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Friday, March 31, 2006

Confessions Are Supposed To Be Ugly

I love foreign films. If you watch enough foreign films you begin to realize how much we are all the same. Puts a face on the rest of the world. We'd be less likely to want to bomb the living crap out of everybody if we all watched a few foreign films a week instead of commercial TV. Oops, there I go again. We rent them so we can watch the parts that go by too fast. Body language is amazing. We all do the same kind of stuff. It's pretty damn universal, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Scalia aside.

Last night we watched a Spanish/Argentinian flick called Common Ground. One scene especially resonated with me. The protagonist, Ferdinand, was a sixty something college prof who was deeply in love with his wife, Lily. He encountered an attractive librarian while doing research. There was some honest flirting between them. Ferdinand explained that he wasn't trying to start anything other than to pay respect to the librarian's charm and the charm of women in general. "Lily always wins," he said. That helped me to clarify what I was aiming for in a lyric I started a few weeks ago.

You may remember me telling you about a potter who visited one of my gigs and requested a Lion Russell song I didn't know. I was in the middle of doing very familiar cover tunes for a dinner crowd. I went home and learned it and she showed up at my gig the next night in a different place, just to see if I liked it. She didn't stay to hear me do it. I found nothing attractive about this woman. But when I wrote down what happened and tried to turn it into a song, I realized I needed to invent something to make a story. It lead me to what Ferdinand was trying to show me.

The elements of what happened are in bold below. A parallel story or metaphor is in italics. The first draft lyric follows:

Playing the familiar to an appreciative crowd: I give you only what you want, the easy and familiar, I don't challenge you to accept more than you're used to.
An oddball request comes from the corner: An idea comes from a stranger. A stranger entices me.
A promise to investigate: I'm surprised at the allure
Discovery that there are very good elements among the unlistenable: I look for ways to please you with it
Stranger returns to see if I looked up the song: The stranger appears again to see if I agree with her
Oddball turns down offer for me to perform it, satisfied knowing that I did what I said I'd do: I'm surprised by her refusal to get it on with me.
I do some self examination in the elements of a great song: I take stock in what appeal I might have buried deep inside me
Wonder if I have what it takes to produce one: I try to bring out the best parts of me I didn't know I had
Conclude that a great song is unique BUT grabs you and doesn't let go over time: Realize we grab each other in ways that are totally unique and therefore infinite.

Here's a first poke with no chorus yet. This thing needs a hooky chorus and an even hookier beat/tune

Spent our life keeping it smooth
Stripe for stripe, groove for groove but
When you have what you wanted, you forget when you needed
So I was easily distracted by one who pleaded
For something new to me, something strange to you
Just blew through me, wonder what a change would do

I give it some thought, you don't even notice
Getting caught would surely explode us
But she's strangely enticing, promising things
Cake with just icing, bombs with no strings

Next time she appears, I show her my game
She reverses her gears, But she's glad I'm inflamed
Her vanishing gift I bring home to you
I knew I was done before I was through

Michael Manning mailed me a copy of Cyndi Lauper's Live at Last DVD which features, by the way, some amazing moments by our blogger pal Deni Bonet on violin. Half way through, Cyndi tells how she tried to write a fitting song for a dying friend. She finished the song but by her own admission it was not a success. Then she came upon the song True Colors written by another songwriting team.

The lesson? Sometimes we try too hard. That's why often go through my usual process and put songs aside for a long time and let them kind of percolate in my subconscious. It helps to get feedback too. The other lesson, although not stated is that songs have a habit of becoming different that you intended. They do this on their own. To force it to mean something based on a preconceived notion, is begging for failure. I know this is happening when I have to work too hard. If it doesn't spill out in one intended direction, I know now that the song wants to become something else. Sometimes only part of it will survive, attaching itself to another song.

This is, after all, another Confession of a Singer/Songwriter.

Happy weekend, everybody.

posted by Bud @ 6:42 AM

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