The Stories Behind the Songs as told by Rick Emerson
"Rock and Roll Song"
The hook for this song leapt into my head, fully formed, as I was bicycling past a Darigold factory in a grimy section of Southeast Portland. Before I had even fully processed the chorus, the notion for the verses -lists of famous rock and roll couples- was marching through my brain. Rarely has a song presented itself in such a complete fashion; even the middle section -usually my Achilles heel- seemed to come quickly. Add handclaps, ear-tickling harmonies, and a stunning guitar solo by Brian, and you have a song that's as close to anthemic as I'll likely ever write. (If this song has a musical antecedent, it's Soul Asylum's "Misery," which alternates between billowing bombast and gentle pop sweetness.)
Before there was The Wonderstrucks, there was The Bleeding Hearts, a duo consisting of myself and the massively-talented Todd Herman. For a few solid years in the mid-90s, Todd and I cranked out songs for an audience of ourselves, our songwriting friends, and the folks who listened to our respective radio shows. Given our shared fixation on, and love for, the Manson Girls, it was inevitable that we'd write something approaching a love song for Squeaky Fromme and Co. The main riff is equally stolen from Cheap Trick and The Queers, while the vocal style was achieved by stuffing a giant wad of chewing gum into my mouth and aping Mike Ness. Fuck yeah.
"Geek Like Me"
In late 2006, while in Seattle for minor surgery, I was given a strong dose of Valium (and Vicodin!) Back in my hotel room, stoned to the gills, I pondered the upcoming marriage of my friends Aaron and Jenn---both geeks to the core. Within 15 minutes, "Geek Like Me" was scribbled on some pages from my Franklin Planner, and I had called my office voice mail to sing the melody several times through. With some indispensable help from Jairus Minsky, the song was smoothed out and performed at Aaron and Jenn's wedding. Around the same time, preparations to record An American Education were underway, and Joni DeRouchie convinced me to include "Geek Like Me." Voila.
"Gene Simmons Took my Girl"
After my friend (and noted rock photog) Krishta Abruzzini went out for a late-night drink with KISS's Gene Simmons, her then-husband went nuclear, insisting that something must have happened. Despite her protests that it really had just been a drink, he remained steadfast in his conviction that Gene Simmons had defiled his woman. Hearing this story, the wheels in my head started turning, and several years later, this song is the result. There are two prior incarnations of this song, at least one of which is floating around the Internets. This live take, however -recorded at Tokyo's fabled Budokan arena- stands as the definitive version.
"An American Education"
The last song to be written for the EP, and the one that took the longest. I had the chorus and the melody for months, but was unable to come up with the verses. Every day, Chris and Finster would ask me about the song, and every day, I'd shrug and mumble something about "almost done, but not quite." Many, many pieces of paper later, and approaching the absolute, no-nonsense, this-really-has-to-be-done deadline, I hit upon the theme: unabashed love of American popular culture, and the occasional attempts made by others to marginalize that culture. I had been using that general concept as the framework for the EP, but laying out the ideas in simple, unadorned language proved to be the key. With the addition of a beautiful, Southern-rock-style guitar solo and some spacious production tweaks, the song -and the EP- were done. Hallelujah.