[above: Chris and Joey] [earliest version of A Million Miles Away, from 1981 tour]
I ‘d met Joey Alkes and Chris Fradkin at just the right time, the same week the Plimsouls began playing in the Hollywood clubs. We’d hit it off immediately.
I ‘d always wanted to be a Brill Building songwriter, like Otis Blackwell, Doc Pomus, or Carol King, who were adept at composing three minute rock ’n roll symphonies on demand. I felt Joey and Chris were my ticket to that dream, to that kind of fun. And we always had a blast writing songs.
I’d get up in the morning, get some coffee and head straight over to Joey’s. Chris would show up, and we’d get right into making up songs, trying anything and everything out, looking for a real idea.
Joey’s from Brooklyn, was a few years older than me and Chris, had been in the army, was a published poet, too, but his specialty was great song hooks.
Chris had studied music, and played guitar and piano. He’d been music director for a wild band Joey had managed in Denver, and always had a lot to say about grooves and arrangements.
Chris and I would sing and play riffs or chords on our guitars, me still banging on the Yamaki deluxe, that same guitar I’d been banging’ on for years. We’d work for hours without stopping, sometimes making up several songs in a session. It was fun, a lot of laughs, tough sometimes if you thought you had something and the other guys gave it the thumbs down.
But the great thing about writing with Joey and Chris was the camaraderie, and that came through in the music. I wrote a different kind of song with them than I did alone.
Joey lived in one of those Hollywood pads where the apartments circled a pool. Even on the sunniest day, we never sat by the pool, but we sort of looked at it through the windows as we gathered around his kitchen table and worked. Joey didn’t play an instrument, but he’d be singing choruses and horn parts—just making sounds, that added to the general feeling.
We knocked out a load of songs over there. “Now,” “Lost Time,” “Hush Hush,” were all on the first Plimsouls album. “Hypnotized,” the first song we wrote, was featured on our debut e.p.. Writing became nearly my favorite thing to do, and whenever the ‘souls were back from the road I’d go over. Sometimes it would be like a party; we’d buy beers and bottles of wine, or whiskey, get high, and keep writing. Sometimes we’d get too messed up and have to adjourn to the next day. But we just kept writing songs. It was so much fun, walking in with nothing and coming out with a song a few hours later. When we got one, we’d put it down on the boom box, making a cassette I could take with me. I’d go learn it with the band. And then, when everybody got to it, wow, that was the best feeling.
Meanwhile it seemed like every gig the band played was bigger than the one before it. The EP had been a hit on local radio, especially a song I’d written on my own, called “Zero Hour.” Like Rodney Bingenheimer, KROQ’s great punk rock dj liked to say, “IT’S ALL HAPPENING!” And there was pressure to come up with a powerful song to lead off the next record.
One night Chris and I went out to see the Germs play a gig at the Starwood. The place was going nuts. Punks were climbing up the walls to the balcony and diving off head first, back into the crowd. We watched it from the back for a while, then decided to work on a song.
We drove to Barney’s Beanery, a horrible bar and restaurant a mile or so up the road. We sat in a booth in the back, and Chris ate dinner, while I drank a beer and scribbled lyrics on a scrap of paper. We talked about the words, and each kicked in some lines. I was remembering something from a long time back and the feeling was pouring into the song. I’d been having an affair with a girl I really thought a lot of, and that had just broken off. Something of my childhood was in it too. A lyric was taking shape based on all of this. We wrote the second verse and a bridge but still had no title or chorus.
We got out of the restaurant and drove the five minutes over to Joey’s. He rang us in the front door of his building and met us outside his door. His wife Esther was asleep. I went in and grabbed the cheap acoustic 12 string I’d left behind the table and came back out playing. The whole song came to life as I sang the lyrics. I played the guitar riffs between the lines the way Chris and I had laid them out that afternoon, and the build up of the bridge. It was all coming together in a rush. But what’s the title, where’s the chorus? I told Joey I wasn’t sure, then somehow Joey nailed the chorus, just like that. “I’m a million miles away” and I threw on the tag “and there’s nothing left to bring me back today,” and we had another one.
We taped it on cassette, adding it to the other two songs we’d done that day, and that was it. We forgot all about it for a while.