Album: Pleased to Meet Me
. . .
There wasn’t a damn thing I could do or say
I’ve lived in California my whole life. And while there are places in California where it snows, none of the places I’ve lived — Fresno, The Bay Area and L.A. — are those places.
And in fact, it snowed so rarely in Fresno, it was an always an event when it did. Always.
Like, for example, the night of December 20, 1990. We were opening for the Miss Alans at the Wild Blue Yonder — whose heater wasn’t working, if I remember correctly — and nearing the end of what was a pretty good set, and suddenly the following scene happens:
INT. WILD BLUE, A SMALLISH CLUB IN FRESNO. IT’S ABOUT 10:30 IN THE EVENING
Sedan Delivery — Joseph on bass in the center of the stage, Doc & Don on guitars stage left and right and Jim on drums behind them — is finishing a song with Don’s guitar feedback fading out. Meanwhile, there is some commotion on the side of the stage where Nate has run in from the side door, trying to get the band’s attention.
We’re gonna do one more, we’d like to thank the Miss Alans–
It’s snowing outside, Ladies and Gentlemen!
Ah jeeze, forgot to last–
Yes it is!
It’s snowing outside!
Hang on, I gotta see–
Doc starts taking his guitar off, but sees Jim shaking his head wildly while mouthing “NO!” Jim is both sweaty and freezing, since the club’s heater has been broken all evening, but he’s been playing hard for nearly an hour and isn’t all that much of a fan of the snow in the first place.
It’s snowing in Fresno!!!!
The Crowd has now fully realized the import of the situation.
Somebody open the door real wide so I can see this.
Much of the crowd starts making for the doors.
Holy Siberian sheep-shit.
It’s goddamn snowing out there.
Doc & Don start tuning their guitars for the final song.
Anyway, yeah yeah, OK.
Doc has now realized that a once-full club is far less full now.
Is this really wise to say that it’s snowing outside?
It’s such a rare occurrence in Fresno. Oh well, that’s life.
After that, we played our last song of the night, which went fine but that show instantly went down in band lore as “The Snow Gig,” because we all knew that it would never happen again in our lifetimes.
All of this is an elaborate way to say that when I first heard “Skyway,” the penultimate song on Pleased To Meet Me, I really had no idea what Paul was talking about. I fact, I originally pictured some form of people-moving transportation in the sky as opposed to a series of enclosed walkways to stay warm up inside. Because when it snows all of the time, it’s not really an event, but rather a fact of life that needs to be dealt with.
I thought about googling “skyway”, of course, but then I realized it was 1987 and Google wouldn’t exist for nearly a decade. So honestly, it wasn’t until I was wandering around downtown Minneapolis the day before the 2014 St Paul homecoming show that I fully understood what one was.
But that’s on me, of course. What I got instantly, of course was the simplicity and beauty of “Skyway” the song, which came after two of the most trashy songs on the record: “Shootin Dirty Pool,” which sounds like they wrote a song for Bob because they were too drunk to remember they’d kicked him out of the band, and “Red Red Wine,” which explains what they were drinking when they wrote “Shootin’ Dirty Pool.”
So, like “Nightclub Jitters” on side one, “Skyway” is a massive tonal shift, with its delicate acoustic interlocking acoustic guitars, quietly counterpointy bass and the tapping of Chris Mars feet. It’s also a play in three acts.
You take the skyway
High above the busy little one-way
In my stupid hat and gloves, at night I lie awake
Wonderin’ if I’ll sleep
Wonderin’ if we’ll meet out in the street
In this first act, the guy in the song is freezing out on the snowy street, crushing on someone who is up walking around in the Skyway. It’s unclear exactly who he is and why’s he’s there. All that matters is he’s down on the one-way and she’s on the skyway, and he’s hoping against hope she’ll change her route. But why would she? It’s fucking cold. And there’s probably fucking snow. Which they’re all used to.
But you take the skyway
It don’t move at all like a subway
It’s got bums when it’s cold like any other place
It’s warm up inside
Sittin’ down and waitin’ for a ride beneath the skyway
In the second act, Paul confuses the fuck out of me as to exactly what a “skyway” is, as “it don’t move at all like a subway” made me think it was some kind of conveyance. Like the Seattle monorail, but indoors, I guess? I dunno. In any event, the second act makes it seem like him not taking the skyway is more of a choice than a necessity. After it, if it’s got bums — trying to escape the evil snow — than it’s clearly not super hoity-toity. Which then sets up the third act.
Oh, then one day
I saw you walkin’ down that little one-way
Where the place I’d catch my ride most everyday
There wasn’t a damn thing I could do or say
Up in the skyway
In the third act, it’s a twist!! He’s screwed up his courage to go up in the skyway, and she’s walking on the street. Right where he usually catches his Uber or Lyft. Will those crazy kids ever work it out? It’s unclear.
What is clear is that Paul sings “Skyway” in his most empathetic voice, eliminating nearly all traces of the grime and grit that normally mark his vocals, which is makes his near-falsetto “sky-wayyyyyy-eeeeeeeeeee” at the very end of the song that much more affecting — yet another great moment of Paul Westerberg singing.
Also cool: the way the uncredited strings or mellotron or whatever the fuck it is swells over the acoustic guitars and six-string bass at the very last second and nearly perfectly sets up “Can’t Hardly Wait,” making the one-two punch of mellower songs that end Pleased To Meet Me that much more powerful.
“Skyway” live in St. Paul, 2014
Did you miss a Certain Song? Follow me on Twitter: @barefootjim
The Certain Songs Database
A filterable, searchable & sortable somewhat up to date database with links to every “Certain Song” post I’ve ever written.
Certain Songs Spotify playlist
(It’s recommended that you listen to this on Spotify as their embed only has 200 songs.)
Support “Certain Songs” with a donation on Patreon