This is going to go on awhile.
The Water Music sessions that resulted in the four studio songs on President Yo La Tengo were produced by Gene Holder, and were tremendously important to us. We didn’t have a bassist at the time, but Gene had agreed to play, and that in itself was very exciting for the dB’s obsessives in the group (i.e. both of us). But in his quiet way, he also expressed belief in what we were doing–it would not be exaggerating to say more belief than we had. I recall distinctly playing him our cassette demo of “The Evil That Men Do–Craig’s Version” (recorded by Tara Key and, frustratingly, seemingly in neither her possession nor ours), explaining that the guitar part was just a placeholder till I came up with something better. He countered that it was great, and I should play just that, so I did. Similarly, the inclusion of “Alyda” is entirely Gene’s doing. Georgia and I had recently returned from a duo acoustic tour, and Gene encouraged us to record something we’d been playing on that trip (and took a sniff from Georgia’s vocal track, sampled it, and used it as percussion). We returned to Water Music with Gene to make Fakebook. He kept asking how many songs we were planning to record, and I kept telling him 17 (two fell by the wayside, and “What Comes Next” got added–Gene again pushing us to play our original songs). In a cost-cutting move that still makes me laugh, we recorded on 12 tracks, instead of 24, so were all the faders turned up on the two-inch master tapes, you’d hear two songs simultaneously.
In 1990, Gene consented to play a few shows with us, and even though Georgia threw a drumstick at him at the third one, he not only remained in the lineup, he agreed to travel to Europe for a week and a half of shows. At half of them, we opened with a short Fakebook set, with Gene on lead guitar and Janet Wygal on bass, followed by a louder one. Twenty-four years and two days ago, we played one set in Zurich, after which we drove all night, trying and failing to nap in the van, to the small Belgian city of Nieuwerkerken, where we were to be the opening act of the Neurorock festival. Upon reaching the site, we undertook a surprisingly fruitless search for a cup of coffee. As we set up, we were constantly being reminded that we had to go on at 11 a.m. sharp (I think it was 11), but looking around at the half-erected p.a., it seemed like our readiness was the least of their worries. Ultimately everything was in place for an on-time departure. Almost everything. As we ripped through our set, I did pause to say that we were still looking for that elusive cup of coffee. I guess my sarcasm was lost in translation, because minutes later three piping-hot cups were brought on stage. Though tempted to halt the show for five minutes while we sipped a restorative beverage, we decided caffeination could wait till our set was over. (Georgia would later find a thermos of coffee at catering, and just before receiving it, be asked to confirm that she was in some band that wasn’t ours. She assured them she was, otherwise we might be waiting still.) We wanted to stay for the headliners, Jesus and Mary Chain, but lack of sleep won out and we split.
The next day, 24 years ago today, we drive to Hamburg where, reminiscent of our hometown Hoboken Cinemas, which in its glory days featured a main feature at 6 and 10, with a co-feature at 8, we were scheduled to play between two sets by headliner Sylvia Juncosa. Towards the end of our set, someone came on stage to tell us that Sylvia was not going to be able to play her second set, and we started negotiating terms for one more by us instead. A meeting of the minds ensued, and we went back on. Everything caught up with us right there: the days of intense travel, my insistence that we play songs we hadn’t played yet (and therefore probably didn’t know), and whatever adrenaline that had gotten us this far disappeared. We played one of the worst sets we’ve ever played. And slept very soundly that night.