In 1989 after more than five years of very little activity (musically); Gelbstein and Applegate began a new PETCLAM project. Motivated by Springsteen's "NEBRASKA", Gary had begun recording on a homebuilt studio that was growing increasingly more sophisticated. When he realized that Gelb and he had enough songs for a record, he approached Richie about doing one last set of sessions. Gary had been in contact with an engineer/drummer named Damian Cordisco, who he had known on and off for years. I've covered this story elsewhere on the site but to set up the context of the situation, let me continue a little bit. Cordisco had a local studio (DAC STUDIOS) and he played drums. Gary was by no way confident enough to do his own drumming, although he assumed he'd play everything else. A deal was arranged for a rather large amount of recording time spread out over no set time period. At first the time was spent recording Jon Gelbstein's band THE BIBLE OF DREAMS; but then Richie and Gary and Dame started work on what would become "THE STORY OF MY LIFE."
Gary had done demos of all the songs at home (2 of which form the basic tracks of songs that are heard here), for a project called "MEANWHILE...BACK ON HIGHWAY 61". But that title song was not included, probably just by oversight as the sessions spread out over time. It re-appeared as a project for this website some dozen years later. With or without "HIGHWAY" the basic theme of the album remained the same; an autobiographical account not only of the physical events of Applegate's and Gelbstein's lives but of the "Dream Life", the spirit world that spins around us (too mystical for you?), and using themselves as narrators and protagonists, an examination of art in the Twentieth Century. Not too ambitious eh?
This concept of reoccurring dream imagery as a 2nd reality echoes the classic mystic Gnosticism of 19th century French poet Gerard De Nerval. In DREAM AND LIFE he opens with ”Dream is a second life.” That first paragraph ends “…a new clarity illuminates these bizarre apparitions and sets them in motion- the spirit world opens for us.” He ( sadly ) hung himself before he completed that masterwork; but the theme of a real world equal to our own, but composed of the nightly hallucinations we call dreams remains. An autobiography of that life should be as valid as one containing the events of the waking world. Before he had ever heard of Nerval, Applegate was attempting a similar journey; even if it was a slightly less desperate, and intellectually dangerous one.
Instead of finishing out the career of the Clams, the recording led to a rebirth of the band as a performing unit, when Dave Anderson's brief contribution to a couple of songs, led to him eventually rejoining and reforming a band that could play live. (Again covered elsewhere.) That band would eventually record "MY TRUE STORY"; which contains different versions of a couple of songs recorded here first. The live Clams' set list was basically this record and a couple of songs off the Handshake record (initially) and there was a temptation (primarily from Dave and Charlie Levinson) to re-record the whole thing with the new band. Gary resisted this, he viewed the two records as sister albums, like the american versions of "PEPPER'S" and "MYSTERY TOUR" or "YOUNGER THAN YESTERDAY" and NOTORIOUS BYRD BROTHERS". (Incidentally these are also highly autobiographic pieces of music). In fact, that may be what Rich and Gary were attempting here, a "PENNY LANE" and "STRAWBERRY FIELDS " duality, with a little Hemingway and Joseph Heller thrown in too. In the end, he had to admit that the "MY TRUE STORY" versions of "HAWKING" and "CRUEL WIND" deserved to be recorded.
This is a slightly different mix than on "A.W.L. PART 1". Richie on piano and a little of Gary's synths, Dame on drums, Gary on everything else. An unnamed coronet player from Toms River North High School plays the horns, (Gary ran them through a harmonizer). Gelb is joined on vocals by Art "Yorke" Calabro, and Gary (the firebombing fade parts). Jon Gelbstein is also in the fade, as well as some high school friends (possibly). Yorke sang on several tracks and Gary almost listed him as a member of the Clams on the cd sleeve, but in the end decided that the three guys who were there every session were really the band. Yorke will be noted here when he's on a track and you can decide if he earned his clamshell or not. The concept of the album begins here; with the CLAM PREHISTORY of WW2; out of the ashes of a burned out world came the world of their youth.
The best evidence that this was never intended to be a simple collection of songs, this is the first of a series of short pieces, meant to foreshadow coming events. It contains melodies from the two next tracks, and serves as an intro to the title song. This is all Gary on his synths. This might be a good spot to talk about the technology of the era. Gary has always been fascinated with techno stuff, as kids he and Dave would fantasize about the right guitar or amp that would release the music in their fingers. It was easier than actually practicing. By the time these sessions started Gary had a few of the era's analog type synths (a Yamaha, and a Casio) a very good Korg hammond clone (Mario still uses it 25 years later) and a Roland guitar synth he had built into a hot (as in stolen) Gibson SG he'd gotten from Ronnie Contreras. That guitar synth is all over this record, and in truth may be one of the main reasons Gary wanted to make a record. It gave him all kinds of access to sounds that were not available before. For instance, he plays bass (2 Tracks) on it in "Firebombing" .
This is the dream world I was talking about. Supposedly the story of his life; it is actually a disjointed list of odd images, like a Dali painting dripping down over the basic bed of the track. Dave Anderson overdubbed Gary's original solo with Gary's Roland, creating the cool violin/guitar solo. It's one of two appearances he makes. The rest of the music is Dame (on drums) and Gary. Gary sings the background on the fade, again through his harmonizer.
The original version of this often recorded Clam tune; this is the only BFPCFOS recording to date on which Gary sings lead. One of two tracks recorded in his home studio, Gary and Harry Brown carried the board and tape deck from his house to DAC and dumped them track by track on to Dame's system. Mike Parent, former drummer of the Bible of Dreams, overdubbed Gary's drums there. The rest of the music was done by Applegate in his studio. When it came time to overdub the vocal, Gelbstein liked Gary's original enough to sing harmony. Yorke also sings, this is his second track. The reason for the title difference (Hawkens instead of the later Hawking) has never been satisfactorily explained to me. Gary has claimed he did it on purpose, (his old law suit story) and that he had just got the name wrong. At the time Hawking was not the cultural figure he is now. Gelbstein has told me when he told Gary the name was "Hawking"; several years later, Gary seemed genuinely surprised.
Gelb on piano, Dame on drums, Chris Masi (Bible Of Dreams) on lead guitar, Gary on everything else. A lyric calling back to the folk era, here Samson becomes Goliath, Hemingway, a cruel pirate whose fate mirrors Ulysses. This is the first appearance in this piece of the "Hemingway as artist" symbol. He becomes soldier, poet, pirate, blues guitarist, and hunter. As the record progresses; sometimes he is named, sometimes not. The piece has overtones both of the "Dream Life" and the "Art In The Twentieth Century" themes. This is one of the reasons the band has gone through the trouble of releasing this record so many years after the fact. A song this good should be available for people to hear. And never mind the predictions of things that would occur a decade later, that's just spooky. But then again Gary is always predicting something bad is going to happen, and eventually it does.
Another very good song, this one at least appeared in a live version on "A.W.L. part 3". More truly autobiographical than most of the dream songs, it concerns itself with the basically happy middle-class life of a Pet Clam. Of course it's actually much darker than that as Death has put on his helmet and gone riding. Drums were played here by then current B.O.D drummer Steve Kustyn. Steve actually later had some recording success with a band called "Red Engine Nine", in the late eighties. I had actually thought that the B.O.D. all played on this track, with Gary on 12 string. But on listening with Applegate as he mixed this record, he says it's all him, with the possible exception that Chris Masi may double or octave his figure between the verses. Yorke Calabro sings harmony with Gelb. That makes 3 for him.
The most blatantly autobiographical song on the record, a description of Dave and Gary's Lakewood in the late Sixties, wrapped around a little known Byrds' B-Side. Gary on everything but drums (Dame); Yorke actually sings lead, with Gelb doing the unison/ harmonies around him. This is the song Gary had trouble mixing, (it's been twenty years since it was put to tape); and he's not totally happy with the mix yet. Turn it up! He has promised me that when everything is finished; he will go back at this again, get it right, and give it to me to post. Gary took the music from a longer piece Larry Mandel had written five years earlier when he was Clam keyboardist. The only non-Gelbstein song on the recording. This was still the day of two sided records, this would have ended side one.
The second of the mini-songs,a reference to a mythical trip to South Africa, (see "Re-Occurring Dream" on "REDEMPTION SONG"). Gary and Gelb on vocal, the music is Applegate. This serves as the intro to "Another Time And Place", and would have started the second side of a vinyl recording.
The second track from Gary's home studio, same instrumentation as the first, Mike Parent on drums, Gary on everything else. Gary and Dave Anderson do the background vocals. Again an autobiographical song about some lost and bitter love affair, but the thing is I can't prove that anything here is a real event, so it falls into the dream camp too. It would be just like the Clams to say "I'm going to tell you the true story..." and then lie.
The third minor song, it's the chorus of everyone pretends, sung by Gary, presaging the center-piece of the second side; Cruel Wind. Gary did all the strange wind effects on his Yamaha, generating white noise.
This was to be the focus of the "Wind Suite" (as Gary called it) that flowed from "Ghost Voices" through "Hamilton Harbor". Kind of Art-Rocky, but it was the 80's. A song about a nightmare so stunning, as to shatter the "mirrors I'd learned to wear". Gary later added verses to try and explain what was happening; but in this, the original version, we never learn what's going on. We are left lost in a storm with the wind in our hair. Obviously a "Dream" song. Gary on Piano. Gary on everything else but drums. Dame plays those. Gelb sings lead alone, no background. The overall effect of this version is more atmospheric and less powerful than the "MY TRUE STORY " version. There is a very eerie demo done for this record that is even more spooky. On a side note this is the only recording Gary ever made where he used his now fifty-some year old tic-tac danelectro bass.
There is no demo of this song. It was written in the studio to show off the Roland, and to add a little more HEAVINESS to the record. Gary sort of forced a lyric (his description) covering Gary Cooper and John Lennon and Woody Guthrie, (20th Century anyone?) and Gelb complied with a melody and Damian laid down a beat. It was never played again and Gary would often leave it off of copies he would make for people. But when he listened to it again for this record, he was impressed how much he liked it. The song decays with Gary on the Roland dueling between the themes from "High Noon" and "Lawrence of Arabia". It sort of seamlessly drifts into "Hamilton Harbor".
This is the only instrumental in all the Clam recordings. It was originally just the fade from "Rope Trick", but early on Gary began calling it "Hamilton Harbor" after the spot in Bermuda that both He and Richie had a fondness for in the eighties. This is all Gary on the Roland, wasting tape. The "wind" white noise at the end finished "the Wind Suite".
Dave would turn this into a tour-de-force in a couple of years, but in the studio it was all Gary and Dame. I once believed that this too was a B.O.D. played song; but Gary on relistening says no . It's all him, with the possible exception of the pizzicato synth strings at the fade (Gelb on the Yamaha?) It's a familiar Applegate theme, Kafka's trial, set to the form of a 50's country rock tune. An unknown crime, a predetermined fate, The valley of the shadow... sound familiar? The veil would become the Vale; the lonesome valley of another 50's song. It's possible that Jon and Chris played on the basic track and Gary overdubbed Jon's bass later, Chris may still be one of the doubled guitars on the choruses. It's hard after 20 years to go back and look and say "wait that's not how I remember it." But Gary on bass is an easy thing to recognize. Background vocals are probably Yorke (that makes 5) and Gary.
Again, a slightly different mix than "Wasted Life". Gelb on piano, Dame on drums, Gary on everything else. The cool organ is the Roland. Hemingways' life as a metaphor for the century, but he emerges not as a suicide, but as a black blues guitar player playing slide with a whiskey bottle. In this one the bell doesn't toll, it just fades into the mix. This was always the last song on the recording. The Clams wanted it to start with World War II and end with the wobbling Earth dradling through space. The second fast verse refers to Hellers' "Picture This"; one of Gary's favorite novels, which he read at the Princess Hotel overlooking Hamilton harbor.
But all this is not to say that everything is perfect with this cd. Besides the trouble with the mixing of PLAY "SHE DON'T CARE ABOUT TIME"; Applegate had a ton of trouble with the factory. He has been using Diskfaktory out of California; and he has always been happy with the results, but something has seemed to change. He spent the better part of a week adding info and pics to the cd text (that cool stuff your car tells you about the cd it's playing), and there is no cd text. There is not even a title or band name. More importantly there is about a one in six failure rate (meaning a blank disc... no music). He's not even sure if the UPC code is valid. None of this effects the music or downloads (which is how most people will hear these songs) but it does make it a less viable package for things like Pandora etc. Gary is almost to the point that if he can't at least straighten out the UPC code business; of re-doing the project with a different factory. Nothing is ever easy in Clamville.
If some twenty years ago Richie and Gary had not gone back into the studio; not only would there be no FIREBOMBING LONDON, EVERYONE PRETENDS, LONG BLACK VEIL, THE ONCE AND FUTURE KING, or THE WORLD GOES SPINNING WILDLY...(into nothingness), all of the other music they made from "MY TRUE STORY" to "REDEMPTION SONG", would probably have remained songs only "orchestrated in their heads," the "subtle secret silence of the waking day."
Anyone looking for the old "THE STORY OF MY LIFE" can find it here.