Our holy man's moniker mysteriously appeared preceded by weeks of failure; every damn album name I dreamed up could readily be Googled; linked to somebody else's song, album, or book.
At our mastering session, Richard Dodd demanded a title so he could format the album correctly. When I suggested “Rob Fetters” Richard offered a weary look of ennui; the guy’s worked hand in hand with a Beatle and Dylan, for Chrissake.
So, on the drive home from Nashville, I prayed for inspiration from the watcher in the skies. Next morning: Bingo! Saint Ain’t popped into my gray matter; Googled Saint Ain’t, and after scrolling 5 pages with no match decided the name fit the job perfectly.
I like imagining Heaven, where Jesus, Meher Baba, Buddha, Mark Twain, and my Mom are enjoying cocktails together and snickering, “Well, at least Problem Boy got something right….”
Childhood illness is the culprit to blame for my propensity to write optimistic songs about misery, starting way back with Fear Is Never Boring. I had severe and chronic asthma attacks when I was a kid, allergic to everything except a few select edibles. Even dairy was out, including Mom's.
I survived chronic, harrowing allergic reactions accompanied by severe asthma attacks; still remember giving up a few times and deciding I was going to die. But I learned to not freak out when I couldn’t breathe from Dr. Morton—who scarily reminded me of Raymond Burr in a courtroom. He'd meet me and my parents in his office or the emergency room when I was hustled there during an attack, roughly pick me up and with his face inches from mine and order me to calm down, breathe slowly and hold the hell still. Next: a shot of adrenaline and voila! ...all better, ready to go home.
He suggested to my terrified parents that I'd be a stronger person in the long run because of what I endured.
It may sound like happy horseshit to say this, and while I’m sorry my family had to go through the nightmare, I appreciate the adventure.
Gradually, I grew out of the allergies—except for a deathly reaction to certain nuts. Asthma attacks are very infrequent. Of course, as anyone with a pulse knows, there's no shortage of other reasons to
in life. A beautiful, wise friend once instructed me: “The Buddha said your most difficult relationship is your greatest teacher.” It turns out she was wrong, the Buddha is not credited with the quote—but—when I quizzed Zen Master Dae Gak about it a couple years ago he laughed and told me, “The Buddha should have said it.”
Tacitus has some shockingly harsh words for the early Christians in Rome but softens slightly when he describes them being torn to pieces by wild animals when they were falsely accused of trying to burn the city down. We'll never really know if
was plucking a lute or fiddling on anything while the place was in flames, but as my friend Michel de Montaigne points out, Christianity survived. 1500 years later the faithful French stopped burning witches and blaming Jews long enough to rip their neighbors limb from limb because of theological differences: Bonjour! Be my brother or I will kill you, tout suite!
They moved into their victim's homes and let the bodies rot in the streets, according to eye-witness accounts (I highly recommend Will and Ariel Durant's work to fact check).
As a student of history, mine included, I'm cautious as hell around professed religious folk, train tracks, pit vipers, peanuts and politics. Just because I attempt some sort of mental judo with the suffering thing doesn't mean I go 'round looking for the shit. That's why I didn't name Nero something like Bonehead # 43 and give proper credit to the modern marvel who inspired the lyrics. Oops, now I've done it. But truthfully: I've fiddled around when I could have put out a few fires, too.
For my 15th birthday my parents presented me with a spanking new Gibson Les Paul. It was the best birthday I ever had and can still remember the clean smell of the red plush-lined leather case and hand-polished instrument as I gingerly picked it up for the first time. It didn't leave my hands for the rest of the day; kept it beside my bed as I slept.
The next morning I woke up in bliss; gazed at the beauty—but descended into melancholy as I realized I might never be as surprised and happy as I'd been the day before. A dream had come true, the object of my desire was in my hands, but the peak experience was behind me. The cycle of gain and loss whipsaws me like everybody else; I've started paying a little attention to the Asian philosopher who begat a world religion by sorting it out. When I wrote the lyrics to
I'd just quit the security of a commercial studio composer job with a steady paycheck and had a year-long non-compete clause to fulfill before I could start my own business. An anticipated tour with The Bears was thrown under the bus and my savings were not enough to sustain my family for 5 months, let alone a year.
So, I sold non-essential musical equipment and found other bits and pieces of music work to do that wouldn't get me into hot water with my litigious ex-boss. Mrs. Fetters started working at our neighborhood hardware store. We hung on by the skin of our teeth and it became one of the best years of our lives. It also marked the blossoming of my friendship with Matt Malley (a founding member of Counting Crows and a fantastic musician). He played the killer bass in Desire (Suffer and Forever Never, too) which we celebrated by scarfing sushi in Thousand Oaks. He credits an '80s Bears show he saw in Berkeley inspiring him to become a pro musician. He told me he had never seen musicians having so much fun together.
Speaking of great pals, Cincinnati born, Walnut Hills High School / UC grad Andy Haskins moved to L.A. in the '90's to work for network TV and gave me my first break writing music for network promos 15 years ago. Since then, he left his cozy network job to make a go of it alone, succeeded, and has encouraged my independence—especially when the phone stops ringing for extended periods, an experience for all freelancers. He says I've done the same for him, but I don't remember. When his daughter, Bee, was 13, he sent me an MP3 of a "Wizard Rock" song she'd written: I became a fan. Soon after, her middle-school music teacher informed her she didn't have the vocal chops to make the school choir. Well, well, well... I just happened to have an ice-cold dish to serve that witless idiot because I had composed
Famous Last Words
—a song begging for a coolly detached female lead vocal. I thought Bee would be perfect for it. Dad recorded her in his video editing suite and she totally nailed it. 13. Years. Old. Incidentally, I think she was a ripe old 14 when she sang the bridge on Desire. F.L.W. also features my son, Noah, on drum additions to the percussion loops holding the groove down. He was 17 at the time and since then helped me with the mixes on Saint Ain't. His hearing is surpassed only by dogs and is an ass-kicker on drums.