Today and for the next few weeks we’ll be handing the reins over to poet-in-residence J.E. O’Leary, so he can tell the story of his band Trousers as he goes track-by-track through the band’s only release, 2004’s We Pitched a Hut and Called it Providence.
The first time I ever played music in front of a crowd, it went about as badly as it could have possibly gone. I was playing with my first band, a jam band called IT, at legendary NYC venue CBGBs at one of their Sunday night showcases. As a huge fan of the CBGBs scene in the 70s and bands like the Ramones, Talking Heads, Patti Smith, Lou Reed, I had hyped up the gig in my own head past the point of any realistic expectations. However, literally four measures into the first song, I popped a bass string for the first time in my life. I didn’t even realize what was happening at first; I’d never broken a bass string in almost ten years of playing. The string just kind of disappeared under my fingers. Once I put it together, I panicked, as I didn’t even know if I had extra strings and my gig bag wasn’t even onstage. I ran off the stage and frantically tried to find my gig bag in a sea of identical black gig bags. The band meanwhile, just started improving on the main riff of the song (an E blues). Eventually I did find it, and it had my extra strings. I put it on as fast as I could and got back onstage. The rest of the show (for me) was a mess, finding myself out of tune more than not. At one point while I was tuning, I couldn’t get it, and Nolan, the guitar player, had to come over and tune it for me. It was a pretty embarrassing spectacle, even more so given the stakes I’d given it, along with the fact I felt I’d let the band down. We didn’t get asked back, and were broken up less than two months later anyway. So by any standards, it was a disappointment.
Despite all the craziness however, it was unbelievably fun. We had a bunch of friends show up, smoked blunts in the basement, partied at the bar, and brought the whole circus back to Nolan’s Brooklyn apartment where we smoked and drank and played music all night. I had my acoustic bass there (I would end up moving in pretty soon, but am unsure if I was already in by that point) and we just spent the night jamming, reading poetry, smoking weed, and getting drunk. Any bad feelings from fucking up the gig were a million miles away. Everyone was having a blast. At one point, I started playing this bassline, based around an Am scale, just up and down. Kinda funky, kinda dirty. I looked over at our keyboard player, Daryl, and he was deep into a vibe, singing something. When I listened closer, I could make it out. “It hurts me… it hurts me more… it hurts me… it hurts me more…”
A few years later, when George and I jammed for the first time at his loft on North 6th street, we were mostly just improvising, feeling each other out. I was never the kind of guy that knew a lot of covers, so we were kind of wanting for material. At some point I busted this riff out and we worked on it. I had the lyrics – we’d never really turned it into a formal song, mostly because the band broke up, but I loved the riff/lyric combo, and it was easy to play & sing at the same time, so it was one piece that was always in my repertoire. So it was kind of natural that it would be a song. I always wanted to keep it fast and short, and real simple, some kind of cross between Violent Femmes and the Ramones. Two verses, a cello solo, a guitar solo, and a third verse and that was it. It clocks in at 2:22, but it always seemed long even at that.
I never liked the third verse. I couldn’t decide between the lyrics we eventually ended up with and my alternate version:
It hurts us, it hurts us more than themlost third verse
It hurts us, oh, and it will ever end
It hurts us, oh it hurts us more than them
It hurts us, oh hurts us more than them
That would perhaps be more natural after “It hurts me more than you” and “It hurts you more than me”, the two lyrics that start the first two, but I think I was going for more of an edge at that point, and chose what you hear on the album. Reflecting back on it, it seems pretty clear that I chose poorly.
There’s not a lot to say about the recorded version. There’s a nice reverb on the cello, and I have some nice bass figures under the guitar solo. But it is what it is. And to my knowledge it’s maybe the only song from the IT era that survive in some official recorded form. I did solo acoustic versions of our songs “The Ballad of Bubbe and Zayde” and “Breath of Life” a handful of times, and I still know the basslines to most of the songs, including Nolan’s ” Pimpin’ “, the song on which my A string flew out from under my fingers at CBGBs all those years ago. But as a recorded song, it stands alone. I don’t think it was ever going to capture the manic raw energy of those Brooklyn years, but how could it? I mean, check out this completely spaced out version from a 1999 rehearsal:
Or the insane “Where the fuck am I?” energy from this version from the one time we played in Maine, at a place called The Wharf (4/24/2000 according to the tape):
Perhaps some things are best viewed from a distance.