hmm… this isn’t the normal balls to the wall, play as fast as you can type of punk rock song I’m used to writing.”  It was the first song idea I’d had that “slowed” things down a bit.  It was a nice change of pace.  The other reason I’m slightly more partial to this song is because it’s a little more personal than just a recap of a funny story.  It’s pretty obvious that it’s about a breakup, and, yes, it was a break up that sucked at the time.  It was someone I dated for quite a while but it became quite clear that things between us were never going to work out, no matter how much effort we put into the relationship.   Looking back on it now, lyrically it seems silly and a bit childish, but we all have ways of dealing with grief and writing this song was my way of getting closure.  Besides, lyrical poetry is certainly not my strong suit.  One thing that I think rings true, however, is that so much of life is about timing.  The good, the bad, and everything in between usually comes down to being in the right (or wrong) place at the right (or wrong) time.  Fascinating how life works like that.

There’s only one other tidbit I can add about this tune.  Of all the songs I’ve ever written, this is one of the only ones that I have a very strong urge to re-record and re-release.  I’m usually a firm believer that you should never go back and re-record old songs.  They represent a specific time and feel, and, for better or for worse, they’re small, important reflections that chronicle different periods in our lives.  But we rushed through the entire record in five days and spent a whopping $700.  We had shitty gear and almost no experience recording music.   I could probably do without all of the other songs on the record but with this one I would love to have a redo.

Dead Ends and Girlfriends – “I Told You So”

This post will most likely bore anyone reading it since there isn’t much at all behind this particular song.  If I remember correctly it was one of the earliest songs I wrote for the band, sometime in high school.  I cringe almost every time I hear it.  What’s funny is that the original version of this song was somehow even worse than the version that made the record.  The first writing of this tune featured an upstroke, ska-tastic guitar lick, similar to the song “Ex-Girlfriend.”  Like I said, back then we were stoked on bands like Assorted JellyBeans, Less Than Jake, and early HomeGrown.  I’m not entirely sure who suggested we replace the clean guitar with distorted, three note power chords, but I sometimes wish that they had instead suggested we scrap the song altogether.  I’m almost certain there exists an original 8-track recording of it, though I’m not sure if I have a copy.  Now that I think about it, it might have been on our very first demo tape.  I’ll have to see if I can dig that up.  At any rate, I wish I could say there was a better story behind this song but there isn’t.  It’s simply a made up story about someone who loses a girlfriend to another guy.  Typical teenage problems, eh?

Dead Ends and Girlfriends – “Moon Lake Village”

I have to constantly remind myself that the songs that make up Dead Ends and Girlfriends were all written when I was between 16 – 18 years old. There isn’t a lot of life experience behind them. Considering my musical idols at the time were Screeching Weasel and The Queers (bands whose lyrics include “Jeannie’s got a problem with her uterus,” and “Hey you motherfuckers I only drink Bud”), I wasn’t much for lyrical substance. This song is certainly no exception.

At the time this song was written I had been dating a girl for about a year or so. She was great and we got along well, finding common ground in the underground punk rock scene. We were an exclusive couple and fairly serious, I suppose. As serious as a pair of 17 year olds could be anyways. So I was a bit shocked when, after I went away to college, she told me she was moving out of her house and renting an apartment with a guy I had never met. He was considerably older and he may have been a professional skateboarder, not that it makes much of a difference. I was naturally skeptical of the entire arrangement but she assured me they were just friends. She needed to get out of her house and at the time she had few other options. The entire situation was quite funny to me so I wrote a song about it. It’s such a stupidly simple song and it would be a hell of a lot more interesting if there were a better story behind it. But, alas, there’s not. And, just in case you might be wondering where the name of the song came from…. that’s right, it was the name of the dumpy apartment complex they moved into together.

Dead Ends And Girlfriends – “Residential Burglary”

I graduated from high school in June 1996 and in the fall I began my first semester at Eastern IL University in Charleston, taking one friend with me to college and waving goodbye to a few others.  A few of those other friends also began their first semesters at The University of IL in Champaign, a mere 45 minute drive from EIU.  One of them was my good friend, Andy.

I met Andy in 7th grade and we quickly became friends.  We were inseparable during high school and some of my favorite teenage memories are of the dumb things we did together.  Andy came with me on family vacations, got me drunk for the first time, and he also designed the original cover to the first Allister EP, “You Can’t Do That On Vinyl.”   Most importantly, though, I credit him with introducing me to the underground punk rock scene.   He was the first one to play for me bands like Slapstick, Apocalypse Hoboken, The Mushuganas, and The Bollweevils, iconic Chicago punk rock bands that completely changed the way I listened to music.  In 1994, Andy convinced me to come with him to a run-down, ramshackle old bowling alley in Chicago to see a band called Rhythm Collision.  It was an experience that transformed my way of life and I am forever indebted to him for it.

I got to see Andy and some other friends relatively frequently throughout the first year of college.  Those weekends would generally find us sneaking into bars or wandering the streets of Champaign, drunk and looking for another house party.  One of those weekends spiraled a bit out of control, landing my good friend in jail and inspiring the track “Residential Burglary.”  One of the funny things about the song is that lyrically, it is entirely factual.  Andy really did run out of a house party trying to steal a record player and CDs.  He was really thrown in jail with a guy accused of beating his wife.  And, of course, his cell smelled like piss and beer (would you expect anything else?).  The only other memory I have of writing this song was that I remember thinking how sophisticated I felt finally adding a (gasp!) 4th chord into one of my songs.  Sad, but true.  Andy and I have since lost touch and I haven’t seen him or talked to him in a number of years.  Kind of a shame considering how close we were but I get it, sometimes shit happens.  Maybe one day him and I can get a beer together again and wax nostalgic on those earlier years.  Particularly the year that “Andy is going to jail…”

You Can’t Do That on Vinyl – “Ex-Girlfriend”

It’s hard to believe that it’s been eighteen years since we recorded our first EP, “You Can’t Do That on Vinyl.”  That is exactly half a lifetime ago.  At that time we were only a three piece; John on guitar, Eric on bass, and me behind the kit.  Scottie wasn’t yet an official member of the band but he was instrumental in getting the entire recording session set up.  He played bass for a local band called The Humdingers who had done numerous sessions at a recording studio in Hoffman Estates, IL called Solid Sound.  The head engineer was the late Phil Bonnet (RIP), a bit of an icon in the local Chicago punk rock scene.  Phil had produced and recorded many of the bands we listened to during high school including Apocalypse Hoboken and Smoking Popes.  Most importantly (to me, anyway) however, was that Phil had recorded Screeching Weasel.  Screeching Weasel was (and still is) one of my favorite bands. As an 18 year old kid, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to record at the same studio as my punk heroes. So, with a good word from Scottie, Phil agreed to record our shitty band one fall day in 1997.

We recorded five songs for the EP, including one that I wrote called “Ex-Girlfriend.” It’s a fairly terrible song that was heavily influenced by bands like Home Grown, Assorted Jellybeans, and Less Than Jake. The “ska-punk” wave crashed hard on me during those formidable last years of high school, and I’m not ashamed to admit that many of the songs I wrote during that time sounded a lot like “Ex-Girlfriend.” Thankfully, most of them sucked just enough to not get recorded. In my Junior year I got my first real girlfriend. Her name was Emily and she was a year older than me. I felt like I had won the lottery. She was the only thing I could think of during the 3 months or so that we dated. Was I in love? Yeah, I suppose I was, just as most sixteen year olds fall into some sort of naïve adolescent version of it at some point. I took my girl to the prom that year and we spent the day after with a group of semi-mutual friends at the Indiana Dunes. That was the last day Emily and I ever talked. She spent a good majority of that day at the dunes with one of the other guys in our group and it was painfully obvious she wanted nothing more to do with me. What’s interesting though, in hindsight, is that there was no fight between us. No bitterness, no angry words, no earth-shattering, world-ending teenage breakup. Our relationship simply dissolved into thin air over the course of one Saturday. I wrote “Ex-Girlfriend” about a year after that and, though it sounds like a bitter, angry song, I can honestly say it was not written with any animosity. In my mind, the chorus line “I didn’t mean to love you” is delivered with a simple shrug of the shoulders and an acknowledgement that sometimes things just fade away….

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