From the recording Only Kids
Only Kids – I was 16 years old when I wrote this song. I was staying with my father in Stamford, Connecticut and working for a defense contractor that, among other terrifying tools of war, made the peacekeeper nuclear missile. I had been lured to Connecticut by my father’s promises of impossible riches. At a time when minimum wage was $3.35 my father spoke of jobs being given away like candy that paid between $16 and $20 an hour.
Not uncharacteristically, it turned out my father was exaggerating a tad. After a week of picking up trash after carnivals, and a few other demeaning jobs, I landed at Norden. Being an idealistic kid, I was fairly conflicted about working for a defense contractor. But the pay was about double what I made flipping burgers in San Diego. So I quickly became a 16 year old sell out.
But I liked my co-workers, and the job had a few perks. For one, even as a lowly minion, I had access to some surprisingly top-secret, classified projects. It’s hard not to get caught up in the lure of that hush-hush double-secret spy world. When I was hired, I’d had to endure a pretty thorough FBI vetting, including an interview that was more than a little intimidating. I was issued a picture ID, and had to go through security every day when walking into the building. My immediate boss, Charlie, had been there forever and he was able to go places in the plant that even some of the highest security clearance personnel couldn’t go. We delivered tools to various departments so they could mock-up designs for cutting edge technology I had never dreamed of. Alone, I could go nowhere. Next to Charlie, nobody questioned us as we walked into rooms filled with barometric pressure chambers and strange testing pods. Lord know what I was staring at half the time, but I quickly learned that the less I asked, the more I’d be told. Some of the coolest things I saw were wireless communications that seem commonplace now but astounded me as a wide-eyed kid. It was hard to fathom the amount of ingenuity that went into these creations .
But my favorite part of the job had little to do with the company, and everything to do with the plant’s shit-hole industrial location in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Connecticut is largely a pretty wealthy state. Most of where I spent my time was a good deal more hoity-toity than the world I grew up in. I felt out of place and uncomfortable. Bridgeport was far more familiar.
But it wasn’t the lower-middle, working class surroundings that attracted me most. It was two other things. I discovered a fantastic blues station that I would tune into at lunch time. So I found a music store and bought a harmonica. Right next to the music store, there was an amazing deli that served the best damn sandwich I’ve ever had in my life. Served on a hard-roll, piled high with turkey, and the largest, most succulent tomatoes I’ve ever seen, this sandwich was about half the diameter of my head. It took an entire quart of milk to wash it down. So I’d sit in my truck every day at lunch, enjoying this incredible sandwich while listening to the blues, with my harmonica next to me. As soon as a song came on in the key of my harmonica, I would put down my sandwich and play. If BB King came on and sang The Thrill is Gone, that would make my entire day, as I traded licks with the master. So it was that I taught myself to play harmonica that summer. And developed the foundation of my love for the blues.
Rick Ostop wrote a stellar review of my record. You can find it here: http://sdrocknroll.com/?p=3734. In it, he accurately criticized the lyrics of Only Kids as a bit generic. I don’t disagree. But I was 16. I was working in a factory in Bridgeport, helping engineers mock up the designs of future warfare, while learning the blues. This simple punk-rock song was the best I had. And as simple as it is, it must have resonated, because all these years later, I can’t get away from it. Every time I play it, I get a great response. And when I don’t, I am asked why I didn’t play it.
Christopher had the idea of recording this as if it were done in the 80s, when it was written. We used vintage instrumentation and effects to capture an old school feel, and I think we made a pretty decent homage to my 16 year old self. This album is not a concept album, but there are a few themes that run through it, and I arranged the record to explore them in a fairly linear way. One of the major themes is finding your own voice through exploring family, friendship, love, politics and music. This was one of my first attempts at finding that voice. When it was written, our nation had never known war in my lifetime. Working at a defense plant was as close as I got, at a time when we were piling up our national debt to race the Russians in a technological cold war. But I saw images of other nations, of children holding guns as tall as they were, and this felt inherently wrong. This was my response. So here it is, pretty much the way I wrote it at 16, with a one-line lyrical update. Enjoy.