Wednesday, September 16, 2015 2 Comments
Why does a 52 year old man re-release an album he made 21 years ago, especially one whose title song “Weirdo” is about being a freaked out adolescent? I really have to say there is no way I could have done it with out being pushed into it by the guys.
Once upon a time when I was 17 years old people really called me a weirdo and that taunt was usually followed by a punch. Mostly I lied about stuff, played guitar, masturbated, got blacked-out drunk on the weekends, talked to my girlfriend on the phone, drove drunk too fast, stole stuff, vandalized my high school, had my mother write my term papers for me, felt guilty about it all, then masturbated some more. The week before I went to college my dad and I destroyed my Aunt’s vacation cabin in a drunken fist fight. I was 120 pounds he was 220. Earlier that summer I broke my nose driving the family 69 Rambler wagon into a tree.
My yearbook picture from Saint Anthony’s (an all boys catholic school) inspired the song Weirdo. I wrote the song when I was 27 years old and was home from touring and found my 1980 senior high school year book. I looked at my picture, I saw the pain, the terror, the sadness, the hurt, the confusion, the desperation, and it all came hurling in on me so hard, my brain flooded with feelings. I realized then I was a fucking weirdo. Those words came flowing through me. I felt a release. I looked like a weirdo, I was a weirdo, I had never thought about it so clearly before, never really fully owned it. Maybe recovering from alcohol addiction and mental illness gave me the tools to put my life in focus in a way teenage Mike just couldn’t, and maybe that’s what growing up is. Two Mike’s talking to each other in a song. Maybe singing the song will make it ok to be a total outsider, freak, insomniac, manic depressive, narcissistic poet, with delusions of grandeur, and with a powerful self-hatred that tore me up from the inside.
Although I couldn’t wait to sing it for people, when I did, it never really saved me.
21 years later when Patrick (“AKA Tigger”) first came to me and the band about re-releasing Weirdo I said “Fuck that shit nobody gives a shit about Weirdo anymore or ever because Five Eight failed with Weirdo.” That’s how I felt. It sold at best 8000 copies and we didn’t accomplish what we hoped for, to be the next big band out of Athens GA. We didn’t become household names, we weren’t able to make a living at music. The song Weirdo didn’t make it out to everyone in the world who felt as insecure as me. Radiohead came out with a song shortly afterwards way cooler than Weirdo and stole any small flame of hope we had for that lofty goal. We were not a cool indie band. Not with a Jerry Lewis-like crazy front man recovered manic depressive alcoholic fronting an intense Replacements, Fugazi influenced mess.
Weirdo failed, except that we poured every last ounce of our heart and soul into it. We left nothing on the table. We may have swung the bat and struck out then, yet we are still together 21 years later as friends and a band. We still write new music every time we get together. We are not a nostalgia act, rather we are just cleaning up the wreckage of the past. We failed, except that 21 years later we got back together with the original producer David Barbe in his world class mixing room and went back to right a wrong that no one had thought possible, and in doing so had one of the best moments of my musical career—having the whole band, David Barbe and Dave Domizi together in the control room listening to the remastered version of “Hurt You.” I heard the old me talking to the new one, I heard how great it sounded on its own and the memories of why I wrote the song came pouring in. I was so glad we were putting it out there.
Still, the dream feels larger and better than the reality of so many dashed expectations over the years. Sometimes all I have to talk about is the personal hell of deep long term depression, the frustration and terror of being a new father, a bad marriage, a troubled teenager having a hard time with drugs and free floating anxiety, Friendships have helped give me an understanding that my own struggles are the things I know best and I am able to bring them to others via my music with an honesty and stark confessional power (one so honest that it almost makes me cringe with embarrassment). If it wasn’t for the band blasting through the chords and music we wrote and arranged together, it would be a humorless nightmare. Unfortunately with the type of mental illness I suffer from, most of the time I go around thinking I am perfectly normal and sane. It only occurs to me every once in a while that I’m not like most normal folks, like when I catch myself looking at the old artwork for the record and realize for many years I went through a naked performance show thing, a smash my gear on stage thing, a break up the band thing, a broken Marriage thing, a destroyed business thing, a bankruptcy thing, a everybody quits the band and rejoins the band thing (except Dan he never quit), etc.
The reason the Weirdo re-release happened is a combination of passionate chain reaction and serendipity. Doug Rasmussen, a super fan who became Five Eight’s current manager lights a fire under us, then Tigger, having a vision of fixing a past mistake with the mixing and sonic quality of the original Weirdo, writes a long letter about how I took the record that sounded amazing and had it remastered badly, destroying the sound of the record and making it mostly unlistenable. Although that wasn’t exactly the way it happened, having him remember it that way hurt my feelings. I wanted to just dig-my-heels-in, and not deal with what happened, not reopen the old wounds, but sometime later we accidentally found the original masters, and next thing I knew I was calling Barbe and we started the process. Fast forward some and a record company president of an actual indie record company (Chicken Ranch Records-Austin TX) gets behind the idea of a re-release and with Dave Barbe having the same vision/remembrance on the original Weirdo sound quality as Tigger (and me getting out of the way) it happened.
Why listen to Weirdo now? It has 5 new unreleased songs, 4 of them being the most pop sounding tracks I have ever written. It sounds exactly like we sounded back then and it kicks ass. It doesn’t lend itself to easy listening. It takes itself too seriously. It’s earnest not ironic. It is bare knuckles reporting on the mental condition of the singer. Its songs are too long, too real, and speak about the most taboo. The singer has a harsh Long Island accent, nasal and grating. There are hardly any overdubs and there is no autotuning. It is put out by a real indie band that toured the country in a van. The manager was just a friend. There was no time to record the record. We were never really hip or cool and still aren’t. The song “Weirdo” came to me in minutes. Music journalist Lisa Robinson always said that she would have signed Five Eight to a record deal based on that song alone. Walter Yetnikoff loved the Karaoke video and Cracker took us on the road with them. We opened up for REM at the Forty Watt. I have memories of singing Weirdo acapella— like at the Chicago Metro opening for Drunken Boat, the Cat’s Cradle in D.C. opening for Archers of Loaf, the Grand Ballroom in New York City opening for Cracker, and the Greek Amphitheater in Berkeley CA opening for REM on their 2004 world tour.
Five Eight has always been a band for outsiders. With songs like Looking Up, Suit of Sin, A Man is a Pent Up Thing, Depressed All the Time, etc it makes perfect sense that we’ll never speak for everyone unless somehow everyone has the same feelings about themselves as I did about myself. Thankfully sometimes it does seem that way… What a relief for us then to finally put this record out for the right reasons, an album by misfits for misfits.