Lyrics:

Should I feel so young when clearly I’m so not
All the time I planned to waste is all the time I’ve got
Maybe it’s a cosmic joke
Perhaps God misspoke
His work is overrated either way
Other than that I don’t have much to say

I know what it means to feel for someone
And I wish that I could
Cause right now I think I’m feeling it for everyone
They all seem so lost
Confounded at the cost
Of figuring out the lowest price to pay
Other than that I don’t have much to say

I take great offense at this mess we call existence
If you seek out meaning or justice
You will only find resistance
And all the evidence says it’s random nonsense
I present myself as exhibit A
But other than that I don’t have much to say

Every now and then I can’t help but to think of where she’s gone
She’s a spirit in orbit coming around again on the horizon
I carry her in my heart
Which is the old man’s art
Choosing what to toss and what must stay
Other than that I don’t have much to say

I know these lyrics aren’t setting the world on fire or anything, but I am proud of them. I feel like I attained a level of directness and succinctness that I don’t often get, and kept it cute, clever, and serious but not melodramatic. I like the vocabulary, not too pretentious; still manages to tap into bigger things while keeping it pretty down to earth…and also the melody and chord structure are simple but I am satisfied with the way I worked them into shape.

The germ of this song was an audio note taken in the car: “other than that I don’t have much to say.” I call it “the germ” because that note was all there was: no chorus, no chord structure, nothing else in mind that would eventually become this song. I drove to work, and I don’t think I got back to it for another month or so.

So you know it’s good when a little meaningless line with no real poetry or transcendence sticks with you. And at the time I was (and still am grateful to be) in the zone where I don’t let Resistance push me away and I start doing dishes or making a snack for the kids that they don’t want.

Instead, I sit on the edge of the bed with the guitar and the iphone, and see if I can make something happen. And, this time, something happened. I got the little tingles that people supposedly find in ASMR, but I find in whatever this process is.

Good enough. So I move to the desk with the notes app open and start futzing around, still have the guitar on my lap, it’s awkward but I type and play, type and play, and bit by bit the iceberg starts moving.

I write variations of lines where I’ll change a word, or repeat a line with another verb or ending. I try not to delete anything, so my notes have lots of repetition. What I’ve posted above is not yet close to the final product, but you have to be comfortable with producing a lot of shit. And stuff that’s worse than shit; because not only is it shit, you know it’s shit, and it’s shit of such toxicity that it makes you feel like everything you produce is garbage and what are you even doing, you might as well stop right now.

So you have to be cool with that feeling and not take it personally. God willing and I keep this thing going I will often talk of “Resistance,” a concept from the author Steven Pressfield and his book The War of Art. Resistance is the thing inside you that tells you that your idea is dumb, your lyrics are meaningless, no one cares (well, this part is mostly true, but that’s for another post), and why are you wasting your time, you’re better off listening to a podcast and doing the dishes or making the kids another snack they aren’t asking for and won’t eat.

Resistance isn’t just limited to dads trying to write songs on their computers; everyone has it, and I imagine most people experience it when it’s time to go to the gym or meditate or open Duolingo. It’s you stopping you from doing what’s good for you, and when you’re a dad trying to write songs at his computer, trudging through demoralizing shit lyrics with your awkward-ass guitar on your lap is apparently very, very good for you, because lemme tell ya, Resistance is waging siege warfare.

I was nervous about the chord structure and melody being too simple. The i-iv chord change is so common I thought if I sing on the change instead of through it, maybe that would subvert things a bit. The second part of the verse reminded me of “Sante Fe” by Dylan. And the chorus is more of a Dylan-like refrain than a proper chorus. This is another manifestation of Resistance: a little voice that says, meh, this has been done before, it’s all been done before, you’ve subconsciously assimilated something you’ve heard as your own, and it’s a rip-off, and every one will see it clear as day, except you. But whatever, doubt comes with the territory: so I played around with melody and the chords a bit to see if it all felt genuine enough.

Here is a primordial version.

 

In this version I’m not really concerned with the lyrics, just working on a melodic line. Very lazy, letting the music take my voice to places, try syllable patterns, make horrible noises. Never meant to see the light of day. Sonically, the guitar part is actually kinda pleasing, but I thought it sounded too jangle-rock 101, not quite right. Also it’s a little too busy, not giving enough body to the song. I worked the riff into the bass line instead, and let open chords ring out.

The sound I really wanted for this song was inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Holland, 1945,” an amped up acoustic that was sparkly, fuzzy, and dense. You can get a really full guitar sound by playing along on a second guitar track but using a capo. Same key, different chords, so it fills out a lot nicer than just playing the same chord progression twice.

The keyboards at verse four were a lot of decisions. In GarageBand you can lose yourself in the options you have when it comes to synths and keys, oh my lord. This section probably took as long as the songwriting process itself. In my mind every instrument track needs to have its own story arc, so that it’s not just looping and taking up space for no reason, which leads to obsessing over little details that no one will ever hear. But there are worse things in life than getting lost in swirling keys for a weekend, and when we’re coming out of the bridge and land back into the verse with that extra chord change tucked in there, with all those keys ringing and the harmony vocal, man, that’s a chef’s kiss.

The zooming whirly loop introduction was a last minute addition because I wanted a better kick off than just a drum fill, and also, to make it sound “live,” like the take was happening in a room with everyone all together. Also, it sounds a little magic shop-ish to me, as if to say, we’re headed into something quirky and not quite serious.

The first line of the song captures how I was/am feeling, after an 11-year drought, to be once again productive creatively: putting the work in and getting something out. It’s invigorating. I’ve played this song on guitar by myself a couple dozen times, and that first line is like sliding down a boat launch and takes me right into it. Every lyric rings true, I stand by every word. I sometimes get overwhelmed by life, its breadth, its harshness, and its contradictions. And I’m definitely not young anymore. But rejuvenated is good enough.

MP3 Download
Lyrics:

There was something in my cells, waiting
Patiently for the notes of your voice
Living silently with no air in the dark
Listening through the blizzard of white noise

Something beautiful is ready to bloom

There is sunlight trapped inside what you bring
A soul in every stone, a dream for the waking

Something beautiful is ready to bloom
And what was buried there will be renewed

There’s a tide rolling between you and me
Traveling deep through the earth, endlessly

Something beautiful is ready to bloom
And what was buried there will be removed

The pandemic broke my brain. I lost my father, I lost my business, and I went into a tailspin. Some people, apparently, drifted through the pandemic like it wasn’t happening. I was not one of those people.

However, it turns out, a broken brain can be fixed. Better than before, even. No shit? Yeah shit.

Now. With a few notable exceptions I hadn’t written anything since 2012. Or better to say, I hadn’t written anything that turned me on. I had been in a few bands in the early 2000s, started a record label, toured the country a few times, and I figured in my current role as a father and husband and business owner and otherwise responsible adult, that facet of my life was over. Add the trauma of the pandemic, and I had pretty much given up. On many things.

So. My broken brain. Not quite post-pandemic but pretty close, I had finally, thankfully, blessedly, caught Covid and recovered, been deemed immune for 60 days, and ventured out into the world for the first time in a few years to re-meet friends I’ve had for decades. GBV at Irving Plaza with the ole gang, guys and girls I had met while seeing the band in NYC in the 90s. I figured I would slip right back into action. However I quickly realized I couldn’t remember names of songs I loved, people I knew, or even bands I had been in. When the first notes to familiar songs rang out, I didn’t recognize them.

It was terrifying. I thought I was having a stroke. I compare it to being in a tunnel, or maybe a fog; all the synaptic connections that would occur instantaneously were either delayed or just shot down upon transmission. Eventually, as the night progressed, the fog lifted. I don’t give myself much credit for breaking through on my own. Maybe it was being in a “normal” setting again, or hearing so many songs I associated with the before-times, maybe it was the mosh pit (it was probably the mosh pit); but I was able to finally surface and most significantly realize I had been living in that tunnel for far too long, and what a gift it was to have even a fairly conventional sense of perception. Amen.

Weeks and months of therapy and medication followed, and helped to truly right the ship. Moving on.

So. This song. Following that experience, I had a lyrical idea about dormant cells, waiting for a signal to re-awaken. The signal: a song? Too on the nose. A vibration? Vague. A voice? Better. Maybe it’s a lover, a mother, a messiah, a penguin calling to its chick across an Antarctic ice sheet, or an obscure, aging, indie-rock demi-god come to earth with the pipes of an angel; one can see it any number of ways, interpret it into one’s own shit. Much better. At the time I was commuting to my first post-pandemic job — or as I like to think of it now, the daily drive to the denouement of my former life — and having Siri take audio notes. I saved it there. I liked it. I had taken many notes before, which I quickly forgot. This one stuck.

Other imagery I was toying with at the time: I had recently finished Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and the final scene of Don Gately coming to on a beach with the tide way out…whew. The inevitability of tides, the impartiality of the earth, the universe; but inside a person, flowing through a person, and who they find and love; when it is fate, destiny, meant to be, and when indeed it is, that it is as natural and inexorable and immutable as anything else natural, incalculably stronger when it’s between two people who have the real thing, true, down to the core of the earth; a mountain, running so deep and wide it follows you and connects you where ever you go.

The main chord was an open E-minor fingering (capo bar 2nd fret) but on the 7th fret. Paul Simon would know what the chord is called. Whatever it is, its jangly, slightly sour, dissonant tone got me. Could have been that time of day. When a lyric or a chord gets me like that, that’s the shit, pal.

So now I all had these ideas, and from somewhere, I had the motivation to thread them all together. I just hung on and workshopped it. I had forgotten that I knew how to do that, the method to making art, and calling the muse; that might sound hippy-dippy but I will probably talk about it in some other post, god willing. This is crucial: you can’t wait for the muse/inspiration. I think most people confuse that with writers block, when they wait for inspiration to hit. I certainly have. You must sit down with what you have, even if you have nothing, and work. The muse will come if you earn it. Inspiration as a bolt from the blue is vastly overrated, and I don’t know if anyone knows what inspiration truly means anymore. This maybe a little too inside my own head, but hey, we’re blogging here, let’s go.

I do everything in Garageband on an imac, using a Scarlett box; a generic, no-name bass; a Gibson Studio 335 with no f-holes, and the fuzzed out guitar on this track was played on my daughter’s 3/4 Ibanez. All the drums are the Garageband “drummer.” You can spend a whole day, easy, finessing drums in GB, but it’s worth it if you have the time. I don’t know how to EQ or compress things yet so I’m sure there’s a lot of clipping. But not bad for a demo.

Here’s an early take on my iphone, when I was scared shitless the idea would leave my head like a dream.

I don’t tell myself narratives anymore, but that this was the first song in a long time that the muse kinda handed to me on a platter (or I handed to myself, however you prefer to see it), well, that feels good. And so far, since then, whatever block I had put on myself has lifted. Way better than before in that regard. No more waiting, y’know?