A BRIEF HISTORY OF "THE GLASSES SONG"
SONGWRITING: This is one of the very rare songs that I wrote in a direct attempt to imitate another songwriter. In 1996 I was wrapping up my time living in Eugene, Oregon, and I was quite taken by the then-new Lyle Lovett album "I Love Everybody." Lyle is a master of writing sly, self-deprecating songs that sound cute and clever on the surface, but have a dark and sinister undercurrent. That particular album has some real classics of that type, like "Creeps Like Me," "Sonja," and "Skinny Legs." So, I sat down to do my best Lyle, and came up with "The Glasses Song," sung slow and gentle and fingerpicked on acoustic guitar, just like Lyle would do it. I even did a 4-track demo of the slow version while I still lived in Oregon. I liked the song a lot, but the recording stank, and the arrangement was a snore.
RECORDING THIS DEMO: In the Summer of 1996 I moved to Chicago, setting up my 4-track cassette studio in a giant empty bedroom on the second floor of our giant old house. For the first time, I had the space and privacy to have a drum set, and other loud instruments. Sometime that Fall (in September, I think) I took another stab at "The Glasses Song" in the hopes of rescuing a cool tune from a boring arrangement. My default setting for song arrangement is always "Keith Richards" so I banged through a version of "Glasses" in the style of the Stones' "Honkey Tonk Women." Here's how I filled the 4-track recorder:
TRACK ONE: acoustic guitar and vocals
TRACK TWO: drums
TRACK THREE: bass
TRACK FOUR: harmony vocals and accordion solo
I bounced a quick stereo mix for myself, and was pleased with my result. At the time, I was collecting songs for my forthcoming album Recital, and I have no idea why I didn't consider "The Glasses Song" for inclusion on that project. BUT, I did not, and "The Glasses Song" sat unused and unheard for three years.
SONG DEVELOPMENT: In 1999 I began to assemble tunes for what would become the 52-song Sound Theology project. I still had great affection for "The Glasses Song" and I thought its challenging lyrical undercurrent about unanswered prayers made it worthy of inclusion on my big liturgical-calendar concept album. So, I re-recorded the song on my digital 4-track, enlisting the help of my super-guitarist cousin-in-law Dag Juhlin to contribute some smokin' lead guitar. That version of the song appears on Disc Two of Sound Theology, and after becoming available via the iTunes music store, would become one of my most-heard and most-exposed songs, thanks to simultaneous television appearances on the Ellen Degeneres Show, and the British TV-documentary Specky.
THE UNEARTHING OF THIS DEMO: A couple years ago I dug through all my original cassette 4-track tracking tapes and dumped the salvageable tracks into my computer. Thanks to the magic of digital recording, annoyances common to cassette recordings (tape hiss, warping, bad mixes, bad EQ, bad everything) can be improved upon. This year I took my favorite old 4-track demos, did my best to restore them to a listenable state, and put 'em out as the Myopia CD, available as a free bonus disc along with my new Best of the 20th Century album. When I first listened to this demo of "The Glasses Song" it just didn't seem worth saving, so I skipped it, and it was not considered for Myopia. However a few weeks ago, I opened up the ProTools session and gave it another listen. "Hey, this is actually pretty cool!" I digitally corrected a few horrendous flaws in the drumming, did a few other minor tweaks, and realized that I had a nice little rockin' recording hiding on that hard drive. SO, this afternoon, audio wiz Matt Patrick came over to work his mixing magic: giving some depth and width to the EQ and the stereo image, and pulling off the tape hiss and other yukky noise. Weird detail: somewhere in the process of dumping the cassette tracks onto the computer, the entire tape of the song got slightly slowed down, resulting in the original key of G dropping a half-step to F#, and making my vocals a bit lower and meaner-sounding than usual. Although this is technically an inaccurate representation of the 1996 performance, Matt and I decided that the slow-n-low mix had a cool vibe, so we left it alone. See if you can hear it. It's not much of a change. Now that all is said and done, I think I might actually like this demo recording MORE than the slicker album version that most folks are familiar with. There's always a special zip and attitude in a demo that you can never again achieve on an "official version." And, man, the accordion solo is PERFECT for this song. Tee hee, it's fun to listen to this again, after a decade!
I'm proud to present you with:
THE GLASSES SONG (1996 4-track demo)
Here are the credits:
Words and Music: Jonathan Rundman
Jonathan Rundman: vocals, acoustic guitar, drums, bass, accordion
Recorded by: Jonathan Rundman on a Tascam Porta-One cassette 4-track recorder at Future Parking Ramp Studio, River Forest, IL, September 1996.
Audio salvanging and remix by: Matt Patrick at Verkstad Studio, Edina, MN, September 24, 2007.
Here are the lyrics:
i got bad vision so i gotta wear glasses
and it seems like forever since i've seen with my eyes
i sleep with my glasses in reach of my bed
and there's something so sad about waking up blind
a drunk needs whiskey and a sinner needs Jesus
and i need my glasses on just to get by
and i drank some whiskey and i pray to Jesus
but nothing's gonna bring the sight back to my eyes
sometimes when i'm wearing my glasses
i see things clearly that i wish i couldn't see
like the faces of all of those pretty young girls
who say "a man who wears glasses is no man for me"