Monday, May 12, 2008

Destined to Be Remembered?

Well, Flozzies, it seems our journey has reached its end. I hope I have succeeded in my original goal to create the definitive web resource of this band, and that even though I won’t be adding to it anymore, random Googlers will be able to find this place when they try to find out something about that one band who played “Record Player” and “Vegetable Garden” all those years ago. I’m still amazed at how many searchers from all over the world still specifically seek out Fluid Ounces-related material through their internet searches.

Here’s hoping that YouTube, Blogger, SnoCap, and Brian’s mp3 server stay up and working forever too, so that anyone wanting to find out more can have a permanent place to discover these little pop gems for years to come, and that maybe this music we all cherish can continue to expand its audience. I will apply what they say in the movie Dig about an inferior act to Fluid Ounces,

“The music’s strong enough that that there probably will be a generation that discovers them like this rare, fossilized gem and mine it for all it’s worth.”

Here's hoping.

With this ending, I’d also like to acknowledge a few individuals without whom I would/could never have begun, maintained, or completed this undertaking:

To Seth Patrick Timbs—for the music that has inspired this blog and me and the plethora of people who have stopped by over the past few months to learn more. I hope I’ve done the songs justice in my moment-by-moment commentary. After 33,000 words, it hopefully goes without saying here and now how much I love the music.

To Jakob Dorof—whose blog “Crimes on Paper” made me realize that I could and should do this, and for commenting on almost every post, just like you said you would at the outset.

To Justin Meyer—for helping out with histories and giving us the perspective of both a former band member and a fan of this great music.

To Brian G. Pitts—whose blog inspired me to make the shift from simple journal-keeper to the blogoshpere in the first place. And for getting me into Gillian Welch and surf music in the meantime.

To Jeremy and Kelly—for the hours upon hours spent discussing this body of music, much of which created the fodder for these blog entries, especially Kelly’s numerous conversations with Seth.

And finally, to Brian Rogers, Tha B, for the videos and the mp3 server, without which this blog wouldn’t have gotten near the attention that it has, as well as for the little factoids sprinkled throughout the comment sections that give us a little “behind-the-scenes” glimpse into the band’s history. Your support early on was the determining factor in making this blog a reality. Fluid Ounces has become synonymous with Seth Timbs as his music and his project, but the last few years have taught me that you are the other driving force in it, to the point that the times the band functioned without you should have perhaps called itself something other than Fluid Ounces.
And it is to you that I dedicate this blog.

Peace,
Juan Horsetown
Bokwokwok [a-t] hotmail [d-o-t] com

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Have Fun

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

This song was the first song that I really obsessed over after discovering this band. The first show I attended ended with Seth Timbs doing an encore of the song solo on piano. The crowd began singing along, and the words resonated with me in a new way that would soon become all too familiar as I listened more to the band’s music. For the next two weeks, as I waited to get my mail-order copy of In the New Old-Fashioned Way, I would stream Spongebath radio while working as a college computer lab assistant just because it would play “Have Fun” once about every hour or so.

On the surface, the song is simply an invitation. The speaker paints a scene of any college or sports bar in America as men and women check each other out and make moves to seduce one another while keeping their cool and playing carefully-acted roles to keep the other side in check.

The deeper subtext of this song is why someone would even want to have fun in the first place. We live in a culture that glorifies having fun and deifies those who are best at having it, whatever the fun may be, as if twenty-somethings living it up in bars every night of the week have achieved some higher plane of existence than the rest of the working world who dedicates itself to careers and/or our families. The final verse shows this when the speaker exclaims, “Don’t you wanna have fun? I thought it might be what I needed, and it turned out to be a gimmick!” Once identified as simply a gimmick, if you watch closely when people, your friends included, are out on the town, how deeply they are trying to find this fleeting thing called “fun,” something to hearken back to their childhood when it came so naturally, something they have to work so hard for now, thus strangely extinguishing this thing they want so badly. And somehow you know that they know that none of you will ever find it, not there anyway, but we keep coming back because this elusive thing called fun is the closest we can come to feeling alive and free. Normally we’re the sad clowns, but when we go out to play, troubles are pushed away. There’s nothing to worry about.

Musically, this song has been mentioned by many band members as being one of the most difficult to play on any instrument, rocketing through chord changes, throwing in “ha ha ha”’s to tell the story. It’s short solos are quick, first a guitar, then a piano solo that’s ragtime in the first half and Thelonious Monk in the second. It’s ending is equally memorable, with a shouting match between Brian and Seth (or is it Seth and Seth on the record? I can’t tell) ending on an almost whispered breath, still reaching for the fun with the last and dying breath.

If you could ever somehow get a copy of Spike and Mallets’ CD, Peep, Jr., it features a song called, “The Fun,” which is a wonderful companion to this song, thematically at least, lamenting how “the fun never lasts” in its waltzing refrain.

I don’t think any top-five list of Fluid Ounces songs would be complete without this one in it (though I’m sure the comments section will produce a chorus of dissenters…). It was never the screamed-about casual-fan-fave like “Record Stack,” but instead was and is the song in which everyone can see themselves, if only in a line or a couplet, desiring a little something more out of life, finding something amazing within a pop song, and this, my final song entry (but check back Monday), is the other song I would argue to be Seth Timbs’ crowning achievement in songwriting.

The video here is from October 10, 1997.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Stark Raving Mad

From Foreign Legion

When I hear the opening line, “I’m leaving before anyone arrives,” it makes me think of the many nights when I’d arrive very very early to Fluid Ounces shows only to find me, the bartender at the Boro, and Seth there as he was setting up his piano. “Stark Raving Mad” would have been the optimal choice of Fluid Ounces songs to play over the PA at the Boro before those shows (along with “Last Goodbye” by Jeff Buckley and Self’s “Sassy Britches,” both of which seem to get played every time Fluid Ounces have played the Boro since I’ve been seeing them there).

As I stated long ago in this blog, Foreign Legion tells a story. At its end, we are given the final resolution to the story, “Stark Raving Mad.” Another favorite record of mine, Willie Nelson’s The Red-Headed Stranger, actually follows the same outline of Foreign Legion, only with a murderous preacher in the Old West. Red-Headed Stranger ends with the song, “Hands on the Wheel,” in which Willie sings of the lessons to be learned from his story of love, loss, and redemption.

But this song isn’t about that, it tends to focus more on life itself. “Smitten” lifts the mood and tone of the album into stellar bliss, accentuated by the next two songs, and while “Stark Raving Mad” does not exactly kill that momentum, nor does it kill it either. Instead, it somehow grounds what I am feeling in reality, making me feel something I only feel when I hear this song. I don’t know if the song itself created this feeling, mind you. The feeling lies somewhere between a redneck screaming from his back porch to the pits of hell, from Mr. Wrong on my radio to the chorus of over-dubbed Seth Timbs vocals that close out the song.

I should note that as complete as this song is as it completes this most under-rated Fluid Ounces record, I don’t see how it is about madness, whether of the stark-raving variety or not. I associate it with sane-ness (which is referenced once in the song right where “stark raving mad” had been said before). It balances itself on a razor-thin high wire between the two extremes, as well as between sadness and elation, joy and misery. I guess if it you can balance yourself there for very long at all, it doesn’t make much difference whether you’re stark raving mad or completely sane.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Poor Man

From Big Notebook for Easy Piano and Remember Cassettes, Vol. 1

To the casual listener, the same one who can’t get past comparing Seth Timbs to Osama Ben Folds, the five Fluid Ounces records might sound somewhat alike. For those of us who have spent some time with these records, each one begins to stand out and seem so much different from the rest. As bouncy and happy-sounding as Big Notebook is, it’s like there’s a dark cloud looming over all the songs that only settles in for the darker-sounding tunes.

“Poor Man” is the last song on the record beyond its secret track, but it is the true ending as it talks of leaving one place for another place as the dark cloud looming over the whole record clears as we approach a place where things are, “happy ever after,” and, more importantly, it is the start of what would become the toe-tapping sound that was made into an art form for In the New Old-Fashioned Way, the types of songs that have become the bread and butter of the band’s catalog. Musically, this song is the same chord progression as “Have Fun” in the key of D instead of E-flat, and it swings in a very similar fashion to “Drought.” It features Ben Morton wailing away on bass through the verses, Seth Timbs beautifully accenting the words, “Everything is stereo,” with a beautiful piano run up the keyboard, and Brian Rogers giving us a solo that jumps out from the arrangement that could not work anywhere else or any other way than exactly as we hear it there.

As it breaks loose, it pulls several wonderful pieces of imagery with it: “burning all the files and the videos,” destroying things as almost a creative force; empires rising and falling; contrasting monotone and stereo as well as black-and-white with color; and one last autumnal reference on the record when Seth sings, “Now the summer air is turning cold.” The lead-in to the solo carries my favorite image to the song,
“All jaded hearts won’t find their peace,
While my true love presides as queen
Over lands where a peasant can’t afford to sleep
So a poor man I will…”
The song ends with a cacophony of shouting snippets of lines from throughout the song before one little piano coda and a single person clapping.

The video is from October 10, 1997, from Main Street.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Get Yourself Gone

From Awkward Middle Phase: Seth Timbs' Home Demos, Volume One

Debuted when Doug Payne joined the band and retired when he left, I think of this song as the quintessential song of the Doug Payne era, as I always associate this song with the dozens of endless nights that I’d spend at the Boro seeing the band play there.

Given that Seth Timbs’ songs mostly have autobiographical undertones to them, I always wondered what conditions caused him to write this song. It was added just after Ben Morton had left the band to join the military and Brian Rogers had left to seek his fortune, and I wonder if Seth wrote it about their need to move on from Fluid Ounces. At Justin Meyer’s final show, Seth pointed out vehemently that it was not about Justin, making me question if he felt the song had an insulting tone to it or if it was about the departing band members.

At any rate, this song introduces us to someone stuck in a rut in his life, caught in a cycle of partying and staying out late, essentially going nowhere in achieving whatever goals he’s set for himself in his life. Our speaker is this person’s friend, and he gives a wake-up call, showing true friendship, and saying, “Hey! Get up! Get going! Get started with this thing you call life!”

The video presented here is from August 24, 2001, on the porch at the Red Rose Coffee House. It is surprisingly the only video I had of this song, and it clears up after the first few seconds.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Drought

From In the New Old-Fashioned Way

“Drought” is a gospel song, both in style and content. When I hear it played live, I imagine holy rollers jumping around with arms raised while tearfully shouting for glory in tongues as the band plays those soulful sounds. All the rest of us should stand up and clap. Seth Timbs then ascends to his pulpit behind the keys and delivers his sermon. His text is all the movies and TV we’ve seen too much of anyway, and his message is to put away thoughts on love and money in order to survive the metaphorical storms of life. Given the rest of the album in which this song lies near the center, our preacher stands before us as a repentant sinner rather than a hypocrite, pouring out his all on his black-and-white altar of 88 keys. Seth brings us hope that we can rise above the prevailing philosophies of our day, be it through the media (“TV talk”), kitschy belief systems that are constantly going in and out of style in America’s tireless search for meaning (“casoulastry” is a word Seth made up to illustrate this), or so many of the other pitfalls that have eaten away the soul of our generation referenced through the song.

When I first started listening to this song in 2000, I was obsessed with James Joyce’s collection of short stories, Dubliners, which frequently uses the old English term “draught,” which means to take an alcoholic drink from a keg. I used my own interpretation to link the two together, as in, “What this drowning man needs is a drink.” (That was further validated when I found out the mysterious opening sound of the song is Ben Morton opening a beer.) Unfortunately, this led to more lyrical changes to run through my mind. People who talk to me frequently will still hear me say every once in a while, “What this tired man needs is a nap,” or something to that effect.

This song has amazing versatility in Fluid Ounces sets, equally effective as opener, closer, or anywhere in between. It was very effective when it would be paired with “Poet Tree,” with only a two-count drum beat to launch into “Drought.” The best innovation to it was when the final chorus would launch into “Everybody Needs Somebody to Love,” previously covered by oh so many people (Who initially recorded it? Whose version is the definitive one? I have no idea), which follows the exact same chord progression as “Drought.” That chorus, before playing the song’s closing riff, says, “I need you you you,” which leads us to believe that our contrite singer will be back in front of us again someday with another tearful apology, but that’s OK--we’re in it for the ride with him, accepting him for who he is and loving the music all the way back to hell.

The live mp3, which will be this blog's last, will be up soon...

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