This is one of my absolute favorite Stickmen bootlegs. Matt and I recorded the song, with overdubs, on the first night of December, in my dorm room at Harvey Mudd College. Matt drove out from Santa Monica with his TASCAM four-track, and I scrambled to get my song finished.
Matt really acted as our producer on most of the early recordings, even before he bought the four-track. He would drive the agenda. Not that he would issue instructions, but he would keep us focused on our song arrangements, and when it was time to record one, he would usually be operating the equipment. So Matt was both producer and engineer. And, of course, performer.
For Above You, we were up at Harvey Mudd (Third Floor Atwood), so it was just Matt and me. Matt deployed the microphone while I sat at my desk and strummed the rhythm track on my old Gibson acoustic. We overdubbed electric guitar using my Fender Squier. I don’t recall whether I amplified it with my brand-new Peavey, or used the “crunch” setting on the R.A.D. amp. Probably the R.A.D, because the Peavey was a tube amp with a cooling fan that made a high-pitched noise.
We did vocals together, with Matt inventing the high harmony. At some point, Matt added tambourine and bongo drums, including the three extra bongo taps at the end – an improvised flourish that immediately became a permanant part of the arrangement. All of this would have been done through Matt’s stage microphone.
Why do I have such affection for this recording? First off, it’s a foot tapper that doesn’t sound forced, with some faintly clever turns of phrase, and only a couple of “cringe” lines. As a Beatles pop-single devotee, I liked its brevity (90 seconds). It was also the first song I ever wrote that made the transition to tape in anything like a final form.
Moreover, it was a song I had struggled with for weeks, and had actually abandoned for a while. But then all of a sudden, like a bolt out of the blue, I got a middle-eight that I loved, and (presto!) there was Matt with the four-track. The immediacy of the task at hand forced me to complete the lyrical editing.
Within a couple of days, Matt played the tape in-store at The Wherehouse, to strong positive feedback from his coworkers. This was a welcome change from past experience, playing demo tapes of “Nothing Special” to decidedly mixed reviews at Comic Quest. Also, I think Matt was ethused by the song, because I remember him phoning me with his interpretation of the title phrase. Something about holding the moral high ground, but “I’m not immune to your barbs.” Victor liked the bit about standing in your shoes. It was nineteen months before he wrote a bassline that perfectly suited the song.
Alas, the master tape has been lost, and only a few mixdowns remain from the dorm-room session. Perhaps absence has made the heart grow fonder. Don’t get me wrong – I like the version on the CD with the full band arrangment, but the demo version has a certain elusive charm that only happens when you’re not even trying.