The Greezy Manifesto
By Fearless Greezy Leader
What moved us to remix and remaster a cd that, though it had a nice ride in AAA radio in 2004, garnered little attention locally? Why did we just have to revisit this cd, the one we called HipPop? What’s the point? That decent run in AAA netted us some nice reviews, and it did “put us back on the map,” according to our radio promo person. HipPop seemed to have fully accomplished what it was going to accomplish. The lifespan of most records is quite short, really.
And too, members of that unit had moved on, and our sound had, especially by the release of our most recent record, Gone Greezy, morphed into something completely different - Americana. HipPop danced through electronica, world beat, experimental rock, Latin and even Afro-pop. It sounded kinda seventies. Perish the thought.
We had challenged our fans to accept a very complex record, one with all kinds of new sounds and, dare I say, daring lyrics. Whereas pop music was simplifying into twenty-first century grooves (and a new scientific study affirms this was, indeed, happening), we were at our symphonic height, with an orchestra of amazing players to carry it off.
The tunes were a perfect little village of ideas, and today you would expect to open up the cd case and see and hear a time capsule from 2001-2004. There it would be, perfect in its little niche of time, its life completely lived, its impact felt, digested, and, by now nearly forgotten. Why bother resurrecting it for a listening public that is even younger than that now (yes, I still reference Dylan)?
We received a number of good reviews for the record’s production, but we knew better. John Jordan, our bassist, and I produced it, recording everything using Pro Tools 5.2, something about which we knew absolutely nothing, when we started. We were literally learning as we went along. I can’t tell you how many times I remixed tracks, each time with a spoonful more knowledge of the system, but never with enough savvy to really produce it right.
I was still remixing, when we mastered it, and continued to do so after we released it. Finally I gave up and moved on to the next record, something all musicians must make themselves do at some point, anyway. I had new tunes coming through me - it was time to explore them. We recorded and released String Theory, perhaps a little too hastily, and maybe a little haphazardly. There are some good tunes on String Theory, but there was none of the sense of personal wonderment I had the entire time we worked on HipPop. It seemed....transitional.
Turns out it was. We began digging into the more rural sounds of fiddle and slide guitar, as we tried to figure out what, if anything, we should do after String Theory. Enter John Bush (JB, to us). John is the percussionist with Edie Brickell and the New Bohemians (yes, I say “is the percussionist,” because they still do occasional gigs together). John sat in with us a couple times on percussion, and when Lisa Pankratz moved on, he became our drummer. And a new partner in crime for me. John was putting together a kick ass studio in his garage. Our new playmate came with a really cool playground.
In that playground we tracked and mixed Gone Greezy. Gone Greezy did very nicely for us in Americana radio, stayed on the airplay charts all summer in 2011, and made it on to a number of best cds of the year lists, including that of Margaret Moser at the Austin Chronicle. Our recording techniques and equipment were 21st century, and the results verify that. The sound so enthused us that we agreed to “someday” remix HipPop to its standard.
We’d already begun work on our next project, Kitty Cat Jesus, so it seemed like a distant dream. Until Lissa told me she was working up a live version of one of my HipPop songs for her Trip Trio. It’s a song called White Fear In America, and Liss, who never sings lyrics she doesn’t believe, felt it was au curaunt. It is what the title says it is, a comment on the continuing presence of racism in America. I wrote it in around 2002. Since then, we elected a black president. Talk about white fear in America. I’ll go with au curaunt, if I can say it without snickering.
As I was pondering this about America and my song, it came to me that there was an even more important reason to remix HipPop than merely wanting to make it sound better. We talked about a whole lot of stuff on that album. White Fear In America was only one of the many commentaries I had wanted to make in our music at that time. Those commentaries needed to be put out there again. The shit hadn’t gone away - it had gotten worse, and someone needed to scream out about it.
Prior to reforming the band in 2000, I had spent twenty-three years on hiatus, not writing much of anything during that entire time. I had watched nearly all of what we fought for in the sixties fall to the wayside, replaced by the me generations (yes, there has been more than one of these). The backlash from the sixties bitch slapped us from the seventies right into the twenty-first century.
I’d watched the fall of the USSR from a London hotel room and the rise of the neocons in America from Sydney, Australia. I’d seen punk, hair bands, Marilyn Manson, Madonna, the eighties, the nineties, Jerry Fallwell, the millennium - and Ronald Reagan was president of the United States (what the fuck happened there?)! But I hadn’t written a single word or tune about any of it. Until the ideas for HipPop started popping into my skull. Everything that pissed me off, scared me, horrified me, or intrigued me managed to sneak its way into the tunes on HipPop. Everyone one of these things still pisses me off, scares me, horrifies me, or intrigues me.
An aging boomer, I naturally started HipPop with a cut about life expectancy, I Wait And I Wait. Some folks thought this was about the agonies of love, but it’s all about pondering the ever shortening distance between now and the end of the road. This happens as you get older, ya know. One ponders. Instead of viewing life as limitless, which it does seem to be when you’re young, you start counting things down. Like this: should I buy that car on a six year payment plan or not, because I could be dead before I own it? Of course, you buy the car anyway. If you kick off before it’s paid for, you’ve gotten one over on the man.
There are songs about love on HipPop, maybe just not the kind you want to leap at. To whit, Love Is A Crime Scene - pretty much says it all in the title. Meditations on summer as the golden time of every year (I Like Summer) and man as the center of the universe (In The Middle Of) may not be the heaviest stuff, but, as I tend to write everything from the opposite side of the subject, they are informative in that I hate fucking summer, and I see humans as living on the outer fringes of the universe. Man is strictly a fringe player.
Then I get into rage (Raging At the Moon), mostly because too many people do believe they are the center of the universe. Rage is something I’ve always understood. I rage at everything. Bad manners, shitty drivers, undeserved senses of entitlement, bigotry, misogyny.....claims of telepathy - I rage at all of this and more. However, I don’t rage in your face. In today’s world, everybody rages directly at each other. The anger in society today is so much more ferocious than I ever remember it. Anger is a big ass problem in the 21st century. Beware the anger.
One of the tunes that got attention on the first go around of the cd is called Monkey In The Church, a thinly veiled comment about pedophilia in the Catholic church. Well, it may have been more heavily veiled than I thought, because all of Sweet Mary’s young fiddle students loved the damned thing, and it made it to Top 5 in airplay at Wyoming Public Radio. Sure, there are some monkey sounds on it, and Chris Duarte blazed over the final choruses, but this was some serious shit, and I wanted people to see that. And they have seen plenty of it since then. Beware the wolf in priest’s vestments, little buddies.
Right around the time I was writing the tunes for HipPop, a very close friend of ours was just finishing a colossal slide from the heights of corporate headhunting to the very bottom of the chain. She’d gone from making $40-50K a year to homelessness, a perfect swan dive into hell. She wound up living on the street with her daughter, standing on corners, with a home made sign, begging for help. This happened to her, when it was happening to a whole lot of people.
Fifteen years ago, most of the folks we saw on Austin street corners were rose peddlers. Almost over night, they were replaced by the homeless. Some of the more enterprising were starting to wash car windows, but most just held up a sign asking for anything from a quarter to their god’s direct intervention in their calamitous life. Our friend informed us this was called “flying signs.” Hence my song, Flying Signs, about her and all the others who make daily treks to the Salvation Army (“The Sally”) for their one good meal for the day, and maybe a shower. I cannot tell you how sad it makes me that more people are flying signs than ever. How did we let this happen?
We are all pursuing happiness, partly because we feel this is what we’re suppose to do. Our forefathers, in their infinite wisdom, guaranteed us the right. So, by gawd, we will carry as many guns as we want, make as much money as we can, and walk over just about anybody to be....happy. But I wanted to know, in my song Finding Happiness, if this was sustainable, or even workable. It’s what everybody’s doing, but is it how we get happy? I think not.
We’ve become a spoiled society that expects everything to happen immediately. We’ve gone from instant pudding and one-minute oat meal to instant stardom. We’ve reached the Andy Warhol plateau. You not only achieve fifteen minutes of fame, you get there in only fifteen minutes, too. And the internet is so fast you can order the entire history of man on line and have it on your doorstep the next morning. Too bad no one is actually reading that history. If you won’t read the books, at least listen to the song Instantness. Everyone’s looking for a snap shot, quick fix or instant winner. What happened to building your soul resume the old fashioned way - by living a fucking life?
Once we get to the last song I wrote for the cd, Reality Suite: My Tenuous Hold, the greater message of the album unfuzzes: I am pessimistic about the future of humanoids. Reality Suite has three parts. The first deals with being on the edge of reality, exactly where our society resides right now. I’m pretty sure the world is teetering on the brink of a total nervous breakdown.
What’s real anymore, and what’s not? I’m on reality TV, right? No, really, I’m being punk’d, aren’t I? Geez, you can’t even trust TV anymore. Goodbye serious drama, soaps and sitcoms, hello drunken (yet somehow still appealing) real life chick throwing up on brand new boyfriend’s six pack abs (which, not surprisingly, match his total number of brain cells).
The second part of the suite details, in music, the collapse of reality. Can such a thing happen? I submit it is already in progress. We’ve tried so hard to disassociate ourselves from our simian roots that we have had ever more insane notions of who or what we’re suppose to be. As we deny, deny, deny where we have come from, we go more and more berserk, like the serial killer in Thumbnail Moon, who, if he were real, would be but one of two hundred such killers active in America today.
And part three? You tell me. If t doesn’t sound like total chaos to you, let me know, because I don’t think I can describe chaos any better. Okay, maybe if I’d had a bit more caffeine and cannabis. But still.......
So where is the Greezy Manifesto in all of this? Remember, we come from the opposite side of each subject. The perfectly syncopated section on White Fear In America, the incredible lead vocal, the awesome string parts from Sweet Mary and the late Amy Farris, the on-fire Chris Duarte guitar breaks - all of these intensely beautiful elements are not here to dazzle you or diffuse the subject matter. They are here to point up the ugliness, the brutality, the cynicism of racism. We’re just trying to get your attention.
Because the real discovery about HipPop is that it lays out what has always been our group ethic, the Greezy Way. The secret to the Greezy Way may lie in the last cut on HipPop, this one written by John Jordan, called Mitzi. It was unlisted in the credits for the first release - a surprise, as it were - but it is listed on the remix album. Featuring John’s dazzling bass work, with a dash of Lissa and Sweet Mary, it is about Lissa’s and my late Mom, who had passed away just before John wrote it. It is anything but sad. In fact, it has an inner calm to it that one cannot help embracing, especially following the aforementioned Reality Suite. Quite literally, it peaces you out.
It is a spiritual lesson in tranquility. It is the Way Of the Greeze. It is a reassurance that, if we inoculate ourselves against racism, fear, longing, rage, evil deeds against our children, entitlement, and....telepathy, we can overcome the dark forces. The universe is filled with dark matter, so this battle can never end, and the more you listen to the ones who have fought the battle before you, the better armed ye shall be. As Sweet Mary says, being a human being is an add-on experience.