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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Personal/Musical: Regarding the Freeks 
26th-Jun-2005 02:37 am
Every once in a while, I have to explain why have an email address as odd, unacademic and unprofessional as "NovakFreek." It was that address that caused wish_i_may dreato open this journal for me as "novak_freek" so that I could read her protected entries for a year before I began to feel the need of keeping some kind of theology journal (a dubious success at best), and before I really entered into the journaling culture as a whole.

When I went to Notre Dame to do my M.A. in Theological Studies, I was dismayed at how poor the band scene seemed to be. I came from a great music school in Illinois (Northern Illinois University) with a great jazz and classical program, and cool bands everywhere. But one band grabbed my attention, a year after I'd arrived. I was cutting across campus to meet a friend for dinner at the Oak Room (R.I.P.) when I heard the sounds and words coming out of a group of enthusiastic undergrads playing by "Stonehenge," the alumni War Memorial. "George and the Freeks," as I discovered their name was, kept my attention riveted for three songs before I tore myself away. I was already late when I had stopped, but I couldn't make myself go at first because I was so pleased: "These guys have got something here," I remember thinking. It wasn't that they were perfect. There were plenty of rough spots, but the melodies and the lyrics had depth: they weren't flailing around trying to get it right – they were getting it right. These were songs. Good songs. There was even a distinct spirituality coming through. I was only just beginning to be able to understand what it was. Catholicism, essentially: poetic, oblique, and loaded with the implications of something beyond itself. I was just coming back into Catholicism at the time, and I was much more familiar with the overt, biblical idiom of "Christian rock." When the Freeks weren't just goofing around, their serious side had something that appealed to me by its more indirect and difficult poetic medium. I made it to my dinner, and remembered the name.

Some months later, at the beginning of December, I was at the campus' "Acoustic Café" one evening, talking casually with an undergrad theology acquaintance named Emily, listening to two of the band's members play. I told her, "These guys are part of a very good band I've been hearing around campus." "Oh, the Freeks?" she said. "I'm a Freek, too: I'll introduce you, if you'd like." I was puzzled, since I had never seen her with the band, but she explained to me that "Freek" was also a name used of the circle that the band moved in: it seemed kind of half groupie, half guild member. When the two guys stopped playing, she pulled them aside to introduce them to me. One of them, Doug (weaklingrecords), she had to pull out of an already-begun conversation, so we spoke only a few brief words to one another. So brief, in fact, that I called him "Dennis" for months. The other, Mark, talked with me for a very friendly 20 minutes, and that was that.

What happened next was very disturbing.

Mark and I proceeded to run into each other every day. For two weeks. Walking through tunnels between buildings after midnight: Mark. Pulling down the same book of poetry that I just went to check out: Mark – and I'm not even a frequent or capable reader of poetry! Mark began to have the same hunted look in his eyes that I suspect I did, too: just who was stalking who? Sometimes we'd speak just a few words, sometimes we'd have a conversation of some length. Finally, after running into him and Emily during a moment of some importance for her, it became clear we were going to be – we were – friends. Later, Mark confessed that he thought God was making us be friends, and I was grateful that he admitted the loopy idea before I did. I met the rest of the Freeks, bit by bit, through being friends with Mark. Later in the year, more-or-less through a misunderstanding, I became close friends with Erik G who played lead guitar for the band, and I got to know the rest when I became a member of the Notre Dame Folk Choir that fall, which was the liturgical music group in which the bulk of the band were also members.

Because I couldn't stop making unsolicited suggestions about things that could be improved, the band eventually hired me to do their soundwork, not that I knew the first thing about it. In the midst of giving my attention to their music, I was beginning to learn a lot about the songwriting craft itself. I had more-or-less burned out on writing poetry by the end of my undergraduate, after a positive and productive stretch working with the Zen poet Lucien Stryk, but I found that lyrics began to form with the melodies that frequently came to me, and I began to crank out my own songs. Somewhere in the midst of this, I was given my own "Freek name" by Erik, or "Innate Freek," as being in the Freek circle involved that particular quasi-monastic tradition. When I was trying to come up with an AOL username in 1997, and everything cool I thought of had already been taken, I saw Doug was using for his email just a plain "Dougfreek" and so I tried using my Freek name, "ArjunaFreek," but at the time AOL wouldn't accept such long names. I idly typed in "NovakFreek" and immediately regretted it when it was accepted because it seemed lame and derivative of me. But I was stuck with it as my primary account name. I could have immediately switched to a subordinate account name, but I wasn't that clever. Now I feel I can't get rid of it because I've had it long enough that every once in a while someone from years past is able to track me down through it.

And that's the story of the name.

Why the hell did I write all that? Because I felt that the historical background was important in order to explain what is now going to appear on my journal. In idle moments, where I'm not involved in giving too much historical context for relatively minor affairs, I've been converting my tape collection to digital files. Among that tape collection are several live Freek shows, which I am going to post here for the downloading. Unpolished, unmixed, but nevertheless sometimes great moments in great songs. Even today, the music that my friends and I make are a lot more engaging to me than anything I hear on the radio.

To kick off this programme, I am going to post--for the first time in electronic format--the very rare, almost unknown, second album by George and the Freeks. Their first CD, Join Us On the Ride (still available at www.weaklingrecords.com), was a fine first effort at a studio recording, particularly given their limited means. The Senior Week Sessions were a more intimate project. The guys decided they wanted to preserve their earliest work, and so during Senior Week, after classes were done and before they graduated in May 1996, an impromptu studio was constructed in the living room of Mark, Doug, and J.P.'s apartment.

I knew a lot less about recording and recording equipment than I do now, and while the first track or two have a bit too much signal, and while I would now set up the recording to take advantage of stereo far more, nevertheless these are a fun set of songs. If you would like the experience of a group of friends sitting around your living room making music for the sheer joy of it, please feel free to download these tunes. I'm posting them for the Freeks themselves, but everyone is welcome. Particularly in this set, you might be floored (as I was) by my first hearing of Mark Lang's "Simplicity," which left Erik and I just staring at one another in disbelief, or the incredible crafting of Doug McKenna's lyrics and melody in "Tender Our Joys." Warts and all – whether Erik's inability to remember his own words, J.P.'s confusion over how many strings his bass actually has, my not putting the bass loud enough, or Andy's (abrenner) sore throat – you'll find this a better listen than the pre-fab pop churned out by the industry. Forward it to your friends. Forward it to your enemies and watch them become your friends. Yeah, it's like that.

George and the Freeks: The Senior Week Sessions

01. Thoughts/"Starts on F" -- Doug McKenna
02. Who Am I To Say? -- Erik G
03. Empty Space -- Andy Brenner
04. 80 More Years -- Mark Lang
05. Miniscule -- Doug McKenna
06. Where The Birds Fly -- Erik G
07. I'll Fly Away (#2 & 5) -- Mark Lang
08. The Song -- Erik G
09. Tender Our Joys -- Doug McKenna
10. A Love Song -- Erik G
11. Simplicity -- Mark Lang
12. Baby, Don't Go -- Mark Lang
13. Daydreams and Memories -- By Skipp Gill, lyrics by Doug McKenna
14. Tell Me It's All Fine -- Erik G
(Now updated for download from MegaUpload!)
26th-Jun-2005 01:59 pm (UTC)
The "#" sign on track 7 is throwing off the link...but other than that, thanks for posting these. I haven't listened to this tape in forever. Brings me right back.
26th-Jun-2005 06:22 pm (UTC)
Poop! I tested it last night! Okay, I'll go try to get it right....
26th-Jun-2005 06:27 pm (UTC)
Okay, got it now. Weird. I had typed it all in last night, using the tag codes for spaces and punctuation marks, but all of that was gone when I went back in for it now. I'm glad any of it still worked.
26th-Jun-2005 04:02 pm (UTC)
Nice. I like stories about bands and nostalgia about creating internet names.
26th-Jun-2005 06:30 pm (UTC)
Much more than just a "band" in my life. These friends are still the bulk of the center of my artistic universe. It's not that I know them: it's that I think their writing is that good and important, and therefore I got to know them. So I hope you enjoy the music and download it for your own use and pleasure. Some of these are songs I would not want to be without.
27th-Jun-2005 03:58 am (UTC)
I didn't know there was a Catholic music culture!

Damn dialup!

27th-Jun-2005 05:50 am (UTC)
Oh no, I forgot about that. For you, just say the word, and an mp3 disc will be forthcoming. Your parents might need to use the phone this week, after all.

And the circle that I move in? Yowza! Freeks, Hoobajoob-ers, Intuitive Rain-men, The Renaissance Men, Out of the Blue Works-ers, whatever the names are, this thing makes "a Catholic music culture" far too simplistic or parochial-sounding a name, if I may say so myself! Like I said, I'm more interested in these guys' songs in a way that leaves the radio behind. Not because they're my friends, but I'm glad to have made friends with them because of what's going on with them. Or maybe I'm just being a Fanboy, but I think it's better than that. :-)

Anyway, this is getting back to where it all started for me.
27th-Jun-2005 02:21 pm (UTC)
Don't think I've ever heard these versions before.
I vaguely remember that recording session taking place.
But me and the rest of the "emiLy" guys were busy trying to do the same thing at Joe and misunderstruck's house.
Anyway, cool.
27th-Jun-2005 05:09 pm (UTC)
Really? An acoustic emiLy set? I've never heard of that! All I've got is riverrun, right there next to Emily Lord's Rear View Window on my iTunes. (I remember having to try to change all the entries for the Gracenote CD Database because someone had done everything with standard capitalizations, even down to "Emily," and I figured if you guys went to all the trouble of being all e.e. cummings with your stuff, it might as well respect that and get it right. I finally decided that the database was automatically converting everything into standardized format and I was wasting my time: at least it's right on my computer!)

If it's worth anything to you, I left out the part in my musical narrative above that emiLy was in fact the first band at ND that I noticed and found interesting, but I was so annoyed at Joe being unintelligible (and I really wasn't totally into punk, anyway) that I couldn't be any more than "interested." I was all about the words, and I didn't know 1 in 10 of the ones Joe was using. I figured, if you're gonna write them, they must be important, so why not let me try to hear them? Hence my extreme prejudice towards vocals in mixing Freek shows: I wanted to hear it, and I wanted the audience to as well. So that's me.

Did Joe ever finish his Ph.D.? What became of him?
28th-Jun-2005 02:06 am (UTC)
Last I heard he had not finished.
He's working (teaching?) at Northwestern.
He got all acoustic on us the past several years, heavily influenced by John Fahey and the like.
He's got a couple bands going, including some incredible banjo work: http://www.earlyrisers.net/
Listen to "We Worship Good," and witness Joe's brilliant emergence as a soulful singer/songwriter/banjoleer.
The dude rules.

I understand if you couldn't hear some of Joe's early emiLy lyrics.
Neither could I, and in some cases I knew what he was saying.
I understood the intellectual side and the emotional force of punk, but it took me some time to appreciate it.
I just wish we had more time, like any band I've ever been in, I felt like it was just getting going really good, and then it was time to move on.
I'm pretty sentimental about all my former bands.

The spelling of "emiLy" was akin to the band fIREHOSE using that capitalization technique.
And, the last recording was not acoustic, but as a last ditch home recording effort to get our last best songs down on tape before we all left South Bend, around the same time as those GatF recordings.
18th-Jul-2005 06:25 pm (UTC)
The spelling of emiLy also had to do with the fact that I dislike capital E's and lowercase L's.
18th-Jul-2005 06:28 pm (UTC)
I trust that Emilys and Elizabeths and especially Elliots taking your class do not suffer as a result.
27th-Jun-2005 08:16 pm (UTC)
Excellent. I always knew we kept you around for something. I think I lost this tape somewhere between San Francisco and here (Switzerland). Thanks for reminding me about how good we were!

27th-Jun-2005 08:36 pm (UTC)
Bob! Welcome to the LJ world! Glad I could be of service in this small way--there'll be some 95-96 live gigs appearing here before too long, so you might enjoy downloading those, too. I'm especially glad that I could help you out since you'd lost this one: it's too good for your collection to be without. I can't remember what it was that made you gone that afternoon, but when you come back in the evening, it stands out with the bongo explosion on things like "Tell Me It's All Fine," so I can hope you find that especially personally statisfying.

And... [to be continued on your new journal]
28th-Jun-2005 07:01 am (UTC)
Wow. My voice really sucked on Empty Space. I had all but forgotten about that song. But I do remember being sick during these sessions.

I think this was one of the first times I played Tender Our Joys with Doug. I remember he was quite protective of that song - he always wanted to play it solo. We made another recording of it a year later in Crowley that, at least in my opinion, is the definitive recording of that song. But it's fun to hear an earlier version.

Thanks for pulling these off the tapes Mike. And thanks for helping with the recording in the first place. It's good to have a decent recording of some of these songs.
28th-Jun-2005 07:10 am (UTC)
Glad I could help as everyone's premiere fanboy. (Speaking of which, I was disappointed not to find any new songs on your website--hint, hint) Now that you mention it, I remember something vaguely about you guys being in Crowley, but I certainly never got my hands on any of that: otherwise, I only have "Tender Our Joys" on Doug's I Wrote These Songs Specifically for Now. I'm surprised, though, to hear that about Doug and you with the song: ever since this recording, I always thought of you and Doug hiding off, working on this together and keeping it between the two of you--you guys so nailed a mood and sound between the performance and the flamenco/piano arrangement. Definitely the artistic high point of the recording, if I grant Mark the "mystical" high point with "Simplicity."
28th-Jun-2005 01:49 pm (UTC)
I was motivated years ago to transform all of these campus band cassette tapes to CD by transferring them to my iBook using my iMic and Jim's tape deck.
In three years I've only managed to convert two Notre Dame campus band tapes to CD: (1) bother and (2) the cuba five.
I mean to transfer all of my emiLy tapes, my Entropy and Trail (high school bands) tapes, Krautmiser, old Chisel, Brian-Colin-&-Vince, and many others.
As soon I as have the time, of course.
Law school's a pain sometimes.
28th-Jun-2005 07:08 pm (UTC)
Ah... the Cuba Five... Yesterday in talking to you, I listened to riverrun again, with some pleasure, and then in a fit NDness, I played The Florida Evans Showband and Revue's Made Simple. I made it through about half a dozen tracks. Still, without challenge, the worst band on campus.

I used an iMic, too. From that, I've been using a program I got online called Sound Studio to record it, Exporting it to Quicktime. Reloading those QT sides of tape into Sound Studio, then I can cut them up into individual tracks, re-export them as such into QT. The QT files I add to my iTunes library, and then convert them (at 40-50MB) to mp3s.

Tedious. What software process are you using?
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