Under His Skin
part 1: "with these lips and other things"
part 1 of a 2 part interview with Peter Marinari

          During my recent interview with singer-songwriter Peter Marinari, he told a lot of stories.  We were not sitting around a campfire by any stretch of the imagination, unless you would consider the computer the modern version of the campfire.  I think the coffee table makes a more likely candidate, but that is a discussion for another time.  The computer was present as a reference for Peter, who claimed: "I'll never be able to think of anything without my songs staring me in the face."  So, with his lyrics page loaded up, we began.

I - Is there anything you'd like to say, just to start off?

PM - I guess there is a misconception that a lot of my lyrics are romantic relationship lyrics. I was talking to one of my friends and they said: "Well, Peter, they're all the same song!"  But they're not! Really!  Two examples being "The Inadequacy Song", which is obviously not about a romantic relationships, and "A Long Time Since."  That easily could seem like a romantic song, and I can see where it could seem like one.  It is about relationships, but not the romantic kind.  It's more about friends because ... when I say that I "wanna spend my life with you" or " I would run to the ends of the earth for you," it doesn't have to be a love thing, it's a friendship thing too.  I mean, you can be very close to a lover and be willing to do anything for them, but that is so much more of a progression.  Friends, you would throw yourself in front of a bus for a lot of your friends.  [This song is saying] well, I'm not taking that leap, and I might not even visit you in the hospital if you do.  Friendship and romance are two concepts that are really close but I definitely wrote that song from the perspective of friendship and I think it's easy to miss that.

I - Why don't you talk a little about your style of writing.

PM - So much music today is just... it just lacks depth, it's so shallow. And I don't want to be shallow.  Vague can be interpreted as shallow, as having nothing to say.  But, Tori Amos is vague, Fiona Apple is vague, and I identify with their songs a lot.  Ani DiFranco isn't very vague, but that's more of a skill than the vagueness is, if you ask me.

PM - I think writing has sort of become a different exercise for me now.  I don't know how to explain it... I mean, if you look at older songs like "Touch" they're more narrative based.  They are based on a specific experience, whether you can tell or not.  When you get to new songs like "Crashing" and "Under My Skin," both of them are sort of situational, they describe a whole situation.

I - [I was about to ask another question when Peter launched into descriptions of the latter two songs.]

PM - "Crashing ... to tell you the truth I don't even remember what that meant at the time.  I could speculate...  It was raining, and I try to write good things when it rains.  The one good thing about the dormitory where I am currently imprisoned is that we have these great lounges with these huge bay windows that look out to the East over Philadelphia.  That one day it was raining and I was locked out of my room and I just sat down and ... I don't know what I was thinking.  Coming down is the worst part whether you are coming down from some sort of drug or some kind of euphoria; its always the worse part because something is ending and also because you have to cope with withdrawing from whatever you are coming down from.

PM - "Under My Skin" is sort of my newest complete song.  I just completed sociology class and my professor was old ... not very old, but he was old and he was very distinguished.  He had wrinkles, not age wrinkles, but wrinkles like tree rings.  The first day of class I was just staring at him while he was telling us about his life and I was thinking: "all of that is just there."  His life was in his flesh, under his skin, all of his experiences have been witnessed by that skin.  That's where that first line came from.  Of course, the rest of the song has nothing to do with sociology class, though I wrote a good deal of it in that class. The little black dress stinks of sin because it represents sin; in movies and in cartoons and books and whatever the woman wearing the little black dress has willingly become the temptress.  She has willingly put herself in the position to be lusted after and to have power over the men who are staring at her.  Is that sinful?  Not inherently, but if she has those motives it is.  That's where the second line comes from, and I think I have a really weak chin, so that's the whole first verse.  The rest of the song just follows from there."

I - Do you have all of those thoughts in your head as you write a song?  Or do you sometimes just write and afterwards realize what the significance is?

PM - It depends.  Sometimes I just sit down and start writing, or a phrase just comes to me, and in those cases I don't necessarily have all of those things in my head.  But some songs are written as a result of all of that, in a way, those songs have all of that built in.  "How Many More Times" is an example of that. 

I - Since you brought it up, why don't you talk about "How Many More Times"?

PM - "How Many More Times" was written right after getting home from a Peter Mulvey concert. Peter Mulvey actually did a song that night about the man who was sort of brutalized by the New York police department ... well he sorta inserted that into one of his songs.  And, during Tori Amos' tour she was dedicating a song of hers, "Merman," to Matthew Shepard.  I was thinking that I don't really say very much in a lot my songs about things that are national or social.  So I started writing "How Many More Times": it's basically a song about homophobia, and less specifically just about liberal causes in general.  "Writing on the wall" & "far off to the  right"  are both very specific references to the Christian right.  All of the third verse is very specifically a reference to Matthew Shepard.  The fourth verse ... I was talking to someone and they didn't get it at all; I don't think it's too cryptic  It goes: "Funny how our dirty little secrets won't hide when we want them to.  You'd think by now they'd be shut away since we've locked them down since our youth."  Which is basically saying that anyone who doesn't conform to society's standards is like a dirty little secret, and you'd think we have them locked away by now because society has been treating them so horribly since they were young.  I goes on: "It doesn't matter what we do or say, it's just the next Hollywood trend.  Well on the behalf of the human race, I'm happy to be famous then."  That refers to the sort of discounting of adherence to social causes, discounting by the media and by certain religious groups.  You hear them saying "that's just the liberal Hollywood trend."  The point is that it's not just Hollywood, it's everyone.  If it is just Hollywood then I am happy to be famous, 'cause I am definitely a part of that "bandwagon," and I guess I'm famous then, so that's that.

I - You recently recorded a cover of Madonna's "Lucky Star" for your web page.  You aren't really known for doing covers, so why was it you recorded this one?

PM - "Lucky Star" was... I have this impulse to pay homage to people who I feel influenced me somehow and Madonna, come on, she was like another mother to me who just happened to wear cone bras.  I knew I wanted to cover this song for a while but it took a lot of searching around to find how it needed to be played on guitar, how it should be expressed.  I could hear it in my head, but it took me a while to search it out.  That beginning part... it's a teaser in a way because I preface playing the song by saying that people will recognize it.  But it's also my way of adding material to the song.  "Lucky Star" is just one of those songs I would just sing over and over and over and add little bits and pieces to, and now I finally can do that for real.

I - Have you been collaborating at all with Gina Martinelli lately?

PM - You'd think so, since I live right down the block from her.  {he laughs here}.  No, we've hardly has a chance to even get together to play lately.  The last collective effort was "All That's True."  Gina had written the lyrics and sent them to me last summer [1998].  I have always had a firm belief of the fact that Gina can write lyrics, and these proved it.  She never did anything musically [with the song] that I heard. 

PM - Collaborations with Gina are sort of hit or miss: we sometimes hit something really well like this [song] or like "Falling Down," and sometimes the song will just hang around ... which is sort of like where "Fearless" is.  I don't know if I even have the lyrics to "Fearless" on the site.  One night I was in a new tuning, DADGCF with a capo 3rd fret, and started trying to write some music for the Gina's lyrics.  I always thought they had a very Ani-esque feel to it, so I tried to do them justice.  I started play and ... the chords are all really standard chords, I just found them easily in that tuning.  By the end of the night the song was totally composed, and I had added a few lyrics.  It is truly a favorite of mine now; it sort of got paired with "How Many More Times" because the music was written in the same period and they are both in the same tuning.  I didn't get to play it for Gina until we moved into the Drexel dorms, and she seems to really like it.

I - Speaking of the dorms, how is the Drexel experience going for you?

PM - Pretty well.  Musically I can't really say too much for it, though next quarter I am going to be a bit more involved in that aspect, but I have been having a lot of fun.  And, of course, I am learning a lot too.  I've met people who are very easy to relate to, and some who are just totally the opposite of me.  It's definitely going really well for me.