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Thursday, June 09, 2011

Songwriter's Navel: Week 19, In Which I Am An Intentional And Unintentional Scofflaw

Recording (a very sloppy one; read on for excuses galore!)

This is me, getting back on the horse.

So, I played out this past Monday night, and it was awful. I know, it's a Peter and the Wolf thing with me, because my bar for success is "No one died." I am not sure no one died this time. I really don't want to dwell on it, but I did very badly. Guitar playing was awful, singing was all over the map. Ugh! Ok, that is me not dwelling, but leading into this recording and write-up.

I really didn't want to record this song, both because I'm still wanting to dig a hole, climb in, and pull the hole in after me and because I don't think much of this song. Again, that's not exactly odd for me, but what IS odd is the fact that others pointed out both strengths and weaknesses of this song that were mostly below my radar.

The assignment was to use at least five words from the following list (the ones I ended up using are in bold):

  • Reflex (or Reflux)
  • Embargo
  • Formaldehyde
  • Embrace
  • Reciprocate
  • Investigate
  • Condescend
  • Cruel
  • Dynasty
  • Impassioned
  • Messed-up
  • Coagulate
  • Venture
  • Replace
  • Kind
  • Gruel
  • Valid
  • Sneaky
  • Troubled
  • Violate
  • Concentrate
  • Vinegar
  • Grasp
  • Whirl
  • Fecund
  • Zimmerman

Musically, we also had to stick the following chords: D, Em, G, A, Am7, C, Dm, B7, F, Dmaj7, F#m, Esus4, and E.

Starting with the words, I knew right away that I wanted to start with some kind of play on "Nothing ventured, nothing gained," but my mind was being especially slow and dull that morning. It took me forever to come up with the opening line of verse 1, which is kind of an exercise in South Side rhyming slang or something ("pain" rhymes with "gain" and . . . that's all I've got). At the time I also liked playing with the juxtaposition of "cruel" and "kind," with "kind" having a different meaning in this case. I'm less crazy about that in retrospect.:

[Esus4]* Nothing ventured, nothing [E] painfully obvious
[D] No one can replace you if you [Dmaj7] hide yourself a-[E] way
Far a- [Esus4] way from the cruel from the [E] kind of troubled waters that the
[F] Foolish weather never real- [G] izing nothing violates the [E7]** rule

Um. Yes, it's a lead sheet with footnotes. I'll get to that in just a moment, because I just remembered something about this song that I had completely forgotten. I spent easily an hour with completely different and, in retrospect, horribly wrong chords over the first 2 lines. I think it was C, D, Em, F or something ascending like that, and it was all Carter strummy and nightmarish until I looked up an Esus4 on my iPad's chord finder.

Oh, you troublesome Esus4. As soon as I played it, the whole character of the song changed. (In my opinion, the change was at best a tiny improvement on the original nightmare. I'm not a fan of this song.) Back to the footnote indicators. Even though I knew that the song now started on what GuitarToolkit assured me was an Esus4 (and what my rudimentary music theory knowledge backed up), my ear knew that it was really an Asus2 or at least some flavor of A.

How does my ear know this? Can my ear explain itself? No, it cannot. It's like having a sliver you can't find. The Kernel confirmed that I am a complete whackadoo and that one would never ever call that chord Esus4 in this context, even though it has all the notes of an Esus4 chord. Oh, and the E7 is just flat out completely illegal, but I couldn't make any of the legal chords work there for love or money.

In terms of where the song was going theme wise, things snuck up on me. I say "That will end in tears" a lot. For example, a few years ago, my frontier sister bought one of her sons a Jack Sparrow costume for Halloween, with "Real working shackles!" Given that her two sons would cheerfully murder one another if there were a reasonable chance of getting away with it . . . well, you get the picture. I wasn't aware that I say it a lot until a friend used the phrase and claimed to be quoting me.

Anyway, that struck me as a workable chorus, and I started thinking about the song as being about someone who is emotionally cautious to the point of pathology, and someone else trying to gently or not-so-gently point out that it's perfectly true that you can't get hurt if you never risk anything, but you also can't experience anything at all. Yeah, that's when the song started to go off the thematic rails. Anyway, here's the chorus and verse 2.

This will [Am7] end in [F] tears
[C] Every fond embrace
Each im- [Em] passioned state of grace
Will [F] end, in tears [Esus4]*

Verse 2:
[Esus4]* You’ll never miss what you [E] never had, never
[D] Know the pain and sorrow when the [Dmaj7] love bleeds a- [E] way
You keep a- [Esus4]* way from the precipice and the [E] dangerous romantics and the
[F] Happiness they grasp for but a [G] moment, don’t they know it cannot [E7]** last?

When I played this for E (guitar/voice teacher), she warily pointed out that the melody in this kept returning to the F# (when I'm playing this, I'm capo 2, so it's the open high E string) and that this was a note that I seemed to sing clearly and without effort. We worked a bit on studying the feeling of singing that and trying to pull that up and down in my register. As she suspected, calling attention to it made me extremely self conscious about it. When I listened to a recording of the song I made on the phone after my lesson, my pitch and tone were absolutely painfully terrible, a problem that persists on the recording I made today, despite the pop vocals magic.

Finally the bridge:

[Dmaj7] No ambrosia, no hopeless devotion for you
No [A] ecstasy, no breathless delight
[F] No tears of joy, nothing [Dm] touching the heart of you
Every [G] emotion denied [E7]**

The bridge complicates the thematic issues. Part of the problem is that I sort of hear the song as the narrator humoring the person addressed in the song, saying, "Yes, you're absolutely right. People who risk things emotionally are crazy and in denial," but with the subtext of, "Yes, everything—EVERYTHING—ends in tears, because everything ends. But strong emotion, even pain, is what makes anything worth while." I tried, fairly unsuccessfully, to throw this around in class with K and others who were rightly noting the problems with message and POV. I slightly changed the wording of the chorus when recording, but I am both lazy and so lukewarm about this song that I'm not sure how much more work it really deserves.

Uh, this is kind of obvious now, but this is kind of all about not wanting the balloon because I couldn't deal with the knowledge that it would eventually break. Way to get over things, kid!

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