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Friday, February 18, 2011

Songwriter's Navel: Week 06, Hurtling Toward Failure

A new low in this project: I Tweeted my contemplation of seppuku by guitar headstock during the recording. What's it called when your self loathing makes you loathe yourself?

This was a rough week for my creative inner child. Initially our assignment was to write a song called "Thriving on Rejection" around a provided (lyrics and chords) chorus. The Kernel, who is jaunting about the continent this week and next, was consumed by second thoughts and sent an e-mail telling us we could just write a song around the general theme of rejection.

I gave writing to the chorus a try, but I admit I wasn't getting much of anywhere, so I started on the rejection-themed assignment. Unfortunately, I had nothing but half a verse and part of a chorus before I started feeling quite sick on Sunday night, courtesy of ridiculous food-and-drink-based overindulgence on Saturday. I tried to keep working, but it eventually got to the point where I couldn't concentrate at all. I scrawled down what I was doing on guitar (it was capo 3, and was doing some funky stuff with moveable shapes) and recorded the very brief snippets I thought I might now.

Monday morning, I worked on lyrics on the train, and I could see myself heading to a corner, full steam ahead, but did I try to turn things around? I did not. Of course, Monday was also Valentine's Day, which the ZK and I always use as an excuse to go out to a favorite restaurant. In this case, we had the phenomenal Valentine's Day menu at Big Jones Chicago. Om nom nom. As it turned out, I didn't get a chance to work on anything Monday night.

On Tuesdays, my commute is complex, so there's really no hope of working on the train. I had a student who needed to make up an exam, so I couldn't even plunk away during my office hours. I got to OTSFM and hied away to my bat cave, where I eventually accepted that this song was not going anywhere at all at this juncture. Partly it's because it's TRYING to be a sardonic, tongue-in-cheek song, and it was just getting more and more labored at every turn.

In the back of my head, my inner slacker kept whispering that I already HAD a song to play! (We never performed our "hook" songs in class.) My sloth and my fear of my sloth had a Bergmanesque chess game for my soul. While that was going on, I started playing around with a line that had made it into my notebook: "Black-Eyed Susan by the wall, in the corner, overlooked."

My private lesson time was fast approaching, but all of a sudden I had a melody and chords for a at least the first line of a chorus in my head. I very quickly hammered that out and cobbled together the rest of a chorus with some placeholder chords and recorded it on my phone:

[F] Black-eyed [C]Susan of the [G] walls, oh [Am] won't you please
Pray for [F] these lost [C] souls, Oh [G] grant them [F] peace
Show your [Am] mercy to the [F] children of the [G] corners
[F] Black-eyed [G] Susan of the [C] walls

Lyrically I roll my eyes. I am more tired than anyone of the fact that religious metaphors are the first to present themselves. That said, I love the way "Black-Eyed Susan" sings, and hack that I am, I feel like the concept of the patron Saint of Wallflowers is kind of an interesting idea.

On the musical front, in my rush to get things down on the iPad, the melody stayed relatively solid in my mind (other than the last line), but the chords kept being interchangeable, which is never a good sign.

I went to my lesson, then quickly grabbed something to eat, then camped out on the floor in one of the wings of the balcony (the later in the day it gets, the more impossible it is to find any place quiet enough to really do any writing). I had a little over 2 hours to work, and the first verse ate up most of that time, as everything in it was more or less new, not something that I was poaching from the notebook or passing thoughts. I think that shows. It's conceptually loose, doesn't have much in the way of appealing imagery, and the melody is very blah.

[C] She dips her fingertips [F]into the dawn
[C] Lights an offering to the [F] saint of the unseen [G]
[C] Steels herself against the [F] day yet to come
[C] Draws the [C/B] shutters over [Am] all she must not [G] be

The second verse went more quickly, because it derived from an idea I had kicked around as early as Sunday night. I was thinking about rejection that brings relief, rather than pain, when it marks the end of a relationship (or a period at the end of a previously functional relationship) where one person is constantly picking at and digging into the other to find faults. I had initially written "flaw" in my notebook, then crossed it out and replaced it with "fault," which suggested a geological fault and what happens when you mess with one of those—something tectonic, volcanic, earth shaking. Again, conceptually I rather like that, but in the rush I damaged a lot of what I do like about it:

She sinks her roots into the lightless ground
Prying fingers leave no stone of her unturned
Bedrock trembles, her foundations tumble down
Along every fault line she can see the fires burn

Relatively short verses. Relatively short chorus. Feeling of failure given the sub-2-minute song from last week. I made an ill-advised attempt to build a bridge. The recurring theme of "I like this concept. Why am I fucking it up so very badly in the lyrics" returned. Lots of wallflower fantasy revolves around getting the world to see you. Being a mega-introvert, this fantasy is utterly alien to me. For a good 10 years of my life, my fondest wish every single day was that people would just leave me alone. So, that's where this came from:

[Am Our lady of the overl- [Em]ooked
We do beseech thee for the [F] bliss
Of one more [B7] day un- [Em] seen [G]

I wrote that at probably 7:43 (class starts at 8), finished scrawling my hand-written version to photocopy, and raced up to class. The fearless Tommi Zender was subbing this week.

Unsurprisingly given my near-nil practice time and the newness of the song, I butchered it in class, particularly the bridge. (Genius had failed to record it when she got the chords down.) But lots of helpful feedback. The chorus sounds a lot better, as I followed the suggestions not to switch chords quite so often. Today when prepping to record, I also found chords for the final line that I'm happier with than the misleading resolved progression that I had originally. Chords go like so now:

[F] Black-eyed [C]Susan of the [G] walls, oh [Am] won't you please
Pray for [F] these lost [C] souls, Oh [Am] grant them peace
Show your [Am] mercy to the [F] children of the edges
[Em] Black-eyed [G] Susan of the [Am] walls

Also changed the word at the end of line three to "edges," as a classmate pointed out to me the unfortunate "Children of the Corn[ers]" problem. Not really crazy about edges there, but certainly better than evoking Malachi.

Although I had originally worked out timing at the end of verse 2 so that "along the fault lines" worked, I could not make that sing either Tuesday or today so I rewrote as "Through every fissure she can see the fires burn." Meh, it's ok.

Tommi had suggested considering a wordless or shortened bridge. (He knows not my fear of the wordless bridge.) I feel confident that he's right, but I was really reluctant to lose the sentiment in the bridge. I experimented a bit with just a syllables sung over the bridge and a few other things. Ultimately, though, I was able to make what I had been hearing over that bizarre B7 chord happen again, so I just went with that in the recording.

As usual, recording was extremely frustrating. Guitar is mediocre at best and the vocals were fighting, fighting, fighting me. Trying to tell myself it's that it's a fresh melody I don't know yet, but I think it's most likely that this is just a terminally ill song that will be shipped off to my Parts: The Clonus Horror Daisy Hill Song Farm.

Anyway, the recording

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