learning

Release Date: 9/90 and 8/09

Album: FLAKE CITY, GO WEST

Writer: ADAM MARSLAND

Audio:

Video:

 

Lyrics:

Here comes a bruise
It's big and it's black and blue
Where did it come from
I got it from you

What did I do
And what was I supposed to say
And why'd I have to say it, anyway?

I get so tired coming here every weekend
Trying to figure out this game
I feel like an idiot
And I can't remember anybody's name

'Cause I'm a new man in a new town
Trying to keep up with what's going down
Starting out with inflated hopes
Learning the Ropes

I fell back in my chair
Holding a drink and my dented pride
But nobody saw, nobody cared
And nobody cried

Now I feel like I'm back in high school
Underdeveloped and overwrought
Now I'm wading back in time to find
I'm resigned to my own prison of thought

I get so tired coming here every weekend
Waiting three hours for a look
Groping for some conversation
Wish I was reading a book

I walk in the room and everybody stares
And I know just what they're looking at
But move in a little closer, nobody cares
And you wonder what are you doing here
Wonder could I just disappear?
Wonder what are you, wonder what are you,
Wonder what are you doing here?

The kind of person I am
I ought to be somewhere else
I ought to be in a better place
Be inside myself

Musicians:

Teresa Cowles - bass
Adam Marsland - vocals, all other instruments

Adam sez:

With disc one of GO WEST being largely about bumbling through your '20s, it provided me an opportunity to reach back and record some worthy songs I'd written back during that time in my life. No reason to write a lyric about that experience when you wrote a perfectly good one when you were going through it. "Learning The Ropes," though, is the farthest back I have reached so far in my pre-Cockeyed Ghost songwriting catalog, and provided me an opportunity both to rescue a song I'd always liked from the context of a really crappy early recording attempt, and to make peace with my youngest and dumbest adult self. I graduated early from high school and went to California not long after, and "Learning The Ropes" was written during my first culture-shocked year in Los Angeles, at the very close of the heavy metal era, finding my way in an environment that I wasn't cut out for and made no sense for me. In the call-and-response songwriting chain of GO WEST, it also is a literal answer song to "I Don't Wanna Dance With You," in that it's sung from the point of view of a guy that has just been blown off in a bar.

Unlike most of the album, this song did not come together easily and in fact was an absolute bitch to get it to sound right. I wasn't sure if it was going to make the cut for the album for a very long time, and I wondered if it wasn't a total indulgence recording this really old song that goes on and on for over 5 minutes and through a Byzantine set of chord changes that meander around the roots of keys A and Ab...I doubt if I could write a song like this today if I tried. I originally recorded the basic track on real upright piano, but the sound was so unfocused and the chord progressions so odd that I had to recut it on the digital piano just to make sure they articulated.

Likewise, most of the lead vocal tracks on the album were done in less than an hour, but this one consumed two days and 20 vocal takes. It's not that my voice has dropped in the last 20 years -- it hasn't -- it's that I've learned there are just some vocal things you shouldn't really try, but back in 1990, I hadn't figured that out yet (which ruined the album this song originally appeared on) and negotiating the swooping melody on this song was a challenge, though I loved the hint of Philly soul that wound up manifesting in the finished vocal (I suspect I had Hall & Oates in mind when I wrote it). Likewise, it was hard figuring out how much of the original recording to keep and how much to change it up. I wound up doing a gauzy landscape of multiple keyboards -- sort of a cross between Todd Rundgren and Bruce Hornsby -- and the deliberately cheesy, '80s-sounding synth line that punctuates the verses ties the whole thing together for me, and gives it kind of a nostalgic vibe. This is not the strongest song on GO WEST but it is my favorite, because musically it puts me in direct touch with a part of my life I had almost completely blocked out. Interestingly, during the period I was recording this song I was unlocking some long-standing muscle tension in my neck. They say you hold memories in locked muscles and for a brief period of time when my neck loosened that period of my life was so present I really felt like I was 20 again....the ad libbed vocals at the end of the song about being a "new man" -- probably my favorite moment on GO WEST -- refer to that sensation of waking up after a long period. Likewise, the second verse was rewritten from the original with the benefit of more perspective on my life. Indeed, when I was singing this song I was shocked at how unintentionally self-revealing it is, and it really does make me wonder, as an old girlfriend theorized, if I wasn't suffering from a mild form of Aspberger's Syndrome at that point in my life.

This is the first of several nearly solo tracks on disc one of GO WEST. If you hear a drum track that basically keeps the same beat for three minutes and then occasionally does something really weird, you can be pretty sure it's me...Teresa appears on bass.

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