Here’s the audio from a Minnesota Public Radio interview with me and the Dacey brothers. The interview took place in the Mankato affiliate studio for the show “Minnesota Morning” on January 3, 1991. The audio file comes from a cassette recording of the broadcast with poor sound quality and without the first few minutes of the interview. But it’s worth a listen because it includes a live in-studio performance of an early version of “Tea of China,” a song we included on Spectacular Illusions later that year.
Emmett and I walked the Via Dolorosa while visiting Jerusalem in 1985. I sort of remember him saying, “That would be a good name for a song.” It’s the name of a street in the Old City on which Jesus allegedly carried his cross as he went to Golgotha. Every Good Friday, Christian pilgrims commemorate the stations of the cross and walk the Via Dolorosa. The name literally means “Way of Sorrow.”
You can hear the influence of U2’s The Joshua Tree in the chord progression of Via Dolorosa. It wasn’t intentional, but we liked it that way. A short version of the song went down on the ben son Beatrice demo. The live version could roll on for a long, long time. We almost always closed out our live shows with that hypnotic rambling extended version—right before the big-bang showstopper GO NO STOP.
THE SWOON starts in small-town Cottonwood, MN ‘round about 1975 when my family moved into town and became next-door neighbors to the amazing Dacey family. Us kids lived in the perfect Norman Rockwell dream of small-town America—a world of bare feet and banana-seat bicycles, without rules or boundaries where you could see to the horizon in every direction. Every house on the block had children our age. I think there were fifteen or sixteen of us in those days. Every summer we ran wild. We did everything together all day long every day all summer long: building forts, exploring the drainage ditch, waging wars, watching Star Trek, playing matchbox cars, playing football, kickball, freeze tag, Ghost Ghost in the Graveyard, and eventually, playing Dungeons & Dragons. In the early eighties, the Dacey brothers and I spent most of our spare time adventuring in those fantastic imaginary landscapes, rolling dice and living large through paper heroes in the never-ending war against evil orcs and goblins. Austin and I even tried to open a hobby shop in his basement, but Emmett was our only customer.
Here’s the new video for THE SWOON’s song “Ben son, ben son Beatrice,” only thirty-two years after the original recording. We recorded this song in 1988, along with four other tracks, in a studio owned by a Minneapolis band called Limited Warranty. They were a hot local pop band famous for winning Star Search in 1985. Our producer/manager, JAMES, had set up the arrangements for us. Not sure how he negotiated it. I think he had secured the studio on spec—an industry term which means “you will never make a dime.” Dale Goulett and Greg Sotebeer of Limited Warranty were in the control room with JAMES. The studio space was some sort of converted warehouse. Big and open, the way we wanted the music to sound.
At one point in the production, I was sitting in the loft-lounge above the control room and talking about Kate Bush with the guys from Limited Warranty. Dale pretended to be smoking a roach, implying that Kate Bush took her inspiration from the amount of pot she smoked. Maybe she did. Wherever she got that totally epic spooky-sounding supernatural vibe, I wanted to get some of that down on tape. That’s the type of feel we reached for with “Ben son, ben son Beatrice.”
Swooner Loyd Harp of Indie Vision Music selected our song SWEET ALLY for the “Song of the Day” (December 4, 2020) and did a write-up on the band. Well that’s a surprise! So far as we know, this is the first press THE SWOON has had since 1994 (when Stephen Knight of the arts-and-lit rag Kamikaze did a feature story titled “Whatever Happened to THE SWOON?”) Very cool. Here’s a link to the whole article. Give it a read.
Harp gives us a little back story about how he first heard the band on cassette, later got the CD, and ultimately fell in love with the music, referring to the CD as one of his desert island picks. That’s pretty high praise, so, gosh, thanks!
Harp introduces SWEET ALLY and speculates over the meaning the song:
“Sweet Ally” is a piano-led indie pop composition about falling in love with a girl who was a tightrope performer at the circus. The sentiment is either downright silly or youthfully romantic.
Harp’s right, but it’s not either/or. The sentiment is both downright silly and youthfully romantic. And it’s just one out of many similar unrequited-love songs that we wrote. But the inner meaning of the song intends to paint a metaphor about aspiring toward a spiritual vision and failing to obtain it. Isn’t that the story of every spiritual journey? It’s certainly been the story of my life. It’s like when you fall head-over-heals but later realize that “she’s out of your league.” It’s the way Salieri felt about composing music after he met Motzart in the 1984 movie Amadeus.
I was the comic, I was the clown. She was the angel, angel high above ground.
Harp says, “The piano ‘solo’ (if you can call it that) starting at the 2:00 mark slays me!” That’s Jeana Gillispie’s little diddy in the middle of the song where she makes the keys of the piano bounce like Sweet Ally’s feet balancing act on the high-wire. Good stuff.
Thanks to Indie Vision Music for helping us boost the signal on theswoon.band and for helping us build a little momentum for the re-release of the THE SWOON album and the new hoped-for new release of SPECTACULAR ILLUSIONS. Why not return the favor by going over to Indie Vision Music, checking out their work, and subscribing to their feed?
The Minneapolis City Pages referred to the band from Cottonwood as art-dorks. Not wrong. We came by our love for poetry honestly. Emmett and Austin Dacey were raised by published poets with multiple Masters in English and Literature. And I pretty much grew up in the Dacey home where I fell in love with the titles on the family’s bookshelf. But let’s not forget that some of us were cowboys too. My father considered himself to be a cowboy-preacher, and the bookshelf in my house had titles by Zane Gray. My family had horses, cowboy boots, cowboy hats, and lariats.
Chili Eating Contest
In the fall of 1989, several of the band members lived together in a single house in Minneapolis, and someone had a job at a VHS video rental store. Almost every night was movie night at THE SWOON house. Troy Baartman and I went through a significant number of Westerns, and we might have watched the 1988 Young Guns three or four times. Also a favorite was the 1970 They Call Me Trinity.
That drawing of a black-haired woman wearing a cross-necklace around her arching neck is certainly the most iconic image THE SWOON ever produced. Her pretty face graced our first EP, a collection of songs under the title Ben Son Ben Son Beatrice (later included on the album THE SWOON along with the Neverland sessions). We used the face of that young woman on the t-shirts we sold at concerts—ugly white t-shirts emblazoned with the deep thought, “Love is the saddest song ever sung” written like a caption underneath her image. We used that picture for posters, flyers, promotions, and there’s even a rare and hard-to-find chapbook of lyrics from SWOON songs with her picture on the cover. The woman’s face also featured in the video shoot for Square Dance Candlelight.
It’s a song about monogamy, getting lost in the dating game, and forgetting who’s who and who you’re supposed to be with. And there’s something in it about the slow progress of the soul learning to love. I must have been either a freshman or sophomore in college when I attended my first and only square dance. I went as square dance partner for eleven-year-old Nicole Evans, granddaughter of the head of the college art department along with her sister and step-dad. My radiant dance partner and I dutifully learned the choreography and protocols, and we followed the instructions of the caller: “Bow to the corner, bow to your partner. Two steps forward, one step back.” The switching of partners seemed an apt metaphor for the ever-revolving relationships of the dating scene. In contrast to that inconstant world, eleven-year-old Nicole beamed like a bright candle of innocence and untainted joy as she rotated through her dance partners. She got props for the inspiration in the liner notes. Shine on!
The freshly recut music video (below) features original 1988 footage Mark Derby shot in the Southwest State University AV department studio, b-roll of THE SWOON hanging around in Cottonwood that same weekend, and the square dance scene from the 1949 movie Roseana McCoy. (Watch for a photobomb from the Daceys’ sister Fay.)
I can’t find my Sky Poster of THE SWOON. Did I throw it away? I thought I kept one copy. It was a big 18 x 24 inch deal, and we must have printed about 1000 of them. We papered downtown Minneapolis and Dinkytown with those posters every time we had a show. In retrospect, it seems unlikely anyone ever attended a show on the basis of seeing that poster.
The Sky Poster was big glossy sheet of paper featuring a photo taken in the bathroom at Seventh Street Entry (First Avenue) in 1987 or 88, before sonic-bass master, Troy Baartman, joined the band. Troy was always a little sore that he wasn’t in the picture, so sometimes we’d use a sharpie to draw a stickman on the posters—standing in front of the urinal.
We were at Seventh Street Entry—it was our first time playing that club. A big deal to us. First Avenue was doing some local talent showcase series, so we drove up from Cottonwood to participate. No one in Minneapolis had ever heard of us. That was the first of several shows in that little dive.
Derb came with us for the adventure, and so did his friend Sky Alsgaard who happens to be an exceptionally talented photographer and artist. She took the photo in the bathroom. It had a gritty, naughty-boys, these-kids-aren’t-from-Cottonwood look to it, and we liked it. We put it on a poster and printed about 1000 copies without ever giving Sky any credit or compensation for the photo. Time to give credit where credit is due.
Over the years, we had a lot of different photographers try to photograph THE SWOON, some of them high-end professionals, but Sky’s photos captured the real deal in some completely unguarded moments. Watch for more of Sky’s work and her vintage photos from back in the day on theswoon.band as we start gearing up toward the 2021 re-release of the music. We should probably reprint the poster too–this time with credit to Sky.
This song just wanted to be a rock song, but it got all tangled up with angst about faith, spiritual frustration, and the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the boastful pride of life. Several versions of the song existed before the one that coalesced onto tape in the Neverland Studio sessions. This version is a live, raw performance scooped from a bootleg of a show in Winona, MN (Sep, 1989), mashed up with video footage from a show at the New Union in Minneapolis (Nov, 1989).
Since the very beginning of the band, we created a lot of print media, promotion, and vanity projects, but in the last months of the journey, we started sending out a newsletter to our mailing list under the title HYPERBOLE. It was primarily a way of letting people know when and where to catch a SWOON show.
The first issue is dated December, 1990. HYPERBOLE was just a handbill with a little bit of news, a list of shows, and occasional lyric. The idea was to hype the shows, hence the name. The newsletter had a short print run of just two issues.
In 1994, three years after THE SWOON had disbanded, I received a phone call from someone (I think it was Emmett) about a guy trying to contact me. There was a Christian music and arts mag called kamikaze that wanted to interview me about THE SWOON. They were doing a feature piece on the band under the title “What ever happened to THE SWOON?”
I declined the interview. Now I wish that I hadn’t. But at the time, I was busy with a wife, a job, two little boys, and a headfirst plunge into Jewish studies. I had no sympathy for rehashing the THE SWOON.
A few months ago the editor of kamikaze, Stephen Knight, graciously sent me a copy of the article (as did one other SWOON fan). Knight did a bang-up job of marshalling what sources he could to put a solid article together.
Unfortunately, Knight’s primary source was a mostly obsolete 1988 interview in a Christian music fanzine called Ragtime. The editor of that fanzine, a guy named Charles Clark who had tried to help us kids out back in the day, also tried to assist by filling in a few of the gaps. As a result, some of the speculation is less than accurate, but that’s the way these things go. On the whole, it’s a good article. It mentions stuff I had completely forgotten about, like the early demo tapes we recorded under the name Restricted Access and how I sold cassette copies of Spectacular Illusions, repackaged under the title Piss and Vinegar, to SWOONfans working the 1991 Minnesota Renaissance Festival. For the record, the anecdote about Charlie Peacock sleeping through the Neverland sessions is not true. We all took turns sleeping on the couch in the Neverland studios, and Peacock put in some late hours on that project. He was very much involved in the whole production, whether he cares to admit it or not, and he was good friend to the band.
At the conclusion of the article, Clark speculates, “Had they continued, it probably would have killed ’em. It’s the excesses of rock and roll.” I don’t remember anything that dramatic. But my mom must have agreed with Clark’s sentiment. While I was gigging with THE SWOON, she took out a life insurance policy out on me.