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Thursday, May 26, 2011

Songwriter's Navel: Week 16, Which Is Shockingly Late

Recording

Cat died. House guests. Sloth. What can I say?

I did not make my scheduled Tuesday night class on May 3, which was the second week of the new session (and the first due date for an assignment), but I did a make-up the following Sunday. Missing class honestly had nothing to do with the assignment, although it was a daunting one: The dreaded Sincere Love Song.

In acting, it may be that tragedy is easy and comedy is hard, but in songwriting the opposite is true: It's much, much easier to write a heartbreak song, an angry "piss off" song, or what have you, to write sincerely about something you love. Is it because we are convinced that creative people are creative because they have suffered/do suffer in a way or to an extent that noncreative people don't? (Well, that begs the question of there BEING noncreative people, but let's skip that for the moment.) That's certainly a story we hear and tell over and over again, right? But there's also the fact that it's uncool to like anything anymore. As Hodgman says: Internet = most efficient pure disgruntlement engine in history."

This isn't the first time we've had this assignment. The last time it came up, I violated the spirit of the assignment by writing a song called "Never Get to Nashville" about how the ZK is terrible for writing songs about. Which, of course, brings up the trope about creativity emanating solely from pain and drama. But, hey, it's not like I'm the first person to go to that well.

Anyway, I ended up writing my second song for/about the ZK for this assignment. Time decay is my enemy, and it looks like I took an uncharacteristically small number of notes by hand for this one. The notes I did take were from a completely different angle that was fond and sincere, but not without sarcasm, which is my preferred crutch both in songwriting and out of it. Funnily enough, though, looking at the handwritten notes, I see:


Silent, with you
Still
I am still
I am with you


I hadn't remembered until now that I had been playing with the idea of being "still with you" (i.e., "I remain with you") and "still, with you" (i.e., "I am motionless, I am with you"), but that was certainly an important initial spark for the song. I was thinking of being utterly comfortable when I'm with the ZK in general, but also thinking about the utter quiet at our friend M's country house in the Catskills, where we used to have these big, fun house parties every other summer. I had actually tried to write about the Catskills house a while ago, right after her family sold the house (and it was featured on the incredibly odious American Pickers). I'm pretty sure I burned it down in that song.

I also had notes about sleep, which is not surprising, because I really like sleep and I'm really, really bad at it, especially lately. I had "fold the day away," "sheets fall like silence upon my skin from your fingertips" ('Cause, like, dude, someone fixing the covers while you'er already in bed? Awesome.)

I think I must have written those notes well before I tried to write the song. In fact, I think I might have written them while sitting in a coffee shop waiting to head over to my songwriting codependent's place to get in a last practice before we played on May 2. When I came back to it with a more or less blank page almost a week later, the sheets/fingertips image seemed like it was going to be the end of a thought, not the beginning, and it became connected with the idea of gestures like that creating comfort/stillness/silence, regardless of place. From there, it seemed clearly that the song was more about the road trip to the Catskills, and the refrain became "It feels like home." Not the most original sentiment, but one that's the heart of many songs that I love and think are wonderful, like Ellis Paul's beautiful "Home". I swear to you, I of course realized that my song had a lot in common with his, but had not at all—until this very moment—thought about the fact that he, too, fictionally torches a beloved place in it.

The first verse and refrain behaved well for the most part. The first two lines came easily, although the second is a bit wordy to cram in. I decided to go with the four-finger "Big G" shape and a Cadd9, rather than a regular C because I'd been playing around with hammer-ons. I'm really terrible at them unless I'm using this cheater position and letting my index finger do the work. From there, the whole song musically centered itself around strings 1 and 2 fretted at 3 throughout.

The [G] sun paints its shadows on the [Cadd9] backs of your hands
I’m keeping [Dsus4] time with my bare feet on the [Cadd9] dashboard
With the [G] windows open wide we drink the [Cadd9] breeze in while we can
On the [Dsus4] far side of Ohio stumbling [Cadd9] through this one-night door [G]

And it feels like [Cadd9] home,
When the [Dsus4] sheets leave your [Cadd9] fingers
And [Em] settle on my [G] skin
It feels like [Cadd9] home


To get to the Catskills from Chicago, one drives through Indiana, then Ohio, and then the parts of Pennsylvania that are affectionately known as the Alabama in between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The first time we drove out together, the ZK had spent very little time anywhere East of the Mississippi other than Chicago. It rained all the way through Pennsylvania. The second time we drove out, the ZK decided to drive through the night. It rained all the way through Pennsylvania. It was raining in Pennsylvania when, on a dark, winding mountain road, I learned that the ZK had this on his iPod. In fact, until we went to State College for our friends' wedding in 2007, I'm pretty sure the ZK was convinced that it was never not raining in Pennsylvania.

I vacillate wildly between liking and hating this verse. I was not and still am not happy with the triteness of the "feels like home" refrain, so I decided not to have it repeat exactly each time, but rather to use an image evoking the "home away from home" sensation. I do think my very sincere love of the fact that the ZK will sing along with me gets me some points for the assignment.

Verse 2:

Now there’s [G] rain in Pennsylvania, there is [Cadd9] always rain
Like we’re [Dsus4] winding through the Allegheny [Cadd9] sorrow
The [G] sun is just memory, hard to [Cadd9] tell the night from day
Where the [Dsus4] blacktop flickers gold on the [Cadd9] road to tomorrow [G]

And it feels like [Cadd9] home,
When I [Dsus4] sing out in the [Cadd9] darkness
And [Em] your voice joins [G] in
It feels like [Cadd9] home


With a refrain song, particularly one that's as musically repetitive as this one, a bridge is kind of a must. Surely I've talked about my hatred for bridges before? I am so. very. terrible. at them. Here, I am especially terrible. I steal from Shakespeare (and for someone who claims not to like R & J very much, I sure go to that well often enough) AND I'm cribbing from someone else's memories. We didn't attend the very first Catskills house party, because I was in Peru at the time. But Mand others have talked many times about the night they lay in the grass around the house and looked up at the stars.


[Dsus4] Lying in the grass, the face of [Cadd9] night so fine
[Dsus4] The world turns overhead, I feel your [Em] breath in [Dsus4] time with [Cadd9] mine


The third verse proved quite hard to write. I had several different concepts I wanted to cram in there, and I was having trouble figuring out what was happening, when really it was very obvious: The ZK was sleeping and I was not. Because this is what happens all the time, and honestly, my not sleeping is much, much worse when he's not around.


When your [G] head hits the pillow, you're [Cadd9] already fast asleep
While my [Dsus4] mind runs away [Cadd9] in the silence
I feel your [G] dreams rise and fall, rise and [Cadd9] fall beneath my cheek
I count [Dsus4] your heartbeats, I count the stars, I [Cadd9] count the moments I am at peace [G]

And it feels like [Cadd9] home,
In the [Dsus4] unfamiliar [Cadd9] stillness
When [Em] you are by my [G] side
It feels like [Cadd9] home
It feels like [Cadd9] home
It feels like [G] home


So there you have it.

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