Wednesday, July 30, 2008
Thursday, July 24, 2008
Monday, July 21, 2008
I was working on a collaboration over the weekend with a couple people, writing a song for a young female singer. We started with a lyric I had on hand (not referenced as it’s still being developed, though it’s on my website if you want to try to figure it out). It was conceived as a dance lyric, something dark and edgy, the message being “I want you to be dangerous and scare me, hurt me, to make it interesting” – something Madonna might sing. It was the kind of writing “assignment” I would give myself, to write in a style I hadn’t tried yet.
Friday, July 18, 2008
I'm one of those people that thinks the title is key. If you don't know the title of your song, you haven't figured out what the song *IS* yet. Songs are marvels of economy -- a few key strokes to tell your story, or paint your picture. You don't have the luxury of a short story to explain everything. The title tells you how to think about the rest of the story. And it's most interesting when the title isn't echoed in the song....
"Folsom Prison Blues" describes being in prison, and hearing a train in the distance. Most of the song talks about the train (representing freedom), and in the four verses (no chorus), only mentions Folsom Prison twice. I noted that if you called the song "Passing Train Blues" it wouldn't have half the impact -- and adding a chorus which featured the line or phrase "I've got those Folsom Prison Blues" would add nothing significant, and would actually detract from the narrative.
What I finally came to remember was a story I read more than 25 years ago, called "The Man Who Met Picasso" (I've since researched it and found out it's by Michael Swanwick, and can be found in a spec fic collection called "Gravity's Angels"). The main part of the story has Picasso telling a young artist to go stare at a particular painting, depicting a vista of orange rooftops, with one green one in the middle. The artist is to hold up his thumb so that it blocks the green roof, and start at the painting for a good half an hour, only then to take his thumb away.
When he does, the oranges become brighter and more vibrant. The presence of the green roof illuminates, by contrast, all that surrounds it.
Like the title that is not in the song, like the song with no chorus, it is often the seemingly strange element -- sometimes inexplicably there, sometimes mysteriously absent -- which is the key that lifts up the rest of the work. The green roof can raise something good to be something special.
Thursday, July 17, 2008
The original intent was to have some sort of "floating words" element in the design -- I'm a lyricist, after all, so there should be words. We talked about a flash opening with adjectives (beginning with z, m, u, l and s) waving.
Miralina gave me a draft idea that included some typed text in the background, faded so as not to detract from the text you were supposed to read. And I asked her if it would be possible to take handwritten papers and transform them (through the magic of scanning and photoshopping) into a background.
What you see in the background of the website (not the blog site) is actual rough copies of four lyrics -- my own writing -- cut and pasted and repeated for visual effect. You can see how I work on a lyric, the sorts of scribbles and crossings-out, the occasional rhyme selections scrawled on the side, the rewriting....I almost always work longhand. I have once or twice worked on a lyric on my computer, deleting and changing lines, but it's dissatisfying to delete. I like to see the history of the line, it makes it feel that I've worked for it.
It's the messy desk theory -- a clean desk means you're not working hard enough. What if I finished a lyric and all I had to show was a very cleanly-typed piece of paper?
I have had a fantasy of having to go to court to prove that I actually wrote a lyric, and hauling out my boxes of rough drafts and saying, "See, look at all the work I put in."
For the record, the four lyrics you can see are from "Yellow Mailbox" and "Slipped Away" (both turned into songs by Jim Chapman, "Midsummer" (another song, this one written by me for my wife) and "Inconcievable Joy" (a semi-autobiographical lyric I think came out well).
Monday, July 14, 2008
Tuesday, July 8, 2008
I finally made it to an Open Mic night. One glance at the Philly Songwriters resource pages tells you that Philly is a hell of an open mic town. There are several options on any given night of the week.
I chose to stay on well-trodden ground (for me) and went to World Café Live, where every Monday is Philly Rising, hosted by the irrepressible Boy Wonder. Sign-up starts at 6:30pm for 15-minute slots (2 songs only), and the fun begins at 7:30pm. (At 11pm or so, there are one-song slots). I took the prime piece of real estate at the very end of the bar, where I had to continually pull my feet in to avoid tripping Abby and Erin, the hard-working waitresses.
There were guitar wailers. There was hip-hop (some lame and some not). There was Keyboard Cathy, who cheerfully, and somewhat defiantly, sang songs about peanut butter and sushi (not together). There was Jack Gleason, a sort of happy hobbit, who coaxed interesting space-like electronica out of his guitar, and (though the magic of several gizmos) made it sound like an ‘invisible Irish choir.’ There was a 19-year-old fellow who, accompanied by his best friend on the piano, belted out some Elton John-esque ballads in a fiercely powerful voice. And on and on.
And if you sit there long enough, enjoying the music for what it is, and for the joy the individuals bring to it, you will eventually get the oyster with the pearl.
Lee Morgan got up and first did some extraordinary things with a harmonica, and then sang some
And a new band, Bojibian, totally rocked the house. They’re all barely legal (just turning 22), and they’ve only been together for six months, and they play like they’ve been together for years. They were totally tight, vocally and instrumentally, all of them could play, and their beat was infectious. I chatted with Steven, the lead vocalist, afterwards, and will be talking to them more. They will be at World Café on July 19, so local folks should check them out.