as pleasures pale
The Pleasures Pale sprouted in late 1985 with a series of songwriting sessions and loose band rehearsals. These initial assemblies transpired as they often do for young, developing bands: The prospective players meet and improvise; each brings their own musical influences and tastes, their own experience and perspective. Someone throws out a riff — a guitar or bass figure, a beat or melody fragment. A groove takes shape. A second movement releases and resets the groove. The singer rifles through a notebook of scribbled lyrics, searching for a phrase or line to fit the spirit and a cadence to ride the rhythm. A melody winds its way into the phrasing. Play it again. Play it again. Play it again.
How about an intro? Does it need a bridge? How do we end it?
The best democratic efforts yield a frothy stew, an expression of disparate, distinct spices, a sensation familiar but exotic. The exercise is seductive, intoxicating. You want to stay in the high as long as you can. Play it one more time so you don't forget. And once more to bottle the magic.
Once the composition is repeatable, you have a song. Once you have a few songs in the bag, you have the seeds of identity. You sense the possibilities. You're armed with an engine spitting fire and you're ready to take on the world.
But to be a band, you need a name...
In these early gatherings with Luis Lerma, Mitchell Swann, Payton Earick and myself, one of the first ideas to take root came in the form of a grinding, locomotive composition with a pointed lyric. Initially titled "As Pleasures Pale,” the demo version features bassist Lerma and drummer Earick locked in and driving hard, all growling menace and ringing cymbals. Their performance is massive and, to recognize the testosterone therein, kicks some serious ass. For sure, the chorus rocks like hammering nails, and the fourth verse guitar lead is a no-nonsense assault. But, arguably, what sets the song and the recording apart from the vast universe of rock statements is guitarist Swann's deft touch of burning, churning Dayton funk in the verses.
Lyrically, "As Pleasures Pale" is as much a young writer and artist's protest against the shovels full of fear-mongering and conformity-baiting being served up daily in early 80's American mass media as it is a coming-of-age manifesto to stare down a steamrolling world where dread seemed to grow as if by photosynthesis — a world where nuclear apocalypse was not merely a vague threat. (I have to ask: Has anything changed?)
Of course, fans of the band will recognize the song as "Be" from The Pleasures Pale! LP, where it was rendered with a significantly quicker tempo and sharper feel, the two distinct interpretations due in large part to stylistic differences between Earick's drumming and Jeff Keating's, who took over in early 1986. Both versions deliver the message, but this earlier, mid-tempo incarnation gives the players a chance to lay a deeper foundation.
Though few other songs in our repertoire resembled "As Pleasures Pale / Be," it was a defining set piece. Aside from delivering edgy, solid rock energy and a bit of macho street "cred" to live shows — and serving as counterpoint to a preponderance of sensitive-side-of-the-boy lyrics in other songs — the song also spawned a name. From the lyric, "Be what you are, you live today / Be what you will as pleasures pale," came The Pleasures Pale. As a band handle, it was an odd but fitting alliteration that implied an attraction to certain (mis)adventures after dark, as well as a hint of romanticism amid a crumbling, end-of-industry rustbelt bleakness. It spoke of solace in the wasteland, and stolen joy in the bitterness of decline. In other words, if you're going through hell, baby, paste on a wry smile and keep going.
If that's too deep for rock and roll, on another level, the name had just enough 1960's "the" band appeal to feel garage-y, and enough 1980's post punk angst-y nuance to feel apropos for the times.
"Be What You Are," formerly "Be," formerly "As Pleasures Pale," was essentially a theme song and launching point. What it was NOT was a model for songs to come. Instead, it was a touchstone of difference and defiance. It stood alone as a misfit ruffian, a big-brother-protector and compatriot to the band's other, less armored songs. BWYA was always there when The Pleasures Pale needed a cup of courage or a shot of swagger.
You know, then as now, daily living is a Herculean art...