i will not allow.

When it came to songwriting, Footstone was an unbelievable mystery to me.  They wrote these ridiculous hooks, each one better than the last.  There were elements to their music that were sort of signature elements – certain types of chords, certain types of melodies in the vocal line, and their percussive, crunchy twin guitars playing rhythmically along with the drums.

We didn’t think too much about lyrics with Footstone.  A Footstone song was a collection of hooks and grooves, and by 1996, it was a short collection of hooks and grooves that came in, knocked you on your ass, and then ran away before you knew what hit you.  By 1996, Footstone had gotten it down.  They had already written “U.S. Bebop,” probably their most aggressive song.  There were others that came later, and unfortunately the hooks and riffs in “Bebop” eventually got torn down and incorporated into other songs.

But in the winter of 1996 Ralphie gave me a tape of a Footstone rehearsal.  Like most rehearsal tapes, I couldn’t really listen – the hiss gave me a headache.  But I also had a long commute to the new job (two hours most mornings, over the Tappan Zee Bridge into Westchester County), and was in a musical rut.

So I grabbed the Footstone tape one morning and popped it into the car’s tape deck.

Meh, I thought.  Typical Footstone rehearsal – goofiness, Superworld, goofiness, Watermelon, goofiness, cover song. I was half-listening while my mind raced about all the stuff I had to do at work – there was a young woman who worked in the engineering department who had confided in me that she was going to quit because she could no longer stand Fred, the owner.  She said he was abusive to her.  I had never witnessed it, but the young woman was a quality employee who cared about her job, and I had been looking for an assistant.  I was trying to think of the best way to rescue her from the engineering department and pull her into marketing before she got completely fed up and walked out.

I had heard several people make claims of abuse by the owner at that point, but had still not witnessed it myself.  Sure, there was the time he grabbed my balls, and I caught him drunk at work a few times, but I’d never witnessed anything that I would characterize as abusive.  I had written the ball-grabbing off at a really, really bad, frat boy attempt at establishing some sort of weird brotherhood with me, and the drunkenness I just attributed to his being an older man who enjoyed his vodka.

At the same time, I got the feeling there was actually something to the young woman’s claims.  Fred, on several occasions, went out of his way to disparage her privately to me, obviously trying to change my opinion about her.  His comments didn’t refer to her work performance, they referred to her personality. “That one is bad news,” he’d say.  “The sooner I can get her the fuck out of here, the better.”

I wondered why, if she was such bad news, he didn’t simply fire her.  He was the owner of the company.

The whole thing was just odd.

Anyway, all this was going through my head, when it suddenly registered with me that I was listening to Eric Greenberg play something that remotely resembled a guitar solo.

A guitar solo.

Eric was (and still is) an outstanding guitarist.  Eric did not (and still doesn’t) play guitar solos.

I have no idea why.  Footstone’s original lead guitar player, Guy, played guitar solos in every song.  Usually more than once.  Often underneath the entire song, from start to finish.  Guy would just noodle on the guitar, in conjunction with the wah-wah pedal, which he abused.  Every song was like that.

During those songs, Eric held everything together as an excellent rhythm guitarist, serving as an outstanding anchor between Guy’s overblown solos and Bishop’s walking bass (Mark rarely stayed at the root chord of the song, he usually wrote an actual melody, or at least augmented the root with some additional notes).

Once Guy left the band, though, Eric became the main guitarist.  I hesitate to say lead guitarist, because the word “lead” implies “solo.”  Footstone had no guitar solos.  Occasionally, Eric would play different notes than the root chord – even single notes – but none classified as a solo.  Not even a melody.

Ralph called Eric the “lead guitar” player in Footstone, probably because Ralph likes to deflect his role and downplay what he does.  Eric was the lead guitar player, Ralph played guitar poorly and only sang because nobody else could.  At least that’s what Ralph would tell you.  The reality was that Ralph’s voice was the best in indie rock, his guitar playing was perfectly passable, and he and Eric were more along the lines of twin guitarists.

And here’s Eric, playing a solo.

It wasn’t Eddie Van Halen, it wasn’t that kind of solo.  It was very simple, very understated, very melodic.  Some people wouldn’t even call it a solo. But it was tasteful and it was well-written, and it was performed with emotion and it worked perfectly in the song.

It snapped me right out of my work-induced trance and made me hit the “rewind” button.  And I listened again.

What I heard was a pop song.

Not a Footstone pop song, a real, live, power pop song, like something Paul Westerberg would have written in 1985.

Okay, okay, you’re right.  I’m going a little heavy on the hyperbole there.  But it was a really good song, even if it wasn’t The Replacements.  It started off with a much more melodic intro than I was used to with Footstone, and the rhythm doubled back over on itself during the verse.  The effect was that the rhythm drove the song forward during the chorus but the verses were much less propulsive than a typical Footstone song – like a more conventional indie pop song, it depended more on melody to inspire you, whereas something like “U.S. Bebop” would bludgeon you with riffs and hooks.

Footstone had, in my opinion, reached a new peak with this song, which I later learned was called “I Will Not Allow.” It was just a great, great indie rock song – nothing like anything they’d ever done before, and to me, utterly fantastic.

Here’s the recording I heard in the car that day.

To fast forward a bit, sadly, this song was never recorded in a proper studio.  We don’t even get the Guided By Voices 4-track version.  To my knowledge, this is the only recording that exists of this song – done by a boom box in their rehearsal space.  It would be GREAT to hear a well-recorded version of this song.

~ by Al on October 20, 2009.

2 Responses to “i will not allow.”

  1. Wow! I remember that song differently. Thanks for posting that. I like when the bridge ends songs.

  2. SUCH a great song, Ralph. I think only a couple in your career have been better – all later than this one.

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