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Thursday, June 23, 2011

Songwriter's Navel: Week 21, In Which There Is A Questionable Bb And Dangerous Levels of Drama!

Recording. (I know the drama is unforgivable. Please forgive me anyway.)

Given the choice between Doomsday and cocktails, you might expect me to choose the latter. I expect me to choose the latter. But Doomsday it was. This week's assignment was to write about our favorite Doomsday scenario.

Doomsday it, apparently, is.

Given that the song started to go in a Doomsday-y direction immediately, I at least thought I knew what I'd write about: Nostradamus, obviously. IMDB insists that The Man Who Saw Tomorrow came out in 1981, but my memory is equally insistent that I saw this several years earlier than this. In any case, it freaked me the fuck out and I resigned myself to not seeing the age of 14, thanks to the impending nuclear holocaust.

I jotted down a lot of detailed memories from watching this: how we watched on our cutting edge OnTv box, the nightgown I had at the time and the way that the elastic pulled at the skin on my wrists and neck, the detailed inventory of the dolls and stuffed animals that I would pile up over my heart when I went to bed at night—to prevent me from being stabbed to death by the maniac afflicted with ADD who was obviously going to climb in my bedroom window, but only try to stab me once— and the order of dearness to me in which they were piled. And, of course, my nightly prayers, which always ended with "and let the world never end and let no one ever die again."

I think that I have grown into a remarkably well-adjusted adult, if we're grading on a curve.

Anyway. Having gotten a bunch of that stuff down, I wrote in my notebook:

It is a single moment.
It was a million moments.


I guess that got me thinking about absenting thee from felicity awhile, yadda yadda, drawing one's breath in pain to tell my story and what have you. And I thought to myself, "Who cares? Who WOULD care, even if there were anyone to care?" And, you know, all that "whimper, not a bang" astronomical Sagan-y stuff.
Which naturally lends itself to metaphors about light traveling through great distances of space.

And then it turned into a Roger Whittaker song. Ok, my classmates say that it did not, but they are nice people and I'm pretty sure they're lying.

But let's see how this all actually came together into a melodramatic mess.

[Em] When the light arrives
[D] Light of a [Am] single moment
[D] Shadow of a [Am] million moments
[Em] Trapped in the [D] teeth of [Em] time
Rhyme and [Bm] reason [D] died on the [Em] doorstep


Most of that's pretty straightforward from the stream of consciousness outlined above. "Trapped in the teeth of time" took a while to get. I ended up feeling like that fourth line needed to at least quasi-rhyme with line 1, and I stuck myself with "time." The metaphor is ZOMG melodramatic, but I wanted some hard, closed consonants after all the sibilance and mmm sounds. I also don't like the use of the phrase "rhyme and reason," but I did want something that would convey the idea that whatever "reasoning" led us to finally blowing ourselves completely apart would be lost before the initial pulse of light had even finished.

Verse 2 continued on in a similar, "Seriously, chuckleheads, no. one. will care." No one will care what outraged you, there will be nothing there to sympathize with your fear. Nada. Yeah, that's a recipe for more DRAMA!


[Em] When the light arrives
[D] Who will taste the [Am] steel of malice
[D] Press the fear from [Am] every atom
[Em] Snatch the future [D] from [Em] the sky
Speak the [Bm] final [D] lines of the [Em] fable


Oh, a note on the chord progression and how it's executed. It all started with the pinch-fingerpick on the Em. Initially, I carried that throughout the whole song. In my lesson, E quite rightly pointed out the wrongheadedness of this. Given that there's a whole bunch of split measures running into one another in the verse, and that my fingerpicking is erratic and unreliable, this left almost no harmonic support underneath the melody (which was obvious as I kept losing the damned melody).


She suggested using it as an intro and then strategically in the course of the song. Despite my distaste for this song, it's probably one that I'll play at the showcase on Sunday (which says more about the crap I've churned out this session than anything positive about the song), and when we worked on it again this Tuesday, we'd decided on carrying the strum through the verses and returning to the fingerpicking before the chorus-B-section-whatever-the-hell-that-is. Not sure that's the right call, but that's the way I recorded it for the moment.

Speaking of the odious B section. The Em-driven verses felt overbearing after 2, so I originally wrote a new section that more or less replaced each chord in the verse with its relative major (if it was minor in the verse) or relative minor (if it was major in the verse). Super. Duper. Roger. Whittaker. Naturally, this became a chorus by consensus and to spite me. Here it is as originally written:

[G] When the light [D] arrives
[C] Keen and cold and [D] silent
Not a [Em] breath to [Bm] bear the [Em] cries
[G] When the light [D] arrives
[C] Passionless and [D] violent
From the [Em] void to [Bm] paint the [Em] night


The ever-wise Kernel commanded "When in doubt, reharmonize!"

So what I recorded was:

[G] When the light [Bb] arrives
[Am] Keen and cold and [Bm] silent
Not a [Em] breath to [D] bear the [Em] cries
[G] When the light [B] arrives
[Am] Passionless and [Bm] violent
From the [Em] void to [D] paint the [Em] night


That Bb sounds incredibly strange to me. In fact, it sounds so strange that I meant to ask the Kernel if I had possibly written it down wrong twice. Of course, I forgot to do that Tuesday, so the weird Bb is immortalized.

Content-wise, I think it's clear that whatever Brenda says, it is irresponsible of me not to keep the drama and emotion shackled. The only line I'll even make an argument for is "Not a breath to bear the cries." 'Cause there ain't no air in space.


Several times this session, my brain has tricked me into writing songs that are too long. I wrote what became the fourth verse and then all of a sudden the old brain was like, "Oh, you know what? There's a another verse before this one." What the hell, brain?


[Em] When the light arrives
[D] Casting off the [Am] mighty and
[D] Meek and every [Am] story of the
[Em] Foolish [D] of the wicked [Em] of the wise
None of [Bm] these will [D] rise from the [Em] ashes

[Em] When the light arrives
[D] Sleek and fleeting, [Am] rarefied
[D] Stone faced and [Am] hollow eyed
[Em] Callous as the [D] rising [Em] tide
As the [Bm] sinless [D] mind of the [Em] ages


In retrospect, I guess I get what the brain was getting at. The last verse is the "In summary, morons, no one gives a ballistic fuck about your issues. Congratulations on killing 7 billion people and ruining a perfectly nice planet" verse. But before that the song wanted a "I'm looking at YOU" verse, in the spirit of "And finally, Christians? Christians? Yes, I'm sorry, I'm afraid the Jews were right."

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