Archive for March, 2010

Week Twelve

March 26, 2010

Going Home
By Kim Davidson
(c) 2010

It’s been three days since the call, though it doesn’t feel that long
And a voice I didn’t recognize said “You’re daddy’s gone.”
And I might have cried, but I ran out of tears long ago
For the life I had to leave to start my own
But ghosts of memory haunt me now from the attic of my mind
And suddenly I’ve never felt more alone…

CHORUS: Now I am going home, if I can call it that
When I haven’t been back in such a long time
Will we know each other—this old forgotten place and I?
After years of running, will it fill this empty heart of mine?
This place called home… that I used to call home…

The people look the same, and I never thought I did
But they all remember me, like I’m that same little kid
Who ran through this dusty town before the longing set in
To see the world beyond the county line
And I feel it to this day, how deep their disappointment
Like wanting something more was some kind of crime

CHORUS: Now I am going home, if I can call it that
When I haven’t been back in such a long time
Will we know each other—this old forgotten place and I?
After years of running, will it fill this empty heart of mine?
This place called home… that I used to call home…

BRIDGE: And maybe they’re all having the last laugh
Since nothing’s quite turned out, the way I wished it had
And daddy left the rundown house to his only child
Sorely needing love as much as I need to stop running wild…

CHORUS: So I am going home, if I can call it that
When I haven’t been back in such a long time
Will we know each other—this old forgotten place and I?
After years of running, will it fill this empty heart of mine?
This place called home… that I used to call home… oh I used to call home…

It’s getting harder. At least, this week was hard. The hardest yet; the most “eleventh-hour” yet.

I started on Tuesday like I always do. I don’t know if I was just tired, but nothing was really coming to me. I mean NOTHING. I didn’t try to force it. I read over my old song ideas, waited to see if something would click. Nothing did.

I spent the whole day like that, and in the end had nothing to show for it. I decided I’d go back to my original Week 4 song, which had gotten unceremoniously bumped for “Everything Will Be All Right.” It had been finished except for a melody, and I thought it shouldn’t be such a big deal to give it one.

But I wasn’t entirely sure I was really thrilled with it enough lyrically anymore. So on Wednesday I spent some time surfing the web, checking out different lyric idea web sites, trying to find a source of new inspiration. Again, nothing really hit me, but I guess the process itself unlocked something and I started sketching out an idea. I couldn’t quite rein it in, however, and only about a half-song made it to the page. So I went home and played with the older song, trying to find a melody that would work; trying to find chords that would support the melody. But I was stuck. I just wasn’t loving it; it wasn’t flowing naturally enough. I was frustrated and went to bed knowing I’d have to record something by the next night, resigned to record the old song as it was, like it or not, if nothing else came to me.

I woke up with an idea. It seemed to come flowing out of my subconscious, spurned on by my clock-radio blaring at me to get the hell up already. I don’t know where the idea came from because the song playing on the radio had nothing to do with the subject my brain was throwing at me, which was “coming home.”

How cliché, was my first thought. I mean, hasn’t every writer at one time or another written a song about coming home? Then again, we have all written and rewritten every love song anyone could ever need, too. So maybe I shouldn’t be so snooty about it. I’d come across the idea during my trawling through the song writing web sites the day before and rejected it. But maybe it’s just my turn.

So I did an about face and embraced it. Since it was the only idea actually presenting itself, that seemed a wise choice. I had a chorus within a moment or two and waited impatiently for my computer to boot itself up so I could type it into Word. Naturally my computer had to run through all kinds of virus protection updates and whatnot just in that moment, making everything open even more slowly than usual. The state of my PC these days is much like my first PC, when I had a dial-up connection and would try to watch videos online. Now it’s more of an overall thing. I have 512 MB of RAM powering this thing, and in a 4+ GB world, I might as well be pedaling a bicycle to generate the power. It’s just not enough. I digress…

Word finally loaded and I got down a decent first draft of the song. I sent it to myself at work knowing I’d have to tweak it throughout the day so when I got home all I’d have to do was figure out chords and get it recorded so I could make my posting deadline.

It’s interesting to me that it’s not a song about MY home. I guess I’ve done so much writing about myself that my current instinct is to write about other people whenever the opportunity presents. I don’t know who this is about—that is to say, it’s not a specific person I’ve ever met. I know who it’s about in essence.

And on the way into work I had another song idea come to me, which I sang into my little recorder. So maybe next week I won’t have this problem. Actually, next week I’m co-writing for the first time with a new songwriter friend, Nancy Beaudette. I’m excited because I really love Nancy’s stuff, and she asked ME to co-write, which I think is a huge compliment. And she wants to be involved in the NSW project, which is again, so cool.

I have to say, as my work day wears on, and I know I have to finish my song, record AND edit the video tonight when I get home, I am wishing for a week off. Not from the song writing, but from everything else. I can’t tell you the last time I had a vacation. We’re talking a number of years in the double-digits. It would be nice if the only thing I had to worry about for one week was getting my song posted. Not going to happen anytime soon, but I’m definitely starting to feel the wear and tear of having too many balls in the air in my life.

Week Eleven

March 19, 2010

Still In Love
By Kim Davidson
(c) 2010

Up a tree-lined drive they ride… leaving the steeple behind…
Humbled and quiet, grateful and tired, wrapped up in love
New things and old, some borrowed and blue
They stood in front of everyone they ever knew
And promised themselves to each other… and God above

CHORUS: And mem’ry rains down like confetti
From a day overflowing, and fading too fast…
But there’s something thrilling in knowing
That all that you’ve dreamed of has come to pass…
They’re in love… so in love… still in love.

Wispy blonde hair on a tiny head… in a clear bassinet by a hospital bed
They decide on a name, and they won’t be the same, after this…
And it wasn’t easy, this mountain they climbed
With three babies gone, then the anguish of one final try
And nine months and 22 hours ends with a kiss…

CHORUS: And joy rains down like confetti
From a day overflowing, and fading too fast…
But there’s something thrilling in knowing
That all that you’ve dreamed of has come to pass…
They’re in love… so in love… still in love.

BRIDGE: And time moves along like a river, rushing sometimes and then stand- ing still…
They sometimes wish it could move backwards, but oh… it never will…

And quick as the bloom of a rose… that tiny baby’s all grown…
She brings home a man, and they shake his hand, and they smile
And at that same church where they wed long ago
She stands in front of everyone she’s ever known
And happy tears fall as they witness the vows of their child

CHORUS: And mem’ry rains down like confetti
From a day overflowing, and fading too fast…
But there’s something thrilling in knowing
That all that you’ve dreamed of has come to pass…
They’re in love… so in love… still in love.
They’re in love… so in love… still in love

This week was really hard. I was coming off a week of frenzied activity and busyness, which ended on a serious emotional high the night before, and left me crashing on Tuesday morning. I was just TIRED. I was in good enough spirits, or so I thought, and I went to Friday’s and even had the good fortune to be waited on by Alejandro again (he didn’t remember me, but it didn’t diminish the experience on my end at all), but somehow I just felt… off. Out of sorts in an inexplicable way that potstickers wasn’t going to cure.

I didn’t have much in the way of song ideas, which might have been part of it. I’d gone to open mic at the Lizard Lounge the night before and came away with the word “bullet,” courtesy of a Dan Blakeslee number. On the ride home I tossed around the line “He flies in like a bullet and shatters everything I know.” That was my jumping off point for my writing this week, but it wasn’t getting me very far.

Actually, that’s not entirely true. It got me about halfway into a song that I just couldn’t “feel.” Since I didn’t feel that line was a tag line, I was kind of going in blind and hoping a song would just present itself out of that image, but it wasn’t really happening. So I stopped. Got out my little DVR and flipped through all 18 or so tracks that were currently on it. Transcribed whatever snatches of lyrics I’d sung to myself, and took stock. Some of what was there was the past two weeks’ songs, which was funny, if not useful. At any rate, the one that jumped out as being something I could maybe work with was an idea that I got from listening to Joshua Radin’s “Today,” which begins “Shoelaces untied…” Those two words caught me and dragged me right in and I thought, “Man, I have to start writing more stuff like THAT. More descriptive and out of left field. Less let’s-start-every-song-with-a-pronoun. And what immediately popped into my head (and got sung into my DVR) was “Up a tree-lined drive they ride.” It just seemed to me a great beginning to something. I even thought maybe it would be a wedding song, because Joshua’s song had me thinking, “Maybe I’ll play that at my wedding someday,” and also who doesn’t want to write a good wedding song if they can come up with one?

So that was the lyric that I gravitated toward, sitting in Friday’s, agonizing over making the most of this one day I have available for just writing, with no other distractions. I got the first couple lines down and found that I wasn’t particularly satisfied with them. After a few moments I realized I was judging the song. That’s what I had been doing with the first song I attempted as well. And that’s not my job. All I’m meant to do is write it down and sing it. I did pause and wonder for a moment where the difference is in “editing” versus “judging,” because obviously my job IS to edit what I do until it is the best that it can be, and so what is the difference? I think for my money, editing is allowing yourself to keep thinking after you might consider you’re “done.” Allowing yourself to continue pursuing better possibilities until you really feel like the song makes the most sense and tells the closest truth it can. Judging goes something like, “Well that’s TERRIBLE. I totally have no business songwriting if this is the best I can come up with. Why do I bother? I’m a complete HACK.” I think it’s clear that judging is entirely counterproductive to any kind of productive creative process.

Once I realized I was doing that it did get quite a bit easier. After all, I reminded myself, how many times had I thought I’d written a terrible song only to have a bunch of people tell me they LOVE it? And how many times had I written a song I thought was awesome, just to hear some people go “meh” when they heard it? Exactly. We just can’t judge our own stuff. Very rarely do we actually have a handle on it with any kind of perspective—at least not right off the bat. So I fleshed out a first draft and headed home. Over the next twenty-four hours I refined a bit, added some chords, changed some chords, changed some words, and here we are. Finished song. Whew.

What I like about it, if I may be so bold, is that there was room for some guitar work that I don’t typically do. Like the little walk-up I do in the chorus. I’m pretty proud of that, actually. It’s not inventive or genius or anything, it’s just a stretch for ME, and so I like it. I also feel like this is a departure for me in a sense, and that I’ve written a song that sounds kind of like something a certain close friend songwriter might write. I’m not going to name names because that’s not quite fair to either one of us, but if anyone else were to ever compare us I’d be BEYOND flattered, so let’s just leave it at that.

By the way, for those following the whole Madeleine L’Engle song saga, you may have noticed that Léna Roy did pop in and listen. She was kind enough to leave a comment, but she also sent me a lovely reply to the e-mail I sent her, and told me that if it were up to her it would be fine because she thinks it IS a nice nod to the book, but she suggested that I check with her grandmother’s agents just to be sure. As it’s a different medium, she wasn’t entirely sure what the rules were either. So I sent a letter off to the agents, and am awaiting their response. Hopefully I won’t be told I need to remove it from the blog. I guess we’ll just see.

Week Ten

March 12, 2010

HOW COULD I NOT? (ADAM’S SONG)
By Kim Davidson © 2010

I saw him for the first time at a funeral…
He was standing with my brother, his face a mask of pain
And I found out later that he’d barely known the man who’d died…
And I found out later that Adam was his name.

CHORUS:
And how can I explain something poets can’t define?
How can I begin to understand this fragile heart of mine?
It’s never beat by reason or by logic or intelligence
It’s never failed in making sense
There’s no point in asking just what I was thinking of
He was crying over a stranger… so how could I not fall in love?

He was working on the island for the summer
In Marine Biology, at the station with my brother John
And I tried not to think about how strong my feelings for him were
And I tried not to think about how quickly he’d be gone

CHORUS:
And how can I explain something poets can’t define?
How can I begin to understand this fragile heart of mine?
It’s never beat by reason or by logic or intelligence
It’s never failed in making sense

There’s no point in asking just what I was thinking of
He was singing to the dolphins… so how could I not fall in love?

BRIDGE:
And I was so young and so confused in those days
Riding on emotions, that swelled and broke like waves
And he was fighting demons of a past love casualty
But losing in his fight to not love me

And there was much to cry about that summer
Death and sadness followed on our heels, or so it felt
But through it all he kept the light within his heart and in his eyes
He saved me from the darkness, and saved me from myself

CHORUS:
And how can I explain something poets can’t define?
How can I begin to understand this fragile heart of mine?
It’s never beat by reason or by logic or intelligence
It’s never failed in making sense
There’s no point in asking just what I was thinking of
He was turning cartwheels on the sand… so how could I not fall in love?
He was crying over a stranger… he was singing to the dolphins… he was turning cartwheels in the sand…

–Inspired by the book “A Ring of Endless Light” by Madeleine L’Engle, (c) 1980

Well, this is exactly the kind of seemingly random synchronicity I love. I was at work (clearly not working), surfing around and catching up on Timmy Riordan’s Song Bomb 2010, which you may remember I participated in a few weeks back. There’s a lot of talent in the group of guest writers, and I was really dying to hear what everyone had written, so I decided now was as good a time as any. It’d been a busy week, and I kind of needed a little down time and a little inspiration since I was a day behind my regular writing schedule already and had no idea what my song was going to be this week.

One of the wonderful things I discovered on Timmy’s blog was this great entry about songwriting. I love it—especially the final line, which is excellent advice.

Hit Songwriters

I’ve talked to and listened to a bunch of people who’ve had some good success in their music: Darrell Scott, Steve Seskin, Josh Ritter, Lisa Loeb. Of those folks not one said they sat down to write a “hit” song when they started writing. Steve might be the one who comes closest and he’s still just writing the songs he wants to. Darrell says he just writes what comes to him for the most part. Lisa knew Ben Stiller and Ethan Hawk when an independent movie they made happened to explode her career. When I was in her workshop she talked more about trying to write outside people’s expectations than working towards pop perfection. “Stay” is maybe [one of] the least formulaic hits of the last 20 years.

These people all write songs because they have something to say and because it’s fun, and because writing songs is something they love. When you’re trying to imitate successful people the best thing you can strive for is to imitate their love and their passion for what they do. –Timmy Riordan (reprinted with permission)

Next I listened to the tunes of Jacqueline Francis and Betty Soo—both amazing singers and songwriters, so naturally their contributions to Tim’s project were just stellar. I was thinking about them, and thinking about Lisa Loeb, and about Tim’s quote, and wondering what I had to say and what I wanted to do that might be outside the box in my attempt to say it.

Then I came to Charlene DiCalogero’s song. Charlene is a member of the songwriting group I belong to, and she’s just an amazing writer and vocalist. I’m always blown away by everything I hear her do. At any rate, I was reading her bio, which talked about her “Amphibious Wrecks” project, where she takes the story of Homer’s “The Odyssey” and recounts it in song. I started thinking, “What book or books would I want to or could I do that with?” Okay, well a project of that scope is probably far beyond what I can put on my plate at this point in time, but what DID come to me was a flash of one of my all-time favorite books, which is Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Ring of Endless Light.” And immediately I thought of Adam Eddington (because I have met many Leos and many Zacharys, but am always wondering just where is my Adam Eddington?) And the image of Adam in the boat singing to the dolphins came to me. It’s always been as enchanting to me as it was to Vicky Austin. And so that was where the idea started, and it snowballed from there.

When the song was finished I read back over the lyrics and suddenly it hit me that my first line of the song is nearly identical to the first line in the book. Obviously after reading it numerous times over twenty years, it was buried in my subconscious and I wasn’t even aware that I had come up with it on my own until I’d read it back a couple times. The difference is that Ms. L’Engle’s line is “I saw him for the first time at the funeral.” Because of course it leads right into the story, which begins at Commander Rodney’s funeral on Seven Bay Island. I was conflicted about many things when I realized it was the same line. First, obviously, I worried that it was plagiarism and I could get into trouble for using it. Since it was inadvertent, and not so specifically proprietary (in my estimation), I’d like to think I’m off the hook. Secondly I wondered if I should just use it as if it was intended that way right from the start, and change the line to be a verbatim quote. In the end I decided that since the song is not clearly about that book unless you know that book, it made sense to keep the meaning more broad and leave my change in article.

I did take a slight bit of artistic license in that first verse, as far as the book is concerned. Adam doesn’t actually cry over Commander Rodney’s death, but I think using the word “crying” loosely to encompass showing any kind of grief works well enough; and using the word specifically serves the song better. It’s a minor infraction, I think—and I love that book as much as anybody else out there ever could. If I’m all right with it, hopefully anyone else who hears it will be as well.

Back to the question of plagiarism… Even though I think that using a single line (or the essence of a character) out of an entire novel does not constitute theft (one could even argue it’s a tribute), I wanted to check Ms. L’Engle’s website for a contact person so I could send the song along and offer to change that line if there was a problem with using it. This was how I discovered that she died over two years ago. I was stunned, though I shouldn’t have been surprised. She was 88 when she died and I’ve been sort of preparing to hear about her passing for years. What did surprise me was that I didn’t hear about it. She passed in September, 2007, and I had no idea until this song sent me to her website. I’m not sure how she didn’t warrant more notice in the news and social media out there. I don’t know how I didn’t know at the time. At any rate, it makes me sad. I am planning to send the song to her granddaughter, Léna, who has a blog about her own writing. I’ll keep you posted on the outcome there.

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy the song. And if it prompts you to read “A Ring of Endless Light,” so much the better. Rest in peace, Madeleine.

Week Nine

March 5, 2010

What I’d Give
By Kim Davidson
(c) 2010

I’m watchin’ her spin you round, I’m watchin’ her wear you down
You’re like a dog chasin’ its tail, she’s got you wound up
You walk right into every trap, you jump with every little snap
And she laughs and reels you in, it’s such a set-up.
Why waste time on games—is that what you wanna do?
I’ll lay my cards right out–here’s what you can look forward to…

CHORUS: A little patience, a little attitude, a little danger, a little strife
A little innocence, a little misery, a little run for your money, and days on days of fun,
A little heartbreak, a little sweetness, a little spice when you are good,
and more than a little love… that’s what I’d give to you

You’re thinkin’ ‘bout all the wrong stuff, no relationship should be so tough
You jump through hoops like crazy, and get nothin’ back
Nothin’ is perfect, but this is insane—she’s workin’ you like a pawn in this game
What makes it worth all the trouble, when she never cuts you any slack?
Why waste time on games—is that what you wanna do?
I’ll lay my cards right out–here’s what you can look forward to……

CHORUS: A little patience, a little attitude, a little danger, a little strife
A little innocence, a little misery, a little run for your money, and days on days of fun,
A little heartbreak, a little sweetness, a little spice when you are good,
and more than a little love… that’s what I’d give to you

BRIDGE: And you can shove your flowers and your jewels, but give me loyalty
And in return I’ll give you every inch of me…

CHORUS: A little patience, a little attitude, a little danger, a little strife
A little innocence, a little misery, a little run for your money, and days on days of fun,
A little heartbreak, a little sweetness, a little spice when you are good,
and more than a little love… that’s what I’d give to you

This one came to me chorus first, which presented the challenge of needing to find verses which would sensibly lead up to said chorus. It’s kind of working backwards, when that happens. Sometimes I get the idea for the tag line of the chorus first, but I don’t always come up with a complete chorus until I’ve gotten through the verses. This time the chorus just came tumbling out and it was the first bit I got down. I love list songs, and this chorus was definitely a list, so it was relatively easy to put together. After that, like I said, it was a bit trickier. I was trying to figure out what was the real concept behind the song, and it seemed to me that it was about witnessing this kind of sham of a relationship, based on materialistic and superficial crap, and wanting to express a “real” alternative to this hapless guy who was being strung along by his current girlfriend. Of course, it’s all very subtle so I tried to come up with a few lines that would point the listener in that direction without beating them over the head with it or making it all too literal. The bridge is probably the most obvious statement about my own personal view of relationships.

It definitely took a couple tries to get it all right. I started it on Monday, and over Tuesday I rewrote the verses a couple different ways, doing some free writing in between and asking myself questions about what I’d already gotten down, then changing things accordingly. I sat down with the guitar on Wednesday and made additional changes, pulling out extraneous words that didn’t fit the rhythm, and then after a couple run-throughs I recorded it. It’s not perfect, but it’s not bad.

Interestingly, when I watched the recording to see if it was usable, I noticed that because of my pronunciation in the first two choruses “attitude” came out sounding like “latitude.” It’s arguably a more unique and interesting choice. I’m going to have to ruminate on it and see if I want to make the change or not. I would certainly never have thought of it if it hadn’t come out sounding that way.

I’m finding as I go along that I’m less likely to accept a first pass at a song because I DON’T want to put up a piece of crap just because the timeline is short. But I’m more likely to accept a first pass (or early pass) of a video recording because I just don’t have the time (or frankly the “space” in the household) to really work it until I’m absolutely satisfied. Especially with something like this where there are passages I should just wail on, I’m never going to get it quite right. I don’t have the luxury of belting my heart out unless I’m home alone, and that NEVER happens. I do mean never. So I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that the videos won’t be perfect, but they’ll be as good as I can make them within a few takes, and if the vocals and guitar are clean, that’s more than enough, really.

Technically this one was kind of a pain in the neck. Last week’s song had some high-pitched squealing in the audio and I realized it was from my VCR being on while I was recording. That was the same situation this week, so I figured I should try to do something about it since I knew at least one listener who said they really couldn’t listen to the song all the way through due to the annoying squeal. I can’t blame him. I actually tried to fix it, but it’s REALLY hard to match up the audio to the video once it’s all been spliced up and edited. It actually WOULDN’T be that difficult if my external audio editor (Adobe Audition) would work properly, but… welcome to my world.

So this time around before I made any cuts or anything, I edited the audio and imported it into Vegas (which is my video editing software). Of course, it should just overwrite what’s there from Audition, but something is missing in the link between the two programs. So I had to import a copy of the new audio and then delete the track with the old audio in Vegas, and make sure they both lined up correctly. Then because the audio and video weren’t married (because it wasn’t the original audio), I had to literally select both tracks every time I made a cut because if I didn’t, only one or the other would get spliced instead of both. And if anything moved even a fraction of an inch, I had to hit “undo” and reselect and repeat whatever action, with the audio and video linked merely through my finger on the Control key. Completely annoying; completely unnecessary if everything was working the way it’s supposed to. I tried for a few minutes to figure out why I couldn’t get everything to just do what it was supposed to do between the two programs, but I didn’t get anywhere and gave up trying since it seemed a time-waster above all.

In the end I got the result I wanted (mostly—my skills within Audition’s noise reduction arena aren’t much to write home about), but it wasn’t simple, and it wasn’t fast by any means.