Chris Barron is a songwriter and the multi-platinum selling front man for the group, The Spin Doctors. In this exclusive piece, he tells the story of how he wrote the hit song, “Two Princes.”
“it’s for you.”
the phone was for me.
that was unusual because the telephone in question was that of the american diner, my place of employment. i was a peon in the kitchen of this diner in my hometown.
princeton, new jersey was in the throws of a labor shortage. in the hyper-educated, upper class hamlet there were few able bodied people who were suitably un-overqualified to flip burgers or wait tables. normally, an underling taking phone calls at work would perhaps be looked at in a manner that could be described as askance, if that’s the word i’m looking for, but this scarcity of manual labor meant that my job was secure as i took the receiver in hand to take the call that would change the course of my life. i put the instrument to my ear and it was her.
but maybe i’m getting ahead of myself.
there had been a girl. for a long time there’d been a girl. it’s funny how these things are. at the time it seemed like a pretty big deal, a major crush, as it were, but now this great love is sort of a faded photo in one of the albums in one of the boxes in one of the closets in the storage space in the back of my mind but as i said, at the time it had seemed like a pretty big deal. things hadn’t worked out so well and we hadn’t parted on great terms at the end of high school in fact, we’d parted on pretty lousy terms on account of i’d written something fairly shirty and gruff in her yearbook. i don’t remember exactly what it was i wrote but it was essentially something along the lines of, “i always liked you and i’m pretty sure you liked me but you strung me along and never gave me a real chance because you’re lacking as a person” or some such schoolboy nonsense.
to tell the truth, this was all part of an unfortunate pattern in the socioeconomic continuum that was (and probably still is) princeton social life in which wealthy, athletic conformists got all the girls and cute, poetic misanthropes fell by the romantic wayside. so my frustration at the waif in question was really directed, at least in part, at the larger framework of the social structure i found myself struggling within. a social structure that i knew to be artificial because every time i was removed from it, the way i seemed to be perceived was immediately transformed from an awkward curiosity to a pretty, if not, very cool guy. a summer in philly studying art (and forming a band called the brave new lesbians) and a week spent at a high school in northport, long island had proven to me that it wasn’t i who was a loser, it was princeton that was a hotbed of phoniness and pretension. all this frustration went into what would become a major theme in my songwriting for years after, a theme i called “how could you want him when you know you could have me?” and it was also in the spirit of this frustration that i defaced our female protagonist’s yearbook with sentiments that should not be set in writing for all time.
so when i picked up the phone at my place of employment that fateful day and she asked me to meet her later that evening i came away, as roget might say, bemused, confused, puzzled, mystified, bewildered, perplexed, preoccupied, baffled and lost in thought. was she finally coming around or was this meeting to be an ambush of sorts? even in my tender years at that time (i was nineteen) i knew only too well that the female of the human species is capable of saving up a stinging rebuke for an indefinite period of time and delivering it as fresh as the day it was incurred by the unfortunate male in question.
as i remember, my shift ended pretty soon after that and i found myself on nassau street, princeton, new jersey, lost in thought. there i ran into michael “miket” wilder. miket (who’s name is pronounced, “mike it” with the stress on the “mike”) was the big brother of my friend, dave wilder. dave went on to be an extremely successful bass player and at the time it was no stretch to call him a prodigy. within days of the latest “fat boys” record coming out he would have all the slap bass lines down pat. he would also transpose john coltrain solos to the bass clef in his head and play them at tempo. he was (and still is) super bad. well, we all really looked up to miket, his big brother. we said the things he said and did the things he did and just generally considered him to be the bee’s knees. i remember considering it a stroke of luck to run into miket at this particular moment because here was just the person to advise me as to how i could go about handling my predicament with cool and aplomb.
after exchanging greetings and giving each other skin and all the customary preliminaries i told him.
“miket. this girl i like called me at work.”
he slapped me five. “well, go ahead with that, my brother,” he said.
“yeah,” i continued “but i think she may be mad at me.”
“well, you gotta go ahead with it.”
“you think so?” i asked, “i mean, i’ve liked her for a long time and maybe she’s into me too.”
“just go ahead now.” he said.
“i should just go see what’s up, right?”
“just go ahead now.”
“alright,” i said.
and i went my merry way.
i went home to my apartment above farington’s music, picked up my guitar and strummed a g chord. i took out a yellow legal pad and a shafer fountain pen and wrote the words, “one, two princes kneel before you.”
corny, i thought.
then i thought about miket’s advice and i put pen to paper again and wrote.
“just go ahead now.”