The jury’s still out on whether or not this post exists to make up for the fact that I forgot to post the “classic” entries last week, or if it’s to punish you for reading this blog in the first place.
Whatever the case, I’m going to share a lot of (mostly worthless) flotsam and jetsam from my illustrious home-recording career. I also intend to share a metric shit-ton of rambling backstory regarding each song or set of songs.
The character of Girth McDürchstein started with a pointless but affectionate parody of Pink Floyd - The Wall called The Hedge. Like The Wall, it was intended to be big, bombastic, pretentious, and intentionally-but-seemingly-unintentionally silly. Like most works of comedy, it uses humor to deflect something that, I realize in retrospect, is deeply, almost embarrassingly personal. I always gripe that I can’t write a “serious” song, but the songs that comprise The Hedge comes about as close to it as I can, with the exception of all those songs about murdering prostitutes (it’s more like assisted suicide).
I denied the personal content for a long time, because let’s face it: the lyrics are nakedly juvenile. In my defense, I wrote and recorded all those songs when I was 19, and I relied on the idea that it was “funny” to counteract the unpolished immaturity of the content. It remains my most confessional, autobiographical creative work. But I won’t tell you what’s true or what’s not (hints: I’m not a washed-up rock star, I’ve never committed murder, I’ve rarely hired prostitutes, and I’m only a little bit insane).
After college, I returned to the magic and fun of home recording, with a couple of key differences: (1) I took a number of sound and music science classes to fulfill requirements in college, and (2) I did a lot of sound design for short films, so my knowledge of audio production had grown by leaps and bounds, and continued to grow as I returned to music. I “revised” The Hedge — initially just a bunch of songs I tossed on the Internet — to give it a more Wall-like design, with sound effects and dialogue to help “tell” the “story,” which is he only version currently available.
In 2008, as I worked on writing Girth McDürchstein’s ‘Fuck Machines’ (which I swear I’m still going to record someday; I just need the time and ambition to do so), I decided I should continue to hone my music production skills by rerecording The Hedge from scratch, giving it the same gloss and polish I simply couldn’t accomplish in my early days of home recording. In a flurry, I rerecorded the first four songs and everyone’s favorite, “College Girls,” but the tear in my triangular fibrocartilage complex that put me on a lengthy musical hiatus got too painful for me to continue. Then I had surgery, and then I recuperated from surgery, and then I worked to restrengthen my repaired wrist, and by the time I decided I could resume recording, redoing The Hedge felt like a waste of effort.
So here, for the first time ever (that’s not as exciting as it sounds), are the songs from the all-new, abandoned Hedge.
“Rhapsody in Gregor Samsa”
Everything in The Hedge is thematically linked to the first complete, original song I recorded, “The Love Song of Gregor Samsa.” I wrote that as a spoof of the sort of pretentious, literature-based metal songs that simultaneously amuse and infuriate me (Iron Maiden has a ton of these, Led Zeppelin has a few Tolkien songs, and Rush has a few). I thought it’d be funny to do a song about Kafka’s The Metamorphosis that’s really long and overblown, about 80% guitar solo, and misses the point of the book. I decided to use “Girth“‘s telling of the story and misinterpretation of the theme as the lynchpin of The Hedge’s story. Then, in keeping with The Wall’s repeated motifs, I reused parts of “The Love Song of Gregor Samsa” to bookend the album. The original version features some very cold, digital synthesizers. Possessed of more sophisticated synthesizer technology, I decided to try something akin to “real” instruments — a harp arpeggiating the chords and a vibraphone playing the melody — combined with a tone-setting discomfiting synth pad. This, combined with the stormy sound design, was intended to create a gloomy, creepy vibe. Does it work? I dunno. It’s certainly more effective than the original.
Again taking a cue from The Wall, which has more than a few songs evocative of ’50s doo-wop, including “Breaking the Ice” (the chord progression is straight out of a bland early rock ballad), the second song, which chronicles “Pink’s” earliest childhood development, I wrote a song about Girth’s early childhood and made it a literal doo-wop facsimile. For the new version, I decided to take my obsession with Brian Wilson to the next level, Phil Spectorizing “Bad Parenting” into a heady, monaural wall of sound with a terrifying total of eight harmony tracks, two guitar tracks, five percussion tracks, an organ, and a piano. Can you hear any of that? Not really, which is the whole point of the Wall of Sound — it blends a whole bunch of distinctive instruments together to create a sound that’s unique and not exactly like anything on this planet. As a Wall of Sound experiment, I think “Bad Parenting” succeeds.
One of the things I never did a very good job with on the original Hedge was the blending of one song to the next. I tried to rectify this on the new version, starting with the juxtaposition from “Bad Parenting” to “1985.” I used some jazzy trickery to end “Bad Parenting” on a Bm7 chord, and then began “1985” with a long, pulsing, weird intro set on a sustained Bm7 chord, which naturally returns to its relative major (D) as soon as the ROCK kicks in. I changed the song a bit to emphasize the bassline riff on the original, which I found catchy enough to build the song around rather than relegating it to the rhythm section. I also changed the lyrics to give them a video game theme, rather than a generic computer theme. Finally, eagle-eared listeners may notice a quiet reference to “Kiss Reality Goodbye” in the intro. Again, the idea was to bring more recurring motifs to give the album some consistency. I failed to do this on the original album because of my combined laziness and incompetence.
“Video Game Violence”
I consider this song technically incomplete. Overall — again, a result of laziness and incompetence — I felt the original Hedge had too much of a punky/grungy sound, rather than the METAL it claimed to be. I wanted to start giving songs a heavier, darker sound as I progressed through The Hedge, and “Video Game Violence” was the first place I could accomplish that, from the new intro to the bassier distortion and the slower, less raucous but more technically organized guitar solos. Unfortunately, just like the original song, I intended to track three guitar solos, which would play off each other harmonically. My wrist injury prevented me from ever recording the other two solo tracks.
I always wanted “College Girls” to feel like the most depressing Van Halen song ever written, giving it that raucous “party” vibe that contrasts ironically with comically depressing lyrics. However, I’m not a technically proficient enough player to come up with some kind of speedy, ornate riff, so I had no choice but to defy my intentions to metalize the album and kept this as punky as the original. I think the soloing is better than on the original recording, but one of my disappointed friends pointed out that the vocal changes I’d made to Girth’s “voice” over the years caused the song to lose its charm. In the original, Girth sounds like a screechy, angry virgin, which matches the spirit of the song; in this one, he sounds more aggressive and adult, not quite so in touch with his inner rage. This is possibly because, when I recorded the original song, I was a screechy, angry virgin. Still, in the early days I purposely affected a high-pitched caterwaul as a pseudo-homage to Axl Rose. It was hard to sustain for any length of time, which is why the voice gradually shifted to something closer to my normal singing voice.
I found some funky odds and ends on my hard drive that I think might be fun to share. I might be wrong, though.
“Gangster Lovestick” (Instrumental Version)
I never intended “Gangster Lovestick” to have lyrics. I have a good friend who experimented with electronica and hip-hop, and it reached a point where I found myself sort of irritated and annoyed by his efforts. Despite my (legitimate) claims of laziness, I worked pretty hard to make my songs sound good, interesting, and funny. It annoyed me that my friend wasn’t doing much more than adding generic synth pads and drum patterns to World War II aircraft chatter, thinking he’d created something profound.
So yeah, I’m a dick. I don’t deny it. I wanted to school him by creating my own hip-hop instrumental, and “Gangster Lovestick” was born. Cooler heads prevailed, though, and by the time I finished recording the song, I realized how petty and juvenile the whole idea of “schooling” a friend because I thought my music was purer was. I added lyrics later, when I came up with the ridiculous title and the even more ridiculous idea of having it be a misguided treatise in favor of gun control laws. Because I am not just a dick but a tasteless dick, I got a ton of mileage out of this song after the Virginia Tech massacre, creating a tribute “remix” and spoofing Cho’s terrible plays. It may seem a little tasteless when you think of the victims and their families, but I’m not. I’m of the school of thought that the best way to rob criminals of their power is to ridicule them mercilessly. Mass murderers are no exception to that rule.
“Funereal Disease” (Unedited)
I wrote this song in about five minutes, recycling most of the chord progression from “Man Is It Sweaty!” and adding obscene lyrics about Girth’s recently deceased, cancer-stricken ex-fiancée. The purpose of the song was to further jokes in the blog stories about Girth’s rivalry with Owen Autumn, a guitar god who combines Edgar Winter with my arch-nemesis from college. Owen is now engaged to Girth’s ex-fiancée, so Girth singing a song at her funeral essentially about how he’d like to fuck her once more seemed funny to me. You’ll notice some clipping in this recording, a result of playing it live on a hot mic because the ultimate goal was to give it a “live performance” feel by tweaking the EQ, adding some ambient sound, and degrading the recording quality slightly. This is the polished version, without any of those “live performance” tweaks.
“Tongue Quest” (“Live”)
“Tongue Quest” is my favorite Abysmal Crucifix song, so when it came time to prepare a “greatest hits” CD to release with Fuck Machines, I chose a live version of “Tongue Quest” as a never-before-released bonus track. I slowed it down and made it keyboards-only, trying to go for an intimate, Springsteen-“Thunder-Road”-circa-1975-76 feel. I am certain failed in that endeavor. I also allowed the song to go on too long with no additional instrumentation, which led to the idea of having Girth (very slowly) introduce the band. It sounds really stupid.
“Radioactive Penis” (Vocals Only)
This variation reveals the reason for adding E-Bowed guitar in the first place: the super-intense reverb causes all the breath sounds to be very loud, which I found distracting and unprofessional. Lacking the skills to EQ them down to a lower level or remove them altogether, I simply opted to add instruments to bury the sound.
“Radioactive Penis” (Vocals & Guitars Only)
This is identical to the “official” version, only lacking the erotic sounds of Ms. Allie Sin, whose intonations may sound convincing in this song, but the disparity between the sounds she makes and the blank, disinterested look on her face has always simultaneously amused and aroused me.
“Phone Sex” (No D.J. Koko)
Also virtually identical to the “official” version, but with the bookends from “D.J. Koko” (actually a long-forgotten (by me, at least) phone sex operator who released some bizarre free podcasts that I chopped up for use as “Starla,” the phone sex operator of Girth’s dreams).
D. B. Bates Performs Six Abysmal Crucifix Songs
Awhile back, I came up with the idea to create a fake publishing company, small enough that it made some sense nobody’s ever heard of it, in order to convince Hollywood executives I was adapting screenplays from my own novels rather than writing much-harder-to-sell original spec scripts. Perusing the websites of other small presses, I noticed they did a lot of audio stuff — live book readings, audiobook clips, etc. — and decided I’d do an audio promotion for a novel I wrote based on Going Home Again in which I, as myself, would perform songs attributed to Girth McDürchstein, the novel’s central character. I opted to breeze through them live-on-tape and, per usual, degrade the quality and add ambient sound to give it a somewhat live feel. I also double-tracked the guitars to give the impression I wasn’t flying solo at this alleged event. My singing quality is fairly awful, and I make numerous mistakes (most of them having to do with the late decision to add a second guitar track; without a click-track, it’s kind of hard to get the timing right). Not my finest hour, but I still thought it was worth sharing.
The most upsewtting comment I ever received on MySpace was when a guy wrote a private message specifically to tell me, “That song ‘Thunderbird’ was pretty great until the vocals kicked in. Your singer sucks!” I couldn’t disagree — Girth’s high-pitched caterwauling is kind of awful, and it threw me into an emotional tailspin where I contemplated reimagining Girth as a tripped-out Doug Ingle type, with a husky baritone and vaguely operatic pomposity. I think “Thunderbird” is a great song, and I didn’t originally intend for it to be a part of Girth’s canon. It was only when some reading about the Guns N’ Roses song “Nightrain” inspired another spoof. Nothing’s different here except the lack of vocals and a totally different cowbell track (I was disappointed in the tinny sound).
“Man Is It Sweaty!”
Intrepid readers might come up with a melody that doesn’t steal so directly from “Downtown.” Otherwise, you can just enjoy the layered, flanger-soaked acoustic guitar. I honestly forgot what the second chord in the main progression is, but it sounds sort of cool, doesn’t it? There’s an extra minor 6th or something that makes it special. I wish I remembered!
“And in Love”
This, right here, is a piece of my history. I spent years (before and after) recording various noodling sessions on audio cassettes, but this was the first serious demo I recorded, in a dorm room in Iowa. I was knee-deep in music theory classes, so I was obsessed with chord structures and relative major and minor keys, so there’s a lot of playing around with that here. I set the chords to a long, stream-of-consciousness, barely poetic set of lyrics I scrawled down in a moment of extreme, misguided, unrequited passion. That lyric sheet has since been lost to the ether, but I remember the basic gist of it: a guy is very happy to have fallen in love, but his relationship is a total disaster, ends in a horrible breakup, and he goes to pieces emotionally. Sound familiar?
You could consider this song my Road to Damascus moment. The burgeoning emo scene hadn’t quite burgeoned into my neck of the woods, but I came very close — with this song and others like it — to ending up firmly entrenched in that scene, whining off-key bullshit to the strains of an out-of-tune acoustic guitar. Thank God I regained my sense of humor, right?
I’ve been playing around with this basic A-F#-F riff since junior high, but it’s never made its way into a real, substantive song. I like the chord sound here, but I have no idea what I’m actually playing. Anyone who figures it out will be rewarded with a shiny, copper (i.e., pre-1982) penny.
“Unexpecting” (Version 1)
This song has gone through thousands of permutations since I first came up with it in seventh grade. It’s such a basic, simple chord progression, but it’s stuck with me. The last I worked with it — when I recorded this demo — I’d written a set of lyrics about the disastrous consequences of a pregnancy scare on a relationship in decline.
“Unexpecting” (Version 2)
Another, slightly prettier version of the same song. One of these days, I will actually record some of these songs. I have a real fear of recording anything substantive or brazenly personal, which is why the only stuff I really put out there is Girth stuff. I don’t care if people criticize that.
“Howlin’ on a Friday Night” (Demo 1)
Another song I wrote without intending for it to end up as part of the Girth canon. It’s still not, technically. It’s just that, one day, I listened to it, and I started hearing a refrain for a song called “Howlin’ on a Friday Night” I’d written for Girth.
Now, here’s the thing: I spent a few days frantically pumping out fake lyrics to songs that did not exist. It was very much a quantity-over-quality matter, because I wanted to give the appearance that Girth’s band really had released several full albums, but only a handful of songs from those albums were available online.
“Howlin’ on a Friday Night” (Demo 2)
When you write lyrics without a song in mind, you lose all sense of proportion. When I had the music I wanted to use for “Howlin’ on a Friday Night,” I looked at the verses, the choruses, and the bridge, and I structured the song around that. I didn’t know it would time out to over eight minutes, well over the standard pop-song length. I’m fine with long songs, but there has to be something musically interesting happening across the eight minutes. This was a standard rock song without much variation, but by the time I realized how dull it was, I’d already put in far too much effort to make it worthwhile to backtrack and start fresh, by either chopping lyrics out or adding some musical or producerial sophistication to it. So, I simply abandoned the song. Which is sad, because I think the main riff and chord progression is pretty catchy.
Posted by D. B. Bates on July 25, 2011 9:42 PM