Friday, July 4, 2008

Why'd The Boy Throw The Clock Out The Window?


Dave Fischer: Bass
Kevin McDevitt: Drums
Scott Young: Trombone
Peter Strauss: Alto Sax & Clarinet
My Sin: Keyboards
Phillip Marshall: Lead Guitar
Colorblind James: Guitar, Vibraphone, Vocal

Recorded at Peter Miller Studios sometime in 1983 or '84, this song represented a crystallization of many ideas and concepts Chuck had been hammering out during the band's San Francisco days. First off, while Chuck's patented 2-beat style is still very much present, the song features a prominent and propelling riff. Chuck became enamored with coming up with riffs for his songs, the first in my memory being a cool two-beat ditty called "Go Away, Marie". Basically, whenever there was no vocal, a riff of some kind filled in the space.

Secondly, Chuck had always wanted his songs to feature clarinet and trombone. At the time this song was recorded, the band had pretty much split up. When he assembled the musicians who were to record, he added Peter Strauss on alto and clarinet. Scott Young, who had been with the band before the split, was back on trombone.

The only other "non-member" to be added was a ghostly young keyboard player who called himself My Sin. At the end of each verse, the music shifts from a riff on D to one on a G major chord. The riff was comprised of three descending chromatic notes. For some reason My Sin was incapable of not connecting the two descents with an additional ascending chromatic tone. While Chuck was rarely willing to compromise on his ideas, I believe he finally gave up trying to get Mr. Sin to play it correctly. So it was to exist forever with the extra note.

The original concept for the riff-laden bridge was to have a laugh track running through it. Chuck mentioned the laugh that is often featured at the entrance of a carnival funhouse. Something creepy and unsettling. None of us being very up on the fledgling field of sampling, he eventually scrapped the idea in place of having me fill in the blanks with guitar riffs. I came up with the riffs and Chuck had the horns play them along with me. What I'd forgotten is that the second bridge features bass, drums and alto answering each riff respectively. In later years, both bridges were played the same way.

Dave Fischer came up with the outstanding bass line that underscores the verse lyrics. I recall him being really proud when he introduced it, feeling that he had really captured Chuck's jerky stop-n-start sense.

I worked on that lead for a long time prior to recording and it really typifies what I was into during that period. I liked featuring the same flatted scale degree that the main riff contained. Then, there's a little fleet fingered flash just before the stop. Unfortunately, the rhythm tracks were recorded without the solo and we were not using a click track. We 'felt' the pause before the G chord but in fact, our timing was off. When I filled in the hole during overdubbing, I had to slow the solo down to accommodate it. Hence, Peter Miller added tons of delay to the solo to sort of smooth over the timing. In later years, as I began to lose interest in displays of dexterity, I pretty much started to play Chuck Berry-styled riffs for the solo.

What is most important to me about this track is that it features the late great Kevin McDevitt on the drums. Kevin had played with Chuck since 1978 and he was instrumental in discovering the two-beat rhythm Chuck loved so much. This is the only recording featuring Kevin that exists on any Colorblind James cd. At some point, I would like to see the seven tracks the four-piece band recorded at Peter's that yielded the Talk To Me/Kojak Chair single.

While Chuck often avoided writing songs about specific people or events, this one addresses the suicide death of a friend of his. The title of course comes from the old riddle, the answer to which is "to see time fly". In the song, Chuck's own answer to the question is never clearly stated. He did offer me this response though, when the song was still in its infancy: Why'd the boy throw the clock out the window? To stop time.

Why’d The Boy Throw The Clock Out The Window?
Words & Music © Chuck Cuminale

A fog rose up from hell that day
By the river you could hear the lost souls screaming
I wish they wouldn’t carry on that way
Why’d the boy throw the clock out the window?

It was something we could never mention
But I knew I would have come through soon
But you can’t pay debts with good intentions
Why’d the boy throw the clock out the window?

We watched him as his faith was shattered
We watched as his confidence disappeared
And he turned his back on all that mattered
Why’d the boy throw the clock out the window?

Of course we cried when we heard the news
And we cried as the ice truck pulled away
With nothing to gain so much to lose
Why’d the boy throw the clock out the window?

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