The Organ-Grinder

I really do crack myself up sometimes. I go and start this blog, announcing to all comers that I plan to post a new song every week, while I conveniently forget that, for weeks at a time, I avoid home-recording like the plague, considering it the last way I’d choose to spend my free time. Ah well, fortunately for weeks like this one (and last week… and two weeks before that…), there’s The Vault, from which we draw this week’s selection, “The Organ-Grinder“.

This song is one of the few I’ve written that I’d genuinely consider driven by lyrics. Appropriately enough for a week of creative rut, its first two lines paint a gloomy portrait of self-loathing: “I got an organ that don’t work / A Plain Dealer in my hand.” Take it for what you will, friends…. I was just trying to write about an organist who lives in Cleveland!   Even though, as most of you know, I can never resist the chance for a Borscht Belt one-liner, this song was initially inspired by the tale of Harvey Pekar, as told in the great film American Splendor. Harvey spends his entire life cocooned by the notion that he’s an unappreciated genius, only to find that his discomfort intensifies once the wider world recognizes his talents. He was more content before he’d achieved success. A classic tale of life in the entertainment industry… and one in which I should take heart!

Sonically, I turned to my old pal the Roland JX-8P, a keyboard of 80s vintage that I bought the week that I moved to Chicago in October 2000, and which served me faithfully for three years in Pearly Sweets and the Platonics. It is getting somewhat senile, which makes it only more likely to churn out some genuinely weird and delightful sounds.

Finally, the particularly shrewd among you might recognize the recurrence of my obsession with clowns, also evident in “All That I Can Do”.

8 Responses to “The Organ-Grinder”
  1. Wow. This one is a stunner. I love the contrast between the cleanliness of rhodes/piano and the grind of the JX-8P. The juxtaposition of that contrast of timbres with the leisurely pace. It sounds as though the tempo is oppressing you, paralleling the economic and social oppression of your character.

    Then that distort-o drum beat….. oh yeah, that slays me. Maybe the shaker could be augmented with the sound of coins in a soup can, clattering at passersby. No, no, that’s too much… just some of the imagery this tune conjures in my head. When the JX-8P drones for a measure, I almost expected a hiphop beat to drop and turn it into a block party.

    The production is very clean, especially the vocal. Care to divulge where these tracks were laid?

    What more is there to say? Great work!

  2. ham,

    this is outstanding. all around.

    really engaging tune.

    each section seems to introduce a new spin on the ideas, which are already strong. i love the eighth note walky line in the B section (B section?) and the movement of the tune in general, melodically and harmonically, but then you bring out some really great arrangement and sound choices throughout the piece. really fun to hear.

    also, i love me some Harvey Pekar! what a character. a sad one, seemingly by choice in some sense. such a human.

    well done man.

  3. Judah says:


  4. Abraham says:

    wow…. thanks all!!! I did not expect this song to be a hit, what with its laggardly pacing and lack of theatrics. goes to show what a sophisticated crowd we have around here.

    brian: thanks for the props on the tempo. having not listened to this one for a few months, I cued it up and immediately thought, “what have I done? this is WAY too slow.” but I think you’re right… in a sense this is the proper tempo for the tune. glad you liked the distort-o beat too. and yeah, this is a straight-up home recording, no tricks. so I’m psyched that you even suggested that it might have been made somewhere else! while my comrade peter andreadis can really pull that feat off on a regular basis, it’s rare for me.

    jonny: thanks my man. the B section is by far my favorite part of the song. the few people I’ve played it for, I was watching their faces like, “don’t give up yet…. I know you’re really bored, but, the B section’s cool, I promise.” glad you are a harvey fan.

    judah: well, it is a tune that deals heavily with my beloved midwest. in dylan’s own words, “the land that I come from / is called the midwest.” seriously though, thank you for the compliment.

  5. Judah says:

    I segued it into Dylan’s “Ain’t Talkin,” with good results. The piano riff is making me think of Aerosmith’s “Dream On.”

  6. Abraham says:

    I don’t know “ain’t talkin”…. but I’ll take a “dream on” reference any day. especially if it’s a reference to the woeful 90s HBO “comedy”….

  7. Dream On the tv series came up just recently, specifically that it could be counted on for boobs in every episode. I wonder if after awhile the creators felt oppressed by that unarticulated contract with their audience to deliver bare breasts every week. At the writers meeting someone groans and asks, “Alright, how do we shoehorn the gratuitous boob shot into this episode?”

    Not to worry, your song plays in a separate universe from nudity-gimmick television series. Although, I think the new show “Californication” is promising, in spite of its regrettable title.

  8. Abraham says:

    this is the first I’ve heard about “californication”…. keep me posted! I agree with you about dream on…. definitely seems like it would’ve hamstrung many a good writer, this boobly obligation….

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