I have a friend, Suzy, who I’ve known since 2004. I’ve never met Suzy in person. We met on Yahoo Chat. This was before Facebook if you can believe it! Now Suzy and I text and when one of us is drunk, we might call. I’ve seen Suzy go through relationships, deaths, changes. I’ve talked to her mom. I’ve seen pictures of her dogs. She’s helped me through breakups and heartaches. I’ve pissed her off, I’ve made her laugh. This is a good friend.
I met Suzy because for a while in 2004, after I’d been dumped by my girlfriend, I was spending a lot of time locked away in my apartment drinking Bud Ice (because it was the cheapest beer I could find), doing music composition exercises for classes at the University of Houston, listening to Jack Johnson and Manu Chao longingly, and chatting with people online. There were beer bottles and loose leaf sheet music everywhere, my studio gear, such as it was, was strewn about in piles, and I was basically the living embodiment of the blues. There’s something to be said for that, but I wouldn’t do it again!
Anyway, the way I met Suzy is, I saw her name on Yahoo and said “are you real?”, because at that time, these chat rooms were becoming less and less human and more and more spam bot. She always mentions how I said that. Apparently it was a really weird thing to say! I kept talking to Suzy off and on, even after I left Houston. I left Houston to go to The Bay Area, where I was accepted into the Master’s program at Stanford’s famed “CCRMA” (Center For Computer Research in Music and Acoustics), but I was still really sad and lonely from the breakup.
I used to ride around on the BART train a lot (it’s really the best way to get around out there). I did some poetry slam, I did some going around playing the piano at open mics, but generally I was just in school or riding around. I could have gone to hang with my friends who were hanging around with Green Day all the time, but instead I kind of rode around on the train.
As I was finishing Stanford and going back to our insane loft in Oakland, I decided to get the hell out of dodge. I’d been invited to play piano with Buddy Wakefield, who if you don’t know was an individual national poetry slam champion who had just signed with Strange Famous Records, which is the label owned by former Epitaph rapper Sage Francis. I’d done the piano for Buddy’s poem “Convenience Stores”, which turned out to be super popular. So I went down to Austin for the National Poetry Slam, where Buddy was opening for Sage at Emo’s. I remember standing in the audience while another opener did their thing and seeing this insanely pretty girl who I couldn’t take my eyes off of. She seemed to feel the same way because without a word she came up and put her arm around me. I really enjoyed the next part – she turned away for a bit, and it being time to do so, I disappeared and the next time she saw me I was on stage! 🙂 That won me points, clearly, but then she was ALL about getting me to get her into Sage’s green room, and I’m sorry, but I’m a professional. No dice! Besides, I was tired! Time for bed, yo! Heh.
ANYWHO, after I played Buddy’s piece, Sage invited me to come out and play with one of his tunes. I asked the guitar player the key, and he didn’t know, he just yelled a couple chords in my ear. So I made some stuff up on the fly and was digging on the 2000 candles being held up. It was phat.
After that, I did some other stuff and I was back home in Oakland. I forget how this time line goes, but I remember being at the same triangle corner desk when I sent Suzy a set of lyrics for a new possible song as when I got a call from Buddy saying would you like to do some dates with Ani Difranco. (YES!!). I sent these lyrics, to this thing called Third Rail, which was about all the feelings and thoughts that had been swirling around while I rode around on the lonely BART trains at night. I tried for it to be a slam poem, but it came out too rhymey.
It starts with “I see a flash from the third rail, and I wonder where it’s from, it’s like a pinhole shot from a .38 that broke the aching sun”.
Well I sent it to Suzy to see what she thought, and she wrote back right away and said she’d been crying. She liked it. It moved her to tears. That kind of thing doesn’t happen every time, but when it does, MAN, that’s cool stuff. So I made it into this song, which is kind of odd because it has no choruses. It has pianos and guitars by my friend Eric and this ethereal feel (I think). And I learned to play it (VERY SIMPLY) on the piano, and did it around Oakland sometimes. The point, I guess, is that it was kind of an exciting time. Bigger shows, people being moved, etc. I did five dates with Buddy and Ani Difranco where all I had to do was play 4 minutes and take in the sights. I even got paid twice as much to handle merch sales at Buddy’s table! HA! The funnest show was at The Mountain Winery, where my fingers were slightly slow from it being a chilly outdoor venue, I’d forgotten my sustain pedal but Todd (Ani’s bassist) couldn’t tell, and I didn’t have to sell merch because the venue handled it, so I got to watch Ani’s whole show from the side of the stage. YEAH! Or was it L.A.? That was cool because Buddy and I went swimming at Todd’s apartment’s pool, got some good eats, and everybody sang happy birthday to Ani before the show and ate cake. She was 7 months pregnant and we got to meet her husband and everything. It was fun times.
Anyway, the song Third Rail is on an album (Bleed) and such, but I thought I’d give it to you for free here. Because why the hell not? This here is the “dirty single” version, which technically is unreleased although it’s not really different than the album version (it just has a crazy intro cut out but it still has swear words 🙂 ).
I think things have gotten a lot less lonely and more inspiring since then, so if you want to hear how that progression has gone, you can check out my new thing Livin Is Bling here. I’d be delighted to hear what you think!