I remember very little about making this album. Odd… it has some of (I think) my best songs on it. I do remember bringing Johnny Rutledge up from Chicago to arrange and produce the vocals. That was amazing. I remember standing by Johnny in the studio as we were laying down some background vocals and thinking to myself, “oh… that’s what a singer is.”
I met Johnny in a bar in Toronto several years earlier. I was awestruck to meet this legendary studio singer. I sheepishly told him I was a singer too and gave him a cassette of my album Deep Calls to Deep. Several years later, while recording Romantics, I decided to call him (then living in Chicago) to see if he would consider working on this album with me. It didn’t even occur to me he might remember who I was, but when I called him he exclaimed, “Steve Bell!! I’m listening to you right now!” and in the background Deep was playing on his stereo.
I think one of the better recordings of my career is the song Lament for a Nation on this CD. Johnny does all the back-ground vocals and his performance is brilliant. I also remember flying all the way down to New Mexico for the photo shoot. My buddy Lou Bruno lives down there. Lou is a high-end designer/marketing type and offered to design the CD cover for me. We thought as the album was called Romantics and Mystics, we would get some great shot reminiscent of Spain (much Spanish influence in the architecture down there). In the first hour of the day of shooting, we blasted off a couple rolls of film in his office in Santa Fe before going out for the day – mostly to get used to the camera and get in the mood.
In the end we used the pictures from his office – could have been anywhere. Lou had a heart pounded out of metal hanging on his wall – at one point I grabbed it and held it in front of my face – and that shot made the back of the CD. When my young son Jesse saw the design his face screwed up and he said, “Dad why are you holding up a bum?” When I look back on the material I had written and selected for the album, I remember that it was those days I thought a lot about the mystery of fidelity – that somehow in our culture we have lost the ability to perceive the meaning of things like sexuality. And so adherence to seemingly random moral codes and acceptable behaviors end up being nothing but a test by a capricious, even cruel God.