Unlike most musicians, I sadly do not have a terrible/hilarious/embarrassing song that I wrote as a young teen. I wanted to be in a rock band more than anything on earth when I was growing up but it felt like something completely unattainable, even with several amazing highschool friends in bands at my school to aspire to. When I’d go to a show, I’d fantasize about somehow ending up onstage to sing. If you saw me with a tennis racquet or pool cue, you’d think I must know how to play. But when I turned 15 and my folks rented a guitar for me, I had zero discipline. I took a few lessons, played a bunch of Sex Pistols songs on one string and gave up after a couple of months. A few years later, I bought a used acoustic guitar, learned a few chords and played covers with friends on occasion but never made any attempt to write something myself.
Sometime after graduating from Cal State Northridge and moving to the Bay Area in 1994, I randomly came up with the phrase “Miss right now, I’m missing you and how”. It sounded like it would make a good chorus to a song and, one day, I came up with a melody for it that I couldn’t get out of my head. I vowed to write some verses and finally finish my first teen song at the ripe old age of 23 but just wasn’t motivated to work on it.
Inspiration struck when I drove a few hours to see the girl I was kindasorta dating at college, only to have her tell me that she’d been kissed by a friend that she’d been telling me about for awhile. After I asked her not to tell me who had performed this hit-and-run of the lips, she did anyways,. So, I got up and headed home. I wasn’t heartbroken but being mildly annoyed at having to get right back in my car didn’t exactly make for great lyrics. So I feigned anger and pretended I wanted to smash the bass guitar that this guy had recently gifted her . In my attempt to fill the song with bass references, I started off my very first original composition with a Public Enemy line. Definitely a sign of things to come.
When my roommates and I decided to have a party at our El Cerrito flat and invite all of our musician friends to play, I got up the nerve to put together a set and play in front of people for the first time. When my ex insisted on coming because they were her friends too (never mind that it was my house), I finally had the motivation to finish the song. Having listened to so much music, I set the bar pretty high for myself and was surprised that I’d come up with something halfway decent my first time out. The guitar riff sounded ok by itself which was shocking for such a mediocre guitar player and I was proud of a few lyrics too. The line about missing the girl didn’t really match the verses so I came up with a chorus counter-melody that managed to admit that without being too whiney. I used the “Do You Wanna Know A Secret” trick of saving it for the second time around so that the song would build a little. My living room set was greeted warmly by my friends, except for my ex, who got up and left halfway through her song. Mission accomplished.
Years later, my old roommate decided to get our family of East Bay musicians to record songs for a compilation album and asked me to contribute something. I was flattered and a little scared. I’d attempted fronting a band a couple of years before but it only lasted a few months and I’d barely touched a guitar since. I figured it was appropriate to record the first song I’d ever written for my first time in a studio, especially since I’d written it in the apartment that was the hub of our little scene. I used the pseudonym Atlas Lickers in reference to the liquor store across the street on San Pablo Avenue.
My friend Billy Lovci was also asked to record something, so we went to our friend Mike Kamoo’s new El Cajon recording spot, Earthling Studios to put down some magic. Billy did a simple but purdy double-tracked acoustic number with a little help from a classically trained violinist friend who tried fiddling but was mostly left on the cutting room floor. When it was my turn, I was like a kid in a candy store. Tremelo guitar, distorted vocals, toy accordians, wind-up music boxes and backwards pianos recorded over the phone challenged Mike who was still a little new with the equipment but it came out great.
Bill Swan from Beulah told a friend in strict confidence that he couldn’t believe it was the first song I’d ever written. I probably should’ve retired on that but instead, Billy and I performed on 91X’s Loudspeaker and then at the album release party in San Francisco with Miss Right Now in attendance. We’d since made up. Performing my own songs felt great so I got the guts to start a real band. People continued to be shocked that these were the first songs I’d ever written. Must’ve been the gray hairs.
Oh yeah? Well, let’s hear YOUR first song.