February 2001. Our bags are packed, we're ready to go. To South America--a trip that would find the band enjoying many foods and beverages, both tropical and otherwise, and not enjoying many illnesses, both tropical and otherwise. But first, a brief detour, an afternoon at the Hoboken Pigeon Club.
Anyone who's seen On the Waterfront knows that raising pigeons is inextricably linked with Hoboken. But in recent years, one can't help but notice, the young hobbyist seems to have ceased his love affair with the pigeon. To be honest, our visit has nothing to do with the noble pigeon. Responding to its dwindling market share, pastimely speaking, the Hoboken Pigeon Club has rented out two of its three rooms to the fine folks at the Guitar Bar. Those two rooms are now filled with groovy vintage instruments and amplifiers, and ungroovy digital recording equipment. We're there to do our bit to rid the world of the scourge that is Big Tobacco.
It's a task we take to happily. As I type, there's a big controversy raging in New York City over a new law that bans smoking in bars and restaurants. If I understand the objections, and I'm not at all sure that I do, it's that if cigarettes are outlawed, only outlaws will have cigarettes, and that the cigarette is essential to the well-accessorized outlaw. While this should present few problems for your authentic, dyed-in-the-black-leather outlaw, the wannabe rebels that populate New York's bars and restaurants are unsure whether their outlaw status will be recognized by their fellow diners and drinkers if they are not smoking a cigarette. New York is said to be losing its dangerous, edgy vibe in the process, and if one imagines that every danger (lung cancer, emphysema) equals life on the edge, I guess it's unarguable. But as I said, I may not understand every aspect of the nuanced objections to the law. It sure is making it a lot more pleasant to be in bars, and opportunities for the petition-signer have rarely been more plentiful.
Our mission is to write some music for two commercials, or as we call them, PSA's, created specifically to try to convince pregnant women not to smoke. If we happen to evoke a specific song from our discography, so much the better. As I recollect, there's a minor negotiation over singing--they want it; we have to be convinced. Ultimately, we are fine with the singing, even compose some lyrics, later scrapped for being a touch heavy-handed ("Smoking/We hate smoking"). We submitted two pieces, one closer to our template, and that's the one they chose. Some tweaking was called for, which we did upon our return from South America. We took our original track, sped it up a tad, delayed the entrance of the vocal (which we had to re-sing due to speeding up the track--nothing would have said Keep Smoking like sounding like Alvin and the Chipmunks), and added the little guitar figure that now starts the piece.
We saw the spots on tv a few times. Have they kept pregnant women from smoking? You tell me. Were they supposed to? Hard to say--the money behind them came from tobacco lawsuit settlements, so were actually paid for by the tobacco companies. Are there subliminal messages within the spots encouraging women to smoke, or at the very least sign one of those petitions in a bar? Don't know.
Photo by David Doernberg, Scott Zwiezen, and Damon Chessé