Sometimes you are just so heartbroken you just don’t know what to do. This is a dangerous moment in what seems like everyone’s life. It doesn’t have to be a romantic heartbreak, but this is usually what it is. It could be some other catastrophic disappointment, caused by the carelessness and selfishness of another. People are awful. I hate them and yet I cannot stop loving them. My primary addiction is probably people. I turned to drugs and alcohol and food and shopping and this and that and whatever in order to endure the pain of people. Fucking people. When will I learn? Others will break your heart. Disappoint you to no end. Steal your future and wreck your past. And they can eat shit and die. Hey – that would make a good song.
When I write songs, usually, I am at my wit’s end. I can do nothing else. Nothing is going to make me feel better. There are no drugs that will numb this ache, this burning sorrow. You cannot have an epidural on your heart. There’s nothing else you can do, but write a song. I was so angry I just put on the page “EAT SHIT AND DIE” because that was what I would have liked. That would have satisfied me. Not the literal – but what the statement means. I just want to stop caring about you. I want to stop caring about you right now. This is how I am going to do it. I am going to write this song and magically I will start caring about the song and stop caring about you. And it works. The song is like a spell, cast over the heartbreak – banishing it forever. It worked for me so well, and continues to work, and it will work for you too. I promise.
I have known Grant Lee Phillips for as long as I have been going to Largo, so since the very early 90s. He’s an incredible songwriter and possibly the best singer I have ever heard. His voice is rich, deep soulful pure Americana. I hear the great plains, the frontier, hyperion, witchcraft, GOD, tumbleweeds, the life and death of glam rock, buffalo, the desert, the mountains, everything everything – every time he opens his mouth. I was starstruck by him for about the first 7 years I had known him, but then I got to know him better, and he’s a terrific and funny guy, full of smiles and jokes and smarts and niceness all around. One time I went to his house for a Halloween party that was me and only five other guests, myself (dressed as Bridgitte Lin from “Chunking Express” – that is blonde wig and trenchcoat),Aimee Mann and Michael Penn (not in costume – they are magnificent enough), the amazing E from The Eels dressed in a very elaborate pink bunny costume complete with big bunny/hare haunch legs and ears all self contained and probably very hot inside, and the hosts of the party, Grant and his wife. Grant answered the door and I didn’t recognize him at all as he was attired in a very dramatic witch outfit with hat and nose and as I recall he was also green, but then my memory may be exaggerating this. He seemed green at the time.
I returned to the same house now many years later to write the song “Eat Shit and Die.” I had sent Grant the lyrics ahead of time and he played me what he thought the song should sound like. We had discussed earlier a song of his that I am obsessed with, “The Whole Shebang,” which is from the soundtrack to “Velvet Goldmine,” which is probably my favorite rock and roll film, and how I wanted our song to have the same type of rhythm and cadence. Something rollicking – something that could take the pain of the situation, the sadness of the words – and make it overcome. We shall overcome. We shall get through this. We had lost and now we shall win. I was asking for some witchcraft, and Grant was to be my perfect warlock. Writing with Grant is tremendously organized, as he prints everything out very meticulously and records demos that are so good that they could go to radio play right from his computer – but it’s also a lot of fun. His terrific family – with new baby Violet always ready to be held and fawned over during breaks – made our sessions an absolute joy.
I practiced the song on guitar until my fingers bled. I think that “Eat Shit and Die” did more for my guitar playing than any song I have every played before or since. It forced me to use all my fingers, even my deformed pinkies which are 2 inches shorter than most peoples. I feel like Django (one of the greatest guitar players of all time who only had 2 fingers) when I play this song. It’s a lesson and a triumph upon every completion. When I get to the final chords when I am onstage, I think silently, “Oh thank god. Thank Grant. I did it.”
We recorded it at Ryan Freeland’s studio – the amazing engineer responsible for Aimee Mann’s terrific sound as well as Crowded House, Brett Dennen, and of course Grant Lee Phillips – with the incomparable Alexander Burke and many of Aimee Mann’s band – Paul Bryan and Jeben Bruni included! This was the perfect situation where I could pretend I was Aimee Mann all day, which is what I did. Ryan Freeland’s studio is awesome because it is many small rooms – one for vocals, a little upstairs cubby for Grant’s guitar and banjo, a larger one for bass and drums and yet another for keyboards and piano. We all got to play and sing at the same time which I know now is a rare luxury of modern recording. The song sounds grand and full and sweeping. It’s epic – just like the feeling of conquering your own sadness is epic. This is a testament to Grant’s incredible skill as a producer as well as a songwriter. The song makes my heart soar. On these chords and verses and choruses I am Rising above. That’s all I want to do. That’s what I want this song to be. You can rise above it all. You can leave behind your sadness. You can chuck your heartache and write and record with Grant Lee Phillips and he will be the wizard of rock and make a song like a spell that will make others happy too. Many many many thanks to grant and to the alchemy that is music. It will save us all.
Cho Dependent hits stores 8/24. Pre-Order Cho Dependent from Margaret’s site for an instant download of the album!