By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
Track 1: "Teenage Volleyballers" (8:24)
Having figured out the inner workings of these songs and transcribed and analyzed the lyrics, Garvin believes Wright has a deceptively clever sense of songcraft, even if that knowledge often yields frightening results.
Consider the moment (5:10 into the song) when Wright's electric guitar accidentally shuts off -- which could be interpreted as a dynamic dropout to highlight his confessional lyric "messing around with the wife of my best friend," or it could just be him accidentally pulling his cord out of the amp.
"John Wright presents all of his tricks in this song. All the other numbers are just variations of this one. I don't really know what the song is about other than him wanting to ball a 'Teenage Volleyballer' because it would be 'so outasite.' He claims to be 'The king that rules the tide of teenage volleyballing stuff.' But I don't even believe the term 'volleyballer' is used by people who play the game. So who knows?"
"I love his use of repetition, his incredible ability to repeat himself yet perform it differently every time so that it confuses the listener and quiets the mind. How many times does he say, 'Teen-age, teen-age volley-ballers' -- it's like a mantra! It lulls you into sedation. And when he hits that Bert from Sesame Street range and he's shaking, you can just hear him trembling. The level of emotion is amazing."
Track 2: "Company Town" (4:50)
This is a song Wright claims to have written for a female voice, and features him testing the limits of his range against a cheesy church organ. "He does actually hit the notes," says Garvin in Wright's defense. "It doesn't sound like he does, but eventually he drifts up to the right notes."
Garvin's favorite part is the dramatic last verse: "Fling all your errors in the wind/A fresh flock of terrors will crawl under your skin/Once you precognize the situation you're in/As soon as you realize you're playing for your skin/It's your skin that you're playing for, your skin that they'll nail to the wall/When you fail to escape from the jail."
"That's pretty paranoid. There's not a song here that isn't paranoid," notes Garvin.
Paranoia seems to be the only narrative thread in this "rock video opera," which on "Company Town" seems as far removed from the beaches of Hawaii as Bruce Springsteen's Nebraska. "Yeah, in that sense, it's probably not the most well-thought-out 'rock video opera' ever made," he admits.
Recently, Garvin recorded full band arrangements of "Teenage Volleyballers" and "Company Town" with the other Zen Lunatics subbing as the Wright Tones. He claims the combo's sound is patterned after the Mosquitoes, the Beatle-esque band featured in a 1965 episode of Gilligan's Island. "I never realized what a big influence they were on me," he says.
As an added bonus, a CD single of Garvin's new interpretations of the songs will be available for sale in a limited quantity at the tribute show.
Track 3: "Summer's Fantasies" (8:30)
The song Garvin is having the most trouble re-creating is not-so-coincidentally the same one Wright had the most difficulty playing. Here's an excerpt from the original 1995 review: "Testing listeners' endurance is this tape's masterpiece, 'Summer's Fantasies,' a sprawling love sonnet about a beach baby that makes 'In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida' seem like an exercise in brevity. What's really slowing this song down is that Wright is incapable of playing and remembering the chord changes hewrote; you're forced to hear the struggle each and every time it comes around on the nylon-stringed guitar."
Indeed, it actually sounds as if his fingers are getting caught in the strings with each lugubrious chorus, and because it's John Wright, it comes around about 10 times: "She's so near and yet so far, and yet/She still seems near to me/So far and yet so near and yet/She still seems far from me." Again, we find the patented repetition, possibly even more oppressive than on the opener.
Going back to the beach again, we hear Wright beginning each of his many verses with the phrase "Swimming in the water." Like the lead track, there are at least 20 instances when you think the song will mercifully end -- but like déjà vu, it backs up on you. This is also where Wright's low timbre comes to the fore, singing, "skies so pearly bloooo," and then stretching that last note in a direction 90 degrees from where it oughta be.
Track 4: "The Risk Taker" (5:19)
Wright uses this opportunity to fashion a musical courtroom melodrama. During the trial that takes place in the song, we find our volleyball-obsessed protagonist in trouble with the law.
"Some of his most paranoid vocals where you can hear him shaking with fear are on this one," says Garvin, still enamored of Wright's emotive singing.
But there's something more. "Like George Benson, Wright sings and plays the notes at the same time." Actually, the staccato rhythm in which both are executed is less like Benson's "On Broadway" and more like an abusive parent continuing a conversation as he's knocking his child about the head.