Monthly Archives: April 2020

The beautiful ballet of social distancing

I’ve been keeping a journal of my family’s adventures during the coronavirus pandemic. And by adventures, I mean I write about how we’re all coping with this new (and hopefully, temporary) reality while we stay at home. Here’s what happened on Day 44 of our self-quarantine.

Whenever the family and I take Ruby the dog for a walk in the evenings, the beautiful ballet that takes place on the sidewalks and streets of our neighborhood begins anew.

With everybody aware of the six feet of social distancing, people who are taking a stroll go out of their way to make way for those who are passing them. If we’re on the sidewalk and see somebody coming the opposite direction, we move into the bike lane. Somebody running the same way who’s already in the bike lane might move a few feet onto the street. Somebody might cross the street entirely up ahead to make room. You might make a half-circle into the road if somebody has stopped to chat with a neighbor.  Everybody moves separately but moves as one to keep themselves as safe as possible.

People with small kids and babies and those with dogs seem to get the right of way. As in, they can stay where they are while others make room by moving to a different area. Just about everybody is accommodating and waves hello, and every night, it’s a graceful dance to stay safe and sane.

On Sunday morning, I took the kids hiking on a local trail, and quite a few other people had the same idea. It wasn’t a beautiful ballet on those hilly trails. To keep at least six feet away from other hikers, we oftentimes had to step off the trail, where vines rubbed against our shoulders and branches scratched our legs. We were less than graceful as we tried to keep our balance on the uneven terrain while stepping on tree roots and avoiding spiderwebs as strangers walked on by.

Everybody, though, was generally happy. We saw a few dogs—one golden retriever named Charlie, who was leading a group of six people down a trail, came up to us and wanted to be petted—and a few babies. And more than a few smiles from those who were just happy to get out of the house and into the sunny 70-degree weather.

For the kids, it was the first time they had been out of the house, aside from those evening walks, since school ended in mid-March. The air was fresh. The scenery was pretty. It was just a nice day to be outside.

But it wasn’t perfect. As Charlie the dog broke off from his group and sauntered over to ours, looking for some affection  I felt a twinge of sadness that we couldn’t kneel down and give him some love. I’m sure he’s a good boy, but we couldn’t pet him to let him know.

“He’s a friendly dog,” one of the group members said to us as they passed us from about eight feet away. “I’m sure he is,” I said. “And normally we’d be all over him. But now …”

They understood, and they walked off. We hopped back on the path and began walking up the hill. The dance of social distancing was done for the moment, and we moved on until we’d have to do it again.

365 Days of Mike Patton: “Browning,” Patton/Jean-Claude Vannier (2019)

Mike Patton is just like the rest of us. He’s stuck at home, trying to be productive while having to be reclusive as the pandemic affects just about every waking moment of our lives. He’s working on new music, and he’s listening to old songs. And just like everybody else, he’s just trying to survive until all of this passes.

Rolling Stone recently caught up with Patton to ask him a few quarantine questions via email.

When asked how he was going about his day these days, he said, “Writing. Writing. Writing. Working on several records at once, which isn’t abnormal for me, but it is somehow refreshing to not have other distractions interfering. However, the gravity of this situation does make things feel … uh, different.

“Although I am lucky enough to hopefully survive this, I have had an entire year of tours canceled, between different bands, and that certainly does weigh on me, the bands I’m working with, and obviously the fans who may or may not have purchased tickets! So … basically, it sucks.”

(I’m supposed to see Faith No More in August, and though that show hasn’t yet been canceled, I’m assuming it will be at some point.)

“But personally, this lockdown lifestyle is not terribly different from my normal routine, as I’m quite hermetic and private. But sometimes it does resonate deeper—like, when you want to hit a restaurant with family or friends. No. What do we do? We adapt or die.”

He was also asked what music he’s leaned on during his isolation, and one of his answers was Jean-Claude Vannier, the same French composer and musician who Patton teamed up with to release an album in 2019 called Corpse Flower.

As I wrote about last May, Vannier “has a ton of credits that I know absolutely nothing about (mostly because it’s all music from France). Anyway, Patton said the two share a love of Serge Gainsbourg, a French singer, composer and songwriter who (again) I know virtually nothing about. But considering All Music called Gainsbourg ‘the dirty old man of popular music’ who had a ‘scandalous, taboo-shattering output,’ he certainly sounds like a guy Patton would appreciate.”

Patton said he was listening to deep tracks from old Vannier albums, and “all are transformative, groovy, and completely innovative.”

The same could be said for “Browning,” the fifth song on the Corpse Flower album.

Not unlike Chansons D’Amour, there’s a strong “RV” vibe that emanates throughout the song, where Patton is singing in almost a spoken word, but then the song transforms into a poppy, almost dance-like number which gives off a nice contrast to the lyrical content (Consequence of Sound called it a “danceable lounge tune.”).

Like the first two songs I heard from the Corpse Flower album created by Patton and Vannier, it’s fun and interesting and a nice departure from what we usually hear from Patton.

It’s a song (and an album) that is a pleasure to lesson to—especially if you’re in the middle of a pandemic with not much else to do.

Previously from Patton/Jean-Claude Vannier:

 To follow along on the 365 days of Patton, click here for a list of each day’s post.

365 Days of Mike Patton: “Superhero,” Faith No More (2015)

The first time I heard “Superhero” live, I was decidedly unimpressed. On the Tonight Show, Faith No More was playing the second single from Sol Invictus, its first album in 18 years, and it just … I don’t know … left me underwhelmed. In retrospect, it’s my least favorite song on an album I enjoy very much. But the song has grown on me slightly.

But only slightly (mostly because I really dig Roddy Bottum’s piano playing and Jon Hudson’s soaring guitar work in the middle of the song).

Appropriately, the song first premiered on, because bassist Billy Gould is such a big Marvel Comics fan and because, according to him at least, the song has a superhero vibe. Gould said that idea was always immersed in the tune’s DNA and that it was called “Superhero” before Patton even wrote the lyrics.

“’Superhero’ actually just started from the sound of the song, where it has these pounding drums and it has like this throbbing kind of pulse, and we just called it the ‘Superhero” song,’” Gould said, via Song Facts. “Because, a lot of the ways we write we visualize things.

“Actually this is kind of interesting because we’re probably a unique band in a way. While we write music we’re talking about chord changes and different things like that. What we do is we describe scenes together, and we can visualize the scene and the music kind of comes. We kind of make movie scenes for movies that don’t exist.”

Hey, I’m not a comic book guy, so maybe the vibe of the song and I just don’t get along. Either way, here’s that Tonight Show appearance.

In hindsight, I still don’t love it, and it’s not the song I would have chosen to try to sell myself and my new album to a national audience. But the performance was impressively intense nonetheless.

Previously from Sol Invictus:

To follow along on the 365 days of Patton, click here for a list of each day’s post.

365 Days of Mike Patton: “Sex (I’m A),” Lovage (2001)

Teaming up with producer Dan the Automator and singer Jennifer Charles, Mike Patton helped put together an album of faux (or maybe they were real) love songs that were sexy and breathless and kind of funny on a record called, appropriately enough, Songs To Make Love To Your Old Lady By.

“Sex (I’m A)” mostly features the vocal skills of Charles, probably best known as the singer of the “noir rock” band Elysian Fields. And this tune happens to be an erotic version of what had been an upbeat dance number that had been released nearly 20 years earlier.

“Sex (I’m A)” is sultry at its finest, especially when Charles and Patton duet the lines.

I’m a man
I’m a goddess
I’m a man
I’m a virgin
I’m a man
I’m a blue movie
I’m a man
I’m a bitch
I’m a man
I’m a geisha
I’m a man
I’m a little girl
I’m a man
And we’ll make love together

There’s plenty of heavy breathing and moaning on this song, and if a tune could sound almost exactly like sex and all the emotions that can go into it (desire, anger, sadness, etc.), this is a pretty good representation.

When the band performed it live, Patton played his part, as described in this Decibel magazine story, via Faith No More Followers.

Patton is onstage wearing a hairnet and a silk smoking jacket. He has a snifter of brandy and an electric toothbrush. The former Faith No More frontman is brushing audience members’ teeth, dipping the brush in the snifter to disinfect between mouths. A tall, handsome and hirsute future Decibel scribe is on the side of the stage taking photographs for a publication that shall remain nameless. Patton turns to him and says, “What about you, hippie?”

In the spirit of me learning something new every day for the 365 Days of Mike Patton, I never knew, even though I’ve heard this song maybe 50 times in my life, that this is a cover of a Berlin song from 1983. You might remember Berlin from the Top Gun soundtrack classic “Take My Breath Away” or my personal favorite, “The Metro.” Apparently, Berlin’s version was inspired by the 1977 Donna Summer No. 1 hit, “I Feel Love,” but Berlin’s lyrics were enough to get the band in trouble.

Particularly when singer Terri Nunn (and then Charles 18 years later) sang, “I’m a bi.”

“The entire song received such a strong reaction,” Nunn told Out Smart magazine in 2019. “We were banned in certain states. A couple of states in the South wouldn’t play the record or [allow] us to play live there. They thought it was awful and blasphemous, and we were the devil’s children. I actually heard that said. Now you look at that and it’s nothing … At the time, that had never been said in a song. I think people were up in arms because they’d never heard a woman talk that way, even though women talk that way to each other all the time—about our fantasies, about how we feel, about how guys are, and all that. But it had never been put to music.”

That legacy lives in on the Lovage cover, along with others who have also recreated the song.

“It’s just a script that different actors are taking on and interpreting. And I love that,” Nunn said in 2011, via Easy Reader News.

Here’s Berlin’s upbeat version. It doesn’t feel quite as naughty as Lovage’s cover (but boy does it feel 1980s-tastic).

Previously from Lovage:

To follow along on the 365 days of Patton, click here for a list of each day’s post.

365 Days of Mike Patton: “From Out of Nowhere,” Faith No More (1989)

Though The Real Thing album, Mike Patton’s first outing with Faith No More, is best known for the smash hit “Epic”—the song that propelled the record to reach No. 11 on the U.S. Billboard chart—the first single to be released was actually “From Out of Nowhere.”

The video that was released features Patton head-banging and moving around like a man who hasn’t figured out how best to stretch the itches on his skin. The tune is fast-paced with plenty of synthy keyboards and a funky bass line, and it’s Patton at his nasally best (if you like that sort of thing). His dancing in the video also slightly reminds me of the way Emilio Estevez’s character, Andrew, showcased his moves in The Breakfast Club. And no, that’s not necessarily a compliment.

In the YouTube comments, some people wondered if Patton was mocking the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis or Guns N’ Roses’ Axl Rose with those dance moves? Considering Patton had feuds with both singers, it’s not a bad theory. But I tend to doubt it. It looks like Patton is just experimenting with how he should act as a frontman for the band he just joined.

Is the video cheesy? Oh hell yes. Is the song still pretty great? I’d say so.

(For comparison’s sake, here’s Estevez kicking some ass in the library during that infamous Saturday detention.)

In reality, Patton wasn’t around when the song was created, since it was created before he was even in the band.

“Billy (Gould), Mike Bordin and I wrote that song together at our rehearsal space in Hunter’s Point,” keyboardist Roddy Bottum told Louder Sound in 2019. “It was among the first batch of songs that we wrote after Chuck (Mosley, the original singer) left the band. Typically, the three of us would get the skeleton of a song going on, and then get Jim Martin to put his guitar part on. Sometimes, Billy would write [Martin’s] guitar part for him, but I think in the case of ‘From Out Of Nowhere,’ he wrote his own part.”

After Patton joined, he wrote the lyrics and the melody. Patton said he doesn’t remember even recording the song, and its meaning is unclear. Bottum said it’s “about a chance meeting and how chance plays a role in interaction,” but Patton claimed it’s about “Jello shots, hermetic philosophy, Ptolemaic cosmology… you know, your average commie/junkie jibber-jabber.”

What wasn’t in question was that FNM thought the tempo of the song was the perfect set opener when the band went on tour in support of the album (it was also the second song FNM played on its visit to Saturday Night Live).

“That song was so good because most of our stuff was mid-tempo that the set was always in danger of dragging,” Gould, the band’s bassist, said. “With that one we could at least start things on a high note, and hopefully this spark would keep the rest of the set alive. There’s nothing worse than being on stage for 80 minutes or so when things are not working correctly. Generally it seemed to work out well, and we stuck with it as an opener until with hated it so much we scrapped it from the set altogether.”

It certainly was a staple in the band’s sets from the late 1980s into the early 1990s but on its 1995 tour, it was only played a handful of times, and in 1997, the band only showcased it twice. according to Apparently in the three times I’ve seen the band live, I’ve never heard “From Out of Nowhere.”

But when the band reunited for shows in 2010, “From Out of Nowhere” returned to the setlist, and yeah, it still sounded good with a harder edge.

To me, the song sounds better today than it did in its original form 30 years ago. Probably because Patton is no longer trying to find himself as a frontman.

Previously from The Real Thing:

To follow along on the 365 days of Patton, click here for a list of each day’s post.