Even though my musical adolescence was filled with the hairier variety of rock ‘n roll, I’ve always been looking backwards, sometimes to my own annoyance. In between listening to the latest Ratt or Judas Priest cassette as a pre-teen, I would sneak in something from yesteryear. The soundtracks to Back to the Future and Stand By Me were great vehicles to discover some classics. Even though the big hits on Back to the Future came from Huey Lewis and the News (another early hero), I’m fairly certain the first time I heard “Earth Angel” and “Johnny B. Goode,” they were being performed on screen by the fictional cousin of Chuck Berry, Marvin Berry and ‘80s guitar god Michael J. Fox (aka Marty McFly).
Having just started to play guitar, I was just as enthralled by that opening ubiquitous lick to “Johnny B. Goode” as I was by the facemelting two-handed virtuosity of Eddie Van Halen’s “Eruption.” It was all new to me. This led to purchasing a Chuck Berry greatest-hits cassette, where I fell in love with his mischievous voice and clever lyrics on top of that trailblazing electric guitar. Around this time, the Mamas and Papas, the Yardbirds, as well as more standard classic rock fare like Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and Jimi Hendrix were competing for my attention against the likes of Mötley Crüe and the Scorpions.
In my teen years I didn’t shed my love of hair rock, but I kept on digging into the past. ‘70s-era Kiss and Cheap Trick were in heavy rotation, and not exactly fashionable by this point, but neither was I. By my 20s it was the Byrds and Bob Dylan that had me under their spell, and still do.
I have a really stupid joke/saying: “Even if you’re late to the party, you still get to party.”
Guys, I didn’t really discover or go deep on Neil Young, Television, the Ramones, or the Velvet Underground until my 30s. Thank god I did. I’m thankful to my longtime musical life partner Dahlia Ramirez for turning me on to John Cale–not JJ Cale–who I now easily consider one my favorite artists and songwriters. Now in my 40s, it’s the Stooges and Todd Rundgren I’m catching up with and I keep on crawling into this seemingly endless pit of music made before I was born thru my toddler years.
But why? Why all this looking back? I ask myself this a lot. Is it just pure nostalgia? If it is, I might need to focus on this with a therapist. “Nostalgia” is often used to describe a happy association with the past, but is actually derived from a Greek word, meaning “pain” or “ache.” It was first used by a Swiss medical student in the 17th century to identify the uniquely anxious condition and behavior of soldiers fighting far away from their homes. Later, in the 18th and 19th centuries, nostalgia was not just a descriptor but the name of an actual condition, a specific form of diagnosable melancholy! Have I just been feeding my own anxiety and depression instead of my soul for all these years?
Fast-forward from the sadness of the romantic era to the summer of 2017. I’m one of the many cord-cutters of the 21st century who doesn’t have a cable subscription, but I do own a TV and I consume an irregularly large volume of content. A lot my time is spent not the latest series or movie but–you guessed it–music from days gone by.
Over that summer, I was in a bit of a malaise, and would often end up in a YouTube black hole. Digging into one obsession to death, leading to another one, and so on. For reasons I can’t remember, I was watching a lot Runaways and Joan Jett videos. Live, lip-synced, interviews, old, new, you name it.
I remembered, but couldn’t track down the source of, a story of Joan Jett stalking Suzi Quatro. My faded recollection is that prior to her rock stardom, Joan would show up in the hotel lobbies where Suzi was staying, looking an awful lot like Suzi, same clothes and haircut. Joan would just stare at her, without saying a word or approaching her, and it creeped Suzi out a bit.
It dawned on me that I really didn’t know her music. This thought had me start down the next YouTube black hole, and it was all Suzi Quatro, all day and night. My favorite track being hands down “The Kids of Tragedy.” It pairs some tough girl-group lead vocals on the verse with a beautiful space-age glam choir on the incredibly catchy chorus. I honestly can’t tell you what this song is about, but damn, if that is not one of the best song titles ever.
Suzi really is one of those under appreciated rockers, another thing I’m a sucker for. Her fame was mostly isolated to England and Europe, but luckily her reach was wide enough to touch and inspire a young Joan Jett. She combined a whole bunch of flavors of rock I love. There’s some era-specific glam flourishes, early hard rock, light rock, duets with male vocalists, and just a pinch of ABBA from time to time, all blended together. She even covered “Breakdown” by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in the same year they released it.
Seth Lorinczi had sent me a note saying: “We should try to do something together. I don’t know what or how it will work”, and I quickly said yes. I met Seth while he was playing guitar in the Corin Tucker Band and my band Billy & Dolly had the honor of opening their show at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. He instantly impressed me with both the ferocity and dynamics he played with. Also being a guitar nerd, I loved seeing his touring setup of a vintage Echoplex tape delay running into a pair of Supro amps. He explained that the second one “I use as my distortion pedal”, which I both nodded my head to in approval and giggled at. On top of that he was a sweetheart of a guy. We stayed in touch over the years, and I had the chance to see him play with Corin again, tape echo in tow. It’s been a great experience having a digital pen pal of sorts where we share our latest music and ask each other about gear, although I do most of the latter.
A couple months passed after Seth’s initial proposal when I got a note from him asking “Have you ever heard of Plasticland?” I gave my classic response “I’ve heard of them but never heard them”. He said “I want to cover this song “Go A Go-Go Time” and have you sing it” (speaking of great titles). I said “Yes” without overthinking it, and countered “Let’s do it, and also cover this Suzi Quatro song I’m in love with, ‘The Kids of Tragedy,’ and release a fake 7” single,” meaning digital only, no actual vinyl. I should add that I immediately headed off into a mini-YouTube black hole of Plasticland videos.
With a barebones scratch track of a lone keyboard and metronome for both songs, I headed to a studio in Oakland and banged out the vocals for each song and sent them back to Seth. A few weeks later he sent me a fully fleshed-out mix with drums, guitar, bass and keyboards he did in his studio in Portland, and it sounded fantastic. It really showcases Seth’s talents as a musician and engineer. This was such a treat. I’ve never worked this way. I’m always involved in every little detail when making a record, and for this, I did my little part in isolation and got back these songs full of sonic surprises and dare I say nostalgia. Thank you Seth!