Song Of The Day 7/14/2015: East River Pipe – “I Won’t Dream About the Girl”

Playing With Myself: One-Person Recordings – I came upon the work of East River Pipe within the first few months of my becoming a DJ at KAOS in Olympia. Merge Records had issued a compilation, Shining Hours In a Can, culling his earlier EP and singles released under other labels. I found it in the new release pile, played it, and realized almost immediately that as long as this guy was putting out records I was going to snap them up without much hesitation. More than 20 years later that’s still the case.

His actual name is F.M. Cornog, and the bio I have in front of me says he began making his albums in his apartment in Astoria, Queens, NY. Your cursory Google search will bring up a couple of tropes that gives him a legend that many other indie artists don’t have. I suspect he might be a little tired of these legends, but for the record they are: (1) He was homeless and broken in Hoboken, NJ, when he was discovered by his future wife, who helped bankroll and put out his early records; and (2) for the last 15 years he’s been working at a Home Depot in New Jersey, even as Merge has been putting out every album he gives them. He doesn’t play live shows.

Back in the ’90s I wrote him a fan email, which was an extremely rare thing for me to do. He wrote a very nice note back.

ERP’s music is gorgeous, maybe the most scintillating music on the Merge label. It’s also very, very dark. It might be darker to me than Fred intended. (The “F.” stands for Fred.) The songs on Shining Hours are maybe the least dark; the songs on Mel (my favorite album of his) and The Gasoline Age are pitch-black. Even the songs that are more sarcastic or caustic feel laced by some minor tragedy: “Axl or Iggy,” “Shiny, Shiny Pimpmobile,” “What Does T.S. Eliot Know About You?” But songs like “Kill the Action” and “We’re Going to Nowhere” reinforce a deeper dissatisfaction that I relate to almost too well. They reflect some internal devastation unfixable – hell, usually undetectable – by polite society, usually involving false materialism, substance abuse, amorality or life-nuking solipsism and dispassion. Have a nice day.

Seriously, though, I put on ERP’s stuff when I need… I don’t know what it is I need, but it’s usually in moments when I feel something vital has slipped away and I need some sort of play-by-play delivered to me straight. It’s almost sinister how beautiful the music is. I’m not sure if he still uses the same Tascam recorder he used in the beginning, but not being a terribly devoted gearhead, I’m not sure knowing what he uses now would be of great use to me, or to you.

Today’s song, from ERP's 2003 album Garbageheads on Endless Stun, has been going through my head for the last few weeks. Not because the bleak, jealously broken romantic situation it describes has anything to do with my current private life. But once, a while ago? Yeah, it probably did. Of course it did. And for the things in my life that aren't going so hot right now -- well, this is the saddest song I can imagine lately, so I just turn right to it. You should come over sometime. We'll play cards.

What amazes me about “I Won’t Dream About the Girl” is how completely and fully it tells its Raymond Carver story with, from what I can tell, only six different lines. And the music is devastating. It plays off this searing chord sequence that reminds me of the most torchy torch music. I’d love to hear this song done by the O’Jays, with MFSB playing the synthesizer parts on real strings. It's like a Philly International song that froze. If you know me, you know that's a compliment.

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