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Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Songwriter's Navel: Week 26, In Which I Write a Happy Song About Eschewing Unhappiness

Recording (I'm out of practice at everything. Be gentle.)

Behind again. Got a summer cold. (And I am a giant baby.) Then my grandmother died. (She was 94, lived independently until about 2 weeks before her death, and was fully with it until about 12 hours before the end—so, as ways to go go, not bad.)
This leaves me not just temporally behind, but 2 songs short for the session, striking fear into my heart.

The Kernel gave us a bunch of "-ing" phrases (e.g., "standing on the corner of bitter and fine">) to use in our lyrics, or we could make up our own "ing" phrase to use. For musical requirements, we were to establish a pattern of 2 or 3 chords, then move the same pattern up a step, a 3rd, or a 4th.

I got a "participant" trophy on this one. I misunderstood the instruction about the portable chord pattern. We were supposed to keep the same tonality, so if the pattern was major chords like C to F, then the moved chords should also be major (e.g., C to F, then D to G), so that the song would have an interval-based pattern, rather than being tied to a key. My song was all in 4ths, but the way I used them resulted in it being a boring old song in C. I also didn't use any of the provided phrases, nor did I really "get" that the "-ing" phrase was meant to be the hook.

It's been nearly a month since I wrote this, so it's challenging to recall how the lyrics came together. Looking at my notebook, I note that this started from a SUPER-EMO place with the image of an open door looking like a square of blackness on a very bright summer day. I was certainly working the -ing words, as I have dozens written down. I guess the phrase "wasting light" came early, and I've just remembered that initially the "hook" was going to be "wasting light on the likes of you."

Oh, yes. Now I remember.

So I mentioned during the dark days of Hall and Oates that I had unwelcome communication from someone and was toying with the freeing sensation of torching one's identity and escaping such things. That situation from the past has been on my mind (and showing up in my anxiety dreams). The responsibility for the unpleasantness that ensued (and apparently continues to ensue) is on someone else, but I wondered if I had handled things differently . . . well, you know the drill. Without telling a long, boring story that even I don't want to revisit: I was very unhappy for a while, something happened that reminded me that being happy is pretty cool, and I decided to stop being unhappy. That's how the story really goes, even if I thought it went differently in the past.

As soon as I started to revisit that sensation of suddenly remembering what it felt like not to be unhappy, though, the "on the likes of you" part seemed out of place in the song, but it kept trying to creep back in. That was interesting in and of itself, because the music that started to take shape was very light and tripping. Bright and lots of motion. And it started to feel like the song was like THIS < instead of like THIS >. That will make sense to no one except my classmates, but Paul Simon talks about the necessity of writing FROM a specific point in such a way that you have lots of possibilities for what can be included in the song, rather than progressively shutting down possibilities by trying to write TO a specific point. Including the line "on the likes of you" was personal, petty, closed off, and not that interesting.

The first verse:

Breathing in the dawning day (chords are [SHOCKER!] a split measure C-to-F vamp)
Tilting back my head to catch (full measure each of Em and Am with the chord change coming on the body part [See, that's I-to-IV, too, but minor and therefore missing the point of the assignment]).
The moment spilling brilliantly (return to the C-to-F vamp)
Everlasting resolution to (Dm to G vamp [I-to-iv vamp])
Stop (Ascending C to G in split meausures, so C, Dm, Em, F, G)

So, having patted myself on the back for writing to the possibility, rather than the specific point, let me admit that I got locked into several things. I became stubborn and insistent that the second line of the verse had to have a body part. Why? Who knows. If I wanted to justify it, I suppose I'd say that I wanted to convey the sense of being so completely out of practice at something that your body feels awkward and alien. Hmm . . . that actually makes some sense.

Verse 2:

Sounding out forgotten words
Lifting up my palms, to gather
Fleeting joys and passing fancies
Making good on good intentions to
Stop wasting light

So the second verse is very like the first, structurally. Body part in line 2 and every line beginning with a gerund, save the last, where the gerund "wasting" is drawn out over the ascending chord line. I never do that drawn-out vowel sound thing, though I like it in lots of the music I consume. For some reason it scares me. Anyway, I like it here. Profound? No. Pleasing? At least to me.

Verse 3:

Stumbling through what might have been
Falling to my knees, to thank
Yesterday for moving on
Singing out my resolution to
Stop wasting light

Ooh, I broke my own rules! No gerund starting line 3. What's this verse about? Gratitude to chance, I guess. Above, I said I decided to stop being unhappy. I suppose that's true, but I don't know that I would have (or if I would have, how long I would have remained mired in the unhappy situation) without the precipitating event, for which I can't claim a lot of credit.

Now. Nobody called me on this, but look! It's a bridge after 3 full verses, with only one verse after that! Any fool knows the bridge should come earlier in the song. I don't know. It felt like it should go here.

Drifting past such simple gladness (Am to D split-measure vamp)
Slipping into sorrow, passing through (Em to Bm split measure vamp)
At last (End on full measure of Am to full measure of F)

I did get caught on the bridge not sounding distinct enough from the verses, and that was a fair cop by my classmates. I tried to remedy that in the way I recorded it, but I think it still needs something more. Oh, I just also remembered that I distracted everyone from questioning the placement of the bridge by cleverly questioning its length. In the process, I made the Kernel feel bad for implying that bridges had to be a specific length. He's never implied any such thing, although he has noted that individual bridges I have written are too brief. I suck at bridges. (He has also never said that, just so we're clear.)

Final verse!

Wandering, I am wandering
Slipping off the path, to chase
Laughter tripping off my tongue
Pressing on, no hesitation, and I
Stop wasting light, I
Stop wasting light, I

Oh, right! I had another rule. That "-tion" word near the end of the 4th line. I'm a wreck of rules.

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