MUSIC FOR DECEMBER 2021

‘SCARY CHRISTMAS POLKA’

Late in 1990, I was barely employed and pretty worried about that and all kinds of other things. All the anxiety coalesced into “Scary Christmas Polka,” which I released as a solo performance on that year’s Christmas Greeting Tape, distributed to friends and family.

I was playing with a band called the Cowlix in those days and our repertoire, along with classic country and tunes by X, Neil Young and Nick Lowe, included a dollop of folk dances, among them a few polkas. Hence this musical setting.

Yet the Cowlix never played this polka. Instead, the version here was recorded five years later by another band, which comprised three-fifths of the Cowlix: Gretchen Schaefer on bass, Jonathan Nichols-Pethick on drums, and yours truly singing and operating the accordion. We were the Boarders, and the recording was made during a rehearsal as the trio prepared for a December gig at the Free Street Taverna in Portland, Maine. (See Gretchen’s poster for that gig below.)

In 1995, a song like this seemed an appropriately ironic ornament to hang on the tree of the American consumerist Christmas. I can’t imagine, though, what kind of song would serve the same function in the circumstances of 2021.

The Boarders perform “Scary Christmas Polka” in December 1995. “Scary Christmas Polka” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.  Hear it below, buy it on Bandcamp!

Scary Christmas Polka

MUSIC FOR NOVEMBER 2021

The Nevada desert from the eastbound Amtrak California Zephyr, June 2016.

‘WHAT THE TRAIN CAN DO FOR YOU’

I’m lucky in that Gretchen Schaefer, my partner in life and in the Americana duet Day for Night, loves to ride trains as much as I do. Even in coach, they are reasonably comfortable, the sightseeing is pleasant and a person has no responsibilities other than showing a ticket and not being a jerk. Non-train people complain about trains’ slowness and lateness, but for us time is not an issue because the train, unlike the car, plane or bus, is as much destination as it is transportation.

Taking a sleeping accommodation, as we often do, provides still another benefit that, similar to the way caffeine enhances the effects of aspirin, heightens all the pleasures of the train: privacy. Gretchen and I are a reclusive and introverted couple who, it seems, travel through the world at all times in a virtual train compartment of mutual interests and fascinations, not least with one another. The Amtrak roomette is not just our conveyance of choice, but a perfect metaphor for us. — Adapted from Notes From A Basement, “Love Of Train,” by Doug Hubley

Here, Day for Night performs “What the Train Can Do For You” in a September 2019 rehearsal. “What the Train Can Do For You” copyright © 2018 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.  Hear it below, buy it on Bandcamp!

What the Train Can Do For You

MUSIC FOR OCTOBER 2021

‘YOU KNOW HOW IT IS’

My day jobs since around 1980 didn’t provide much material for credible country lyrics, but at least I have this old number to fall back on. It’s drawn from my 1970s experiences as a sensitive young artiste sacrificing my soul as a “materials handler” (stockboy) at the South Portland, Maine, branch of the Jordan Marsh department stores (now Macy’s). Well, Jordan Marsh is gone, and I am still here. Even the title makes a virtue out of banality. Recorded at home in summer 2020.

“You Know How It Is” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.  Hear it below, buy it on Bandcamp!

 

 

You Know How It Is

MUSIC FOR SEPTEMBER 2021

‘KEEP ON SMILING’

I’ve dedicated the Song of the Month feature during summer 2021 to my band the Fashion Jungle, in recognition of the 40th anniversary of the band’s founding. And I’m ending that salute with a song the original FJ learned during that exciting summer of 1981 — but which I wrote eight years earlier. We launched the FJ, in part, to put our original material front and center. But because none of us was too prolific, I revived this old number.

I wrote “Keep on Smiling,” in 1973, simply because I was mad at one of my friends, although I was never so articulate in actual conversations with that person. The lyrics are melodramatic — I was 19 — but the overall sense of angst still works. And the big anthemic ending turned into something of an FJ characteristic. Moreover, the song turned out to be a fine showcase for the Farfisa rock organ, played here by the multitalented Jim Sullivan. Personnel: Doug Hubley, guitar and vocal. Mike Piscopo, backing vocal and bass. Jim Sullivan, backing vocal and organ. Ken Reynolds, drums. Recorded on the Sony TC-540 in summer 1981 in Ben and Hattie Hubley’s basement, near Red’s ice cream stand in South Portland, Maine. (Photo by Jeffery Stanton: The Fashion Jungle at Kayo’s, Portland, Maine, in September or October 1981.)
 

“Keep on Smiling” copyright © 2010 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.  Hear it below, buy it on Bandcamp !

Keep on Smiling

‘LITTLE CRIES’

The summer of the Fashion Jungle’s 40th anniversary year continues on Songs with the first number I wrote for the band — a hard charger marked by vitriolic lyrics about bedroom dishonesty and by extremely restless chords.

Both characteristics seem more clever than meaningful now, which explains the absence of the piece from the standing playlists on the Songs site. But “Little Cries” is another entry from the original FJ that stayed with the band throughout its eight years.

It was exciting onstage, where the brittle lyrics got some protective cover from decibels and Ken Reynolds’ hot-yet-precise drumming kept hearts and hormones pumping. And that’s the case in this recording from April 1, 1983.

Our second performance with keyboardist Kathren Torraca took place at a Portland, Maine, nightspot called It’s Magic at the corner of Market and Middle streets. (That was the fourth of my five gigs in that building, but the businesses were different nearly every time and so were my bands. Such is Portland nightlife.)

We were a ways down the billing order, which I think was headed by Lou Miami and The Kozmetix — I’d like to think it was them, anyway, because Kozmetix and Fashion, no? The mix comes off the soundboard and is quite good — I wish I knew whom to credit for it. Personnel: Steve Chapman, bass and backing vocal; Doug Hubley, 12-string guitar and vocal; Ken Reynolds, drums and backing vocal; Kathren Torraca, keyboards. (Photos: The Fashion Jungle at the 1984 Maine Festival in Brunswick, Maine. Courtesy of Rhonda Farnham/Sweet Potato magazine)

“Little Cries” copyright © 1981 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.  Hear it below, buy it on Bandcamp !

 

 

Little Cries

MUSIC FOR JULY 2021

‘Nothing to Say’

“Nothing to Say,” but I still need five minutes to say it. At this late date I don’t love the lyrics, which aim to explore both my own insecurities and the New Wave sellout of the go-go ’80s. But the song’s inherent drama holds up, enhanced by the elaborate production of this recording made in January 1984 at the Outlook, in Bethel, Maine. Steve Chapman, bass and backing vocals; DH, guitars and lead vocal; Ken Reynolds, drums and backing vocals; Kathren Torraca, keyboards. Remastered from the commercially released audiocassette Six Songs. (Photo by Gretchen Schaefer, August 1984)

 

 

Nothing to Say

MUSIC FOR JUNE 2021

‘Shortwave Radio’

Written and recorded in summer 1981, in the earliest days of the Fashion Jungle, this is yet another interpretation of the old saw, “Wherever you go, there you are.” I started writing the lyrics in an art history class and finished the song over a gin gimlet, sitting at the round red table in my sister’s living room, on a sunny summer evening, with Bob Newhart on the TV, volume muted. “Shortwave” stayed in the repertoire for more than 20 years, from the FJ through the Howling Turbines. But in keeping with this 40th anniversary year of the FJ’s founding, this performance features the original foursome: In addition to yours truly on guitar and vocal, the players are Mike Piscopo on bass, Ken Reynolds on drums and Jim Sullivan on the Farfisa rock organ. “Shortwave Radio” copyright © 1981 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved. (Photo by Jeff Stanton: The Fashion Jungle at Kayo’s, September or October 1981)

 

 

Shortwave Radio

MUSIC FOR MAY 2021

‘The Ceiling’

Written in 2011, this sad tale was the first song I wrote for mandolin, which I’d taken up the year before, and my second composition of the 21st century after a years-long songwriting drought. Perhaps most significantly, it’s my first contribution to country music’s illustrious catalog of songs that are about parts of a room (“Walking the Floor Over You,” “Hello Walls,” etc.). Performed here in October 2011 by Day for Night: Doug Hubley and Gretchen Schaefer. “The Ceiling” copyright © 2012 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

 

 

The Ceiling

MUSIC FOR APRIL 2021

‘Je t’aime’

Ah, Paris in the spring — what better garden to grow romance? But the real-life romance that inspired this song took place, instead, in Vienna and Stockholm during a long-ago July, which may say something about the prevailing mood. In short, “Je t’aime” is an interpretation, somewhat unfair, of an affair I had with a Swedish girl in 1976. I wrote the song in 1982, the early days of the Steve Chapman–era Fashion Jungle; revived it for the Boarders; and retained it for Howling Turbines, heard here rehearsing it on Aug. 8, 1999. Bass, Gretchen Schaefer; drums, Ken Reynolds. ”Je t’aime” copyright © 1983 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

 

 

Je t'aime

MUSIC FOR MARCH 2021

 

‘YOU WORE IT WELL’

In one of the less usual concepts for a country song, “You Wore It Well” traces the course of a relationship through things applied to the skin. Written in 2013 in New Hampshire and Colorado, it also stands out in my catalog because it’s taciturn. And no minor chords! Recorded by Doug Hubley and Gretchen Schaefer — aka Day for Night, of Portland, Maine — in a September 2016 rehearsal. “You Wore It Well” copyright © 2014 by Douglas L. Hubley. All rights reserved.

You Wore It Well