Slowly, you become aware of a saxophone, wafting through the room like the sounds of traffic. It carries you through the emotional crescendo of Martin Ruby's "California Divorce," and sets you down gently at the denouement.
If you've been around long enough, you may also know Ruby as Marco North, a mainstay of Manhattan's Lower East Side in the '90s. Heaven Get Behind Me, out November 20th on WhistlePig Records, is North's first release in some time -- and he's lived enough for four lifetimes since then.
"Way back in the 90s I was playing tenor sax in a surf-punk band called Spitball. We were known as 'the greatest unsigned band in the Lower East Side.' And hey - Joey Ramone was at some of our shows at CBGBs! I’ve had a long and nutty road since those days, but the horn section in this song took me right back to that glorious, reckless past. I stood on a chair in our Moscow living room and played my heart out. I was right back there."
Both the guitar and saxophone you hear on the song are vintage -- instruments that are over 100 years old, meant to convey the timeless tragedies and uncertainties North's characters experience.
|Photo by Eve North|
He's no stranger to that himself. North fathered a daughter who, at the age of two, was kidnapped by her mother and whisked away to Moscow. Terrified and desperate, he quickly followed, rescued, and ended up taking up residence in the city of her captivity, where he struggled within the rigid and fascist system to care for and raise her.
After years of relative comfort in the confines of Moscow’s border, he not only found himself happily remarried, accompanied by his lovely five-year-old daughter, but he also began writing the songs that would become Heaven. No stranger to “life having other plans,” midway through the album’s authoring, North had a close brush with cancer, requiring him to endure an operation, recovery, and some painstakingly delayed test results. Awaiting his fate, to assuage his anxieties, he continued to write music. The experience of writing and recording feels so entwined with the acceptance of mortality that you can almost hear death’s chains rattling in the parched percussiveness of North’s voice.
For "California Divorce," the song's substance surely likes in North's truths.
He explains, "part of the lyrics on this were around for a while, but it only clicked when I found that double negative – ain’t gonna be no California divorce (you can get a divorce online there so my character is experiencing the opposite of that). Oh, and there really is a guy named Tiny Lazarus and he does run a funeral home."
Heaven Get Behind Me will be out this Friday, November 20th, on WhistlePig Records