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. Today: Track 11, “Mountain, Mountain Glowing”.
We had the hardest time choosing a band name. One of the first we threw around was Simple Machines, which is the name for things like levers and wedges, the simplest possible “building blocks” of applying force. We liked the idea, but by this time (2002-2003) it was super easy to search the internet for other bands, and we soon discovered Simple Machines was the name of an established band in the Midwest; we wanted something completely ours. The next name we had was Sketch, and we actually stuck with this one for a while. I still have plenty of old rehearsal tapes that have Sketch on them. But this too ended up being the name of another band, this time, one out of Philly. It took a very long time to settle on a name. We eventually settled on Trousers during one of our weekly “go around in a circle and say the first thing that pops into your head” sessions at practice, but not before exchanging probably hundreds of ideas at these sessions and over email. There was one that Joey came up with while riffing that I loved, but George refused to consider. But it became something of an inside joke for the band, and when we had a nameless instrumental that we were going to use to wrap the album, George relented and let us use the name: Mountain, Mountain Glowing.
The instrumental itself was the “outro” of a new tune called “The Weed Song” we’d been playing that wasn’t quite ready for the album. I don’t really remember the song, and I’m not about to dig through band tapes to take a listen (though given the nature of these pieces I’m writing, I probably should), but I remember it as a dreamy, kind of Tom Petty-ish driving song, about pulling over on the side of the road to smoke a joint, or maybe being pulled over by cops after smoking? Like I said, not really sure. But this was the instrumental tag at the end of the song. As I mentioned before, two of the songs we recorded for the record weren’t working, so we had to record a few replacement tunes pretty quick. One was “Life as a Movie II” and the other was the outro for this song that worked well as its own piece. There’s not much to say about this musically. It’s a quiet little two part ditty. Everyone plays their parts well, and the recording sounds fine. It’s the perfect way to end the album; a nice exhale after the emotional drama of Becca’s Song. And that’s it. That’s the story of recording our album. There are thousands of stories just like this. Small rock bands who had a decent run, recorded an album, then had to break up for any number of reasons, but leave behind a document of the time spent in the band. When I was in Trousers, music was my whole life. Playing music, writing songs, was all I wanted to do. It wasn’t the best band I’ve ever been in (though definitely top 3), and it wasn’t the worst (not even close). But it’s one of the only ones where I actually have a finished album as a statement of our time together. For that I’m grateful. When I started writing this series, I didn’t really have any goals except to kill eleven weeks of “Audio Saturdays!” on my website, and get some weekly writing in outside of my comfort zone of poetry and fiction. I felt a lot of emotions while revisiting this material, but was surprised at how sad a lot of it made me feel. The thought process went a lot like this: God damn, this is so good. How did we not keep this going? Well, people moved away. But how did I not keep something going? I kept writing, but it would be another 3 years before I fronted a band with my own songs again. I guess on some level I felt rejected and jaded by the whole thing, like, it ended, what was the point? I didn’t understand yet. I didn’t want to go through the whole thing just to end up right back at square one again. After Trousers, the next couple of years were kind of lost. I bounced from band to band, drinking heavily, sleeping around, doing lots of cocaine and generally being self destructive. First I joined a jam band with one of the best drummers I’ve ever played with. But they were weekend warriors, and despite me pushing and pushing, didn’t have any real interest in playing live, which in hindsight is pretty odd for a jammy band. So after maybe ten months of trying, I quit. After that I found a garage rock band with another amazing drummer, and we had a pretty good run. We played live a lot, but when it came time to record, they decided they wanted a bassist with a different sound. Rejected again! That pissed me off and kind of woke me up a bit. It wasn’t until 2007 that I found a guitarist who believed in me and my songs, and we had a great band for a while. We eventually ended up at each other’s throats, but that experience gave me the confidence to get my songs going again. I started playing solo acoustic at open mics, and the whole Joe Yoga project was born. Regret is an awful feeling on a lot of levels. First off, the feeling itself feels terrible, and, if you’re like me and beat yourself up a lot, it can be twisted into seeing it as an indictment of one’s current situation: if you regret something in the past, something ending, some action you could have done differently, then your life would be different, and the only reason you would feel regret is if you weren’t happy with your current life. If your life was great, you wouldn’t want anything in the past to be different because it would change where you are now. So it becomes difficult to identify just what it is you regret. For me, with Trousers, I do think a lot about what it would have been like if we got a break, got to put out an album on a label, tour, all that jazz. I think we would have been good and successful. And it would have been the fulfillment of a dream I’ve had since I first found Alice Cooper’s Love it to Death in 7th grade: playing in a famous, powerful rock and roll band. There’s a lot of that result that’s out of my control, but there was also probably a lot I could have done that I did not, and a lot I did that I should not have done. But at the same time, my life since Trousers has been awesome. I’ve met some of the most incredible people I will ever meet, including the love of my life, had experiences and created art I would have not have created otherwise. All of those things would be different if the Dream came true: different people met, different songs written, different experiences experienced. So where is the regret coming from? Or, what is the regret over? I think it’s two things (maybe three). The first part is my perception of the experience of Trousers as one I did not fully appreciate at the time. I hope I did. Those nights hanging out, drinking liters of warm beer at Greenpoint Tavern, three hour jam sessions, getting better, growing confident as a performer, singer, and songwriter, were so important to me. I suspect did not ever stop and say “this is amazing”; I was too busy with my foot on the gas. Or if I did, it wasn’t integrated the way I know now that that feeling needs to be. I know I loved those guys. I know we had a great band. Part of me is aware that the dream of doing everything right and experiencing every experience the right was is more of a fantasy than a dream. Now I can say: I know that now. But then I was just a match, burning. I thought the end was the end. But it never is. The second is that being older, you know how much can change, and just how many different roads your life can take. I’m bummed I never got to live the road where I did everything right with Trousers. I’m also bummed I never got to live the road where I did everything right as a novelist, or with any other of the bands I was in. It’s not necessarily that I wish things were different, but that those would have been amazing to experience. I know in a different timeline, I could have been hit by a bus at 33 and never gotten to experience growing old. But it’s part of the gift and curse of having abstract thought. There’s no way to avoid thinking “What If?”. You can only hope it doesn’t lead to obsessively thinking “Why Not?” The third thing is that I regret these songs never found a wider audience. I feel regret for the people who never got to hear them, because I know they would have loved them. We were a perfect little fireball of a band, with grace and humor and power. We would have been perfect. But music lovers, though they may never have experienced our band, I know one thing they did do: they followed their hearts to all the music they could find, and they found incredible, passionate music to love – because if there’s one thing this world is not lacking, it’s brilliant artists expressing their truths via amazing music. They say the snowflake never feels responsible for the avalanche, but I wish it would, because it works the other way too – the drop of water can never comprehend that it’s part of the beautiful ocean, but if they all felt that way and went away, what a loss it would be for the eyes that seek beauty.