Music, Audio, and Other Illnesses

The Tuesday Night Music Club

Sometime during the summer of 1992 I got a call from Bill Bottrell. It had been a few months since we had talked, during which time he’d been working on finishing up Triage, mostly on his own. He called to say that he and David Baerwald  had decided to continue, doing… whatever. And to do it on Tuesday nights: thus, the Tuesday Night Music Club.

It was sort of my ideal. It combined what I’d been doing for more than a decade, collaborating in improvising songs or pieces of music with a completely new kind of first-class studio: my vision of music married to Bill’s vision of music, along with the other three guys.

The first night I went we jammed up a song that instantly became “Joytown”. David wasn’t there that night. Brian (MacLeod, already a great drummer, who has only aged into the groove), Kevin (Gilbert, a sub-lessee of Bill’s, who played a bit of everything, but was an amazing keyboard player) and Bill were asking what we should do, but I was already playing the first thing that fell out of my fingers, the bass line of “Joytown”. Everybody went to their instruments and before the evening was over the song was there: MacLeod playing a plastic tub in among his drums, Bill playing a very processed guitar, and Kevin ran next door to get some lyrics he already had and a Gretsch acoustic guitar. (This is kind of amusing to me, as I’ve read Kevin Gilbert devotees insisting that only he could come up with a bass line like that.)

Shortly after, I went east for a couple weeks and when I got back, Bill called again asking me to come in the next morning, a Saturday. He wanted me to hear what they had done while I was gone. I think he was using me to check himself — to allay any doubts he had.

The songs he played were “Strong Enough” and “Leaving Las Vegas”. They featured a singer who Bill said was Kevin’s girlfriend. While I was gone, Bill complained about the lack of women in the group and Kevin called his girlfriend, who was staying at his house. Enter Sheryl Crow.

Like it or not, what he played that morning is what came out (except unmixed). He wanted to know what I thought. I said that if it was real, I was in love. But I doubted its, “veracity”, let’s say. He said, no, it wasn’t — but that he had to decide if it was worth continuing; he was confident he could make a great pop record with that voice. I replied that while I appreciated being consulted, it was probably a mistake to ask me, that I didn’t know what to tell him, because if he went ahead with it, I would jump in all the way: it was that compelling.

And that’s how we lost our new band.

We were never a band in the formal sense, but we talked (as did various managers) about doing local shows and touring behind the people we did records for, a TNMC cabaret, with David, Sheryl and Kevin as the singers. This all got subsumed by the expanding career of one of our creations. Not that it was strictly our creation; she had been working towards building it for some time.

She had already made one record, produced and mixed by Hugh Padgham, with the requisite star players, remixed by Kevin — and tossed out as not very good. She was already nearly half-a-million dollars in debt to A&M, and was in limbo, a far worse state than having lost her label: she was contracted but shelved. [The songs were by her and a collaborator, in my impression, picking and choosing them in a one-from-column-A-one-from-column-B way. Everything about it reflected a style of record-making that I had run (screaming) from some years earlier — although I didn’t hear it until we were done with the one we made: it was almost as if they’d deliberately kept it from me. When I finally heard it, I was horrified at what we’d done. But: we had also grown to believe our own bullshit.]

Our songs are what they are: some people love them, some like them, some hate them, and some don’t give a shit. But 12,000,000 people bought them in the last century, back when people still paid for music. The bass part on “Run, Baby, Run” I remember recalling as a high-point for me — I played it as big as I felt it —- but it was made smaller by being tracked through a Fairchild 670, which cuts bass the more it compresses, and eviscerated further by being mixed through the Fairchild.

I want to focus on one song, though: “We Do What We Can”, and in particular, it’s bridge.

The procession on the TV screen

What could it possibly mean for a man

Who’s come this far just to turn around

Could there still be life in Kenton’s swing

With the Kennedys gone and everything

Those sad rows of houses with their optimistic colors

Democrat grandparents and draft-dodging brothers

Riots down the street and discontented mothers

We do what we can

This is pure Bill, whose art is paramount, above everybody else’s, on that record. It sums up his whole attitude in a paragraph, given liberation by having worked on Triage. If almost everybody missed the point of “All I Wanna Do” (a couple of drunks, drinking themselves to death in a bar in the middle of the afternoon), anybody who read the lyrics to “We Do What We Can” couldn’t miss them now.  The song is credited to four of us but — that bridge, that’s all Bill.

During the mixing of the album, I would frequently kibbitz the mix, but I found myself saying that Bill listened to my suggestions only in order to reject them. That would later not always be the case, but it’s my memory of how it went down at the time.[1]

And then the album came out, and life would never be the same.

[1] Like Triage, Tuesday Night Music Club was mixed to my EAR/Studer 1” machine, the 3rd one made, re-machined to order from ½” to improve bandwidth and signal-to-noise specs, with all-tube electronics by Tim de Paravicini. Bill said it was the only device he’d ever used that sounded like his mixes.