The Calendar Year

In the fall of 1997 Kindercore Records was humming along quite nicely. Dan Geller and Ryan Lewis had been steadily putting out records for a little over a year and local enthusiasm for the label was high. While a fair amount of derision was present from the tough-guy, aggro rockers in town concerning K-Core’s self-consciously childlike aesthetic, the backlash from the indie pop crowd that was gradually migrating toward the Elephant 6 collective for its entertainment  had not yet happened. Funnily enough, the E-6 had been going steadily for several years at this point and these same kids (including many of my friends) could have been in on the ground floor with that one but, you know, no one likes to be first at the party. But the point here isn’t what was going to happen; it’s what was happening. So let’s carry on…

Ryan Lewis has always been the most enthusiastic atheist I’ve ever known concerning Christmas. He just loves it. So he had the idea for Kindercore to do a Christmas record and folks jumped at the chance to be on it. Since Ryan had previously been in my band A Mercy Union my first thought was to see if he’d include my proposed cover of Slade’s “Merry Christmas Everybody” but I pretty much knew he wouldn’t because our harder-edged Clash/Husker Du-influenced stuff didn’t mesh with the indie-pop stylings of K-Core. Besides, we didn’t even know the song. It was just an idea.

Ryan and I both worked at Wuxtry Records around this time and one day I asked him if I could do a solo-cover of Big Star’s “Jesus Christ” for the record. Well, he wasn’t gonna have any song mentioning Jesus Christ on his Christmas record so that was out. Then I had the notion to cover The Who’s “Christmas” from Tommy but that was mostly a pipe dream, as I knew I’d never get that done in short order. So I proposed I write and record my own song and he said he’d consider whatever I did. I knew there were gonna be submissions from Of Montreal (really just Dottie and Kevin) and The Olivia Tremor Control (who submitted a sheet of noise instead of an actual song) along with several others including a couple of “all-star” bands that formed just to be on the album.

This was still during the golden-age (my term) of the 4-track recorder. Although these little wonder-machines had been introduced to the consumer electronics market decades earlier the indie scene in the 1990’s was really enjoying their existence. Most of us had already had the experience of forming a band and going into a studio and spending several hundred dollars in order to produce a demo tape. The four-track liberated an entire creative class from this expense, for better and worse.

(Click through for the rest of the story, lyrics and MP3.)

Everyone owned one. Well, everyone but me. So I borrowed a Vestax MR-44 from Ben Spraker who lived down the hall from me in the old Ultramod Compound.  I had already been fooling around with this little Casio keyboard that had been abandoned at my house by some unknown person and had a little melody plucked out. I don’t play keyboards and definitely don’t play drums but played them both on this recording. I didn’t know how to bounce tracks down so I could only use exactly four tracks. There’s keyboard, drums (OK, drum. I only used a snare.), guitar and vocals. I don’t know how I did it but the vocals have a decent reverb on them, which made me happy. The answering machine at the end was recorded on the vocal track.

The lyrics were written pretty quickly and one line (“What have you done?”) wasn’t meant as a reiteration of John Lennon’s “Happy Christmas (War Is Over)” but as a moment of heavy sigh. Even so, that’s definitely where I got that line. I know I was thinking about how quickly a year seems to have gone by when coming to the end of it. The back-story is someone who has traveled home for Christmas yet feels disconnected and sad that the year is over but secretly knows that, if he had it to do over, he’d have done everything the same way. It’s been so long now that I can’t remember if I was writing this about myself or was writing about someone else.

This was all done in the space of about 5 hours and was my very first time using a four-track recorder. I needed to get the drums down first so I recorded a scratch version of the keyboard part to cue me but that worked only partially. The song speeds up and slows down occasionally. The vocals are rushed in parts and fine in others. I didn’t know how to mix it down so I took the whole apparatus over to Ryan’s house on Grady Avenue and we mixed it through the 4-track into his stereo cassette deck.

Overall, I’m still pretty happy with this. It’s a decent snapshot of what I was thinking about in the fall of 1997.

MP3: The Marble Index-The Calendar Year

(Note: Don’t bother looking for any other tracks by “The Marble Index”. Shortly after I was using this name some Canadian doofus band started using it and I quit.)

Lyrics:

Another calendar year, find yourself  here
What have you done?
In your holiday cheer watch what you wear
Just like I…

Another calendar day, watch what you say
Paint your smile
Are you crazy, alone?
Keep it at home just a while.

Take your time to wonder
Have you been here?
The calendar’s all over
Has it been much of a year?

Another calendar year, you’re here
What have you done?
Are you crazy, alone?
Paint yourself home
For just a while.

Take your time to wonder
Have you been here?
The calendar’s all over
Has it been much of a year?

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4 Responses to The Calendar Year

  1. John B says:

    1) You didn’t have to be a “tough-guy aggro rocker” (Or even just pretend to be one) to find fault with K-core back then. We can save the argument for another day, but come on.

    2) IIRC, you kept the Marble Index moniker around long enough to go through a couple bassists (yours truly included). I didn’t even know Canadians listened to Nico.

    3) You need to post more old Gordon recordings from whatever shoebox you keep them in.

  2. Gordon Lamb says:

    Yeah, that’s true. I used the name until at least the end of ’99. Even so, only a couple of years.

  3. ryan lewis says:

    for fuck’s sake Britt let it go.

    happy xmas
    ryan

  4. John B says:

    Gordon made a generalization, I corrected it.

    Beyond that, the past is the past. I can’t think of anything you’ve done in the past ten years that would make me think ill of you and I have neither the energy nor inclination to judge your character negatively just because you have different tastes in music than I do.

    You seem a little too sensitive about this. If you weren’t, you might realize I was making a dig at myself as well in my first point to Gordon.

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