Steve's best songs are his funny and angry responses to the outside world, the world outside our bands, demanding things from him he has no intention of handing over—learning clever pick-up lines, getting a good tan, settling for a quiet life. My best are apologies to the world for never quite having the right stuff, otherwise I’d gladly comply. All the songs on “Hi” work that way, on and on through the final Public Good songs. That back and forth is what made our music go, I think.
I’ve thought about writing a song about my friendship with Steve, but I can’t see pulling it off without self-indulging in a “Edmund Fitzgerald” or “American Pie” style opus, maybe even a song so long it’d take up an entire album side, like the old Yes songs he despised. Steve wanted 2 minutes 30 seconds tops. Get in, get out, play the next song.
If I went ahead and tried writing a song anyhow, I’d definitely start out in the present. Get the listener right in the moment. I’ve been traveling since I got the news, and since then I’ve lost my wallet, left behind my quarterly supply of insulin, misplaced my blood monitor, and just today forgot my poor dog’s old bed when I left town. That’d be sharp—some solid lines to show where my head is. Then maybe I’d finish with the happy note that I’m obeying speed limits and have had no trouble with the cops while license-free.
A second verse might give a run-down of our first meeting, when we argued Beatles v. Stones. Me Beatles, him Stones. This would be a good set-up for a possible later verse, placed in the last couple of years, when Steve disowned the Stones at the same time I was championing them. Haw haw.
We’re two verses in so I’d need a chorus here. This has been vexing me. If the rest of the song is bittersweet, the chorus should address our super-tight sense of humor. Some example of the caustic, doofus, private jokes that ran between us for 35 years. Most are inappropriate for radio listeners… I will leave this as a placeholder and mull.
Next verse: a teenage ride through Charlotte, taking all day to check out new arrivals at record stores, then hitting all the guitar shops the next day.
Verse four: At the beach with our pack (to borrow Bill Trosch's phrase), Steve refusing to leave the beer-pong table to get even five minutes of sun.
Time for the chorus again. I am still mulling.
Next verse. If I can make it fit, I’d like to put in an episode with the Popes’ famous, giant double-headed dong, the size of a man’s arm, about how I discovered it picked up newsprint like Silly Putty, and how Steve sometimes came to the kitchen in the mornings to find me reading the news off the dong at the table, section by section, and how that’d set him off into hysterics.
If that’s too complicated to fit into a verse, then instead a few lines about how, during my months-long obsession with “The Executioner’s Song,” Steve told me seriously he’d move out of the Popes house if I didn’t shut up about it, so I drew pictures instead. He declared that a compromise he could live with but totally ignored my stick-figure art.
What the hell, I’d use both of these sections and knock out two verses that way. Like I said, this is bound to be long.
Back to the chorus, which I’ll definitely work on, later, for sure.
After all that, best to shake up the structure and subject matter with a break or a bridge. Surprise and delight the listener—that’s the goal. In this case, I’d keep it real and sing that we had some ugly battles, some of them downright mean, but hey, on the bright side, we only had one serious fistfight and that ended in a draw. Equals! (That’s pretty good. If I remain stuck, I might make this the chorus.)
Here I’d throw in a sweet major 7th chord, something Steve taught me, something we might’ve used better over time than anyone else, ever.
We’re nearing “Hey Jude” length by now, but if the melody is decent people will stick with it. And a few more verses are in order, starting with a scene from our Lovely Lads recordings. Steve sang all those songs and asked me to take over all the guitar leads, no matter who wrote what. A big change for us, and I still remember watching him sing my songs in the studio, “Daytime All Around” in particular, and feeling thwacked like a frying pan to my face. I’d have cried if I hadn’t been embarrassed. Steve and his force of personality. Incredible.
One last verse, because it’s related—a few lines about struggling with singing in the studio one afternoon with The Public Good, and Chris Garges defusing that by saying nonchalantly that Steve and I sang like brothers, which came because of shared DNA… didn’t we know that’s how great we sounded?
Finally, back to the chorus. That missing chorus. Something funny but family friendly. Or not. I just don’t know. If Steve were around, I’d pitch him the song as is and ask him to help plug the hole.
Speaking of filling holes, with a song this long there’s no reason to forego an outro. People will either be wanting even more at this point, or they’ll have switched over to “Inna Gadda Da Vida” by now.
Here’s my outro: For the last few days I’ve walked around feeling like a chunk of the sky is missing overhead. Not a hole in my life, but a great big chunk of the sky torn out – the cloudy part with the light rain. The part that would cause Steve to look up and declare, “Ah, yes. It’s gonna be a beautiful day.”