Kim The Waitress

Freak City SoundtrackIn the 1990s I was fanatical about Material Issue, the legendary Chicago power pop trio.  Truth be told, I still am.  Their high energy guitar driven power pop was the soundtrack of my late teenage years.  Breaking out on the scene with International Pop Overthrow in 1991, they were poised for superstardom.  Their debut album was recorded for only $5,000 in a series of sessions and received critical acclaim, initially selling 180,000 copies and taking the band to #86 on the Billboard 200 Album Chart. The band immediately went back to the studio to record their follow up LP, Destination Universe.  Both of these albums were produced by Jeff Murphy of Shoes fame.

Late 1991 and early 1992 was defined by the opening riff to Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit.”  Grunge took root and rock bands like Material Issue didn’t get the respect from record labels and radio stations that “The Seattle Sound” garnered. While their cult following continued to grow, the national scene leaned heavily toward grunge and the new wave of alternative.  So by the time 1994 came around and Material Issue recorded their third album, Freak City Soundtrack, the shooting star was about to begin burning out.  And it’s our loss – because the band (especially as a live act) was incredible.

This album featured some great guest players including Rick Nielsen (Cheap Trick), Liz Phair, and Gilby Clarke (Guns N’ Roses, Slash’s Snakepit).  In fact, Clarke almost joined the band as an additional guitarist.  Freak City Soundtrack kicks into high gear from the opening song (“Goin’ Through Your Purse,” a track that is one of my favorite Material Issue tunes) and seems to capture the essence of Material Issue’s energetic live performances better than the two previous albums.

Louis Magnifico and Ted Ansani of Material Issue
Louis Magnifico and Ted Ansani of Material Issue circa 2019

Freak City Soundtrack also featured the single, “Kim The Waitress.” Most fans assumed this was an original song from frontman Jim Ellison.  It seemed to have his trademark on it – a song about a girl, her name in the title – but in reality it was a cover of a 1980s song from The Green Pajamas.  The Material Issue cover version enjoyed success throughout alternative rock radio, generating a good deal of airplay as well as an accompanying music video.  It shot to #20 on US Modern Rock charts but in the era of grunge, it wasn’t enough to put Material Issue back on top for the masses.  The band continued to both tour and record and had, in fact, assembled much of what would be their fourth album when Jim Ellison tragically died on June 20, 1996.  That recorded material, along with their original 1987 EP, was released as Telecommando Americano in 1997.  But “Kim The Waitress” would be their final hit single.

I dwell on Material Issue because of my love for the band.  But as I previously mentioned, the song in question here was originally a track from The Green Pajamas.  Let’s dig a little into that song and learn it’s story as we reflect on the lyrics.

“Kim The Waitress” is a song about having a crush on (and fantasizing about) an attractive waitress at a local diner.  As you probably guessed, her name was Kim.  What you might not have known is that Kim the waitress was a real person, the events in the song are true, and yes, her name was Kim.  In 1984 the members of The Green Pajamas would often meet at Mr. Ed’s after band practice.  Mr. Ed’s was an all night diner where waitress Kim Chavey (now Kim Olson) became the object of their fantasy: a perfect story of unrequited love.  In fact, the band really did scribble poems of lust about Kim while they were sitting in a corner booth in the diner.  One such poem was entitled, “Ode to Kim the Waitress,” a poem which could be considered in some respects the first draft of what would eventually become the song lyrics for “Kim The Waitress.”  As is memorialized in the first verse of the now famous song:

“Pressed lips and tender hips
Turning, in my head
Writing poems in a corner booth
That I’d die, if she read”

Freak City Soundtrack producer Mike Chapman studied the bass track from the Green Pajamas version and determined that the original was recorded with a slightly out of tune bass which gave the bass an interesting (in a good way) sound.  Ted Ansani (Material Issue bassist) detuned his bass to capture the sound they wanted to emulate. Chapman also took a “full band” approach to the recording of this album.  There were no click tracks and the band sang their harmonies all gathered around a microphone. The result was a record that captured the energy of a live Material Issue concert better than the previous ones.  But in spite of this, “Kim The Waitress” may have been the one track on the album that seemed less “live” – yet that was the song chosen by the record company as the single release.

In 2011, a short film was made based on the song and with the consent and cooperation of The Green Pajamas.  This short film interprets the lyrics to be less about young lust and more about a stalker.  The filmmaker zeros in on lyrics that can be interpreted in a darker fashion:

“She doesn’t come around anymore
and that bothers me.”

“I don’t stand a ghost of a chance with her
she’s pretty – and that bothers me.”

You can watch the short film here:

Another interesting factoid about this song is that Material Issue’s Jim Ellison remained true to The Green Pajamas original and played a sitar track in the recording – something that seems highly unusual for the aggressive power pop trio.  For me, though, it gave this song on Freak City Soundtrack a unique place on the album – quite like “The India Song” from Big Star’s #1 Record.

If it’s been a while since you gave Kim the Waitress some attention then give it a listen today.  Here is the Material Issue version for your listening pleasure.

 

 

 

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