My good friend Tony Fletcher has written another music biography, A Light That Never Goes Out: The Enduring Saga of The Smiths. He’s also written bios on Keith Moon, R.E.M., and Echo & the Bunnymen, and musical histories of The Clash and the various musical movements in New York City. That’s just a shortlist.
In addition to all of that, he keeps a comprehensive website that’s well worth your time: iJamming.net.
He also runs marathons and serves on the school board for Onteora School District, where our sons go to school. He’s made an appreciable, positive impact on the education of thousands of kids. We occasionally play in a band called the Catskill 45s, which Tony writes about HERE, Bassist/vocalist/owner of the PA Mark Lerner talks about us HERE.
Goes without saying: Tony’s a remarkable fellow.
So when Tony asked if I would play a few Smiths songs at his book party for A Light That Never Goes Out, I said yes of course. I chose “This Charming Man,” “Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want,” and their amazing “How Soon Is Now?” – one of the very best recordings to come out of the much-maligned decade of my youth, i.e. the 80s. Tony paired me up with Grasshopper, from Mercury Rev. Grassy and I learned the tunes independently (Mercury Rev covers “How Soon Is Now?”), met the day of the reading, got along famously, practiced upstairs at Woodstock’s Golden Notebook bookstore, then performed at Tony’s book party at the restaurant Oriole 9.
It was a seat-of-the-pants gig, the kind that can easily go very, very wrong, but it actually went very, very well. I’m not a big Smiths fan, but I do acknowledge their rightful place in history; Johnny Marr’s guitar playing and sense of chord structure has always fascinated me. Learning these songs deepened that regard. Morrissey is a genius, a grand rock and roll prima donna on a par with Bowie, Marc Bolan, Jagger, et al, and his place as the Oscar Wilde of rock is well-deserved. But he’s kind of gotten on my nerves all these years. I just can’t help it.
I saw The Smiths at The Beacon Theater in 1985 and felt like I’d stumbled into a church service. I was more interested in Billy Bragg, who opened the show. But once he left (he was great) the devotional intensity of the crowd was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. (And I’ve seen a lot of shows.) A horde of sexed-up librarians, it was. I kept thinking, “I wish I loved this, I really do.”
But anyway, the gig at Oriole 9 was a blast. Tony read about the tunes, the history, the recording process, etc., and then Grasshopper and I played ’em. Tony wrote about it himself HERE and put everything – chapter readings and performances – HERE. I’ve put the performances below. The recordings are ragged in spots, but overall it came out pretty good, I think. Please enjoy:
This Charming Man
(the opening is cut off, which is OK, as the riff at the beginning is really hard to nail)
Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want
(this came out the best, I think, both performance and recording quality)
How Soon Is Now?
(I kept in mind that this tune started as a bluesy jam called “Swamp.”)
So please, please, please head over to your local bookstore and get a copy of A Light That Never Goes Out. (If it’s not in stock, have them order it.) The more opportunities I get to sing lines like, “I would go out tonight, but I haven’t got a stitch to wear” the better.