Human beings sex each other. Our brains do it automatically, as do the brains of all animals that reproduce sexually. If potential motile gamete** producers (MGPs, a.k.a. males) and potential non-motile gamete producers (NGPs, a.k.a. females) don't identify each other, a species will not continue.

This is why the "It's Pat!" sketches that Julia Sweeney* did on Saturday Night Live were funny, at least at the time. It wasn't so much Pat's gender ambiguity that was funny (going for cheap laughs sucks). It was the lengths to which the others would go to try to ascertain whether Pat was an NGP or an MGP. Their brains would explode from not being able to tell, and viewers would laugh at their frustration and love it when every attempt would fail.

English and many other languages reflect this sexual binary and the innate desire to know who is which. The word "gender," whatever else it means, still has a grammatical sense. Most personal pronouns, for which the antecedent is a named person, have no gender. But third-person singular personal pronouns do. English and most other languages force you to declare your knowledge or assumption as to whether the person referred to is a MGP or a NGP.

There are other languages, however, that use gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronouns. Swedish has joined them. English should too. Why do we need to identify the sex of the antecedent? We don't do it for plurals. We should not have to say "the previously mentioned female person" or "the previously mentioned male person." We should be able to say "the previously mentioned person."

I understand that gendered third-person singular personal pronouns are ingrained in English, and I don't expect people's brains to stop trying to sex each other. But I would like not to have that embedded in our everyday speech.

I realize as well that people use the term "gender" in ways other than the grammatical sense, and they consider pronouns to be a reflection of gender. Some want third-person personal pronouns to be something they choose for themselves and for others to use to refer to them so they will not be misgendered.

If gender is important to a person, then it is. If someone says "these are my pronouns," I always do my best to comply. But I would so much rather use a personal pronoun that doesn't go into intimate details. I would like to be able to refer to a person as a person the way I can refer to people as people.

Ey, em, eir, eirs, and eirself have advantages. They match the form of the corresponding third-person plural personal pronouns and thus are easy to remember. They do not evoke either of the existing gendered third-person personal pronouns. They are unambiguously singular. And they don't say anything about the antecedent's sex or gender. Tell me why that isn't better.

*I had written Mary Gross. Thanks to the reader who corrected me.
**My sweetie, who is smarter than I am and more sciency (she has actual degrees), pointed out that every time I used the word "zygote," it should have been "gamete." What a maroon! I even had to change the title.



It wasn't long after Underfoot came out that I knew I should have done a better job producing. The record wasn't bad. It was just timid and safe. It didn't pop. And it didn't grab very many people.

I knew we weren't the best musicians around. We played as well as we could in the studio. I had thought part of the reason the record wasn't great was that we hadn't played well enough. That was wrong. Both playing and singing were way stronger than I had thought. Given a better mix, that became delightfully obvious to me. I heard how the drums and bass locked, and how the guitars worked in support. Mostly I heard some great vocal performances, especially by Cilla. I love the range of expression in her singing.

I really had no idea a remix could make this much difference. And this is with the engineer and me being mindful of not fixing too much. You can hear the misses because we left them there. This is the real thing, all recorded back in 1985. But you can also hear how little would "need" fixing even if we were going for perfect the way many do now. Tempos slide a bit. We did not play with a click track. I don't think we could have at that speed, and I don't think we would have wanted to. But for the most part the rhythm is solid. You can dance to it.

Only one "wish I had caught that" so far. I'm sorry the cowbell isn't a bit higher in the break in "Short Wave." It's the Morse code sound, and that's the one place where it should come up. I imagine I will hear more regrets, but I not going to sweat any of it.

Mostly Still Underfoot is only eight songs, a small slice of a particular Underachievers period. The band recorded one other time at Euphoria (the first "Friend o' Mine" and a cover of "Boys") and several times at an eight-track studio called Radiobeat (the earliest tracks were with a different drummer). I would love to put together a Radiobeat Sessions collection with "I'll Be There for You," "Wasted Youth," early tape-only songs like "Get Out," and maybe even "Crosswalk," never released in any form. I might also put some more marginally recorded stuff on SoundCloud.

On Bandcamp, the album has some pretty standard pricing. I did that because music and art are worth something, and none of it happens for free. But I don't want friends or even acquaintances to pay unless they want to. If you know me, hit me up. I have more download codes than I will ever use—unless the record explodes. Think that's likely?


Let's dance/not dance

I had always wanted to end the record (the EP at least) with "Let's Not Dance." It just always feels like the way I want to end. But there was label insistence, as I recall, and the sequencing on Underfoot is only partly mine.

We had recorded "Let's Not Dance" at Radiobeat (eight-track studio), but I don't know if we ever sent the tape to radio stations. I haven't listened to that version in a long time, but I'm pretty sure it was similar. I even used Mackie's Silvertone guitar amp in both versions.

I have no idea how I came up with this song. It's not like the others. It's the closest thing to a groove that the Underachievers ever did. I think the drums and bass on this are brilliant, and I'm pretty happy with the guitar layering. Overall, the remix is pretty close to the original, just brighter and shinier.

The genesis of the song is the "see the poor girl starting to cry" part. It happened to Sweetie pretty much that way—flying elbow, lost contact lens, no more fun. It's funny, Cilla and I never did any real co-songwriting, as in sitting down and working stuff out. We weren't that disciplined. But I know that she wrote about half the lyrics to this song: the "smell like salami" verse, the "guy with lead in his toes" part, and the closing verse. And credit for the music goes to everyone.

If you write a song about annoying stuff that happened at a dance club, you should make it danceable, right?


Tall, thin, cool, weird

Underachievers' drummer Bob (Mackie) MacKenzie also wrote songs. Indeed, he wrote one that's better known than any of mine—"Don't Talk to Me," which people think G.G. Allin wrote (Mackie was with his band at the time) and which has been covered by many artists, probably with no compensation to the writer.

The Underachievers played "Don't Talk to Me" live, and we recorded it on the pre-production demo. I'm not sure if Mackie ever intended that we record yet another version for the record. At any rate, by the time we did the Underfoot sessions, we were playing "I'm So Tall" in our set.

You'd have to ask Mackie how he intended this song. He is tall. Cilla was (and probably still is) smaller than size 8. Mackie was too cool to be hanging around with our somewhat uncool band. And even though none of us shampooed with Kwell, I think most of us qualified as weird. Beyond the literal, I don't have a clue.

Played live by a three-piece band, the song was pretty basic, so like most of the songs, we wanted to embellish it a bit. Mackie's Vox organ made another appearance. I can't remember what I was playing on stage, but I made up that guitar solo in the studio (you can probably tell). Marc the engineer suggested those big guitar chords that start in the third verse. I can't imagine not having them now, but Mackie took a lot of convincing.

Tom the remix engineer loved this song, especially the lyrics. And of all the remixes, I think this one surprised and delighted me the most. Mackie and Cilla did a great job on the vocals, which are much crisper and clearer than in the original mix. I love their voices together. The remix makes the song come across much more powerfully. The song used to close side 1. Now it sits as a big climax before a change of tone to finish the album.


I'm going under

Before Ronald Reagan was re-elected as President of the United States in 1984, we were playing a song called "High Noon," a distinctly anti-Reagan diatribe with the refrain "Oh, wanna watch you go!" But by the time we started recording for Underfoot, his second term was well underway. At some point during that span, I wrote "Underground Again."

The title was inspired by the Jam's "Going Underground." I had already been through the Nixon and Ford years, and now things looked worse, so time to go underground again. As usual, the politics are half baked and were more about getting in the faces of regressives than about singing a protest song.

The guitars are an expansion of what I played live. I don't know why that long intro is there, but I intended it that way from the start.* The descending riff shows up again, both in the organ and at the end of the snaky guitar solo (I got a Robbie Krieger comparison in one review). On stage, for the last chorus where the guitars and bass drop out, Mackie played the fills on his kit. In the studio, he played his Rototoms. I have always loved those three lines followed by that powerful snare roll that kicks the song into the final refrain.

Nothing fancy about this song. Pretty straight-ahead rocker. Its melodic descendant is the Lisa's Hotcakes song "Je te vois partout."

*I might have written "Underground Again" as a set-opener. Starting with a long intro lets you get settled in. We had once had an instrumental called "Surf 'n' Turf" that we used as a lead-off.


Gag yourself on a red Life Saver

"You're Not for Me" is a bit of nastiness. I was meaner in those days. I'm pretty sure that Cilla contributed the line I used as the title of this blog post, and she threw in "Sucker," so I can share the blame. Plus the person on whom the song was very loosely base deserved it a little.

When I don't mess up a guitar solo, that means I planned it ahead of time and didn't just make it up in the studio. Everything about this song is deliberate. On Underfoot it led off side 2. I think I had some idea that it might be our hit single, except I didn't write a catchy melody.

I heard it all in my head: the feel of the guitars in the first two verses and then the change in the third verse, the lock with the drums and bass, the hand-claps, the Lennon-esque harmonica and that descending tune that shows up in other songs, and of course the guitar solo, of which I have always been proud. With this remix, the song finally has the feel I wish I could have got the first time.


Go down fighting

"Alamo" is a bit of a sport in the context of the album and in the context of our set at the time. I went somewhat cow-punk on "Underfoot," but the last lick in the guitar solo was intended to make fun of that. "Alamo," however, is full-on country shuffle, and I'm not sure how I came up with that. The battle story was inspired by Neil Young's "Powderfinger," and the Alamo has long been a symbol of hopeless resistance. But once again it all went metaphorical in some vaguely political way. Since I can't remember what this song was really about, perhaps it wasn't really about anything. Sometimes you just like how words and music go together.

Cilla added her own lyrical touches: the bit she sings at the end and the "Go down fighting!" before the guitar solo. The drums and bass really locked on this one, and now the guitars mesh with the rhythm section as they should. The guitar solo is flawed, but at this distance I can claim those squeezed notes were intentional.

For most of the songs in these sessions, we took advantage of having 16 tracks, dropping maybe only a scratch guitar/vocal. The remix of "Alamo" comes from 12 tracks. No tom hits. No keyboards or percussion. One scratch guitar and one annoying guitar not used. This is what's left.


Tuned in on a short wave

"Short Wave" comes from childhood. My mémère gave me her old Crosley radio, which had an AM band and one shortwave band, with a frequency range I can no longer remember.

On AM I listened to WBZ, a Boston station that played hits in the daytime and got adventurous on their clear channel at night.* Back then, even the hits were cool songs like "Lonely Too Long" by the Rascals or "Satisfaction" by the Rolling Stones or anything by the Supremes.

Listening to shortwave was more adventurous. Sometimes I could get a good signal, often not. Lots of noise, some Morse code, and occasionally an actual broadcast. Some broadcasts were in Spanish, and I understood nothing, but I fantasized that they were speeches by Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who was a bogie man when we were growing up (along with Nikita Khrushchev).

That was the basis for the song, and then it turned into a vague commentary on freedom of information and hearing alternate points of view. Most of my political stuff was pretty punk, i.e., not always well thought out and done more for effect. I don't know why I spelled the title as two words.

As you might be able to tell, I had specific production ideas for these songs. For "Short Wave" I heard a piano in my head. I banged out the chords, and it came out just how I wanted it. It was Mackie's idea to use the cowbell to imitate the sound of Morse code. I'm afraid the remix has less cowbell rather than more, or perhaps just more of everything else.

*As you may know, at night AM waves can bounce off the ionosphere if conditions are right, so listeners can tune in from quite far away. Sweetie also listened to WBZ at night. We might have been listening at the same time.


Thought you were a friend o' mine

On Underfoot, "Friend o' Mine" was not the second song. It was the last track on side two. Spindle holes are not always punched exactly on centre, and there was often some warp as well. The song generally came with a bit of wow, sonically speaking. Now it has a better kind of wow, I hope.

I wrote in the last post that "Underfoot" was not among the songs we had recorded as pre-production. Looking through my stuff, I realized that all of the songs we recorded for the EP were newer than the ones we had thought we were going to record. And the newer songs were better.

This was not, however, the first version of "Friend o' Mine" that we released. We had recorded it earlier at the same studio for the third Throbbing Lobster compilation, Claws!!! (I think that's all the exclamation points). I'm not sure why we recorded it again. I think it was because the way we did it the first time was okay, but a bit thin, the weakest of our three compilation songs, at least production-wise. But I liked the song and thought it deserved better.

It was a bit of a roman à clef, dramatized, as songs often are, about a very close friendship that went very bad (but then good again). In typical stripped-down fashion, it has no chorus, only a refrain at the end of each verse, a B part that happens twice, and then the refrain repeated at the end. Is that B part a bridge? Can a middle eight happen twice? The organ was a Vox Continental, on which the "white" keys were black and the "black" keys were white. People usually thought it was a Farfisa, which had a similar but not identical reedy sound.

The o-apostrophe in the title was a dumb inside joke. The original title was "Friend o' Mine (Plate o' Shrimp)," the "Plate o' Shrimp" being a reference to the movie Repo Man, which to this day is still one of our favourites to rewatch.


If you can't help out, then don't get underfoot

"Underfoot" was the lead song on the album, same as on this EP. It was not on the pre-production tape from the previous November, so it was likely newer.

It's vaguely political, like many Underachievers songs, railing against boring, stuck people who are cogs in the system. The chorus lyrics are a bit messed up, and it took me only 35 years to realize that. They should be "You want to stand still / You want to stay put / If you can't help out / Then don't get underfoot." But we sang "don't want to stand still," which I think we always did, and which makes no sense. My bad.

As well, the words tumble out so fast that there was an actual mistake that did not reveal itself in the original mix (really don't know how) but which was now too clear not to fix. That fix is the only actual repair we did on these songs.

One naughty phrase is not a mistake and was not fixed and and so earns the song this label, which didn't exist at the time. We wear it proudly!


Mostly Still Underfoot

In 1985, there was a Boston band called The Underachievers. We recorded and mixed eight songs at a 16-track studio in Revere, Massachusetts, intending to deliver an EP-length product to Throbbing Lobster, the record label. The label wanted a longer record, but we had no more money for more recording. We pulled two songs from a pre-production live two-track demo that we had recorded and created Underfoot, ostensibly an LP, but which clocked in at just over 27 minutes over both sides.

The tape with the stereo mix that was used to create the vinyl record master stayed with the label. At least I never saw it again. I took responsibility for storing the master tapes, but clearly not as much responsibility as I should have. People talk about releasing tracks from "the vault." Maybe real and/or well-off musicians have an actual vault for tapes, or at least a room with temperature and humidity control. The Underfoot tapes sat in apartment closets, were moved in a truck across the continent, and finally ended up in my basement.

I should not have neglected those tapes, but I figured I would never need them again. They were mementos. Then along came digital and streaming, and along came me getting older and thinking about legacies and stuff, and slowly I began the process of seeing if anything could be rescued from the tapes.

If took time and a false start to find a studio with a 16-track analog tape machine that would take on the job of baking and digitizing the tapes. Old tapes often need to be baked at a low temperature before they are played, because over the years the tape medium becomes sticky. I was fortunate to find an engineer/studio owner who was willing take on the task and who then did a very good digitization.

I engaged the same engineer for the remix. He is a skilled engineer and really liked the material. Between those two things, I figured I would get a good remix.

I used the necessity of remixing not to try to reproduce the original sound but rather to make it more the way I want to hear the songs now. I used only the original tracks, but ProTools and software plug-ins (so many of which emulate vintage hardware in software) do an amazing job. The result was even better than I had imagined it could be. The performances were stronger than I had realized. The remix made the songs sound the way they might have sounded back in 1985 if we had worked in a major studio with very expensive equipment.

This is close to the original EP but not quite the same sequence. I call this EP Mostly Still Underfoot. Find it on Bandcamp, and soon from your favourite streaming service.