Cover of the Week 47 Thirteen

Kay Hanley and Lori McKenna at Hot Stove Cool Music, January 2008, with me grinning appropriately for a part time man of rock. One of my favorite pictures. Oh yeah, please let me know who took it, so that I may give credit.

I am not yet convinced that Twitter is worth the hype. But it did facilitate this week’s CoTW. More specifically, it led to me asking my friend and fellow Hot Stovie, Kay Hanley, to please sing on this rendition of one of the most beautiful songs in pop music history, Big Star’s “Thirteen.”
[In the early 2000s, I wrote about the song for; dig the dated reference to CD repeat buttons].

It’s a drop-dead song and should be up there with “Yesterday” for most-covered pop songs. There have been a few notable versions, to be sure. And the world does not need mine. But I don’t care. I don’t even want to mess with it. I just want to sing and play it. So that’s what I do here. But I do get the honor of having Kay sing with me. And what an unbelievably lovely voice she has.

Last week, I received a package from Amazon with the new Big Star box set, Keep an Eye on the Sky. I had not ordered it. I had no birthday recently. I could only think of one person that would send such an unexpected and unwarranted gift: Mike O’Malley. (See Mike’s most recent turn at the end of this clip from the TV show, “Glee”):


Making friends relatively later in life is a rare treat and accomplishment. Rarer still is to form a bond with someone you start to count as one of your all-time best buds. But then again, it is rare to meet someone as big-hearted as Mike. He has this effect on almost everyone. By way of example, a friend of his told a story about this huge effort Mike made to be part of a personal event in the friend’s life (those details do not matter here). The friend vowed to pay it back to Mike. And, semi-whimsically, the friend decided to throw a surprise party for Mike, just as a “Thanks for being you” kind of fete. He started calling mutual friends. In a matter of a few days, people were canceling plans, booking flights back to L.A., finding babysitters on late notice, and offering homes in the Hollywood Hills, and to host. A bunch of actors showed up to read from one of Mike’s plays (not many folks know Mike is an accomplished dramatist). He was gobsmacked. But he shouldn’t have been; he has laid out enough good karma to pave his way to Nirvana no matter how he acts from here on out.

And I am a lucky guy to make such friends. I have mentioned many others here in this blog, people who have come along well after my mid-30s. I count this as perhaps the greatest benefits of my time in Buffalo Tom. We clearly reached many people, so it is almost like we have a head start in a relationship once we actually make acquaintances. Can you imagine what it is like to be a demigod like Dylan or McCartney walking the earth, doing good works? Only that we could touch the hem of their garments!

I guess I turned Mike on to this song years back, so he sent me the CD set. And so here I am this week, with the live version of the song in my head all week. The live version, by the way, is more acutely heart-wrenching somehow, with Chris Bell out of the group, and the strain of Chilton’s vocals over the chatter of a small nightclub crowd. And with the song running through my brain, I look at one of my various screens and there is a “tweet” from Kay with the lines, “Won’t you tell me what you’re thinking of/Would you be an outlaw for my love.” I’m all like, BAM, yo! I’ll tell you what’s on my mind, Kay! That song, that song! And you singing on it! And your hubby, USA Mike Eisenstein, playing the solo!

It was meant to be. Kay said yes, thank God. And the glory of technology, which offered its first glimmer of inspiration with that message on Twitter, continued to ratchet up with the sending-and-receiving-and-back-again of digital music files and home studio recordings. In a matter of two days, my humble dude-in-basement recording was brought to life by the sunny Cali (but melancholy in the Brian Wilson way) sounds of Boston ex-pats, my buddies, Kay and USA. Talk about your pros. Yikes!

Kay and Mike were mere kids when I first met them. And though we were also young, BT were starting to develop facial hair, at least, by then. But it was not until my involvement in the Hot Stove event, around 2001, that I got to know them well. I remember days around 1999 or 2000 on an Arlington (Massachusetts) playground with my then-baby daughter, playing Mr. Mom hanging out with Kay, Tanya Donelly, and our friend Kristen Hughes, all of us with out kids. Kay’s and Tanya’s daughters were born right around the same month as mine. We might still have a budding rock band or girl group.

Anyway, we miss you Kay and Mike and all the other friends who made the smart move for sun and work in L.A. Keep up the good vibrations!


14 thoughts on “Cover of the Week 47 Thirteen”

  1. .: Haven't even finished listening to this one time through, and I absolutely frakkin' love it. The guitars sound so sharp and Kay's background vocals are haunting, goose-bump-inducingly sweet. Did she choose what to do when you sent her the clip? Her vocals over the lines, "Maybe Friday I can, get tickets for the dance" leave me at a loss for words. I want to hear that part over and over.

    I'm too exhausted to talk about this week's backstory, but it is very heartfelt and inspiring to read about the great friends you have made along your musical journey.

    This CotW, #47, may have just supplanted #6 (In a Misty Morning) as my favorite.

    I pray you will never get sick of me telling you how grateful I am to you for this project. What are you planning for #50? The suspense is killing all 15 of us who regularly follow you here. 😉

    I envy those who will see you perform in October. I'll be in Boston again in late Nov, and am praying that you might be performing somewhere at that time. But if not, I've got 47 and counting CotW's to keep me warm at night.

  2. ONE of my ALL TIME FAVORITE Tunes! I was excited when Kay quoted and then said she was doing a cover with you.

    BIG STAR LIVE was (IIRC) recorded on a town common during an arts festival in the early 70's…I don't thing the festival or the audience knew what to make of them, playing original tunes that they hadn't heard before when they all were probably expecting the Boxtops.


  3. Thanks, fellas. Yes, RR, I just told Kay to go to town and send back whatever she does. She knocked it outta the park.

    Frank, the live version I was referring to is from the new box set, recorded at Lafayette's Music Room in Memphis, 1973.

  4. Absolutely great song to choose; nice interpretation, excellent accompaniment.

    A while back some friends and I were trying to develop software that would allow musicians in different locations to still "real time practice" with each other, a modified "skype" platform;Anyhoo- you've got the coast to coast background vocal overdubs down!

  5. I think this might my favorite COTW so far – the vocals are just right and the solo is faithful yet fresh enough…and I had my doubts when I read that you were covering "Thirteen" as I haven't liked any cover of this song to date. So a big Wow.

    I ordered the Big Star box set a few days ago and can't wait to get it in the mail. I love the Beatles but could care less about the 9-9-09 reissue hoopla.

    (and yes Bill, the Stones are great too…but neither 60s group compares to the Small Faces!)

  6. I don't know much about Big Star, other than the Replacements told me I should listen to them (similar to Leonard Cohen in the Nirvana song). So I am planning to listen to the new box set. One of my all-time favorite lines: "I never travel far without a little Big Star".

    Did I already mention that "Alex Chilton" would be a great (plugged in) cover?

  7. WOW!!

    Adore the swooning harmonies – great work Kay, and the geetar is pitch perfect. Love the original but this is a treasure too.

    And props to Mike O'Malley for the inspiration. I have the big star box set on my Christmas present list. Go Santa go.

    Keep up the Good work Bill.

    btw check out the Soulsavers new album Broken featuring Mark Lanegan in particular the cover of Will Oldham's "You Will Miss Me When I Burn" – spine tingling – had the pleasure of seeing it live last month.

    Peace & Love

  8. Outstanding, per usual. I'm in "the 15" who follow, but have never made a comment. It is indeed a treat, and I agree this is the best effort yet. Thank you for putting so much into it.

  9. I think I know the Arlington playground of which you speak, and I can see how it would inspire you so.

    I'm embarrassed to admit I've followed your blog and covers for months, yet just heard your very first cover of "Little Mascara." I thought for years I was the only person who remembered that song, then you punk me like that with such a great and unexpected solo cover.

  10. Wow. Great, great, great cover of Big Star, Bill (and Kay). Best COTW so far, by far. I've never been a Big Star fan, so I say that without bias.
    For the first time in years, a song forced me to just sit still and listen; then listen again, and yet again, as if I were back in high school wasting an entire day doing nothing but listening to whatever my "favorite of all time" was on that particular day. Thanks.

  11. FYI, I've suggested Big Star to Brendan Boogie for a future Cover Up show. The first time he said that he gets that request a lot. The second time he said that he thinks they'll do it. Hopefully, it will happen.

    One of my favorite Boston bands, Cassavettes remind me of Big Star and they were also on board with the idea.

    BTW, both Cassavettes and your brother Tom did the Neil Young Cover Up (also a dream request). I posted some pictures here. A very fun night!

  12. .: Perhaps it was prescient that you and Kay recorded this great CoTW when you did, perhaps not. But given the events of this week, CotW 47 becomes all that more special to us here, and to Alex.

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