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Upstairs In The Basement

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Upstairs In The Basement" was certainly a highlight of that summer of 1992, when my brother Jon (1967-1999) hitchhiked from Normandy to spend a few weeks of togetherness in Vienna, where I was living at the time.

I had been planning to record an album alone, but Jon's arrival blew the project wide open, so I rounded up some friends to join us. This included friends like Azi Finder - soulbrother violinist and songwriting buddy that he was and is, Ronnie Urini - the Viennese punkadelic Roy Orbison who concocted a snare drum by taping two plastic tambourines together, and Gerhard Wessely - whose blue jazz studio was like a second home to me.

We recorded the 15 songs in two days and completed the mixdown and mastering on the third day. It was the very last album ever cut on Gerhard's old analog equipment before his new digital stuff arrived. What more can I say? We had a blast, we were inspired, most everything was first take, like Gerhard's sax solo - right before I pushed the red button, he said "If I don't hit it now, let's forget it!"

I think about Jon most of all when I think about or hear this album. His beautiful voice and his maverick bass playing accompanied me through many years of gigs in Europe and America, and thanks to recordings like this, the memory of his artistry will live on for others, beyond the bottomless impact he will always have on my life.

ABOUT THE SONGS

Awake
I wrote this during a visit to my hometown, Sioux City, Iowa, after slipping on some ice and breaking my collarbone. I was keeping a journal of dreams, plus I was on painkillers. Some lovely gobbledygook, but there's more to it than that. My Dad used to call it "upstairs in the basement" talk, the wild gibberish of the dreamer, and so thanks, Dad, for the line!

Nice Night Like You
I had a friend, a German guy, who told a story about a phantom nightclub. It seems he and his wife were looking for a bar in some dark neighborhood of Berlin, and they finally found one, went inside, had a great time drinking and dancing and so on. Upon leaving, my friend told the bartender, "Thanks a lot - we'll certainly be back!" And the bartender gave them a funny look and said, "Sorry, I don't think so."
So the next day, my friend went back, but there was no bar on that street corner…just an old abandoned shop, and an old lady in a tobacconist's store across the street. When asked, she told him, "It used to be a nightclub back when I was young - we used to drink and dance the night through…"
I still get the shivers, thinking about Egger telling that story. So I guess I wrote this song for him, and for the bartender, and for myself and all the crazy spooks of this world believing in spirits, love and the night.

Someday
Living so far away from home for far away from home for so many years made me, as a writer, conjure up and consolidate many of my oldest memories into some kind of totem for my life and its ultimate meaning, including death.

'Bout You Baby
An example of youth and all its enthusiastic hormones writing a love song for a psychopath who didn't deserve it. There's a lot of that going around.

Gargling Fire
This song comes from the winter of 1989-1990, when Jon and I would trudge through the snow of the Prater amusement park and spin the giant globe and think its iron creaking was space noise, or see God's face in the moonlight off garbage floating in the Danube.

Way Too > Way Too Much To Be A Man
A cousin song to "Someday", I guess…written during the same blast, this song also brings the focus back home, to the family, to the distant past, to cosmic speculation that began with my Dad commenting when I was small that maybe somewhere there was another planet exactly like Earth, except that there, Fords are Chevys and Chevys are Fords, or that the universe is so huge that we could be likened to microbes deep inside a spilled beer on a bar somewhere, and beyond all our fathoming and ken comes a bar rag our way. Leave it to Woody Woodpecker to show up at the session.

Starling
This is a song by Jon. The lines "He has been shown the freedom he is after/his time is expended in a never ending grasp" as well as "Let's fly , high and far" show me again the soarer that is Jon's soul, and I am proud and happy to have him here with this song.

Children of My Morning
My Mom taught me to read at home, and one of my home, and one of my first books was about dinosaurs. I wrote this as a lullaby for myself, like watching memories fly by before my eyes. I love whistling.

Graveyard Wreck
Have you ever been eating cake at a party when suddenly life and all its poignant bittersweetness makes you bust out crying? Well, it's happened to me. I used to hang around in graveyards, too, feeling myself stand up against the loneliness. Jon and I would wander among the stones or just sit in the car, talking, extrapolating about life in the face of death all around us. Kind of a symbol for what we're all doing. You can't go backwards, baby; even remembering is moving on.

Going Crazy
In a sense, I've always been going crazy, as I felt I was sometimes when living over-seas, but somehow making the most of it for the growth of my soul…"making me keep on getting into getting out of my mind…"

Hillbilly Baudelaire
This is the guy who grows up picking and grinning and writing about reincarnation; the country boy who hears rock and roll coming from the moon and stars…he has a twang in the city and soirees in the sticks - kind of like me.

If Dreams Were Miles
Jon used to sing this song when he did singles, and it always choked me up. I think it was one of his favorites of mine. It's pure poetry, telling a story of what I felt my life was really about underneath the surface…the dreaming self, talking.

Choir of Angels
My earliest memories are of our home on Ivy Street, and the dream that inspired this song took me back there. I could get incredibly homesick. As soon as I sang this to Azi, we started imagining the "choir" - I think it turned out like angels.

Point Z
One of my favorites of my Dad's songs. He has often said he thinks we're in this world to learn to love, and we keep on coming back until we get it right. Jon and I felt like making a hard and heavy version, and turned it around with a wild acoustic guitar solo.

Crayon Girl
This is a little tune I put together as a teenager, while waiting for a friend to come over. I guess the loneliness and the "silvery blue" image grew on me over the years, because I decided to record a version for this album, and I think the minimal instrumentation (piano, bass, sparse guitar and sax solo) do paint a picture of the lonesome kid and his imaginary girlfriend.
 

 

  

Ronnie Urini--Drums
Azi Finder--Violin &Harmonies
Gerhard Wessely--Saxophone
Jon Langley--Bass, Guitar, Lead Vocals on "Starling", Harmonies
Mike Langley--Guitars, Bass, Piano, Lead Vocals, Harmonies, Drums

Recorded August 1992 by Gerhard Wessely
At Tonstudio Soundborn, Vienna, Austria
 

All Songs Copyright 1992 by Mike Langley
(except "Starling" by Jon Langley & "Point Z" by Jack Langley)