Tag Archives: music

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.


John Dillinger

It’s a simple point
In a simple plan
You take the money
Like slaughtering a lamb
A farmer watched his family starve
And only the rich can steal
So the fedora covers your eyes
And you forgot how to feel
They dropped you in a hole
Long ago
John Dillinger
Destroyer of the world

The police shoot, too
The police can shoot you
The nonviolent citizen
Who reads the news
So Dillinger went cold
After suffering in jail
Who’s the tormented and tormentor
Who’s the dragonhead and dragon tail
He liked Chicago
He liked to disappear
But to anyone paying attention
He’s still right here
At your side, tonight
Outside the Biograph
Strolling the sidewalk
Before the bloodbath
The G-Men scream
See! See! See!
See the color of the flood
The truth is red and mean
They dropped him in a hole
Long ago
John Dillinger
Destroyer of the world

And are they going to bury you
With that money
Johnny?
You know innocent got hurt
Innocent got slain
Over all that fame
I guess you’d say
You don’t care


Popular Problems

To me, the only controversial part about the Grammys was ‘Popular Problems’ not being nominated. The album is completely hypnotic, weaving the personal and external, the historical and spiritual, the searching and the losing and rediscovering, the narratives we acknowledge then despise then transcend and back again and again and again, moment to moment.

I had a lot of trouble picking a song to accompany my brief testimony. I love ‘A Street.’ A meditation on the attractive qualities of war through a character simultaneously existing in the prism of post 9/11 New York and the Civil War. I love ‘You Got Me Singing,’ a song that closes the album on a high note while acknowledging that yes, a lot’s fucked up, but let’s survive anyway. I love ‘Samson in New Orleans,’ which acknowledges the impossibility of an individual bridging the gap between cultures torn by centuries hatred, while daydreaming about that possibility all the same, juxtaposed against the reality of that same individual’s relationship falling apart due to some sort of mutual disillusionment. (You said you loved the city. Or did you just pretend?) But you know what? I’ll share ‘Nevermind.’ I’ll share ‘Nevermind’ because it might be Cohen’s reply to Kurt Cobain name-checking him in ‘Pennyroyal Tea.’ I’ll share ‘Nevermind’ because it perfectly illustrates how to write a song behind the guise of a character, while still using personal insights to convey emotion. I’ll share ‘Nevermind’ because its written from the perspective of a vanquished culture commenting on an invading culture, one of the most consistent rhythms of human history. I’ll share ‘Nevermind’ because we’re always living the life we left behind: either through external history looming over our shoulder, like a patient shadow waiting for us to turn and look, or personal history lurking within. And I’ll share ‘Nevermind’ because it has these lines:

“Your victory
Was so complete
Some among you
Thought to keep

A record of
Our little lives
The clothes we wore
Our spoons, our knives

The games of luck
Our soldiers played
The stones we cut
The songs we made

Our law of peace
Which understands
A husband leads
A wife commands

And all of this
Expressions of
The sweet indifference
Some call love

The high indifference
Some call fate
But we had names
More intimate

Names so deep and
Names so true
They’re blood to me
They’re dust to you

There is no need
That this survive
There’s truth that lives
And truth that dies

Nevermind
Nevermind
I live the life
I left behind.”

And as for awards, yeah, sure, nevermind. But still, not even a nomination? Songs like this don’t get written every day.


Dr. Dog

tonight…. my lovely band… I remember when I found them and Man Man the same night on Myspace (!) in 2008. (after literally typing something goofily specific like ‘modern indie rock’ into the search engine) I listened to ‘Shame Shame’ last night and was surprised by my emotions. I guess it was the equivalent to seeing an old friend and having a long conversation, because you are both waiting for the same delayed train. And then you both seem to remember at the same time, without an acknowledgment being required, that nobody ever really leaves anyone. We can forget about someone for a long time, but they are always hiding somewhere, especially in songs. And ain’t it strange when that forgotten person is yourself?


A Thousand Kisses Deep by Leonard Cohen

You came to me this morning

And you handled me like meat.

You´d have to be a man to know

How good that feels, how sweet.

My mirror twin, my next of kin,

I´d know you in my sleep.

And who but you would take me in

A thousand kisses deep?

I loved you when you opened

Like a lily to the heat.

You see, I´m just another snowman

Standing in the rain and sleet,

Who loved you with his frozen love

His second-hand physique –

With all he is, and all he was

A thousand kisses deep.

I know you had to lie to me,

I know you had to cheat.

To pose all hot and high behind

the veils of sheer deceit

Our perfect porn aristocrat

So elegant and cheap

I’m old, but I’m still into that

A thousand kisses deep

I’m good at love, I’m good at hate

It’s in between I freeze

I’d work it out but it’s too late

It’s been too late for years

But you look good, you really do

They love you on the street

If you were here I’d kneel for you

A thousand kisses deep

The Autumn moved across your skin

Got something in my eye

A light that doesn’t need to live

Doesn’t need to die

A riddle in the book of love

obscure and obsolete

To be witnessed here in time and blood

A thousand kisses deep

And I’m still working with the wine

Still dancing cheek to cheek

The band is playing Auld Lang Syne

But the heart will not retreat

I ran with Diz I sang with Ray –

I did not have their sweep –

But once or twice, they let me play

A thousand kisses deep

I loved you when you opened

Like a lily to the heat

You see, I´m just another snowman

Standing in the rain and sleet,

Who loved you with his frozen love

His second-hand physique –

With all he is and all he was

A thousand kisses deep

But you don’t need to hear me now

And every word I speak

It counts against me anyhow

A thousand kisses deep


Christmastime in New York


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