The River's Badge

Friday, June 10, 2011


During these, the dog days of summer

If the dog days are at the end of summer, what kind of days are at the beginning?

During these, the cat days of summer, when my songwriting inspiration is at a low ebb, I've been thinking about revisiting some of my older songs.

Sure, I've said in the past that songs are "either there or they're not". And I'm not arguing with myself (or am I?) I do argue with myself quite frequently, but that's, thankfully, only in my head, and not out loud. If I argued with myself out loud, that would be grounds for involuntary confinement, and I, frankly, get enough involuntary confinement 40 hours a week.

So, I've digressed once again.

What I started to say was, yes, I have said that songs are either there or they're not, but by revisiting old songs, I'm talking about finished songs. Ones that I did think were "there" when I wrote them.

Normally, I shudder at the thought of going back to a song that's finished. First of all, the inspiration that was there then, is really not here now. It's like, okay, let's say, typing a long email to a friend (I was going to say writing a letter, but HA! Who does that anymore?) And getting interrupted in the middle of typing, and for whatever reason, not being able to get back to it for a week (of course, you have saved a draft, because you are not a moron).

You were really on a roll there; shooting the breeze about all the quirky things that happened to you on your recent vacation. You started to share a really funny anecdote about the mix-up with your hotel reservations, and all the hilarity that ensued, and then.....oh oh......power outage! (Luckily, your email provider saved a draft of the email, because Yahoo is not a moron).

So, after a week of ditching spoiled food from your refrigerator, and washing two tons of dirty laundry, you finally get back to that email you started.

And you read what you wrote, and awkwardly add, "...and then we got our room, and we went in and put our bags down, and it was fine".

You kind of lost your mojo there, eh?

Well, that's how the human mind works. We have short attention spans, and even shorter creative attention spans. I've walked through the door of my workplace in the morning, thinking, I've got to remember to do _______. Oh, I'd better write that down as soon as I get to my desk, because I know me; I'll forget to do it. Well, whaddaya know? I forget to even write it down! And that's after walking approximately 20 steps from the door to my desk. Our minds are crammed with so much "stuff", it's like our brain cells are having a pillow fight.

And it's even worse when those brain cells get interrupted. Something that seemed so engrossing at the time, now, we're thinking, eh. Really? I actually found this interesting?

Thus, returning to a song I wrote in October of 2010 just doesn't have the cache that's required to pique my interest.

That said (and here I go, arguing with myself again), it's better than wasting my time trying to find six more lines to go with the already written six lines of my latest song that will probably actually never be a song, because it's so woefully uninspired that my cat took one look at the lyrics on my screen and promptly fell into a deep snooze (and Bob is preternaturally fascinated by anything having to do with computers, especially printers spewing out mysterious paper sheets).

The reason the Summer of '67 (the October-written song) sprang to mind is, (a) I like the sentiment....a lot; and (b) it's all true, and it happened to me!; and (c) well, I wrote the words in a way that really show the story (you know that old axiom; "show, not tell". I really hate old axioms, because they're boring and repetitious).

I remember the night that I wrote it. I was feeling pretty sentimental about my best childhood friend, Alice. I think I had just written another song about her (yea, I've written at least five songs about her, I believe). And I got to thinking about the times we'd shared, especially in the summer, when we were really just kids (which basically encompasses the whole time I spent with Alice, because we did grow up together, before our lives diverged).

Anyone who's lost someone knows that there's a big hole in your heart, but more than that, especially if that person is someone you grew up with, anytime you think about experiences, funny or poignant or anything, really, that suddenly leaps into your mind, and you wanna say, "Remember the time...?", and that person is no longer even in this world, it's like your memories don't quite mean as much, because nobody is here who understands, who relates to, or can even fathom what you're babbling about. And I think it's even more difficult if those memories are from the time you were growing up, because studies will tell you (invent your own link here to some relevant scientific study), those experiences are the most vivid of any you will ever have in your life, and they are the ones that shape you, to a large extent, as a person.

I find, though, in light of the fact that I don't have anyone to share those memories with, that if I write them in the form of a song, they kind of become universal. They become real; not just to me, you know?

The problem I always had with "Summer of '67" was that it was, for all intents and purposes, really a narrative. I tried to come up with a chorus, to break things up, but it seemed forced and not true to the story. That always bugged me.

Maybe it is what it is. A guy named Kristofferson wrote some songs that were really just (and I don't mean "just") narratives. For example, okay, this one does have a chorus, but it's really similar to the verses. There's not much differentiation (and yet, I really like this song. Chalk it up to the fact that Faron Young, to me, was one of the best country singers of all time, plus I am a Kristofferson believer).

And, of course, this one:

I guess if you can write lines like those in Sunday Morning Comin' Down, then choruses be damned (and yes, I know there is a chorus in this song. It's just that it doesn't really, in actuality, create a whole lot of diversity within the song itself). My song isn't anywhere near this one, and in fact, if anyone was to say it was, their body would spontaneously burst into flames, and they would be committed to the same institution in which I have been incarcerated (and fare warning, I do snore).

Thus, I do need a decent chorus.

Why bother? Well, I like the song, and it has meaning for me. Nobody in the world is going to care, because of the two people in the world who would, I'm the only one left. So, I care.

I'm only sharing the link to demonstrate that the song isn't finished. It needs work.

If you weren't there, you couldn't even know. I, however, want to know. And I want to write a song that's worthy of me knowing.

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