The last complete recording finished by the band, recorded in Ocean Gate N.J. in 1994-1995. Financed by Charles Levinson who served as executive producer, these sessions were produced by Gary and Damian. Mike and Terri left the band during this period (without explanation) leaving the core of the remaining three original Clams, plus Mario and Brian.
These songs remain the very best collection of recordings made by the band, diverse, yet thematic, with wildly unconnected musical and lyrical concepts being dispersed and unified at unexpected moments.
eight miles low (Applegate/Anderson)
I belong to her (Applegate/Gelbstein)
this is not my life (Applegate/Anderson)
it's gotta be rock and roll music if you wanna dance with me (Applegate/Gelbstein)
the ballad of jello biafra (Applegate/Gelbstein)
you go ahead (Applegate/Anderson)
young women with a hologram (Applegate/Gelbstein)
cruel wind (Applegate/Gelbstein)
back to Jaurez (Applegate)
still we believe (Applegate/Gelbstein)
God and Dr. Hawking (Applegate/Gelbstein)
woman like a fix (Applegate/Gelbstein)
time to rock (Applegate/Anderson)
These songs are now available through the new store. You can hear two minutes of each at cdbaby.
I wrote the following for the record at www.cdbaby.com:
" Probably the most obscure, but possibly the best of the underground bands that came out of the punk rock explosion that emerged from New York’s lower east side a quarter of a century ago; the Pet Clams’ star-crossed history prevented them from ever receiving the kind of recognition their music deserved. “My True Story” is the first complete work finished by the complete band since the release of “the Pet Clams” in 1981 on CBS. This is the definitive work by a band who for almost thirty years has contended for the imaginary title of “the best band you never heard of.” Three very good songwriters, a great guitarist, and the unique voice of Richard Gelbstein combine to produce an unexpectedly powerful recording.
This collection begins with “eight miles low”. The Byrd’s classic it is based on starts with that band leaving LAX for London; here the Clams are coming down in the rain in Newark, New Jersey. You get the impression that they are retreating from some monumental failure, arguing amongst themselves about what might have been. If “eight miles high” was a drug song (it wasn’t) it would have been about acid and amphetamine. If “eight miles low” is a drug song it’s about bourbon and burgundy. We do not find out until later just what the band might be escaping from.
The song decays into “I belong to her” which sets the tone of the record. Musically mystical, it lyrically describes an obsessive love. The singer is compelled to remain in an unrewarding affair, but he seems to grow stronger, not weaker, from the pain.
The scene shifts in “this is not my life” to the dressing room under the stage at CBGB and the monotony of the wait between sound check and performance. We begin to form a picture of an ageing punk rocker going through the motions without really knowing why. The keyboard and guitar work dominate the music over a repeating, thudding bassline. The song finishes with a muddled conversation until Richie Gelbstein bursts out “you cheated! You Lied! You said that you loved me.”
That’s the opening line of “It’s gotta be rock and roll music if you wanna dance with me.” Here we begin to finally get some insight into what this is all about. These men have been trapped by the mysticism of the music; it is rock as religion and the Clams are true believers… maybe. There is a secondary story of a quasi-religious search for Elvis weaving through the lyric. The song also laughs at the foolishness of interpreting the past with the morality of the present and chides Frankie Lymon for dieing of a heroin overdose. There are also some comments about flamenco tuning and a vague reference to Van Morrison’s band, Them.
Next comes “the ballad of Jello Biafra.” Ostensibly about the injustice of punishing an artist for his art, it is also a stream of consciousness cry against commercialism. Many if not most Clam songs have at least two themes that are only connected occasionally; usually to create a third concept. In “Jello” we are continually exposed to dark cosmic dust falling from space and flowing through us. In the end we are left (in a reference to an earlier work) on a wobbly world spinning wildly through nothingness.
After this passionate defense of free speech; the band takes a philosophical breather with “You go ahead.” Here they are content to wait backstage while the newest and flashiest young performers dance rings around them. They intend to remain true to the only music they know. This is a very conservative concept for rock, but an obvious one for true believers. Often classed as a punk band or (early on)"new wave" because they were managed and produced by CBGB founder Hilly Kristal; this is not really an accurate stylistic description of this band. Although they established their musical identity towards the end of New York’s initial punk rebellion, this band was always more of a traditional rock band. If they were rebels; they were roundheads. Theirs was a puritan rebellion, more Cromwell then Thomas Paine. The real force on this cut is Dave Anderson’s guitar work, he delivers two blistering solos.
We get another glimpse of the woman from “I belong to her” in “Young woman with a hologram.” She is younger here and blessed with gleaming technology. Once again she captures the narrator in her spell. This song comes with a late sixties psychedelic feel, quite Syd Barrett or “satanic majesties request.” It ends with the world being caught in a swirling storm and carried away in the last chorus.
That song bleeds into “cruel wind” where we are once again caught in that storm. It now has the power to change everything; to “carry off the mirrors” we “learn to wear”. We are never told exactly what it is, but we are given another clue… we can hear music on the radio. The long fade of this piece is another fine solo from Anderson.
“Back to Jaurez” finally hints at what the band was escaping from on the opening track. Could it be their childhood? It is certainly something to do with the 1960s. Or are they fleeing from the modern scene back to the 1960s; back to “byrd granny glasses and black beatle boots?” The band abandons a metaphorical Saigon, hanging onto allegorical helicopters, trying to find the safety of some Dylanesque Mexico. In real life, the band was at this time abandoning a rapidly changing recording industry for the comfort of a local studio in New Jersey where they could make the music they heard in their heads; even if it was never going to be heard by anyone else.
The inconsistencies of modern religion are at the center of “still we believe.” The conflict between what we know and what we feel before “science comes erasing” is the story here. This is not out of place on a recording by true believers. These are not the religions they believe in though; they worship at the church of the beat and the bluenote.
This continues in “God and Dr. Hawking”. It is not the first punk song about Stephan Hawking. It’s more of a folk song about Stephan Hawking. There comes a time in every musician’s life when he realizes that it’s all about mathematics. It’s about numbers that have the power to evoke emotion. It’s science and religion; science becomes religion. In this song Hawking soars through the universe exploring. Tortured like Job, cast out like Lucifer, he continues to do the work his master has bid him to. Do the persecuted Clams feel that they too are doing the work they were intended to do?
We get our last glance at the girl from “hologram” in “woman like a fix.” Here she still has the power to enthrall, but the narrator has resolved that he can never really possess her. We begin to understand that she is the muse, the music, a rock and roll Virgin, appearing angelically just beyond the reach of our aging punk rockers.
Now we are back at the show. Taking a line from Roy Hamilton, (and another from John Cooper Clarke) it’s now “time to rock.” They emerge from the underground dressing room of “this is not my life” and do another show. Proclaiming that “this isn’t a list of my strange thoughts,” they disavow all of the concepts that came before. As if to say “nevermind”, they fade into a parody of Jesse Stone’s rockabilly classic.Each of the songs stands on its’ own, but together they form a powerful collective. Hearing the Pet Clams for the first time you can get the feeling that you are a little like John Lloyd Stephens, stumbling through the jungles of the Yucatan, among glorious Mayan ruins, and wondering "Why doesn't anyone know about this?" Listen for yourself; see if I haven’t told you the truth.
For those of you trying to get a time frame on this record, I did a little research and tracked down exactly when the boys were at Ocean Studios in Ocean Gate. It was the spring/summer of 1995. The Clams will tell you that the German Metal band "Warlock" was sharing time with them. So I looked up when Warlock was there and Okay! there you are.
Except it wasn't Warlock; it was "Doro" Warlock's lead singer's band. A friend of Gelb's, Jack Ponti, was producing them there that summer. So like most Clam stories it's not quite what it seems to be. Doro (the band) were quite friendly, possibly because the Clams always have lots of booze and food around. Doro herself, (the singer, Doro Pesch) was actually quite shy. The album was "Machine II Machine". If you wanna get it and compare it to "Story"; it might be interesting. Like "Sgt.Pepper" and Pink Floyd's "Piper at the Gates of Dawn"; they were recorded side by side.
Except for one other thing...Ponti and Doro recorded an album at Ocean in 1993 "Angels Never Die". That seems too early for "MTS" but not having been there I can't rule it out as the session's date.
The Clams will tell you it was recorded in 1994, but that doesn't fit the facts at all. My bet would be '95
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