Track-by-Track: “Spooky Spongecake”

Like other tracks on Thank You for Holding, “Spooky Spongecake” has a longer history than one might expect. I originally released a different version of this track as simply “Spongecake” about a year ago (and have since made it unavailable for reasons I’ll explain in a moment.) Here’s what I had to say about the track at the time:

I was sitting on the beach, and every iPod was playing Jimmy Buffett’s “Margaritaville,” but they were all out of sync with each other. The song would be fading on one speaker and just starting on another. Or two would be playing almost simultaneously but not quite in sync with each other. The line that kept jumping out at me was “living on spongecake,” which I later learned was actually “nibblin’ on spongecake.” But when I thought it was “living,” the line really stuck with me because I thought, yeah, isn’t that pretty much what we’re all doing? Living on a media diet of spongecake and margaritas? Pretentious, I know, but a few days later, I went back to work, and the Xerox machine (which is actually a Canon) was grinding away, and that line was still in my head. This track is an attempt at capturing what it sounded like.

The original version of the track actually included a brief snippet of the Jimmy Buffett song that I looped and ran through various effects and filters so as to make it unrecognizable. All the same, I didn’t love the idea of having someone else’s voice from a hugely popular pop song on the track. My concerns weren’t just artistic. I also didn’t want to violate copyright law, so I took the track down from BandCamp and recorded a new version in which I’ve replaced Buffett’s voice (as well as his melody) with my own. I also changed the words a bit: “Groovin’ on spongecake.” That version was twice as long as this one and included synthesizers, guitar, and drums. It had a distinctly Depeche Mode feel.

I’ll also admit that this is one of the strangest tracks on the album. In a way, it’s in line with one of my larger projects as far as being a recording artist is concerned. While appreciate the form of the traditional three-minute pop song (as exemplified by “Margaritaville” and countless other songs that have graced the pop charts over the decades), I also like to explore other forms that recorded music can take.

Perhaps the best known version of this view of recording artistry is John Lennon’s “Revolution 9” from The Beatles (aka The White Album). In this track, Lennon spliced together sound effects and recordings to create a sound collage that left many fans scratching their heads in wonder. “I Want to Hold Your Hand” it wasn’t.

With “Spooky Spongecake,” I was trying to paint a creepy picture of an deserted workplace where only the copy machine and a malfunctioning music player are getting anything done. It’s essentially in line with some of the other songs in the “mini album” that begins with “Mellow Pleasant Spongecake” and ends with this track.

The “Mellow Pleasant” version of this song represents the robot from “Thank You for Holding” drifting into a reverie about the world outside. “Best Worst of Times” is a meditation on what the world was like before it ended. “Sweet Chocolate Jesus” gives us another answering machine repeating a meaningless message to no one. “66th and City” depicts an abandoned home in a world populated only by ghosts. And “Spooky Spongecake” returns us to the dreaming robot, only now the dream has turned sour.

Track-by-Track: “Sweet Chocolate Jesus”

I was a little worried that some listeners might find this track offensive, much as fans found John Lennon’s “more popular than Jesus” comment offensive in 1966.

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Fortunately for me, my fan base isn’t quite as large as that of the Beatles, so the backlash against this song, should there be any, won’t be that bad.

In truth, though, the song is more about the commodification of religion in general — and Christianity in particular — than anything else. Isn’t it odd that when it comes to Christmas and Easter, gifts and candy eclipse the more sacred aspects of those holidays? Hence the repeated “The more you spend, the more you’re saved!” line that repeats throughout the track.*

About that line: My sister-in-law sent the recording to me when someone at a local department store left the message on her phone. And since this is an album about machines and messages and miscommunication, how could I not include it?

The “Sweet Chocolate Jesus” lines are actually slowed-down samples of my own voice. I rigged up an electronic drum kit so that instead of the usual snare and tom sounds, striking the drum heads would produce the sound of my slowed-down voice shouting “Sweet,” “Chocolate,” and “Jesus” respectively. Kind of an odd way to spend a Saturday afternoon, but what can I say? I’m easily amused.

Sweet Chocolate Jesus

The more you spend, the more you’re saved.

Sweet. Sweet. Sweet chocolate.
Sweet sweet chocolate.
Sweet chocolate Jesus.

Sweet chocolate.
Sweet, sweet chocolate.
Sweet Jesus.
Sweet, sweet Jesus.

Give me some of that
Sweet chocolate.
Give me some of that
Sweet Jesus.
Give me some of that
Sweet chocolate Jesus.

Sweet chocolate Jesus.
The more you spend, the more you’re saved.

Sweet chocolate Jesus.
The more you spend, the more you’re saved.
Sweet chocolate Jesus.
The more you spend, the more you’re saved.
Sweet chocolate Jesus.
The more you spend, the more you’re saved.
Bye-bye. Have a great day.

*Technically, the line is actually “The more you spend, the more you save,” but if you squint your ears, you can hear what I’m hearing.

 

The Accidental Guitar

I ordered a guitar from eBay the other day, but the guitar that arrived at my door wasn’t the guitar advertised. I’m thinking, though, that the guitar I ended up getting might be better than the one I ordered.

The guitar I ordered was a 6-string Rickenbacker copy made by a company called Cozart, but the guitar that arrived at my door was a 12-string. That’s the guitar that Roger McGuinn of the Byrds made famous with songs like “Turn, Turn, Turn” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Tom Petty used one on “The Waiting” as well. Oh, and a guy named George Harrison used one when he played with a band called the, uh…

Sorry, the name escapes me at the moment.

I should have known something was a little fishy when the notice I got from FedEx regarding the delivery said that the guitar was being shipped by the Fluoro Swimwear Company (which was not the company my money went to). When the guitar arrived, I counted the strings and realized there were six more than I was expecting. And when I checked eBay, I got a message stating that the listing had been removed by the seller.

Curiouser and curiouser.

The good news, though, is that the guitar sounds great. In fact, if anyone out there is looking for an inexpensive Rickenbacker copy, try to get your hands on a Cozart 12-String Honey Burst Semi-Hollow. I paid $175 for the one I got, and I’ve seen others going for around $350 (both prices include shipping). Compared to genuine Rickenbackers, which go for between $1400 and $3000, this is a great deal.

One slightly odd thing about the guitar is that the body is somewhat smaller than I expected. The neck is standard, but the small body makes it feel like a 3/4 scale guitar. It’s hard to tell in the photo, but here’s what it looks like:

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And after a bit of research, I found a picture of this guy from some obscure band in the 60s playing one. The size and scale of the guitar in the picture look comparable to mine.

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Sometime soon, I’ll try to post a recording of what the guitar sounds like. For now, though, I’ll just say that it sounds to my ears exactly like the (very) few Rickenbackers I’ve tried out in music stores, riffing away with no intention of buying, much to the salespeople’s chagrin. And if you stumbled upon this blog post wondering if this guitar is worth the money, it most definitely is.