Never sent never bought, but the stories behind both of these involve moments in my bands where it felt like a band, where it felt like all the parties involved had a shared goal, a shared goal to have fun, write music together, to laugh, poke fun, emote, and travel together, to have experiences that burn themselves into the shelves of our brains.
Goofy ridiculous songs were a staple of the early Screeching Weasel, we had learned that from a few bands but especially The Meatmen, Circle Jerks, and Adrenalin OD. Choosing to take a couple years off school and to travel around the country in a punk circuit that did not exist at the time, outside of VFW halls and kids’ basements, was a bit of foolishness, but it paid off, and gave memories to hold onto, even though at the time they may have seemed like minor tragedies.
Back in 88 and 89, we would schedule shows in between working full time jobs and practicing in Ben’s garage, and my garage. Without a van it was difficult, I did not have a car, so Ben and Steve Cheese would have to carry all the equipment in their cars. We were going to head out to California for a few shows so Ben and I decided we would purchase a van. We went to a few Used Car places, but we had no knowledge of vehicles and the used car salesmen were as conniving if not more so than the musical salesmen at Guitar Center. It was daunting. We did not have credit or large sums of cash to buy a proper tour vehicle. As it was Ben and I were pouring all the money we were making from our jobs into the band already.
At one particular used car lot, we met a strange little man with thick glasses and a huge beer belly. We told him our plight, and he said, “I got exactly what you need.” He brought us over to a demolished orange district school bus, exactly like the one I rode in during elementary school. He very nearly had us sold on it, but when Ben and I finally looked towards each other, eye to eye, we escaped from the delusion of this actually working, and we walked out with no vehicle, but a pocket full of quips and an unforgettable journey. Once again we would drive long distances crammed into Ben’s Chevy Malibu. (And those trips made it into my book Weasels In a Box)
Ben and I were a fan of the Kurt Russel movie, Used Cars, so the idea of using that title was probably already circulating in Ben’s head, but after this search for a van, the idea was cemented to write a song about this experience. I showed Ben some music I had been working on and he put the words to it. We laughed pretty hard at this one, probably because we had the memories solidified together to back it up. This is also one of the few on Boogada Boogada Boogada that I chime in on vocals. It was a blast to play and sing this song. It is stupid, but it has an infectious energy that I still enjoy. And we did it together, a definitive shared experience that manifested as one song amongst many.
When I started Even In Blackouts, moments from the past like that still made me believe that I could bring people together, to contribute parts, and to allow others to contribute parts to their songs. The early Even In Blackouts were forging a new path, a different way of playing acoustics, so we rehearsed ALL the time. I made us work hard. And when I go back and listen to those early records, you can hear it in the tight rhythms, that it paid off. We were able to create a manic energy by using acoustic instruments, and yet because of Liz, it also sounded beautiful. Brad, bass player, brought in quite a few very good songs, and song parts. The Lipmans, Brad and Dan, were good at nudging me to bring the “pop” back into the sound of EIB. I had been doing that for years, so my creative juices were quickly moving away from that specific genre. But they loved it, they loved Screeching Weasel, they respected me and wanted to be a part of that pop punk energy, so they continued to move the band in that direction, and I went with it, because they were passionate, talented, and energetic, and it felt right to accept that aspect of myself into the band, even though I, myself, never felt very comfortable trying to write songs as good as Ben or Vapid could. That aspect still daunts me, but my job in these bands, I feel, has always been to break that stigma of what it is to be punk and yet still play with infectious melodies and meaningful and sometimes stupid lyrics. I learned to be unique within the "scene" from some of the best at being odd, like Johnny Puke, Chris Barrows, Jeff Ott, Jesse Michaels, Bruce Wingate, and many other oddball punks.
In A Letter Never Sent, is pure pop punk, and Brad allowed us to make our marks on it too, Dan Lipman added some great melodic solos, and James (Kelly Summers in the band) wrote a whole bridge and came up with a harmony, and of course we had Liz and Vapid on vocals. In the almost 20 years of the band this stands amongst many others as a perfect example of the band working together to get an individuals song and grow it into something special. I’ll end this with Brad’s thoughts on In A Letter Never Sent.
BRAD LIPMAN: I’ve been asked about In a Letter Never Sent a few times over the past 17 years or so. It's humbling that people still enjoy it. The song was so simple, so formulaic, so "pop-punk" that it almost didn't fit what we were doing as a band. I don't know if it was that the style was more in line with what a Screeching Weasel fan might have been looking for out of us at the time, or if it was Vapid doing the guest vocals, but something worked. As a 40 something with 3 kids and a day job that has nothing to do with music, I love that this little piece is still sitting out there and keeps me tied to a scene I loved.
Lyrically, well... death is a hard topic for me to talk about. I know this was in an interview we did a long time ago, but the catalyst behind the song is an actual letter that I wrote to my best friend while at summer camp. I never sent it (I still have it), and he passed away less than a year later. I later addressed this head on with Song for Remembrance, but wasn't ready to really write about it here. Lyrics like "I said I love you, and I'm always thinking of you" or "the letter's still here and you're nowhere near" are directed at him, but I camouflaged all of it under the guise of a love song about a girl. If you listen to the lyrics with this knowledge, there are few other lines or sentiments that you'll realize aren't necessarily what they seem, maybe some of them even unintentionally. I suppose looking back, hiding this as a love song was just because that was an easier, universally relatable, more comfortable, and plausible story to tell. It worked, and in my mind, as Dr. Frank would say; "here's a song about a girl".
From a musical standpoint, IAL was pretty basic. Nothing flashy. When and where we first played the song, I can't recall, but I do know that it came together in the apartment above Sonic Iguana. I remember playing it with Jim , so it must have been during the recording of Myths... it came along early though as I remember it being on the set list when we first went on tour with my friend Blake sitting in on drums. Performing it live was fun as Dan insisted on playing the lead with his guitar behind his head more often than not. Just thinking of the live versions, I wonder if anyone out there has video of A) Vapid singing at any of the EIB/Methadones shows (I might have from the surprise SW Fireside set, or B) Matt Hart taking on the male vocals during the Squirtgun tour.