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Friday, June 24, 2011

Songwriter's Navel: Week 22, In Which I Catch Up And Completely Miss The Mark

Recording of the last song of the previous session. I'm glad to be caught up and glad to be done with those songs, as I don't feel like I produced much of anything good.

But new leaf, yo!

The final assignment was to write a song in the style of Felice and Boudleaux Bryant. You, like I was, might be saying "Who the frilly heck are Felice and Boudleaux Bryant?" So glad you asked, because they wrote every song that ever has been or ever will be written. (Also, check out Felice's sweet 70s threads.) Ok, not quite, but they DID write, "Wake Up, Little Susie," and a shit-ton of Everly Brothers songs, including "Love Hurts," which I will admit I did not know the Everly Brothers had recorded, because I am a Philistine.

They also wrote a song called, "Hey Joe," which could not be any less THAT "Hey, Joe" if it tried, for Carl Smith is no Jimi Hendrix, and Jimi Hendrix is no Carl Smith. My appetite for the absurd and silly made me latch on to "Hey, Joe," because the "jolly dolly"-type lyrics and obsessive-compulsive internal rhyming are right up my alley.

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote "Boy meets girl, and there's blood everywhere" in my notebook. I'm not sure that I didn't steal it from a song we were talking about in class, or worse, from a classmate. I'm worried about that, but not so worried that I didn't use that line as the starting point for this song.

The line I started with got chopped up in the process, and I knew that the last line of the first verse was something along the lines of "a case of girl meets boy." The last word of the verse ended up being "boy," which needed to rhyme with line 2, and lines one and 3 ended up having internal rhymes, but not rhyming with one another.

Point-of-View seems to have been the problem of the session for me. I started out thinking that the narrator of the song was "the boy" in question—a man who'd gotten embroiled in a bad relationship. This gave me an incredibly shitty line "By the time I got there, there was blood everywhere." What the hell kind of line is that? You have the back-to-back theres and a sentence that is boring as all get out when spoken, let alone sung. Songwriting is about killing your children, though, so once I had killed off the other problematic character on the canvas, things started to shape up:

Just a [D] small-time stop on her [A] way to the top
She’s on a [A7] mission to search and destroy [D7]
Her look [D] is devil may care, but there’s [A] blood everywhere
Another [A7] classic case of girl meets [D-->Db] boy after boy after boy after boy

Ok, so the lyrics started to come together. The melody started out being boring, derivative, and altogether blah, and it never really improved. The best thing I can say is that I at least figured out (after beating my head against the wall in the OTSFM balcony wing and alerting the world to the fact that there are, apparently, foil lasagna pans in the ceiling there) that a D7 at the end of line 2 (rather than a plain old D), would at least make it sound slightly less like a rip off of Paul Thorn's fantastic "Great Day (To Whoop Somebody's Ass)"

After I had the first verse down, the other verses just became sort of wordplay challenges. And since no song by me is complete without Judeo-Christian allusions, I give you verse 2:

She goes from [D] town to town, she’s [A] makin’ the rounds
She’s the [A7] fire and they’re gonna get burned [D]
She’s a [D] Delilah, you see, she’s a [A] downright Eve
But [A7] Samson and Adam never learn

The only songwriting award I'm ever likely to win is for most religious content generated by a complete heathen. But in this case, it's only partly my fault! I know that I didn't want to go to the chorus until after the second verse, as the chorus is not particularly strong, and the verses are short. I wanted something about rules or learning to lead into it, so I figured the verse would end with "never learn." From there, well, I'm sorry: Can I help it that Delilah and Eve just happen to be two singable vixens whose beaux are not very smart?

Initially, I'd thought of ending the verses that led into the chorus with an Ab7->A7 slide, echoing the Db->D slide at the end of the first verse. It just ended up sounding stupid. The dramatic arpeggio sounds stupid, too, I know.

The chorus is still the weakest part of this, despite harmonic help from the Kernel. My original chord progression did not have the F#, went to F#m after the Bm, and just went from G to G7 before ending on the D. This is better, but the lyrics are bad; I already have a song called "Close Enough"; and that song sounds suspiciously like this one these days.

Look but [D] don’t touch [F#]
You see her [Bm] baby blues
Across a [Bm/A] crowded room
Don’t you [G] think that’s close enough [G#dim]?
Look but don’t touch [D]

Being lazy, I couldn't help but notice that I had used "learn," but not "rule." Sweet! I knew what verse 3 ended with. Remember how I said that songwriting is about killing your children? Sometimes we fail at that. And by "we," I mean "I." See, I had a whole Helen of Troy/Face that launched a thousand ships thing that i wanted to work in well after it was clear that it was not going to work at all. And still it made it in here.

She’s all [D] chantilly lace with a [A] dangerous face
Launched a [A7] thousand ships filled with fools [D]
Just a [D] cryin’ shame they keep on [A] playin’ her game
Keep gettin’ taken [A7], they keep breakin’ the rule

Once I got that atrocity down on paper, I thought I was all done. While I was literally in the act of putting on pants to leave the house, this damned song insisted on another verse. WTF, man?

She ain’t the [D] girl next door, she’s nothing [A] you’ve seen before
She’s a [A7] drive-by she’s a hit and run [D]
She ain’t [D] nobody’s gal, she’s a [A] femme fatale
A Mata Hari [A7->Ab7], she’s a smoking gun

There you have it. Eight weeks, 7 song equivalents. Here's to moving on to better things this session.

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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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