Love is a Disease
Author: Robert Force
Date/Studio: 1984 Altman, San Francisco, CA
Engineer: Sandy Stone
Producer: Robert Force
Original Release: When the Moon Fell on California (KM318)
Current Release: The Complete Recordings (BSR 158)
My friends, Bruce and Pam and Larry (along with Janette and I) would often sit in the feeble sunshine on the front steps of the Commodore's house at the Port Hudson Marina in Port Townsend, WA and pick at the peeling paint to pass the time. This tune was born of one of those moments.
Our house overlooked the harbor. Those wide steps were a gathering place for all sorts of folks. It was a story magnet, a place that manifests itself in every marina. Bruce's boatyard, The Humptulips Valley Trading Company, had a logo of an elephant carrying a hardwood log drawn for him by Drew Elicker, the graphic artist for our Crossover album. Pam wove on her loom in the front room. Larry fired pots. Janette worked at Annie's Waterstreet Grocery (the Groc & Prod) and I built dulcimers in the back.
But when the sun shone, we invariably ended up on that porch, picking paint. Folks came by and plunked themselves down. Apocryphal mariner's tales of near sinkings, squalls, miraculous escapes from treacherous rocks were woven into equally endless dialogue on types of sloops, gaff rigs, the function of baggywrinkles and the advantages of carvel or lapstrake. As sure as the sun was peeling the paint on the warmest porch in the harbor, inevitably a tale would surface of yet another lost love.
I love the calypso rhythm! I love the back beat and the syncopation. I love the easy chords. I love that nothing that has happened sounds as bad as it really was if you can sing about it to a calypso beat. It was Carol's story and sad lamentation of lost love that carried the porch talk one paint-pickin' day.
Of course, in a small town one usually knows the other side (or three sides) of whatever story about lost love that is currently being told. This doesn't cut down on the sympathy factor, after all, heartbreak is heartbreak-- but it does tend to keep one from taking sides or offering the bad advice you might give if you heard that same sad tale in a bar. Besides, there was always paint to peel.
If there were no songs about lost love there would not be many songs left to sing. It took me a couple of weeks to work this one out. I sang it for Carol but by then she had already moved on. So much for my attempt to cheer her up. But this type of song is universal AND it is a calypso, so Albert readily embraced it and Love is a Disease plunked into our repertoire somewhere between Gnarled and the Ballad of the Loch Ness Monster. It was always good to have a full quiver of comedic relief.
“The face in the mirror won't call you dear,” is a classy line, if I do say so myself. “Just when you think its over life deals you a four-leaf clover” is another. In the song the hero/heroine takes one last chance. They embark yet again on the treacherous waters of love. He/She draws against all odds to fill an inside straight. Not only does the hopeful lover pull the queen but all of the cards come up hearts-- a Royal Flush. Nothing beats it.
My brother, Steve, was already at Altman's in San Francisco, taking time off from playing bass in a Las Vegas Elvis impersonator band. We flew in Steve Bad Boy Brown from Seattle to play the steel pans as he did for us years earlier on Paradise Boy. Steve came into our lives as a mandolinist in the early 70's playing with Albert (Al on dombek) in the Bousaada Belly Dance Troupe. Bad Brown had taught himself pans and played Erik Satie for people in the King Tut lines. After hours of listening, they all popped him a few coin. Most successful busker I ever knew; he made $10,000 in less than a month.
This tune is songwriting for the sheer fun of it. The words are moderately clever, the sentiment is timeless and it has a beat you can dance to-- not so with many songs written on the dulcimer. (That's an inside joke buried deep within my web pages.) We had fun recording it, too.