and I are very different people.
I remember being 10 years old, just waiting for the slow days of summer
to end so I could go back to school. Yes, I was one of those. I’d
spend free days in August reading encyclopedias, from page 1 on.
That’s how much I wanted to learn. School, to me, was an opportunity,
hotly anticipated. Old friends to see, new wonders to learn, new
teachers to torment, rules to break, suspensions to avoid. I was such
an odd mix of good student and authority rebel, that the Principal
(who’s office I’d spent many hours in, explaining myself) audibly
grunted his displeasure when I won the “Best All Around Student” Award
in 6th grade. Damn, that made my day.
Jeff’s experience was totally different, as he makes so painfully clear
in his remarkable, mournful song “Shadow Classrooms.” Against the
refined strains of a strummed guitar and Hammond organ, Jeff reveals
the ancient pain locked inside him all these years. The dread of that
first school day approaching, the laughing schoolgirls, the undying
wish to disappear. His yearning, strained voice expels his fears as he
sings, “Summer’s gone/Winter’s waiting/Icy school rooms fill my
brain/they lie in wait/there’s no escaping/please forget me/please
forget me and my name.” The song is so drenched in honest neurosis
that it’s impossible not to get completely wrapped up in this young
kid's drama, driving off to school, “I don’t wanna/I don’t wanna/I
don’t ever wanna be young again.” Hammond organ flourishes bring on
massive waves of shyness and anxiety. Truly remarkable.
But that’s not the only difference between me and Jeff. Jeff has
talent. Amazing talent. The ability to create a seemingly endless
stream of somber melodies, wrapped in sorrow, stripped bare to the
chilliest bone of exposure. Every nerve is laid bare, every pain left
As songwriter/singer with the Green Pajamas
, Jeff's storytelling is more in the tradition of remarkable British songwriters like Ray Davies
than most American writers. He comes across as a mix of Robin Hitchock
and John Lennon
. He carries Hitchcock’s sense for the off-beat bizarre in his topics and
frequent whimsy, but always keeps it contained in songs that are
infinitely catchy, with more than a hint of Beatles
craft. The Lennon also appears in his voice which yearns in the truest
sense of the word, straining through those impeccable melodies to speak
Just listen to “The Greatest Sin.” My God! That song simply bleeds.
Pain, regret and self-loathing simply seep from the song’s pores. (If
a song had pores, that is.) But it’s not overdone, it’s not a “woe is
me, shut up and get on with your life,”-type of somber. The emotion is
so real, the melody so stunningly beautiful that I can’t help but
wonder what that “sin” was that he committed. I’m thinking adultery,
but with Jeff’s slightly obscure lyrics it could be any one of the Big
Ten from the Commandments.
Other songs, like “A Year and a Day,” and “Seven Years,” are almost too beautiful to put into words.
But before you go thinking that the album is a downer, let’s don’t
forget that Robin Hitchcock factor. Album opener “Living the Good Life
in a World of Disease,” is a nearly whimsical piano-led tale that just
may be one of the best songs I’d never heard before. “What Became of
Betty Page,” is like a tour-de-force of garage anthemic organs and
swirling melodies. “The Singer of Another Song,” is a crafty, spunky,
downright fun, minimalist off-kilter love song, that basks in its own
coolness. Spikes of piano pop in like from the best underground jazz
clubs while the song swings along on its cool, beat-poetry club vibe.
Organ twirls, punchy percussion. “What Now My Love,” brings on that
Hitchockian whimsy with its churning, near-carnivalesque organ.
A treasure of neo-psychedelic, singer/songwriter powerpop. Even more
remarkable is the fact that the entire album was recorded by Jeff, at
home on an 8-track cassette deck. Guitar, organ, voice, saxophone,
whatever. I mean, this cat does it all. When asked to describe the
album in one sentence, Jeff said “some good songs and a lot of tape
hiss.” But really, it’s so much more.
Originally released by Green Monkey Records in 1995, Ash Wednesday Rain
is a long-overlooked classic that fortunately is being given another chance to shine. Green Monkey Records has made Ash Wednesday Rain
the album of the month, so you can pop over there and pick it up for a mere 8 bucks. Too good to pass up.
Just don't ask Jeff to go back to school.
Read an interview with Jeff and buy the album here: Green Monkey Records