“Biomusicology (1999 Basement Demo)” – Ted Leo
(Words/music: Ted Leo, final version on The Tyranny of Distance, Lookout! 2001. MP3 via Ted Leo’s SoundCloud page)
Apologies for letting my One Week / One Band updates tail off. Here’s a link to the entire run of posts in case you missed it. I ended up immersing myself completely in the last five Ted Leo and the Pharmacists albums that week, writing thirty six(!) posts, which was a lot of fun and completely exhausting. I was so tired that even culling links seemed too laborious, so it slacked off. I also, during this blog silence, should have wrote about the gorgeous night in July when I saw the Pharmacists play all of The Tyranny of Distance at New York’s South Street Seaport, but that fell into the silence as well. Consider this post the proverbial tying up of loose ends for those things.
In the week before the Seaport “Tyranny 10” show, Ted Leo posted a ton of things from the Tyranny era on his blog, culminating with his basement demo of the album’s first song “Biomusicology.” Recorded on a four track in his basement and heavy on synthesizer, the song’s arrangement (save for an extended solo in the outro and a slight variation on the melody in the first line) matches up with the eventual album version. It’s sound, to borrow Ted’s adjective, feels “dreamier” than the full band’s version.
The other interesting tidbit (aside from the “original” tracklist for the album, which I’ll save for another time), is that Leo wrote candidly about “Biomusicology.” From his blog post:
That is, after all the fun and the drama, and the feints and stabs of the previous decade of music making, I woke up alone one day, without a band, but with the unimpeachable knowledge that “this is who I am, and this is what I want to do, and this is what I DO” regardless of whether it was inside the system or outside, in fame or obscurity, on the back burner or right there in my hands – this is me, and this is us, and it is every bit as important as we think it is – it’s woven into our bones, an essential part of our complete breakfast, every day; and I guess that’s what “Biomusicology” was an attempt at expressing.
Which, setting intentional fallacy aside for a minute, fits what I wrote about the song for OW/OB, describing the “two strategies for confronting the void” in the song – an existential commitment to continue despite the impending bleakness, and the way we cling to our favorite songs in our times of need. Leo continues in his post to discuss the shift from the song’s composition (and placement at the end of the LP), to its shift and subsequent leadoff slot (emphasis is mine):
And though it can be read as hopeful, there was more of a resignedness to it when I originally wrote it. In some ways, I felt like my life as a musician was already OVER, and it was a “the king is dead, long live the king” kind of thing. It wound up as a mission statement at the top of the record, but at first, I meant it to be a summing up of a life already lived. The whole album’s like an Irish wake to me, and what happened afterward surprised me more than anybody!
Having read the blog post before hearing the song, I had a hard time hearing the resignation. I always heard the end of the song as a boat with waves furiously crashing against it as the lyrics proclaim that “we cannot stop singing / we cannot start sinking.” It ends on such a powerful and focused note (coupled with its placement at the beginning of the album) that it’s always felt like a bold mission statement. Hearing this demo, particularly with the extended solo at the end, the resignation becomes clearer. Here, the sea continues to rage after Leo goes silent, perhaps the way that music will continue after Leo (and everyone else) goes silent. I just hope that he has plenty more songs in him.