“Lines” is a song written when I lived on Ord Street in San Francisco. I had one of those homemade additions as my living quarters, about 300 square feet of space where I also had a separate room I used as my studio. The bedroom had three mattresses stacked up for luxury; a closet divided that area from another that served as my records and stereo room. I acquired a walnut table that I used as a dedicated songwriting desk.
I kept the desk clear of things. Only small pieces of paper and a pencil were allowed near it. I’d sit with a guitar and that system worked pretty well. The paper was usually expired handbills for shows, 4-up on a page, with blank space on the back. In the ‘90s in SF there were plenty to be had; I’d grab a stack at the record store. Some bands splurged for the heavier cardstock. The small pieces of paper were good for writing bits of verses, lyric ideas, and they could be moved around on the table. And being small, they didn’t “count as much” - I could set aside the weaker ideas but still write them down. Then I’d transcribe the jumbled mess to a spiral notebook.
I’d started “Lines” at the desk, and then brought my notebook to the beach one day. My friend Dale was surfing and I tagged along. He braved the waves at Kelly’s Cove, and I thought about my roommate- the keen, chatty one. He was a nice enough guy but got all jacked up on coffee then would talk your ear off and follow you if you walked away. I worked on the song for a half an hour and then Dale reappeared on the sand, which was good because he once broke his neck while surfing.
“Lines” was in the pile of tunes I had demoed and was ready for the second junket to NYC. We recorded 11 songs in five days. I thank those guys every time I get the chance- Dave Amels, Dennis Diken, Pete Straus, Joe McGinty...and Gene Holder, who recorded it and let us use his guitars. I played a ‘63 Strat for the basic tracks, and Gene then casually offered up his ‘59 Les Paul to use for the solos. The guitar played itself. It looked like Peter Green’s flametop with a not-quite-completely faded sunburst. The jack plug was being held on with some masking tape. I plugged that guitar into a tweed 3x10 Bandmaster that belonged to Richard Lloyd. It all sounded pretty good.
The solo for “Lines” was doubled with a Clavioline, a keyboard that Dave brought in. The keys are miniature, and it’s tricky to play, in that if you want vibrato, you wiggle the whole keyboard side to side as you press the keys. It has a cutting, rich, haunting sound that blended with the guitar.
I put a drum machine on the last verse, and when we went to mix the song Gene heard it and said, “Oh, don’t put a drum machine on there, that’s something Let’s Active would do.” He changed his mind and turned it up.
After the album came out, a fan wrote a long rambling letter that posed this question: “Ask any of your friends: do they have any idea of what the hell you're trying to say?” He wanted to know exactly what the songs meant, all the way back to my first album. “Enunciate,” he demanded. “Your music teases.” “Don't say “‘tween”.”
I have recently started playing this song again. The lyrics in “Lines” are probably what drove him to the brink, as they boomerang his own frustration:
Take give, learn live, both sides try to win
If you can't do without the best, suggest the worst within