Tag Archives: mark mulcahy

Never Mind Overjoyed. Just Start With Happy.

This morning, I began trudging to work — not walking or strolling, but trudging. I was feeling low. At one point, though, the Mark Mulcahy song “Hey Self Defeater” came on my iPod, and his voice rang with renewal:

“Hey self defeater / You’re underrated by yourself, so quit looking down”

Almost instantly, I was uplifted. It was only partly the lyrical inspiration. It was also because of my soft spot for Mulcahy, a Connecticut-based songwriter who has been dear to my heart since I first heard his songs on Nickelodeon’s “The Adventures of Pete and Pete.”

This is probably his most favorite song — and it’s a cover:

Mulcahy, via the house band Polaris (“three guys–Jersey, Muggy and Harris”), did most of the original music on the show (a program, incidentally, that was never shy about showing off its musical geekdom, with Iggy Pop, Kate Pierson and Michael Stipe among those logging guest spots over the years). Captivated by his “Pete and Pete” compositions like “Everywhere” and “Waiting for October,” I dug deeper and discovered his primary band, Miracle Legion.

For someone like me — an unabashed fan of catchy, jangly pop — Miracle Legion was a gold mine. I dove into whatever of their increasingly scarce back catalog (much of it was out of print) I could get my hands on. When I learned about Mulcahy’s solo work, I snapped that up, as well. Often, when meeting a self-professed musical geek, I would throw Mulcahy’s or Miracle Legion’s name at them, like spaghetti at the wall, seeing if it would stick — a nerd litmus test, of sorts — and I would always be let down if they had no idea who he was.

It was about more than liking jangle pop or ranking geek quotient, though. There has always been something to Mulcahy’s songs, whether they were for “Pete and Pete” or one of his own projects, that commands my attention. There’s a warmth to them that appeals to me. Much like “Hey Self Defeater” spoke to me this morning, his songs (many of which, I would be remiss not to add, were co-written by his Miracle Legion collaborator, Mr. Ray) have a way of lodging themselves not only in my brain, like any good catchy pop song can, but in my heart. From the longing strums of “Everywhere” to the sweet nostalgia of “Homer” to the simple delight of “You’re My Blessing,” Mulcahy has a unique talent for conveying those emotions in song.

While Mulcahy and Miracle Legion may not be household names, the Connecticut songwriter is not underrated by his musical peers. When his wife Melissa died unexpectedly, leaving behind three-year-old twin girls, the music community banded together to support one of their own by submitting covers of Mulcahy’s songs for a compilation called “Ciao My Shining Star.” In addition to a CD with 21 tracks, the digital-only version has 41 — 41! — songs, for just $10 more. I bought both versions, partly because I wanted a physical copy in addition to the jam-packed MP3 version, but also because I wanted to support the cause.

The greatest thing about the compilation is that while it is loaded with heavies like Stipe and Thom Yorke and the National, there are also a bunch of lesser luminaries and relative unknowns. Right now, I’m listening to a cover of “4:04″ by the Parkway Charlies. It’s good. They’re good. Who the heck are they? No clue. But I’ll find out.

I highly recommend this compilation. You don’t have to be a fan of Mulcahy’s to appreciate the songs contained therein, but hopefully listening to them will turn you into one.

I also like to think that for someone out there, a band like the Parkway Charlies is to them as Miracle Legion was once to me — a treasure you long to share with others. Thanks to this compilation, hopefully some of these excellent bands will get some much-deserved exposure.

True confession: A few weeks ago, I saw a promotional poster for “Ciao My Shining Star” on a lamppost in Boston. I took it and put it on my wall. I know I should have left it alone, but Mark Mulcahy occupies a special place in my heart. Special enough to merit theft. My only regret? Possibly depriving others of the awareness of his work. Consider this blog post my atonement.

Take Five: The Thriller Edition

1. A few weeks ago, I was hanging out with my friend Alison and she put on an album by a gentleman named John Wesley Harding. I knew of the Bob Dylan album, but not so much of this artist who takes his moniker from that release.

From pretty much the first song, I was hooked. I started throwing out comparisons to Nick Lowe, Squeeze and Elvis Costello. As soon as I got home, I ordered the album — “The Name Above the Title” — for myself. Just now, I discovered that he did a song from the “High Fidelity” soundtrack that I loved, “I’m Wrong About Everything.”

Obviously, a back catalog purchase is in order. Conveniently, he is playing at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts on July 8, and if I win free tickets via a drawing run by johnwesleyharding.com, I may just go. Or I may go either way.

I find that lately, I am pursuing a lot of artists I missed the first time around — like John Wesley Harding — as well as listening to a lot of classics I have not paid due attention to over the years. In the case of the former, I have a great way of catching up on their back catalogs. Yourmusic.com is essentially the 21st century residue of the Columbia Houses and BMGs of old (Remember the stickers you would tear off and paste onto the card? I would use those to decorate my notebooks.) While I may not be able to find the new Q Tip or White Rabbits album there, I can find a lot of older stuff. It works sort of like Netflix, where you set up a queue and each month, for $6.99, you get a new album. In the next couple of months, I should be receiving discs by Joe Jackson, the Jam, Squeeze and Split Enz (I love me some Crowded House and Neil Finn, so why not Split Enz?)

As for what I already own and am rediscovering, the other day I dug out Michael Penn’s “March” and my Roxy Music greatest hits disc. Also in the pile on top of my stereo are a greatest hits album by the Pretenders, Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” and Suzanne Vega’s “Solitude Standing.” I’ve been on a Fleetwood Mac kick for several months and have started picking up the back catalog. (The TWIT sale a while back helped me snag “Rumours” and “Tusk.”) And Paul Simon’s “The Rhythm of the Saints” has pretty much has lodged itself into my five-disc changer.

To tell you the truth, I am having a lot more fun rediscovering these older artists than I am with a lot of the new stuff I’m hearing nowadays. Not that the new stuff isn’t pretty great — but I’m just realizing I missed out on some awesome musicians, and the artists I liked alright but never dove deeper into until recently (like Michael Penn and Paul Simon) are proving to be really rewarding listens that have held up well over time. It’s like having a whole new music collection.

2. My friend Joey pointed me to this piece of excellent news: a bunch of rock luminaries are contributing to a tribute album to Mark Mulcahy, leader of the forgotten janglers Miracle Legion (a/k/a the “Adventures of Pete and Pete” house band Polaris), one of the best unknown bands of the 1980s/1990s. Mulcahy’s wife died last year, so proceeds from the album — featuring covers of Miracle Legion and solo Mulcahy tracks by no brighter stars than Michael Stipe, the National, Thom Yorke, Juliana Hatfield, Dinosaur Jr., Frank Black and more — will go to help him raise their three-year-old twin sons and continue making music.

I, like a lot of folks, discovered Miracle Legion as Polaris via “Pete and Pete,” and after I was fortunate enough to track down the Polaris “album,” I snatched up whatever I could find of the now out of print Miracle Legion catalog — “Portrait of a Damaged Family,” “Drenched” (which was a bargain bin mainstay for a while) and “Me and Mr. Ray” on cassette. I’ve also got one of Mulcahy’s solo albums, “Smilesunset.” He is an immensely talented songwriter with precise pop sensibility, and anything that enables him to keep making music, while drawing together an incredible assembly of talent to create an amazing tribute record, is A-OK in my book. The disc is due out Sept. 29, and hopefully it will expose a whole new crop of people to Mulcahy’s and Miracle Legion’s incredible work.

3. In all of my excitement about the Freedy Johnston show, I forgot about his opening act. Mike Fiore, the lead man of the local band Faces on Film, took to the tiny Armory stage with just a guitar for a delightful 45-minute set. He has one of the most amazing voices I’ve heard in a Boston-area venue, resonant, solid and sweet. His songs were great — tender and haunting and passionately performed — and he seemed unfazed by the size of the audience. And he gets points for politeness.

“Thanks for being attentive,” he said. “In all seriousness. I’m from around the corner, so it’s like being nice to someone from your own block.”

4. I’ve been eBaying a lot of stuff lately, trying to scrounge up some extra cash. Scanning my CD collection, I took note of my three Bright Eyes discs. I bought them in 2000, before Bright Eyes really became big and maybe when he was a bit more, let us say, unstable. A lot of the songs are raw, angsty, unabashed declarations of pain and loss. Perfect for the angsty 21-year-old I was back then! Surely, I thought, I can sell these now and cash in on his fame from people looking to snag his back catalog.

In the cases of “Letting Off the Happiness” and “A Collection of Songs Written and Recorded 1995-1997,” I feel content ripping a song or two then selling the disc. But as I listened to “Fevers and Mirrors,” which includes songs with gothy titles like “The Calendar Hung Itself” and “A Spindle, a Darkness, a Fever, a Necklace,” I realized… this is actually pretty good. The songs are top quality. I can see echoes of his current work in these nine-year old songs — the folkiness, the Americana tendencies — even though the subject matter is much darker and overwrought. Who’da thunk? I’m not about to rush out and buy Bright Eyes’ latest albums, because it doesn’t really grab me. But these older, more raw and intriguing seeds of his newer work — these I’m going to hold onto.

5. R.I.P. Michael Jackson. Here is a video of my husband and I dancing to “Smooth Criminal” at our wedding in 2004.