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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

"then you hit me with the hard facts / and everything cracks that's Bruiseology"

Growing up in northeast Ohio, it was easy to hate the constant grey skies, suburban boredom and West Virginia/Kentucky hick mentality that migrated northward. But when it came to music in the late 70s/early 80s…well…there was a lot to love.

Devo, Pere Ubu, Chrissie Hynde, the Dead Boys, the Numbers Band, etc. etc. Trust me, we pretty much held our own.

I went to high school in Lorain County, which was aggressively backwards and country-bumpkin. My only oases from the constant barrage of Journey, Boston and the Michael Stanley Band (echh) were Oberlin, (home of one of the most progressive liberal arts schools in the nation, nestled smack-dab in the middle of hicksville), Coventry, (another progressive arty urban area east of Cleveland), and another progressive college town a bit further southeast, Kent.

All three were homes to college radio stations, the only stations at the time who dared play “college rock” like R.E.M., the Lucy Show, Pylon, et al. As a teen, I clung onto these stations like a life preserver, my knuckles white yet grateful for salvation, no matter how small. I, and others like me, had one simple goal – escape.

I suppose that’s why I have such an affinity for the quirkier bands that came from Ohio – the pressure to conform and their wholesale rejection of it inspired me and kept me from settling for a life at the Ford factory. They pushed me to create my own art, see things from a different perspective and always ask “why do it that way?” Alongside Devo, a big favorite was the Waitresses.

The Waitresses formed sort of by accident, as the legend goes, when Tin Huey guitarist Chris Butler recorded a song he wrote and played all the instruments on called, “I Know What Boys Like” and invited his friend Patty Donahue to sing the lead. Some time later, the track scored Butler and his fictitious band a label deal – he told the label the band was “back in Ohio.” One hastily assembled band later and the Waitresses were signed and gigging around New York City. While recording their full-length debut, “Wasn’t Tomorrow Wonderful?”, the band contributed a track to a label Christmas EP. The resulting song, “Christmas Wrapping”, went on to become a holiday staple on college and alternative rock radio, and can even be heard on your local “Classic 80s” station each December (who could have imagined such a thing in 1981?). Later, “…Boys” became an MTV and cult hit, which led to the band recording the theme for the “new wave” sitcom “Square Pegs”, found on an EP, “I Could Rule the World If I Could Only Get the Parts”. Which in turn leads us to album #2…

“Bruiseology” didn’t have quite the buzz or sales of the band’s first album, but there’s some great stuff in there. Nothing quite beats Patty’s semi-bored statement that kicks off side two – “Uh oh, there I go – thinkin’ about sex again!” While Butler wrote all the songs, Patty’s offhanded delivery brought the point home brilliantly. Although they made a good team, tensions surfaced during the recording of “Bruiseology” which caused Donahue to leave and be temporarily replaced by Holly Vincent (of Holly & The Italians). Donahue returned to the group before the album’s release, but the band would soon fall apart again, this time for good.

I have to wonder if any of that tension resulted in some of the album’s lyrical content, especially the title track. Over a hyperactive sax riff and bouncy beat, Patty sings (Chris’s words):

OK, it’s over
That’s it, I’m quitting
Yes, I’ll deny it
Never wanted this anyway

…only to immediately contradict her(his)self:

No, it’s not over
I’m never stopping
I can’t deny it
I’ve been wanting this all my life

…and later:

Pretends this never
Happened I better
Practice my crawling
Back with a tail ‘tween my legs

It may have been coincidental, but that’s a helluva happenstance. Things were deceptively cheerier on the album’s first single, “Make The Weather”, until you paid attention to the lyrics:

Now it’s black and white
Now my golden and green’s turning grayer

“Make The Weather” didn’t storm (sorry) up the charts, but the video did get a bit of light rotation MTV play and shows up on VH1 Classic every now and then. See?

Can I just say I love that squiggly guitar solo Chris rips and how the guitar, bass, keys and sax all come together at the end? Okay, thanks.

After the band split, Butler went on to become a producer, as well as a more experimental solo artist – check out his blog. Patty moved into the A&R side of things for a few years, but sadly died of cancer in 1996 at the age of 40. It’s unfortunate that the band’s history will always be summed up with that downer of an ending, but like a lot of the Waitresses’ songs, and life itself, you get the sad with the glad.

”Make The Weather” did not chart.

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The Waitresses
posted by John, 4:42 PM