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- Posted by Bill Crandall
The Pernice Brothers' debut album may be titled 'Overcome by Happiness,' but the band's singer-songwriter, Joe Pernice, works best with tragedy. In his sweet-sounding ballads, cars roll into ditches and love affairs blossom on crashing planes. Of course, in 'Chicken Wire,' Spinner's Most Exquisitely Sad Song in the Whole World, a woman ends her life slowly in her garage by carbon monoxide poisoning.
We asked our reigning sad sack (and, until a couple years ago, long-suffering Red Sox fan), all about his epic tearjerker.
You've written Spinner's Most Exquisitely Sad Song. How are you going to celebrate?
I figured I'd watch 'Cries and Whispers,' 'The Sorrow and the Pity,' followed by the decisive game of the 2003 ALCS [Yankees 6, Red Sox 5].
Explain your fascination with tragedy.
It can be very beautiful, just as happiness can. I'm just not very good at writing explicitly happy songs. I've tried it, believe me. I just haven't yet written a super-happy tune that felt sincere to me. I guess I know my medium. I like a happy melody, though.
Was there an actual event that inspired 'Chicken Wire'?
I wish I could say there was not, but, sadly, the song is inspired by someone I knew.
Do you remember writing it, and how it came to you?
I wrote that tune in the basement of my apartment in Northampton, Massachusetts, in the early fall of 1997. I definitely wrote the tune and melody first, and the words came quickly on their heels.
The verse "Take my hand/Pull me through/There's so much I've left undone/But it's too late now in the garage" is a killer. What's going on here? Is our protagonist having second thoughts?
I think it's me talking to the subject, and at the same time imagining myself in her shoes. Either that, or I f---ed up my pronouns.
I'm not mechanically inclined -- what role does chicken wire play in a garage suicide?
Well, it plays no role in my tune. It's merely there, rolled up like a tarp at the ready. Spring rolls around, the garden is chicken-wired and you're dead.
Tearjerker movies like 'Love Story' and 'Titanic' use music to hammer home the emotion. In 'Chicken Wire,' the climactic horn solo seems to serve the same purpose.
I insisted on that solo at the end. Not everyone involved in the making of the album was pro-horn solo. I love that passage. It's certainly a release, at least to me. I think I hummed a version of that coda melody to [Pernice Brothers pianist/producer] Mike Deming, and he made it beautiful for the horn player. I also recall the horn player really breaking his back to get it right, as it is a deceptively difficult passage.
I know you're a big Smiths fan. Any thoughts on our selection of 'I Know It's Over,' and how does it feel to defeat Morrissey in our sad duel?
That's quite an honor. I think your choice is a good one. I might have picked 'Back to the Old House' or 'Well I Wonder' or 'That Joke Isn't Funny Anymore,' but what the heck? They're all good. And exquisitely sad.
What's the saddest line you've written since we've last heard from you?
"Ouch! You hit my cyst!"
Listen to 'Chicken Wire'
Buy it on iTunes
Pernice Brothers MP3s, Videos and Happiness
Joe Pernice's Own List of Exquisitely Sad Songs