(As mentioned in the last issue, David Baerwald’s Triage was a remarkable work, alternately rageful and lyrical in its view of the America of 1992. Baerwald’s sardonic view of LA had first been heard in David & David’s “Welcome to the Boomtown”, an MTV favorite in 1986. Twenty-five years later, Triage seems prescient and predictive.—Ed.)
My first thought is that the Triage I know isn’t the Triage anybody else knows. My experience of it goes from the death of my mother to beyond the release of the album. When my mother died, besides the woman whom I married, the person who came around most often was David Baerwald. But I was in a pretty bad funk, not leaving my apartment when I didn’t have to. My roommate, George, as previously mentioned, took me to see Bill Bottrell, and the rest, as they say, is hysteria — really.
David had been leaning on me to produce him, and wanted to record with my band of the time, made up of Gregg Arreguin and David Beebe — I came up with a better plan.
It’s those early months of recording that make up the bulk of my experience. A fantastic (but long) song called “Unspoken”, built around the trio of Gregg, David and my brother Bob on acoustics huddled around a pair of Tim De Paravicini’s mics set up in Blumlein configuration; a phenomenal day of recording with Nicky Hopkins and David Kemper that didn’t result in very much, but had a truly great version of Bob Dylan’s “Hollis Brown”; a really exciting tune titled “Misery Loves Company” with Beebe on drums and a feedback bass solo; the original full-band version of “Got-No-Shotgun Hydrahead Octopus Blues”. I have a cassette somewhere here filled with outtakes from the album that makes up an album in itself.
In that time, while Bill Bottrell was off producing Michael Jackson, I was sitting with a box of David’s lyrics, not knowing what to do with them. He said he gave them to me to “do an S.J. Perelman on them”. But without music, they meant nothing to me except some good ideas. On the other hand, I had a Stephens 16-track and a board set up in Burbank, and I couldn’t get David to go out there and mock up what he was thinking. And thus passed the summer of 1991.
When we started in earnest, the album still took a while to take shape, and to really get it there, not only did have to I leave it, but David was ultimately banned from the studio too, to allow Bill to finish it. There was a tendency for Bill to leave, leaving us on our own, and with me gone and David running the show with an engineer, well, as Bill put it, “This a recording studio, not an erasing studio!” But overall, despite all the differing directions that we tried, it kind of holds up; lyrically it stands on it’s own. And the cover art is inspired, even if it doesn’t encourage impulse buying.
Of the tunes I’m on, I have good and bad memories of the process. This is usually the Rashomon-like problem with anyone in my position writing about something on which we’ve recorded. So I’m just going to write about a song that, for me, is the album’s centerpiece: “The Postman”. When I listen now, that’s the tune I listen to. It holds up for me.
As I recall, loosely based on David Brin’s science-fiction novel of the same name, the Postman evokes both an innocuous civil servant and a post-American, almost Road-Warrior-like environment. Its original tracking was just me on Bill’s 12-string acoustic guitar, sitting in the drum room, and David singing while seated at the console (and Bill running things). We got the take very quickly, that much I remember, and when we were done, Bill and I looked at each other — knowing that we had just captured something extraordinary. If I had been left in charge, that’s how it would have remained. I was quite hung up on how perfect it was.
But in the period after I left, Bill really sculpted the piece into what you hear. Working with David, they found various vocal samples and other sounds (like helicopters). Now I think that the song came into focus with everything that was added. David and Bill, with a few appropriately chosen disembodied voices, managed to sum up the entire album, from comments about the Jonestown massacre, to George H.W. Bush, to helicopters that encircle the listener. That I could have disagreed so much with David over the album’s contents at the time, I’ll have to chalk up to a willful naivete on my part. I really did want the world to be better than it is. I believe it can be — but I really didn’t want to see it as it was at the time, and what it was rapidly becoming. .
“I’m not just in the on-the-deck circle, I’m at the plate.” — George H. W. Bush
Next: the Tuesday Night Music Club, in which we engage in a major schism, and Bill Bottrell puts his cards on the table.