Category Archives: writing

City-Flower #2: Romeo Soul

Oh! Romeo Soul. I must admit surprise over how little I’ve thought about this song over the years. Much like most of my earlier songs, it retained the air of an experiment in my memory. Fragmented images and sounds: the dark blue wavelengths of Audacity and my voice daring to express.

I was working off strong influences and refining my style. Of course it’s easier to doubt yourself in hindsight: the strange set of decisions leading to your present circumstance always subject to suspicious analysis: But a rebuttal, from the evidence: What do I hear?

Back in high school
You smiled
While listening
To some rapper
Rhyme his way to fame

Now you hear that song
And sadly shake your head
What changed?

These are interesting lines for me to inspect. When I was starting out, my rewriting process barely existed: I basically went with wherever emotion took me. Rode that and filled in the words. There are two people here. One person is growing and able to assess his life realistically: the other person can’t move forward without tearing down an aspect of his personality that has become outmoded. It’s possible that these two people were inside of me. There’s a moment where you can hold onto your old self or completely let go. But when you trash something you used to love, are you trashing that thing, or trashing yourself? And if you are truly secure, is there ever a need to testify to the perfection of your taste? These questions have obvious answers, but the reason for their existence has everything to do with insecurity. That’s one level of considering insecurity, as an expression of hypocrisy… of course that method lacks empathy. But the mainstream world of boys and men always lends credence to the coldness. Things usually are portrayed as black and white. You’ve become this person, so now you are that. You’ve made that decision, now you are this. And if you don’t believe these lies about yourself, you find yourself caught, chilled skin, between worlds. A man without a country, and therein lies the appeal of hating who you used to be.

You loved that girl
And she broke your heart
It was years ago
You wrote her letters
You old school kinda guy
And she never replied
Half-the-time
That’s fucking painful
I know

Now, here’s a part I really love. It excites me. Why? Because you don’t see these lines coming, especially, “you wrote her letters you old school kinda guy…” I was writing from a purely folk approach at this time. The originality of the lines was most important to me. The expression of what I was feeling. Melody was secondary. Instrumentation? Don’t make me laugh! I could barely get through these songs at the start. No, I had to get down what I was feeling.

So what’s the suspect aspect of writing with melody as the basis? It seems so solid, right? So professional! But here’s what happens: the expression of your sentiment must conform to a preexisting structure. The victory of great songwriting is working within the melody to say exactly what you want to say. That’s truly difficult. Because you can lie to yourself and say you got it down, but what you got down does not really belong to you: it belongs to the grand castle of lyrical cliché: an exigent scroll bailing songwriters out of the lie of their own melodies: a melody is hypothetical, it is formless, without the proper words. Period. Which is why I have no regard for la la la’s or handclaps or any other lyrical copout people come up with to carry their song along. But back to these particular lines: I am working with a loose melody here. Was I conscious of this? No. I was only conscious of having an idea for this song called ‘Romeo Soul’ where I’d challenge the hypocrisy of my own opinions and the convenience of a broken heart. But I was going to make the song be whatever it needed to be from moment to moment: if I needed to talk through lines, I’d talk through. If I found a temporary melody in a rhyme scheme, I would use it. I was basically hustling my way through a song, like a back-alley magician swiping your timepiece. I wrote many terrible songs using this method. These songs will not be featured in City-Flower. But occasionally the approach worked. Sometimes it would only work for a verse in a particular song. Sometimes it would all fall into place, which was exceedingly rare. But why does it work so damn well when it does work? Because the form is allowing me to be me! I’m not trying to deliver on the terms of a melody. I’m trying to deliver on the terms of getting myself across. You old school kinda guy! Man, I haven’t written lines that fun in years. I’ll probably never consistently go back to this folkier way of writing. But the results here are definitely worth contemplating. Its eschewing art for a personal expression: the difference between dreaming up dialogue for a novel and transcribing an interview for a journalistic purpose. The truth has no regard for the reaction of an audience. It simply is.

Folk has a lot of crossover with journalism. Consider Phil Ochs, just for one. Putting the truth before beauty, as it were, is an unspoken tenant of folk. And as an inexperienced player and songwriter, it fit me perfectly. There are examples of the half-talking/half-melodic/half-truth/half-bullshit/half-contemplative/half-surface level style of songwriting everywhere! Of course I was significantly influenced by Dylan, and probably listening to this song constantly back in 2010, the original, grittier version of ‘Brownsville Girl.’ None of the lines in this song are predictable. They are all original. No stock rhyming whatsoever. Not coincidentally: it has a loose, nearly nonexistent melody. You’ll notice upon the verse ‘Way out under the stars’ Dylan decides to start singing. Right there. It’s all up for grabs. Singing, not singing, rhyming, not rhyming, employing melody, not employing melody… the chorus is always important in songs like this: because you usually need to maintain your grip on the listener with (at least) a chorus that is melodic. Sounds like a song.

Anyway, I’m not a complete champion of this approach. Without a melody, the train can sail off the tracks with staggering ease.

We were kids once, remember?
And you ran ahead of the group
Now you follow a broken heart
And cater to a misled mind
Buddy, you’re delirious

What the hell is that? I don’t know. It is original… and also inescapably bad. And by inescapable, I mean: what can you do with those lines? How can you make them sound like they belong together? My recourse in this performance was to slow them down. Even though songs may describe alienation, they are actually usually never alienated themselves: lyrics rhyme, or seem to fall into place through the singer’s vocal delivery, and/or are melodic (Notice Dylan with the Corpus Christie Tribune line in Danville Girl. Its only his musical vocal delivery that keeps those lines together) These lines here basically are alienated: because they don’t rhyme, have no melody, and also can’t really be song with any alliterative punch. A great example of true musical alienation would be the work of the punk band Suicide. Those songs are jarring to the ear. Probably because they sound truly ‘realistic,’ reflecting our fractured experience. Even songs purporting to be realistic, and which are meaningful, are not actually based in reality. Reality is only occasionally musical. When a musician flops down stomach first on a stage and weeps into a microphone instead of performing, that’s realism! Nobody goes to a concert or listens to an album for a true taste of reality, same for the musicians. We all know the agreement here.

Where does Romeo Soul fit in? It’s a happy accident. There was a place for me as a performer during this time period created by thousands of musicians before me. I could not thank them except to write these songs. But I did have a feeling there was justification for what I was doing, somewhere in the universe, often under my nose, based on my musical interests. Let’s not forget Hip-Hop either. Perhaps no other genre allows a performer to get his or her straight truth across with such conversational flair, and it was all I listened to “back in High School.”

Thank you for reading City-Flower #2: Romeo Soul. Hope you check out the song too.


City-Flower #1: Seashell

– Beginning the chronological cataloging of my songwriting material called ‘City-Flower’ with the first song I ever finished, ‘Seashell.’ My thoughts on the song and a performance below –

Seashell

This was the first song I ever finished writing. I’m fond of this tune not only for those sentimental reasons, but also because it came out pretty well. This was a combination of simple beginner’s luck (letting go into flow) and also having lyrical ideas stored in my unconscious. Never before utilized.
Even after I began taking guitar lessons, it was months before I could form chord changes competently enough to perform a complete song. When I finally reached the level of putting chords together while barely managing to maintain rhythm, Seashell basically fell out of me.

It is interesting to me how the song employs word play, which basically only happened in my process this one particular time. There’s a sense of playfulness to the lyrics owing to an existentialist viewpoint of life. That’s a reflection of myself when I wrote the song: in my early twenties. There are surface critiques on capitalism and consumerism, but they are written from a perspective of someone who has dealt with these forces on a more theoretical, opposed to actual level. But more accurately: I had encountered these barriers in my own life: but was not prepared to write about them in any realistic way.
Being an art believer was one of my positive attributes at this stage, and had inspired me to try guitar in the first place. So it made perfect sense for my first completed creative work as a musician to have an absurd energy. Why not? Why not try? And that remains true, despite everything else that has a way of changing.

The most specific lines having to do with social commentary–

You’re ambitious
You’re superstitious
The mask or madness
Choose your clothes

–Probably retain the most meaning for me. Other lines form amusing rhymes amid contradictory meanings: (serendipitous, innocuous) but they don’t have much authorial drive to them. Some lines could float away. (And I think the chord progression always does remind me of things floating away)
I’ve made several adjustments over the years. No idea when these happened particularly:

Adding the closing sentiment: “I could smile and cry at the same damn time.” It affirmed that there’s actually an individual in this song, caught between all the contradictions and expectations of the world. That makes the song more appealing to me, more emotional and less of an experiment in verbiage.
Changing the chorus from ‘Only the Seashells know’ to ‘No One Knows.’ There wasn’t any huge reason for this decision. I just thought the former chorus was too vague while the latter actually expressed a sentiment. I do remember thinking that the original lyric could be saying that natural sound is the only pure truth: a seashell recording the ocean, a singer recording a song. I did like that. But there was something about the words themselves that struck me as overly cutesy. Maybe I’m wrong about that. Anyway, ‘Queens of the Stone Age’ has a song with the title ‘No One Knows,’ and that’s always close to automatic rewrite for me. (I never want to share a title with anyone. Its just unnecessary.


Good Will Hunting and Mental Illness

Watched the ending to Good Will Hunting on Youtube. Beautiful as ever, though obviously seen in a different context. It was draining, hearing Elliott Smith sing and seeing Robin Williams close that door. “Stole my line.”

But I felt something else too, something unexpected. As I watched Will drive toward the horizon in the car his friends built, I was struck by the thought that, to me, this was a sweet notion of how to deal with mental illness. You have problems, you see someone for a month, and then you drive on a highway in a painting. I’ve read critiques of the actual therapy scenes in the movie, but haven’t come across a detailed questioning of that ending. Is Will really going to be OK? How far removed is he from the person who brawled in the park? Aren’t emotional issues more complicated? When he hits adversity, will he regress into his angrier tendencies?

Maybe the movie never suggested it was a completely happy ending. After all, he’s abandoned a high paying job that someone who cared deeply about his future setup. Maybe that’s the thing with most movies in general (and I’m saying that as someone who loves movies) You look at a scene like Will riding the train, by himself, back and forth, around Boston, and there’s a romantic quality to that isolation — maybe its because Matt Damon is a handsome fella, maybe its the lighting, maybe its because we see Fenway Park over his shoulder, maybe its the score. But it’s a guy in his early twenties anguished by his past who assaults people and rides a train by himself, but way more importantly, rides a train to nowhere. There’s nothing romantic about that. But in the movie, it has to be. Why? Because we can’t handle it? We can’t handle this character being way uglier than he is presented? Maybe what I’m getting at is — being intimate with your own ugliness can be really hard — and there’s an intimacy that the movie has with elements of that character — but not with the ugliness. And the crazy thing is — I accept these problems with the movie and still think its great — because the answers are so elusive, so hard to convey through character, narrative, in a film.


Boyhood and giving yourself as a Gift

I don’t remember how old my sister was when I gave her a DVD box set of Unsolved Mysteries for her birthday. It was somewhere in her early twenties. I’ve never felt two years younger than my sister. I always felt much younger. That’s probably because I’m the youngest of three, out of her and my brother. I was never expected to take situations under my own command. I learned to observe and have gifts credited to me, when in actuality, I had nothing to do with the purchase. There was an assumption that acting like an adult was beyond me, the perpetual baby. But for that particular birthday, the Unsolved Mystery birthday, I really did want to make an effort. I wanted to show that I cared very much about my sister. The specifics escape me. Maybe it was because I had seen her pass out one morning that summer, due to medical conditions basically unexplained to me. (Or they were explained and I ignored the explanation because my brain said she’s OK now and that’s all that matters) Maybe that was the reason. I bought the Unsolved Mysteries set because I thought it was interesting. An interesting choice. An interesting gift. But I didn’t care about those motivations. I really just wanted her to see that I was an interesting person. That her little brother had some strange esoteric beliefs and that if she could see the unsolved mysteries of the world through my eyes by using her eyes, she would know me better. I was giving a piece of myself. I was thinking only of myself.

The same way Ethan Hawke’s Dad character in ‘Boyhood’ was thinking when he gave his son Mason a burnt CD collection of the Beatles’ prime post breakup single work as a birthday gift. Dad relates very well to Mason most times, despite only being able to see him every other weekend. They can talk about girls and Star Wars. But Mason just doesn’t feel his father’s connection to music. While bound for a campsite when Mason is twelve, his father attempts to describe the beauty of a Wilco song called ‘Hate it Here.’ Dad has basically lived the lyrical content of ‘Hate it Here,’ attempting to keep his apartment clean (without help from Jimmy, his roommate) even though his girl won’t come back. She won’t ever come back. Dad talks about the way the song was recorded, expressing deep admiration for the old school stylistic choices made by the band and the producer. Perhaps the close relation of the lyrics to his own living conditions, as a struggling, divorced musician, hit him subconsciously. Maybe when song speaks to us, a musical love takes over. A silver lining love that transcends the pain of our present circumstance and transports us to less individualistic thoughts. In that sense, to dad, music and family are the same. He has no choice but to pursue music.

Mason seems confused by what his father feels for the song. He’s confused because his father has made an assumption that his son can automatically speak the language of music. The scene is a precursor to the birthday present sequence. Mason has joined his father, sister, and dad’s new wife for a trip to see her parents. The trip coincides with his birthday. Mason is older now, fifteen. His second and final stepfather gave him a camera. Small moments. Dad’s mild approval of photography as a passion during a conversation with the stepfather, Jim. At least he’s into something. But why not music, we can sense him thinking to himself. Small moments. Mason’s uncomfortable grinning at being given the collection his father called The Black Album. Mason showing more emotion earlier in the conversation because his father sold the car that should have been his. (the GTO whose speakers blared the Wilco) Small moments. Mason managing to show appreciation for the gift but still the confused passenger. To me the gift said, I love you, I want you to have this piece of me, and all the good things in that piece live in you. Love is an Unsolved mystery, like the place where insecurity and family come together to dance reality into being.


Eyes Wide Shut review

eyes-wide-shut-2-1024

Eyes Wide Shut’ is brilliantly photographed, (there’s a scene in a Manhattan cafe near the end of the movie where the winter windows are fogged over. Perfect.) and Nicole Kidman gives an awesome performance. Plus, the Glen Cove mansion sequence is one of the most memorable party scenes in the history of movies. The flaws in the movie rest with the Bill Harford character. Too often in the film, there’s simply not enough of an explanation for his behavior and decision making. We don’t have enough of a sense that this person existed before the movie began, unlike with the Alice character, who is haunted by something specific in her recent past.

The Bill character feels like a conduit for the themes of the screenplay to be explored. In certain moments, he seems like a lustful adventurer, and you’ll notice Cruise often leaning forward in his chair during those scenes, eyes agleam. In the scene when he convinces his old friend Nick to give him information about the party, Cruise has an expression on his face reminiscent of Jack Nicholson. We can see that character having a spontaneous interaction with a prostitute because he is insecure about his masculinity, (then bringing pastries to the same prostitute in a later scene) we can see that character charging into a depraved mask and ice cream social and then staying despite being warned to leave. We can see that character desperate for information about his possibly missing friend, despite being threatened by forces more powerful than him. In those moments, Harford is reminiscent of the kind of character Nicholson would have been at home playing in 60’s or 70’s noire. Unfortunately, there are scenes which contradict that kind of emotionally spontaneous, dangerously curious, occasionally courageous personality. What about when he has absolutely no reaction to his dead patient’s daughter saying that she loves him? (though he does call her later to hear her voice, then hangs up when the husband answers. Right, but he seemed to have hardly an emotional reaction when she first told him) What about when he pays little mind to the disgusting exploitation happening at the mask shop? How about his interaction with Nick in the first party scene, where he seems perplexed that his old friend didn’t take a more rational approach to life? Wait, so you’re telling me Harford has the guts to go back to the mansion in broad daylight, but then allows the gross Sydney Pollack character to use profanity when referring to Nick, then buys his lies about the beauty queen? His presence in that last scene harkens back to the boring Dr. Bill we meet in the beginning of the movie.

I found myself concluding that the character’s unpredictable behavior could be a metaphor for the unpredictability of people in general, but I think that lets Kubrick off the hook for thinking the themes of the movie were more important than the protagonist feeling like a real person. Despite all that, I think the movie is brilliant. Great film, though the script was not perfect.


The Sad Pharaoh

I can’t keep anything in perspective.

 

I am either flying high

 

Or coughing up pebble decorated mud

 

Oh, I’m tired also tired a lot

 

I’ve been reading a lot

 

These writers can really write

 

Maybe one day, I can write like them

 

With detail and accuracy

 

I am a work in progress, and I could use more sleep

 

They seem so complete, in my head, awake, too

 

I’m entrapped by this urge

 

To jump off the train

 

As it speeds to my destination

 

Where am I going?

 

I do not know

 

And the unknown drives me to the edge

 

I get so lonesome sometimes

 

I want a solution when my life is bothering me

 

My tunnel vision distractions

 

Easy rushes and fifty flavors of dissatisfaction

 

Do not ease my burden

 

That emerald answer keeps floating further away

 

I get so lonesome sometimes

 

I get so vengeful

 

So mean and hateful

 

If someone I know has a hint of

 

What society has deemed success:

 

I get jealousy woes

 

I feel my emptiness expanding

 

I am a black hole

 

Wishing a similar unhappiness for you

 

Don’t get ahead of me

 

Don’t escape my force field of hate

 

It’s me breathing, it’s me feeling, but it hurts

 

I see a universe written on your face

 

In braille, and I can never touch you

 

My heart desires space

 

And secretly hopes to let you go

 

Allow your planet to float away

 

And be a mystery, like the carousel

 

Of life and death

 

You own your life

 

Your experiences are yours

 

Your perceived success and failures

 

It has nothing to do with me

 

And that’s beautiful

 

But writing lines and thinking thoughts isn’t living

 

And I can’t relate to myself, sometimes

 

When I want to admonish her for flirting with

 

a rapper, instead of yours truly, and lecture her

 

On the true meaning of expression, and own her

 

And control her and eventually leave her coughing dust

 

Swept up from the storm

 

I want her on her knees, thanking me for even giving her a thought

 

This is honest, I’d say

 

Nothing more than worship would do for me, I think

 

As I zero in on the slightest scent of negativity

 

Worship me, I say

 

I say, I am the creative one

 

And be impressed

 

I say I am the attractive one. Be attracted.

 

I say I am the one who understands. Understand?

 

I say I am the only one who ever existed, I share this world with nobody

 

It’s lonely and unholy

 

Am I the only one who feels this way?

 

Am I the only sad pharaoh walking the streets of Manhattan?

 

I say

 

There is no stopping the ego

 

It will consume me, it will ruin me, and bizarrely

 

For it’s every inconvenience, it will occasionally save me

 

With promises of romance and sweet mysterious fingertips

 

Upon my face on a future date

 

I get confused, sure do

 

You save me, in the next breath

 

The person near me

 

Who sent a smooth fire wave up my spine,

 

By my side

 

I want to apologize to my breath

 

For placing my self-worth into

 

Inhuman and incapable arms

 

Reboot

 

I want to say congratulations, to the stranger

 

Who just thought I was strange

 

I was in love, you didn’t know

 

I was strange, I suppose

 

It was all so strange


Amigos

It’s 5 AM in the morning

And Johnny, well Johnny

He’s stumbling down the boulevard

With a stolen piece of italian bread

Hanging out of his mouth

Me and A are quick struttin’ ahead

Steamin’ toward the deli

I’m starving for a bacon sandwhich

He’s mumbling about caserole

And how he can’t stand it

Adam’s already beat us inside

He’d been flirting with the bar tender all night

When he asked her what time she’d be free

She said, “Boy, why do you keep lying to me?”

On the search

For home

We were together

We were alone

And our bodies

Were on loan

Searching for a truth

Unknown

Well these artificial tanned girls they look like mermaids

If you’ve plied yourself with enough alcohol

And there’s these junkies and creeps haunting the third bathroom stall

Well we have each other, and our familiar acidic laughter

We play dirty jazz

And form broken chords together

And they all have a good laugh

When I cue an obscure soundtrack

We laugh at life and intimidate death

And say, “we’ll never fade to black.”

During the search

For home

We were together

And we were alone

And our bodies

Felt like they were on loan

Searching for a truth unknown

Well, it’s closing time

And suddenly I’ve realized

We’ve built a beautiful friendship around poison

And it’ll never be the same

We played such a foolish game

Well, we can’t have this time back

We were so close to being known

Now even when we’re in the same room

Our dirty eyes feel alone

Well, file out

The taps are shut

The windows are boarded

Too much will never be enough

Well, I never needed to escape

I just needed to love who I couldn’t

That was myself, and I knew she

Wouldn’t

Well, we’re on the search

For home

We were together

We were alone

And our bodies

Felt like they were on loan

And the truth I searched for, it was always written

On your face

While I refused to see

You were me

I was you

And all we needed

Was Us


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