A lot of Too Much Joy lyrics were written separately from the music, and then either given to Jay and/or Sandy to see what chords and melodies they’d come up with, or recited straight from my notebook of possibilities as the full band worked on some new riff during rehearsals.
“Theme Song” was scribbled on a page before being handed to Jay, and I remember being disappointed when he played me the music he’d written, as I’d been hearing something fast, anthemic and Mekons-y in my head. “Trust me, this is better,” he said. If only he’d always been so right.
We recorded it at the tail end of the Cereal Killers sessions – after we were supposedly finished tracking, in fact, because Ed Thacker was mixing what was supposed to be the completed album in a separate room. Tommy had gone home months earlier, so there are no drums per se on the album version – the percussion you hear is Mr. Mister’s Pat Mastoletto hand-thumping on some two-inch tape boxes and various other implements.
The studio version is fine, but I don’t think anyone realized just what we hath wrought until we started playing it live. As Jay foresaw, the chorus lyrics lend themselves to drunken swaying, and the tempo he insisted on was perfect for deliriously exhausted audiences to slur along to – so perfect, in fact, that most nights the crowd would keep singing it for at least five minutes after we left the stage. The tune very quickly secured itself a place of honor at the end of most every show, and it never seemed right to repeat the same spoken bit before the final chorus rounds, so I did my best to come up with a new, site-specific spiel every goddamned time we played it. If you saw us more than a few times, you may have heard me repeat myself once or twice, but I think at least 90% of those spiels were one-time-only affairs.
I don’t know if this is the best song Too Much Joy ever wrote, but it is definitely the most Too Much Joy song we ever wrote, and it figures in several of my favorite-ever onstage memories. One time, at TT the Bear’s in Cambridge, we led the crowd on a parade during the song, straight out of the club, down the street to a different club called the Middle East, down the stairs inside that club to the bewilderment of the audience who’d gathered to watch whatever band was onstage, then back up and into TT’s. And the last ever time we played, at the Knitting Factory in 2007, we passed out several hundred mini-tambourines so the audience could play as well as sing along. I don’t think the sound of all those teeny tiny shaking cymbals will ever be equalled in my mind, and the one silver lining to the fact that we didn’t manage to arrange any shows to celebrate the pending Cereal Killers re-release is that I highly doubt we could have topped that noise.