Thursday, July 01, 2010

western hills

Western Hills was the name of the elementary school i attended in El Paso
from kindergarten through 5th grade
roughly 1972 to 1978
it was at the very bottom of the steep hill of a street we lived on
called Constellation
6224 to be exact
from the patio on the East side of our house
you could see right down the middle of El Paso del Norte "the pass of the north"
the copper refinery Asarco loomed way off in the distance
its huge smokey chimneys towering over the banks of the Rio Grande
the lights of Juarez stretched out beyond the factory and into blackness
it was an incredible view i probably took for granted most of my life

from my bedroom window, facing North
stood the Franklin mountains
they partially adorn the Constellation album cover
lifted from a Polaroid taken by my mother
around 1970
the city no longer looks like it does in this picture

this song originally had an entirely different lyric
i really struggled to find words i liked to fit the chorus melody
the "western hills, western hills, western hills i'm there still..." refrain
finally came to me one morning
i'd obsessed over it for weeks
after that it was off to the races
the words came pouring out
a sister song of sorts to "1978"
it opens with a recollection of being in 1st grade
with my face hogging glasses
the beginning of feeling different from the other kids

"brother F is crying from a bullies’ rock
i’m the lone avenger with revenge to plot"

one day i came home from school and my brother was crying loudly
he must've only been in 2nd or 3rd grade
he told me Chad Sorenson had thrown a boulder on him
the next day i punched Chad in the face
and told him to never mess with my kid brother again
when F was a teen he got his nose broken by a kid who was trying to impress
his sister with his ability to throw a left hook
the kids parents said they'd pay for F's nose fix
since it was obviously their son's wrongdoing
they quickly changed their minds and stopped returning phone calls about it
i then cooked up a scheme to steal the bullies' guitars and give them to my brother
as payback
it was one of the dumbest things i've ever done

"sitting on the blacktop at the end of class
betting if the jam was better than the clash"

in the days of my youth
endless hours of musical debate took place
mainly between my brother and i
sometime with our friend Jeff G. included
we really did once go album by album
song by song
to try to determine who was better
the Jam or the Clash
we also tried to figure out if U2 or the Alarm would be better
if they just swapped lead singers

"under cover ear pressed to the radio
cutting off transmission of guitar solo"

i did have an old transistor radio
that i'd listen to at night
under the covers
with the volume turned way down low
as to not arouse the suspicion of my parents
i'd pick up stations from Colorado
like KCOS and KOA
high school basketball
the Denver Nuggets and the Alan Berg show
(Berg later took 13 bullets in his driveway for being a liberal)
El Paso radio was all heavy metal and classic rock shite
from an early age i developed a hatred for the guitar solo
i decided it was an instrument vital to this crap medium
i really would literally turn the dial if one came on
when i started writing songs later
i intentionally left out guitar solos
please take note of the lack of guitar solo on this recording
as well as the 11 other songs on Constellation!
Billy did however sneak a banjo on to "Western Hills
how he made that god awful instrument sound cool is a true testament to his genius!

excerpt from the recording of "Western Hills" 5/15/08

i didn't sleep well last night
a bass part idea
for "western hills"
looped in my brain
for 12 hours
over and over
and over again
it tormented me
i woke up at 7am
after a fitful night
of tossing and turning
with "bah da bah da"
thumping in my brain
all night long
we went to borden creek
for some breakfast taco galore
bass loop still going full throttle
driving me nutso
i was beginning to even get a little snappy
when it took half an hour for our tacos to arrive
ready to go off on someone with a tofu stick!
at 2pm i finally found peace
billy put me out of my misery
by letting me tack this instrumental idea
onto the end of "western hills"
and my bass loop jumped from my brain
and into the song
i was able to finally let go of my little thumping buddy!!
we worked another 3 hours on "w.h."
added the wah-wah trumpet from the wurlitzer
and a few other things
we agreed it sounded great and then moved on