Of Scratches and Needles
May 1, 2009
What do ya do when Mark Stern calls up and asks for a new track for the upcoming BYO anniversary compilation album? Well, when yer dealing with an organization that has as much embarassing dirt on us as the brothers Stern (*cough* Sacramento 1983 *cough*), you damn well get to the studio!
Seems as though for this project they are asking bands to cover a track from one of their previous landmark collections. Pretty cool idea–We had a track appear on the compilation Something to Believe In way back in 1952. We had the song Indian Summer on that crazy disc, and the thought of covering another track from that record sounded like a fun project. And of course, we’re lazy, so the thought of not actually having to write a new song was Mr. Bonus!
Well, after confirming that someone already took the Jonses’ Pillbox, we of course had to have a go at the Nils’ Scratches and Needles! We’ve always loved this song, but I never quite knew all the lyrics. The Nils were a Montreal band, really more of a contemporary of the Replacements and Husker Du than to us punk knuckleheads. Besides sharing residence on that one compilation, really knew nothing else of the band.
A quick web search only coughed up a few bios, and then I came across an obituary by our old pal Jack Rabid…Seems Alex Soria, the songwriter/singer died of a violent train track suicide, apparently strung out and desolate. When you look on the lyrics of the song, which deal with addiction and the hypocrisy of the heroin chic culture, the story of Alex and the Nils takes on a darkly ironic twist. Reports on Alex’ last moments on Earth have him standing on the tracks, holding up a hand to the oncoming metal. As a desperate gesture of halt or an apologetic wave goodbye, no one will ever know. He left behind his brother Carlos, who always stood by him in bands, bass in hand.
A quick email to Jack got me in contact with Woody at Toroto based Mag Wheel Records and I was quickly caught up on all things Nils! Woody graciously sent us lyrics and a grip of cds, including other Nils tributes and tracks from other Soria projects. I sent Woody back a few things, and we began one of those friendly, faceless long distance relationships unique to the Web. At the end of one of Woody’s emails, he mentioned that Carlos heard we were doing this project and seemed excited. There was a phone number, he said Carlos wasn’t much for emails…
I called Carlos a few days later, and he was happy that we were doing the track. They always thought Needles and Indian Summer were the 2 best tracks on the record, and yeah-funny how they are pretty much made up of the same damn chords! He filled me in on his career, how he was actually out here for a bit playing with Mike Conley from MIA, who tragically also suffered an early death. He mentioned how he might try to get the Nils back together, this and that. As we were ending the call, he wondered if BYO might be interested in his new band covering Indian Summer for the comp.
I said I didn’t know…