Youth Is Not For Pleasure album notes
Special thanks to:
Earle Mankey, whose empathetic ear and unflappable demeanor as co-producer, engineer and mixer resulted in this album sounded as good and coherent as it does.
Tony Berg, who was able to take Words Into Action to a higher level of sophistication and commerciality with his production of the overdubbing and improved vocal takes on the final version of both the track included on this album and the later version recorded in 1986 and featured in the feature film Welcome To 18 (as well as the upcoming 2020 release of the Shadow Across The Moon double-CD). The bonus track original version of Words Into Action is also included to provide a basis for comparison.
Lance Ross, who took such wonderful photos of the band during this period and has so graciously allowed us to utilize those images for the album and website artwork.
Album notes by Jessie Jacobson
Second Language had only been anywhere near a professional recording studio on two occasions – in 1983 when the original lineup of the band recorded four tracks with Earle Mankey at his studio in Thousand Oaks, and three tracks recorded later that year with producer Ron Fair in L.A. The three Ron Fair-helmed tracks and two songs from the Earle Mankey sessions, overdubbed upon and remixed with Ron Fair, combined to make up the Souvenirs EP the band released in 1984 (which will be released on CD and download/streaming formats in 2021 as Souvenirs [Revisited] including 14 bonus studio and demo tracks). New rhythm section, bassist Jarrett Lesko and drummer Brian Bielski debuted on the title song and the dance mix of the same song.
So when we decided to pool our resources and record an entire album’s worth (and then some!) of new material in 1985, we again chose to work with producer/engineer extraordinaire Earle Mankey, owing to his empathy for our artistic vision and his wonderful feedback and willingness to experiment with both sounds and musical ideas.
Working with producers was always fraught with compromises as we were dependent upon them for studio time and they tended to think in terms of commercial viability a lot more than we did as a band. In choosing to produce our own album, we enjoyed an artistic freedom that few bands experience when working with big-league producers or major labels. That these recordings failed to garner us a record deal back in the day still puzzles the hell out of us. However I get that we didn’t exactly stick to one sound or style on these recordings, opting instead to record each song as a unique experience with little or no thought paid to commerciality or commerce. Call it art-for-art’s sake, perhaps. So I get it that the A&R men at the majors felt we were too rock for the Goths, too out-there for New Romanticism, too much of a live band for synth-pop and with no real fixed musical or visual image.
That’s also why I would presume to suggest that this music stands up well today – because it was recorded by and as a band and the truth is we could reproduce these songs faithfully on stage without pre-recorded backing tracks or additional musicians. We were a strong live band and we rehearsed a hell of a lot but we never overthought our approach to songwriting or arranging. Many of the songs originated as band improvisations and the few that were not written by various combinations of band members, I brought in as bare bones demo recordings that the band was free to develop and expand upon with free-flowing arrangements.
Toni’s vocal work on here is superlative as are her vibrant, imaginative, impressionistic lyrics on songs such as Youth Is Not For Pleasure and Visions Of An Aging Race and more direct, heartfelt words on bonus track I Know You’re There are an excellent counterpart to my own lyrical contributions.
Songs about the impertinence and impermanence of youth and the aging process (Youth Is Not For Pleasure), nuclear annihilation/winter (This Scorched Earth), the interwoven darkness of religion and mankind (Garden Of Delight), the problems of language in communication (Words Into Action), a screed against drunk driving and the, to me, absurd notion of a supreme being (No God In Heaven Tonight), the foibles of humankind (Visions Of An Aging Race), an excavation for love (Excavation), a woman who can’t love (Caution To The Wind), the cutting edge of love (The Edge) and an anti-apartheid song about South Africa (Long Goodbye) - not the lightest sets of lyrics for a 1985 album (apart from Siouxsie and the Banshees, Magazine or a handful of other contemporary bands) either! Neither Toni nor I must have been the happiest campers around back then or perhaps we just used music and lyric writing to exorcise our personal demons.
Jerome’s keyboard, clarinet and flute work throughout is impeccable and emotive – he was so perfect for the Prophet V synth that Sequential Circuits should have given him an endorsement deal based upon this album alone. He was the heart of the band in so many ways.
Jarrett and Brian as a rhythm section are one of my favorite couplings ever which may explain why we ended up playing together for over thirteen years back in the day, in addition to another five years in recent times. They provided a power and range that was like some awesome interlocking core-grinding mechanism upon which Jerome, Toni and I could overlay textures and moods.
I also love that we were able to utilize all our skills as multi-instrumentalists during these sessions. I played bass on Youth Is Not For Pleasure and Caution To The Wind; Brian, Jarrett, Toni and I added the occasional keyboard lines and everybody played some sort of metal or wood percussion throughout.
While I may nitpick regarding some of my vocal work at the time – I don’t really think I fully hit my stride as a singer for another year (and as a trans woman, struggle to hear my male voice as anything but a compromise) – I think these tracks fairly bristle with excitement, commitment and intelligence and I’m proud as hell of most of the lyrics, guitar work and production values.
I'm hoping you might feel the same.