Behind the Song — with frontman, Bill Janovitz
Song: “Taillights Fade”
Record: Let Me Come Over
Released: March 10, 1992
By: Buffalo Tom — Boston, MA
What do you recall about writing “Taillights Fade” and where it was written?
I was home late from a night out and was probably a bit loopy. My girlfriend (now wife) and I were living in our first apartment, in Somerville, at 15 Central Street. It was a tiny railroad-type flat carved out of the lower half of an old Victorian/Italianate house. The bedroom was in one end, the bathroom at the other, separated by a small kitchen and tiny living room. The fridge was in a closet in the living room, next to the kitchen.
She was asleep and I would often go strum my guitar lightly in the pink-tiled bathroom when I felt inspired, so I wouldn’t wake her. Having had a few drinks, I was inspired. I sat on the floor and had a boombox into which I would record demo ideas. I recall the first verse kind of spilled out over the chord sequence that I was just sort of looping. The other two verses were written later. The middle verse about the girl was from a newspaper story about a real life modern Romeo and Juliet drama. Since she was forbidden to see the boy she loved, she ran away to live as a hermit, with only one or two people sworn to secrecy of her whereabouts. I believe she literally lived in a cave. I am a romantic, so that struck me deeply. The last verse just kind of ties the other two together in my mind. I still have the original demo.
What was your impression of the song upon completing the recording? How moving was it?
I felt moved, for sure. And I also, a little later, felt that it was one of my first really crafted songs, a song where I just didn’t go completely with the stream of consciousness without polishing it into a really written (crafted) song. But I never thought of it as a standout single kind of song. I felt it was pretty dark and depressing. It’s basically about being resigned, giving up, feeling older than your years, feeling apart and alienated.
Does “Taillights Fade” encompass a specific experience that you had gone through and wanted to share?
The meaning of the song was not so much about what I was experiencing in my life at the moment. I was in a really rewarding relationship, the band was fulfilling, and life was looking pretty promising. But I have always had depressive episodes, moments where it all seemed lost. And being on tour was in and of itself a manic experience. We would go from adrenaline-and-booze-filled highs around the shows themselves, to weeks in, hungover, alone on days off, or bad shows, where I would just question everything and longed to be back home. But the song is not autobiographical. These are just feelings that most people experience in some form in their lives.
What is the emotion of playing the song live? How has it evolved?
I hate to rehearse it and all old songs, but I love playing it for others. I like to stretch it our a bit, solo a little more, emphasize certain lyrics, and so on. I don’t necessarily experience the depth of emotion at the same level each time. Otherwise I would likely be committed to a hospital.
I don’t really listen to the recording as a reference, so it has taken on different tempos and shades over the 25+ years. I mean, I believe I actually wrote it in 1990 or ’91 at the latest.
What are your most memorable “Taillights Fade” moments?
When we first went to Australia in ’92, the song had been out on Let Me Come Over for probably about six months. It was thrilling to be on the other side of the world and have people know our music and come out to see us, meeting them, hanging out. And this one fellow told me about a friend of his who was a really big fan of our records and Taillights in particular. The friend had committed suicide and directed the song to be played at his funeral. It kind of took the wind out of me. I felt deeply sad and a little nauseous about it. And I wondered aloud if he had somehow taken the wrong message from it. The friend assured me he had not and that he just appreciated the beauty of the song, found compassion in there for what others went through, like he did. The fact that it connected so deeply, that something I wrote on the floor of a pink bathroom in Somerville reached a person around the world like that on such a meaningful level was a scary and even — I hesitate to say — rewarding feeling. But the responsibility was literally awesome, like I was overwhelmed and it has never left me. And it made me realize what people like Kurt Cobain or the Beatles must have dealt with, their songs reaching many more millions on a level like that or even deeper.
What was it like performing it live with Eddie Vedder (2017)?
Playing “Taillights Fade” with Ed was quite flattering, and moving in a similar way to how other people have told me about their connection to that or any other of our songs, with two added layers. 1) I have known Ed for a long time, but only having seen him four of five times since they played before us on a Boston bill in 1992. But still, a friend, and having a friend connect is special. And, 2) Coming from a legend, it was a sweet story and a generous moment. I should add a third level, that it came during a benefit show I partially co-founded back in 2002, something I have been a part of for 16 years, a charity (Hot Stove Cool Music) event that is as near and dear to me as it gets.
What does “Taillights Fade” mean to you?
It is definitely our signature. I am glad it has lasted for so many people. If that was all that we had as a band, one song that reached people on a meaningful level, we would have been happy.
~ Bill Janovitz, Buffalo Tom
Catch Buffalo Tom September 9th at the Royale in Boston, celebrating 25 years of Let Me Come Over. For more info visit BuffaloTom.com
To learn more about Hot Stove Cool Music visit: FoundationtobeNamedLater.org
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In collaboration with/produced by Jeff Gorra