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Thursday, June 16, 2011

Songwriter's Navel: Week 20, In Which I Rely On The Assumption That Non One Listens To The Words


Another ZOMG! It's longer than 3 minutes! song.

Occasionally, the Kernel will cruelly force us to talk about our songwriting strengths. I can't be 100% certain that I have always first uttered something along the lines of "I don't have any," before mumbling, "Well, words are usually easier for me than music," but my response is always in that ballpark. In a similar vein, my friend E asked me a few weeks ago if I ever suddenly had the feeling that I would never be able to write another song. I told her quite truthfully that I feel like that every week.

And yet . . .

Anyway, this week was one of the weeks I should really like. Our assignment was to write a I-V-vi-IV song and start the melody on beat 3 of the first measure of each verse. Although funny (and mind bending, thanks to the OCD adjustment of tempo and key), that medley video is actually soothing to my songwriting soul: Some of those are good songs, some are bad; there's quite a diversity of genres represented; and they don't necessarily all sound the same. Of course, once you know to listen for it, you hear the progression everywhere—for example in the IHOP in Crestwood when your husband is just trying to be thankful that, for once, Delilah is not on.

I really didn't have a lyrical concept for this song when I started working on it, which probably accounts for serious content problems two weeks in a row. I don't remember why I started out with the image of a bar at closing time. For no earthly reason, I think it started with me remembering an episode of Alice that opens and closes with Mel mopping himself into a corner. Anyway the image suggested the first verse (oh, and after much dinking around, I decided that D was my key of choice):

[D] This place has [A] seen [Bm] better days than [G] these
[D] I wish I could [A] say the same [Bm] [G]
[D] Behind the [A] door, [Bm] drink myself in- [G] to a corner
[D] Trying to [A] forget every [Bm] letter of your [G] name
For [D] tonight, [A] just for tonight [Bm] [G]

For the longest time, the first line was "These chairs have seen," because I was still thinking that the narrator was working in a bar at closing time, turning the chairs upside down on the tables. Of course, that person is not a very responsible employee if sie is "drink[ing hir]self into a corner" while on the clock. I worked with "paint," "mop," "talk," and some other verbs in place of "drink," and spent a lot of time trying to figure out if the person was walking through the door, locking the door, watching others walk through the door, and so on. In other words, I really didn't know who this person was or what was happening. More responsible songwriters probably would have tried to figure that out before moving on to verse 2.

My lyrical attention snagged on the short second line of the verse, and I liked the idea of carrying the "I wish" sentiment through the verses, so I had the line "I wish I could say I cared" for the second verse before I knew what else was going on. And then all of a sudden things got out of control. The character was a songwriter. OH NOES!

[D] Another [A] song, [Bm] tale of woe, [G] love gone wrong
[D] I wish I could [A] say I care [Bm] [G]
[D] I fill the [A] page, knock [Bm] one more back, [G] take the stage
[D] Remember to [A] pretend this [Bm] then, and I am [G] there [G]
For one more [D] night, [A] just one more night [Bm] [G]

Oh, I've just remembered that it wasn't until I had written the second verse that I went back in and added the fifth line of the verses, bringing in the word "night." I'm generally symmetry gal, so I don't know where the need for an odd number of lines came from, particularly given that the last line isn't really a refrain and the damned song has a chorus anyway, so it doesn't need a refrain.

Speaking of choruses, brace yourself for one that makes no sense whatsoever in the context of the song.

[D] No [A] ali- [Bm] bi [G]
[D] I’m [A] behind the [Bm] yellow [G] line
[D] No [A] ali- [Bm] bi [G] tonight
[D] I [A] am the [Bm] scene of your [G] crime

And repeats exactly the same chord progression from the verses. But hold up! I'm not going to beat myself up over that fact (or at least not too much). Because, you see, I am fascinated by songs that manage to have really distinct A and B parts, and then you realize that they use exactly the same chord progression. I do think the chorus sounds different (or at least different adjacent) here. Originally, I was drawing out the Bm in the last line and had a big pause between "scene" and "of your crime." The Kernel pointed out quite rightly that this kills the momentum of possibly the only good line in the song. (Um, of course, he just referred to it as a good line, not the only good line in the song. BUT WHAT DOES HE KNOW?)

OH DEAR SWEET FANCY JEEBUS. I just realized that I recorded this in the wrong form. The recording goes:


And normal people with any inkling of songwriting ability would put the bridge . . . after the first chorus? Oh hell. Anyway here's the bridge and verse 3. Oh, and a tag, which is slightly less than a half verse.

[D] Bar after [A] bar, the [Bm] same old tune, the [G] same old sorrow
[D] I wish there were some [A] other [Bm] way [G]
[D] I work the [A] crowd, [Bm] smile and nod, [G] laugh out loud
[D] Down another [A] drink, I’m not [Bm] thinking too [G] straight
Tonight, [D] no [A] not tonight [Bm] [G]

Last [Bm] call, same as [A] last night
I’ll [G] have myself the [D] usual a- [Bm] gain
Another [A] regular to [Bm] spend [A] the night

[D] Back then I [A] knew [Bm] better men than [G] you
[D] Wishing [A] that you [Bm] were here [G]

Kindly, as always, classmates asked what the song is about and noted that there are two threads that never quite meet. They are perfectly, 100% right. I didn't want this to be about a songwriter/performer, but once it was, I got to thinking about where the subjects of songs come from. As I've noted before, I almost never write songs about the ZK. As Steve Earle says, "Some girls are better for writing songs about," which probably means they're not the girl you want to be married to, they're the ones who done you wrong, amiright?

So that got me thinking about songwriter-as-crime scene and performance as reenactment, which . . . oh hell, it's just too dense and unworkable.

Which did not stop me from a game-time decision to play this on the 6th when me set was too short. It was a disaster, as everything was that night.

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