Empty Glass Essay 5/25/2019
One thing I bought hook, line, and sinker through the nonstop diet of rock and roll literature I ingested through my formative years was the myth that getting fucked up helped the young artist become great. I remember John Lennon saying, in LENNON REMEMBERS, that substances had no effect on his artistic output with a quip along the lines of "I would have written 'I Am the Walrus' if I was on acid or under water."
Of course that isn't the Lennon "Walrus" quote that stuck with me. He also said that he wrote "I Am the Walrus" by eating acid one weekend and writing a verse or line, then eating acid the next weekend and writing another verse or line, rinse and repeat until you make it to "goo-goo-ga-joob."
I bring this up because I truly believed that chemical dependency was a prerequisite for rock and roll. I was a little stoner kid but, really, BEER! Nothing special about it. We were the type of kids who would play "hey mister" outside of the liquor store and go into the woods and get drunk and tell stories. This happened all the way through my teenage years. I gew up in Baltimore. While Minor Threat and Bad Brains were playing the 9:30 Club me and my guys were in the woods slamming warm Schaffer, smoking pot riddled with seeds and stems in corncobs we would purchase at the Royal Farm on Edmondson Avenue right inside the beltway, daring each other to piss on tombstones, playing drinking games that always had to do with rock and roll trivia, mainly the Beatles. The first song I wrote that I had the guts to play and sing was called "I Hope It's You and Me" and it was intended as my version of "If Only You Were Lonely", the B-side to "I Will Dare" by the Replacements. The hook was the line "I might drink myself to an early grave" so when anyone wanted to hear it they would yell "DRINK MYSELF TO AN EARLY GRAVE!" which is a great prank in and of itself.
I continued to write drinking songs for THE REST OF MY FUCKING LIFE! Whenever we do a slow number in C-major even now Brian refers to it as "a drunken swagger." My friends, "Empty Glass"is a song in that grand tradition. It has that garagey mid-atlantic thing going on. Pork says it "sounds like a New Jersey bar band." The mid-atlantic is a strange place. The suburbs are much more urban than to the west, where designers and planners wisely ditched crap that sucks. It's on old and aching suburbia. It's a pre strip mall suburbia. It has main streets, sidewalks, and little stores. It has pizza shops. This ain't the city, but it also isn't the suburbs as they are presently constituated. The houses are close together, the streets are narrow, the corners have what used to be barber shops or liquor stores. One block towards the city and you got the row homes made famous on Baltimore's keynote addition to American pop culter - THE WIRE, and one block the other way and you got mansions. Not MCmansions but real old time structures that slave owners once called home. In the working class sections of these little hamlets a couple blocks off of a road that at one time was a railroad track, you got yourself garages and basements - the petri dish for 70's and 80's little pothead rock and rollers.
These houses were big enough that, when the kids grew up, there was a small space that parents ceded to their offspring. This is what Lee Gardner referred to as, in his review of Circle 9's IF IT WAS UP YOUR ASS YOU'D KNOW IT, "rec-room genius." Another writer for an underground metal mag called Circle 9 "stoner friendly rock guys who have probably played their fair share of keggers." I don't know what's wrapped me up in this sepia toned nostalgic reverie. This is the milieau in which 1993 takes place, when these punk ass little fuckfaces have turned into young adults and the cushion of fuck up is gone. This is when people start to get lost to drugs and prison. That's the backdrop. Cocaine and PCP, two of the shittier drugs.
But "Empty Glass" itself was my attemp at writing something that would fit in on, if not PLEASED TO MEET ME, then HOOTENANNY. It's got the Stonesy Chuck Berry chugga chuggas and the suspended majors that Paul Westerberg uses so expertly. I even took words directly from Paul Westerberg interviews and made them lyrics. He was and remains the master of devestating couplets, either as insults or come ons or "generational longing" type stuff. Nowadays the lyrics in "Empty Glass" to me have the cadence of a sitcom. Set up - punchline. Exposition, set up - punchline - et cetera.
Thinking hard about this song it feels like a nice addition to the canon of boozy little pop songs written by guys and girls who aren't quite urban or suburban but somewhere in between. It's like ole Porky said when the song was coming together in the shed (the more things change!)and previously mentined in this essay. New Jersey Bar Band Rock.