I don’t remember exactly what he did or what he said, but whatever it was, it irritated Jeana, our keyboard player, and she let him know about it. We had enlisted my college roommate Mark Derby (The Derb) to manage bookings for THE SWOON. His efforts met with varying degrees of success, landing lucrative college shows and terrible little American Legion Halls in small-town Minnesota. He brought to the mix a tactless forthrightness which sometimes transgressed the boundaries of our keyboardists’ sense of dignity. It happened once again during a SWOON rehearsal while we were still putting together a new song to be titled “Sister Mary Francis.” Picture the scene in the unheated, unfinished second-story addition to the Gillispie family home in Cottonwood. In the winter, it was so cold up there that we had to light up a kerosene heater at least an hour before rehearsal just to thaw our instruments out. Perhaps while waiting for the room to warm up, Mark made some seemingly innocuous comment which was probably not innocuous at all, thus inciting Jeana’s retort and inspiring his protest of innocence, “What’d I do to you?”
There was something a rhythm to the way he said it that made us laugh. To his amusement, Austin and I dropped the outburst into the new song we were writing on the spot.
Here’s an old song from THE SWOON you might not have heard before. “Medicine” was in the set list for a long time, and it was one of the songs that we submitted for inclusion in the Neverland project, but it didn’t make the selection for the studio work. This version, recorded during a live rehearsal in January of 1989, in preparation for the Neverland recordings, captures the song’s energy and REM-inspired guitar riffs. Thirty-two years later, the message of the song seems no-less pertinent, nor the petition less urgent.
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.
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.
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).
Whose Hands are These? puzzles over the contradiction between substance and spirit, between a materialist reductionist worldview and the ineffable, transcendent spirituality leaking through consciousness and self-awareness … you know, the type of stuff kids are always crooning about. The audio of this live version, scooped from a 1989 bootleg recorded in Winona, MN, preserves the full-length song–unlike the truncated version that went down onto the Neverland recordings.
It’s a war song. Sort of. Tim O’Brien’s book Going After Cacciato, the story of a soldier who walks away from the Vietnam war, inspired the vibe. Florence Dacey, the mother of the Dacey brothers and adopted mom of the band, campaigned tirelessly as an activist against the Cold War Era war machine and nuclear proliferation. Thompson’s Confusion vectors on the mystical unity of every human being. There are no strangers. This song never made it to the studio, but a cassette bootleg from a 1989 live show preserves its memory.
We recorded Let’s Talk About Love in 1988 for the ben son ben son Beatrice demo, but this version of the song is scooped from a bootleg cassette recorded at a live show in 1989. The song itself, while pretending to bounce along as just another silly love song, contrasts pop culture’s infatuations with the the expensive price of perseverance in a relationship gone wrong. Video clips from a 1948 version of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina tells it like it is.