Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Codependency's Greatest Hits

Codependency's Greatest Hits (or Why I Love the Smithereens)

Years ago, I briefly worked for one of the Major Record Labels. One day, I ran into a hotshot A&R guy and pitched him my idea for a compilation album called Codependency’s Greatest Hits. The album would be filled with songs about making it okay for your loved ones to misbehave. The A&R guy hated the idea and mockingly suggested that a more commercial idea would be Songs to Drive Your Neurotic Ex to Suicide, but he disappeared before I could say anything more than "Joy Division."

Neither of those albums ever came out, but it's always been clear that the first song on Codependency's Greatest Hits would have to be "Behind the Wall of Sleep" by the Smithereens. I mean, listen to this:
She was tall and cool and pretty and she dressed as black as coal
If she asked me to I'd murder, I would gladly lose my soul.
It's a codependent's dream come true.

Some songs just seem timeless from the first time you hear them. Instantly familiar and instantly different from anything that came before. So perfect that they somehow must always have existed – maybe you just never noticed them before.

But let's back up. The song moves like gangbusters from the first beat, a perfect song to play in a car. Going very fast. With the volume all the way up. And the fuzzy guitar making your speakers buzz.

Then the singer starts up:
She had hair like Jeannie Shrimpton back in 1965
She had legs that never ended
I was halfway paralyzed.
What the hell is this? And more importantly, when the hell is this?

This song easily could have come out in 1966, 1976, 1986, 1996, or 2006 and the crunchy guitars and Pat DiNizio's vocals would sound just as fresh and revelatory.

A perfect love song about the girl everyone wants – a chick bass player who "stood just like Bill Wyman." Because anyone could name-check Mick or Keith, but it takes a music snob to worship Bill Wyman. And to want a female bass player to anchor his life (just like Bill Wyman anchored the Stones).

But there's a price to pay. With Bill Wyman, it was putting up with rock-star excesses from Mick and Keith. With the girl in this song, it’s having to murder someone just to get on her radar. If that seems like a fair trade-off, you're probably codependent.

Back in the real world, female bass players won't take all your pain away… and they won't care if you lose your soul. But in an alternate universe (where Codependency’s Greatest Hits has sold 15 million copies and that hotshot A&R guy is flipping burgers), the female bass player really, really loves you and will let you save her. And when you do, she’ll take away all your pain -- 3 minutes and 24 seconds at a time.


Anonymous said...

Wow Alex. Your mind is a very interesting place to visit! Sometimes, it even feels like home!

Anonymous said...

My first experience with your blog is this excellent Smithereens tribute. A great band. Veteran's Memorial Auditorium, Providence, mid-80s. When you saw a rocking show there, you always wondered if the roof would cave in on you.

Anonymous said...

"Codependency's Greatest Hits", great idea. I would buy that in a blink. You ought to be an A&R guy. You're right, this is an amazing song, so well written and what a tight band.

Might be the best yardstick by which to measure greatness that you can't immediately place the decade it's from.