Friday, November 16, 2012

The Problematic Courtship: beginning at the beginning

Hello and Welcome to The Annotated Off Minor.

Off Minor was the band of my life. Off Minor was the most amazing fucked up dysfunctional train-wreck of a band and it was as close to a tap into my heart and soul as anything ever will be. I played guitar, sang and wrote, conservatively, 80% of the music and 95% of the lyrics of the band over the 10 years we existed. We saw the world together. It was as close to living with anyone who was not in my immediate family as I have ever been. We had our own language of symbols, gestures and references. We were family, literally and figuratively at the same time. I have done bands since Off Minor broke up and will in all likelihood continue to play music until I die or my hands stop working. But there will never be a band in my life like Off Minor.

The purpose of this blog is to put the Off Minor discography, which I will post over the next year or so, into context. I will provide my own perspective of the music, the lyrics and the circumstances surrounding each song. I'm not sure if anyone is interested. But much like Off Minor itself, it's really not about that anyway. 

We were: 
Jamie Behar - vocals, guitar (1999 - 2008)
Steven Roche - vocals, drums (1999 - 2008)
Kevin Roche - bass (2001 - 2008)
Matt Smith - bass (1999 - 2001)

The Problematic Courtship

Part 1: Background

Prob Court (as it was known informally within the ranks) is a good place to start because the story of Prob Court is very much the story of Off Minor. Without getting into gruesome and unnecessary details, before Off Minor I was in a band with Steve for about 2 years called Saetia. Saetia broke up after our one tour due to general malaise and overall tumult. Immediately prior to our demise, we attempted to duct tape the wreck back together with yet another poorly conceived line-up. This line-up consisted of Steve, who was promoted from bass (an instrument that he did not actually play prior to joining Saetia) to guitar (an instrument he played possibly better than bass, it was never actually too clear to me) and Matt Smith on bass. The three of us were practicing as a trio for a few weeks on end to try to reassemble Saetia into a marginally functional band. As part of this task, we were also ironing out the unsightly creases in the last Saetia song written: 

When The Prophet Beats The Ass [which will henceforth be referred to as WTPBTA]

The song had only been performed live once and was a bit shoddily assembled intra/post-tour. Colin, the previous Saetia guitarist, had quit due to my overwhelming bastardiness on tour. The 2nd guitar part he had for WTPBTA left with him. The structure of the song left me unsatisfied. The lyrics were, of course, a complete enigma to us all. And so, Steve, Matt and myself gradually remodeled WTPBTA into something that pleased us more. While we worked on the song (and other Saetia songs as well) in the basement of my parents house in lower Manhattan (much to their displeasure), Steve would occasionally play drums instead of guitar. After all, Steve was actually a drummer, having only recently played drums in God Awful with his brother Kevin while they toured the Midwest with Saetia, You And I and Racebannon. With time, we gained a precarious handle on the current Saetia catalog, including a renovated WTPBTA. 

When it finally came time for Saetia to practice as a five piece, things were not quite firing on all cylinders. Now, I've got to be frank and present the situation as I saw it at that time. We got together for the first time and right off the bat Greg, the drummer for Saetia, seemed very disinterested. Songs were performed shittily and he'd say "yeah, that's fine, let's move on..." There was just a palpable attitude that he didn't care. That's impression I recall having from the 2-3 practices we attempted as Saetia 4.0. And I was not the only member who got that feeling. It was extremely frustrating because Matt, Steve and myself had been busting our balls to get things back on track and when it was time to put it all together, Greg seemed to be distant, phoning it in. Conversations were had. We decided to have a band dinner to discuss the future of the band at Vincent's in Little Italy. Greg told us at the last minute he couldn't make it. Thus the decision was made. Saetia ended amiably sometime in early September of 1999 after a nice Italian dinner and a couple of drinks at some bar on the corner of 2nd ave and 5th street. We played our last show at ABC no Rio a few weeks later. As we prepared for the show, it became pretty clear that what Matt, Steve and I had established in the basement would survive beyond Saetia. Immediately after we finished our set, I turned to Steve and Matt and said, 'so... practice tomorrow?' 

For those among you not adept at assembling the pieces presented before you, When The Prophet Beats The Ass, being my intellectual property after all, was harvested from the corpse of Saetia and transplanted into a new healthy organism named Off Minor, reborn as The Problematic Courtship. 

Part 2: Lyrics

Before I begin, I want to provide some disclaimers, which I will not repeat prior to discussion of the lyrics of every Off Minor song for the rest of this blog, but apply to every discussion of lyrics. 

First, I do not want this "look behind the curtain", so to speak, to discourage or dispel any interpretations of my lyrics generated by other individuals who have read them. My intention from the start was to try to maintain a certain poetic ambiguity with my words to encourage the listeners imagination and prompt one to come up with their own postulates regarding what it is that I was screeching about. My lyrics were always very specific in that they were about stuff, concrete stuff, people, incidents, my crazy fucked up family, etc. But one of the downfalls of hardcore as a genre is that the directness of the medium sometime sabotages itself as an art form. There has to be some degree of digestion on the part of listener/reader/appreciator or else we (the "artists") are just pumping baby food into you like fucking Robocop. You're Robocop in this metaphor, not me. Nevermind. To be frank, part of the reason why I'm doing this blog is because I found Off Minor lyrics on a few websites devoted to lyric interpretation and I was very moved by some of the things people said regarding the meaning the songs had for them. I don't want to ruin that for anyone. 

So, seriously, your interpretation of what I wrote is just as valid as mine. 
Anyone who says otherwise is a douchehole. 

Second, a lot of my lyrics, especially the early ones, embarrass the shit out of me in retrospect. The embarrassment generally stems from the lyrics either being particularly artless or about some shit that must've seemed really important to me at the time but has since become significantly less so. So expect some back-peddling and some occasions in which the discussion will be brief and as painless as possible. 

The Problematic Courtship

she said "I wish I was a man"

and I said so do I
she talks to herself around me 

I talk to myself around her
this is my balcony scene

the stage is set
the script is written
curtain closes in

this scene ends before it begins
it just ends

When I started college, waaaaaaaaaaaay back in 1994 (yes, folks, I am incredibly old), I met a girl named Jackie. Jackie was the unspoken/unrequited/unrecognized love of my life for about 10 or so years. At least in my own head she was. We had a very odd, passionate friendship. When I met her, I was still dating my high school girlfriend; a punk rock train wreck named Miriam. I met Jackie at a Choking Victim show (yes, folks, I was into Choking Victim) and was instantly smitten. Over the first few months I knew her, Jackie and I were spending enormous amounts of time together under strange circumstances. I'd go to her dorm room night after night and we'd just listen to music and talk. Extremely limited physical contact, exclusively platonic. The whole time I was fairly obsessed with her. One, she was stunning. Two, she was extraordinarily damaged, in ways I don't remember clearly nor do really care to elaborate on even if I could remember. At our peak, I was going to her dorm room every night and staying until the wee hours of the AM. After a few months, we were, at least as I perceived it, reaching a breaking point; something had to happen. Unfortunately, nothing did. At some point, I confessed that I had had a girlfriend whom I just happened to never mention the entire time we were hanging out. Shortly after that, we had a weird fight for no particular reason that resulted in her no longer seeing me or taking my calls. When the semester ended, we both moved out of housing and lost touch for a while. When she resurfaced, she had this horrible boyfriend. That, however, is another song for another day. After that, things became weirder and gradually we drifted apart (yet another song for another day). Miriam cheated on me numerous times and ultimately broke up with me to be with her former babysitter, if my memory serves me correctly. I never could completely shake the feeling that my failure to act on my feelings back in Jackie's dorm room somehow resulted in a massive cosmic cataclysm which manifested itself as generalized existential misery in my life for years to come. I can't really explain it now. 

I have this impression that the first line of the song is loosely based on something Jackie actually said to me at one point in the context of a conversation regarding how women are raised to not be aggressive, to not directly pursue what they want. The 3rd and 4th lines are a bit harder to place in he context of our relationship. I think that later on, when we would hang out, we were already becoming somewhat distant from each other, not connecting how we used to. By the time I wrote this song, we were barely speaking. I definitely remember feeling extremely awkward around her towards the end, like my tongue was all thumbs. There was always this drive in me to try to recapture what we had in her dorm room. In my head, we were a predestined perfect relationship that got botched before it could happen; a perfect romance aborted in utero. No double suicide, no dramatic finale. Over before it even began. 

Part 3: Music

I suppose this section requires some brief disclaimers as well. First, I've come to realize that in the 4+ years since Off Minor last played, I have all but completely forgotten how to play a significant sumber of our songs. Truth be told, I don't play guitar too often lately; my main instrument now is six-string bass. Second, this section will probably be the briefest in general because I'm going to focus on a few salient features of the song. Generally, this will be time signatures (since that was my thing back then) and structure. There may be an occasional theory tirade or two, who knows. Third, this is not going to be me teaching the world to play Off Minor songs. No tab. Well, maybe someday.

I always felt that Prob Court had the perfect structure, at least from my standards, because it is essentially three parts or themes, with a variation introduced in the second half. I describe the structure as:

A-B-C-B-A' (that's A prime)

As an anecdotal aside, Part A was birthed on tour as an attempt to figure out "Bile (The Golden Years)" by Merel. Anyone familiar with that song? No? Anyway the time signature is 5/4, one of our notorious favorites, with an additional measure of 4/4 at the end of each bar. To jump ahead, Part A' was initially conceived to be my guitar part to be played over Colin's guitar part (Part A) during the WTPBTA days. 

Part B is in what I called a "compound time signature", which is pure bullshit jargon and not an actual term, but I will refer to it occasionally. What I mean by compound is that I think of it as two different time signatures stuck together to make up the bar. Does that make any sense. If you are listening to this as you read, count along with Part B:

1 - 2 - 3 - 1 - 2 - 1 - 2 - 3 - 4

That's how I would try to explain these things to the other guys when we were writing. So technically speaking it's in 9/8, meaning the measure consists of nine 1/8 notes. But I feel like it's best explained a a measure of 5 beats and then a measure of 4. Count along, if you're feeling frisky, and see if you get when I mean. 

I have always particularly loved the bass part for Part B. I'm pretty sure I wrote the bass part for Part A but I'm certain that I wrote the bass parts for Parts B and A'. I think Part C was written by Matt Smith and it persisted after he left. I look back over my writing in Saetia and Off Minor and realize that I have always been a closeted bassist. I've only recently come out. I was responsible for probably about 40 - 50% of the Saetia bass parts and closer to 80% of the Off Minor ones. When people talk up how "jazzy" Off Minor, I'd like to think it is primarily due to the bass parts. Although the bass line is not "walking" per se, it's definitely mobile. One of the most satisfying parts of writing for the bass is finding that perfect place to be, where you're tonically and rhythmically on but not just following the root note of the guitar part. I think I got there with Part B. Yeah. Nailed it. 

Part C. A bit of boiler plate emotional hardcore, as far as I'm concerned. Not disappointing or agonizingly ordinary, but I always felt that it was a part birthed from the brief, impoverished roots of emotional hardcore from days of yore. The time signature is fairly straight forward: five bars of 4/4. The guitar part is rich with Maj7 chords, emotional hardcore staple shit. Not much more to say about it. 

The Problematic Courtship

Live in Brisbane, Australia


I always referred to The Problematic Courtship as our "Waiting Room". I think we played it at every show we ever played with a handful of deliberate exceptions. It was as iconic for us as iconic can be for a band essentially no one gave a shit about. I did derive a lot of satisfaction from the few times when we'd play to a crowd that was genuinely excited to see us and I'd play that first chord, the A octave. I'd just let it ring out for a few pregnant moments and the kids who knew us, who had seen us before or actually listened to us knew what was coming. It was a song that I truly loved playing from the first time to the last. As you will discover with future posts, I can't say that about every Off Minor song.

I suppose this is a good point to explain what happened to Off Minor. In 2008, during my last year of medical school (did I mention I'm a doctor?), I managed to take my last three months before graduation off so we could do the longest and most ambitious tour of our lives; 11 weeks, starting in Australia, then Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan and finally terminating Western Europe. We came home in late June and I started my residency, which forced Off Minor way in the back seat of my life. On August 30th, 2008, we played a show with the then-recently-reformed Portraits of Past and Ampere at the Cake Shop in NYC. A few days after that show, Steve told me he never wanted to speak to me again. 

We haven't spoken since. 

More to come later.