Aug 8 • 3M

"Spend This Mountain"

from the album Richard

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Appears in this episode

Joe Pernice
Musician and writer Joe Pernice shares recordings and some words about making them.
Episode details
I act like I don't care
but man, you know I do.
And my hardened face only helps to
bottle up the truth.

When they woke me with the news
Oh, man, I wished I'd never come to.
Cuz, I don't think I can
spend this mountain without you.

I act like I'm the same
but it's not so.
And it's hard to blame out friends
who think they still know me.

When they woke me with the news
Oh, man, I wished I'd never come to.
Cuz, I don't think I can
spend this mountain without you.

It's the slap upon your face.
It's a hardened makeup trace.
It's some words we say in pain
that we can never take away.
It's the slap upon your face.
It's a hardened makeup trace
that makes tears cut rivers of shame.

When they woke me with the news
Oh, man, I wished I'd never come to.
Cuz, I don't think I can
spend this mountain without you.

Joe Pernice, Bony Gap Music (BMI), admin. by BUG/BMG.

I wrote this song for my cousin (Cuz) Joe Incagnoli. Most people who knew him, knew him as Joe Harvard. There were/are a lot of Joe’s in our family. None of us were merely Joe. Joe’s father Joe Shoes was a “famous” East Boston football player. My mother’s uncle Joe was called Didi. My late uncle Joe Vitale was called Ducky. His son is Joe Junior. My grandfather was Nonno Joe. My nephew is called Joe Duffy. Since my middle name is Timothy, I’m Joe Tim. It all calls to mind the Henry Ford Model T quote: You can have any color you like as long as it’s black. Or George Forman naming all his sons George.

Joe Incagnoli went to Harvard, so Joe Harvard it would be.

He died of liver cancer on March 24, 2019. (My father’s 86th birthday.) I only chose to do this song now because I played it live in my set during my recent shows, and it and Joe have been on my mind.

I won’t say too much here about Joe because he left me his memoir, and I hope to get it edited and published. His life was something else. He was an excellent writer. (He wrote a Velvet Underground book for the 33 1/3 series.) He was a unique and at-times inspiring guitar player. And he sang as if he could carry a tune.

Here are a few interesting bullet points:

  1. He grew up a poor kid in East Boston and graduated Magna Cum Laude from Harvard with a degree in archeology. (He got thrown out a couple times, so his crimson journey was circuitous and wayward.)

  2. He started the famous Boston recording studio Fort Apache in his apartment in Central Square, Cambridge. (He soon moved into the original South End space. And his memoir chapter about him negotiating the deal for Fort Apache North is a pretty great albeit stressful one.)

  3. He was once engaged to a daughter of a famously assassinated world leader.

  4. In the late 1970s he took his bud Jonathan Richman to Harvard Yard so Jonathan could climb a tree for the first time in his life.

  5. The Fender J Mascis signature Telecaster is modelled after a Telecaster Joe sold to J.

  6. He and the late, great Billy Ruane approached a Central Square restaurant owner about them possibly booking rock shows in their back room. That place would become the famous Middle East gig in Cambridge,

  7. He loved his son and family more than he could express.

  8. He was the smartest, most-generous, most curious person I ever met or will ever meet.

  9. About three weeks after walking into a community computer learning center and touching a computer for the first time, he was made manager of the place. He was a knowledge vacuum set to full-speed-ahead.

  10. His forty-year struggle with drug addiction brought him to heartbreaking places he may otherwise have never visited.

  11. In one of his last texts to me he knew he’d die soon and he lamented, “There’s just so much cool shit I haven’t done in the world.”

Joe Harvard (left) with Pernice Brothers touring unit and Jonathan Richman, San Francisco, circa 2007.

He used to ask me to to repeat to him my one-sentence philosophy of comedy: “One must subordinate oneself to the joke.” In that spirit, laying in his deathbed, a few hours before he left this world, he signed off of our last phone conversation the way he ALWAYS did: “I can smell your ass from here. Love you, Cuz.”

Search “Joe Harvard” on Google or youtube. There’s some great stuff, including him facing off with Tipper Gore on a Boston TV show back in the 1980s. He was a legit one-of-a-kind, complex, flawed, beautiful and complicated American original. He was the only ham you can’t cure. There was no gig he wouldn’t play. No person or animal he wouldn’t help. I owe him a lot more than a song, though he’d say I did not.

Me at Joe Harvard’s memorial at the Middle East, 2019, holding the prized Nineteen-fifty/sixty-something Telecaster that Joe—despite his bouts of dope-sickness and poverty—never sold.

As always, thanks for listening.

Take care of yourselves and those around you.