New Music Video:
HISTORY OF MAN
"HISTORY OF MAN": BEHIND THE SCENES
Back in November, after realizing a decent amount of people were actually listening to "History of Man," (the first song off my little album "Twenty"), I decided to make a quick little video.
"Quick" and "little" being the operative terms. Knowing I had no time to spare, I made myself a dare. The concept had to be: something that could be shot in 3-4 hours, be edited in 3-4 hours, be shot over the Holidays, cost less than $200, be able to be shot in my garage, be able to be shot on my iPhone, not require any actual film equipment, or for me to actually be in it (since I'd be shooting it).
The solution was obvious: use the J.P. Cregan peg doll, created years ago by my sister-in-law Ami, and a well-organized cadre of toy soldiers to film a "History" inspired tribute to "Beat It." (Which really means "a historical version of the Rumble in 'West Side Story.'")
The "Beat It"/"West Side Story" connection makes sense once you know the story of the song "History of Man." (Not that anyone other than yours truly should.)
But all these situations are interventions. Not substance-abuse related interventions. Pull-a-friend-out-of-a-anger-related-bad-decision-before-he-wrecks-multiple-lives interventions.
I wrote "History of Man" after Ubering out to a bar late one night to comfort a pal who had made a gigantic relationship mistake. Result: he had been thrown out. Over the next three hours, I tried calming him down by explaining that if my marriage could survive all the tremendous mistakes I had heaped upon it over the last two decades? My pal's relationship of eight months could weather what amounted to a non-shooting foul in the first quarter.
I extrapolated further: "then when you think of all the mistakes men have made in their relationships since the dawn of history? Your epic screwup looks even more surmountable."
Songwriting is one of my three main hobbies (along with basketball analytics and record collecting.) But I don't have a lot of time to spend on it. For me, it's kind of like fishing. And in this instance, this was one of the very rare songs that arrived at all once - it only happens after experiencing something extra-emotional (seeing my friend so upset.)
I went home that night and "History of Man" just fell out. Words, chords, melody, bridge...all just presented themselves in less than 5 minutes. Which almost never happens to me (like maybe 15 times over 30-plus years of writing songs). But when it does...it means I've hooked one of my ultra-rare better-than-average songs.
I had been working on "Twenty" for a few years by then (remember: hobby...it was originally called "Fifteen"), and realized "History of Man" was meant to be the opening thesis statement for the album. ("Twenty" chronicles the ups and downs of me and Mrs. Cregan's twenty-odd years of courtship, engagement and marriage.)
The idea of turning the video into a "Beat It" homage also arrived all at once: history + conflict + intervention. I rewatched "Beat It," noted a few shots I could recreate per homage (especially in "History of Man"'s opening 30 seconds), watched "Eat It" (to see how it's done), watched the Rumble from West Side Story, and even Toto's "Rosanna" (which had done the "West Side Story" thing a year before "Beat It." Which is ironic, as members of Toto are all over "Thriller.") And I had a shot list in about 20 minutes. Done.
Once I had the little concept, the only thing that took any real time was sourcing the toy soldiers and waiting for them to arrive in the mail. That was where I blew my $200. An eBay soldier shopping spree that amounted to the miniature casting call of my childhood dreams. I had always wanted Britains soldiers when I was a kid...but they were just so damned expensive. When I was 14, I even got a job at the rich-kid toy store in my hometown because they had Britains. That was the only way I could get close to them. Now I had $200...and a creative rationalization.
I mapped out the sides I wanted. The idea was to have visual conflicts one could see and instantly compute. Two armies made up of historically paired adversaries: Continental Army vs. British Redcoats, other British colonial soldiers (India, Africa) vs. British troops, Spain vs. France, Rough Riders vs. Spain, U.S. Cavalry vs. Native Americans, Texan Army vs. Santa Ana's Army, Knights vs. Mongols, Han Dynasty vs. Roman Empire.
To make it even easier to follow, I wanted some star power. Some recognizable faces. A few historical generals to help frame the conflict. If you look closely, you'll see: George Washington, the Marquis de Lafayette, Theodore Roosevelt, Ulysses S. Grant, Francisco Javier Castanos, and Napoleon.
But the concept also contained a twist - a second intervention by an all-important demographic. The very people who usually end up putting the ultimate stop to all testosterone-fueled historical messes. In short: women.
For these highly recognizable faces, I sourced peg dolls from a store I found on Etsy that makes historical dolls (SweetPegOfMine). The famous women you see in the group shots from left to right: Rosa Parks, Frida Kahlo, Malala Yousafazi, Clara Barton, RBG, Harriet Tubman, Sacagawea, Anne Frank. Then at the end...you come to find out their balloon pilot is Amelia Earhart. (As another woman of historical importance, Mrs. Cregan makes a late cameo, alongside our dear departed boxer Lily T. Dog.)
Now I needed to do something to create a battlefield in my garage. While spending no time and no money.
And here is where I got very lucky: Mrs. Cregan and my daughter Fern had just built a large-scale model of the Mission San Francisco de Asis for a class project. As our home's in-house Director of Fun, Mrs. Cregan ended up having too much fun with Fern's assignment. And as their creation mushroomed and took over our dining room...I secretly realized they were building my set. I merely had to wait until the project was remotely turned in. Then Mrs. Cregan chopped the Mission in half, walked out to the garage, set it up, and boom: free set complete.
One thing I learned from studying Robert Altman: if you include one child in a creative project, you must include the other. So I asked Flynn to create an opening title card. And he did a bang-up job. (It nicely sets up the childlike vibe with all of the toy soldiers.)
I had a few days off over Christmas and New Year's. I decided to shoot and edit the video all in one day, on 1/3/21. Then, I would quietly debut it on Wednesday, January 6th. And that would be it. (One precious vacation day was about the limit of investment of time/money in a J.P. Cregan music video I could justify to myself.)
So, then January 6th arrived...and...yeah.
(The night before, on 1/5, was when it became crystal clear to me I couldn't post my silly little video. As a student of history, and politics - and as a native Washingtonian...I had a hunch. After the Georgia Special Election results became clear, I got on the phone to advise some friends of mine that live in D.C. to leave D.C. before the next day.)
Obviously, not only could I not put out anything that effectively says "hey, look at what I did!" so close to 1/6, but I needed to wait even longer due to this particular video's somewhat correlated, historically/politically inspired story.
Ugh. All of this agita over some dumb little video I shot on my iPhone in three hours. So I decided to wait a month. It's not like there was any kind of actual anticipation for the darn thing.
But here's where I got extremely lucky.
Because in the meantime, I had shown the video to a few friends. And one friend, film school graduate Bobby Hacker, offered to animate my peg doll's mouth. To make me actually sing. (Initially, the dolls all had no facial features other than eyes.) Which was kind of cool...but once Bobby did a test of his mouth animation, he had upped the production value by 2000%.
I had shot the video with some super-primitive sub-Rankin-Bass-stop-motion moments. Bobby adding animated mouths would only up the vintage vibe. So, for a couple of hours a day over 10 days, Bobby painstakingly animated my mouth. It's amazing work. By far the coolest work in the video (along with the Mission San Francisco de Asis)...and much much cooler than what this inconsequential little concept deserved.
Bobby just finished his animation. So here it is. Done.
For a kooky little one-day endeavor, I view this all with great affection because it combines a lot of my personal coalition of the willing: Bobby's arduous animation, Mrs. Cregan's and Fern's boffo set design, Flynn's opening title card, my sister-in-law Ami’s peg dolls of J.P. Cregan/Jeni/Lily T. Dog, and my friend Nik Freitas (of Poppy Peak Studios) is also here on drums. (His drumming on this was so galvanizing, it inspired me to re-record the entire song at the last minute with maximum energy - to big-time beneficial effect.) I also got some great notes from my friends John Ford and Mark Schwartzbard, who helped me understand the need for adding the interstitial chapter cards, so as to make the story easier to follow.
If you end up watching it, thank you in advance. And if you like the song, the whole album is available to download for free at Bandcamp (paying money is optional, but any money paid goes to Sweet Relief's COVID-19 fund.)
"We've waited even longer for a new J.P. Cregan full-length as it's been 8 years since Man Overboard, and it's also great to have him back. Twenty is a concept album (or to use today's preferred term, a "song cycle") about his 20 years of marriage but you don't need to follow the concept to enjoy his sweet pop confections. "History of Man" is a great opener with melody and drive, and "In California" sounds like a old folk song brought to life with its martial beat and harmonica. "Pay to Play" is the kind of upbeat power pop you get from Michael Carpenter and Cliff Hillis, and "The Belle of USC" recalls the skinny tie sound of the late 70s. And "Fern, Destroyer of Worlds!" could almost be a lost Guided by Voices track." - Absolute Powerpop
"Sparkling and crystalline pop...fiery guitars and beautiful melodies...a beautiful album that injects light, color and optimism into this damnable 2020...influenced by The Kinks, Gene Clark, Guided by Voices, Graham Parker and Matthew Sweet...created in an environment of love and kindness: 5 out of 5 stars." - Exile Subterranean Homesick Magazine
A terrific popster about whom I know nothing, but that will change pretty quick, I believe...
"The third album from Los Angeles's J.P. Cregan is an auto-biographical affair celebrating his 20th Wedding Anniversary. Now if that sounds a bit twee, it's because it is, but affectionately so. What Twenty is is a great solo Power Pop album released in a year when there haven't been too many.
There are no crashing guitars or big riffs present here, just well written and arranged songs. All have hooks that come from different directions and most importantly everything sounds so wonderfully chipper. The world seems a bit happier after you listen to Twenty and isn't that what music should be about?" - I Don't Hear a Single