AND IF YOU THINK THAT YOU'VE FOUND A GENTLE SOUND, WHERE LOVE BREAKS DOWN, IT'S ALL RIGHT
Today is Buddy Rich's birthday, and were he alive, he'd be 98. I once did an interview for some now defunct website where the interviewer thought he'd open with an amusing question that readers of a comic book/sci-fi website were likely not to get, and so he asked, "What's it like to have Buddy Rich for a dad?" I don't recall my answer, but I played along.
Cut to some time later, and one of Buddy's real children stumbled across the interview because he was actually searching for all of Buddy's illegitimate offspring and trying to bring them together. He e-mails me a message that sounds like one big heavy sigh, like he just saw one of his buddies get cut down by a Ratzi machine gun and this kid Private Ryan better be worth it. Apparently, Buddy Rich got around and tracing his bed-hopping was exhausting work. I felt like a Grade-A jerk when I had to write back and say I was not another half-brother coming out of the woodwork, though thankfully I could at least cling to the fact that the joke was not my idea.
Last night, as if channeling the adventurous and insatiable spirit of my imaginary dad, I went over to my friend Lara Michell's house and wrote a song with her. This had been in the offing for a while, an idea I had for my forthcoming Oni series Love the Way You Love (still in need of an artist; seriously, if you know a "manga-style" artist or are one yourself and you need work, e-mail me). The series, as many will already know, is a spin-off from my novels, the story of Tristan, the rock musician from Cut My Hair, after the end of that book. I thought it would be fun to write the title song, which is featured in the book, have Lara record it as if she were covering Tristan, and then we'd release it online, effectively promoting the both of us.
However, I've been very intimidated. I don't feel I can sing well, and I know fuck all about the technical side of music. I don't know a chord in a song from the one that lifts the blinds on my window. Lara is an honest-to-goodness musical artist. Her stuff knocks me out. So, even though I've known her for nine years (a really long time for me), I was a little scared to step into her arena. I imagine it would be the same for her if she came over to my house to help me write a book.
But, I sucked it up, and over her house I did go. I had e-mailed her some provisional lyrics, but really only the chorus and maybe half of one verse was anywhere near set in stone. I had also given her a mix CD of some of the things we should consider going for, playing with the pop formula of happy music, sad lyrics. Also, the Phil Spector influence, the drumbeat of "Be My Little Baby." The disc was rounded out with the usual suspects: The Smiths, Raymonde, Rialto, Gene, Johnny Boy, Keane (covering The Walker Bros.), Sandie Shaw, McAlmont & Butler.
The first thing we did is bop around with the chorus. I had a vague melody in my head, a high-low wave thing, first line up and second down, etc. She began to sketch out the chords, playing them on her acoustic guitar. We found something we liked, and so she plucked around for a melody to go with the verses that might match what we had. As she did, we both hummed, searching for a vocal line, and I jotted a few more lyric ideas, while editing what we already had. I tend to write lines that are real mouthfuls, and I wanted simple, classic pop, not writerly lyrics. I think prose authors tend to get too clever-clever when they try to do music. Look at something like the suspiciously titled As Smart As We Are, where excellent writers like Nick Hornby stumble over themselves to deliver something literary and witty, forgetting everything they know about great 45s. The line we came up with that amused us most came to us in pieces. It started out as "He's nowhere," but it was too short, it needed more. I suggested "He's nowhere, babe," a la Bob Dylan, and that cracked us up enough to stay--and yet, it also made sense in the context of the song, it wasn't amusing for its own sake.
I was thinking in terms of this being a song that, in the comic, Tristan writes and sings specifically to one girl in an audience. So, it's like he's calling her out, trying to make her listen. Additionally, since "Love the Way You Love" is meant to be a hit in the series, we had to think of what kind of song would light up an audience, hit them emotionally. Or, as I ended up putting it, what would make some random dude belt out the tune in his car.
That came in the bridge. I had a couplet for the bridge that was to stand out from the rest of the song, like a momentary interlude breaking away from the rest. "I know girls like you don't normally go with guys like me" was the lead. Lara found a melody for it almost instantly, and we both knew it: that was the part where the dude in his car could no longer resist the urge.
We kept fussing about, refining--which really was me doing a lot of listening and nodding. Lara was having trouble getting from the verses to the chorus, there just seemed to be something that wasn't matching up. At first, she thought maybe the lead verse should be twice as long, give us more time before we get to the first chorus, but we kept coming back to that bridge and how killer it was. Then it occurred to her that it should no longer be a bridge, but a pre-chorus, the missing link. She played it, and we just looked at each other. We knew. That was it!
So, we now have an acoustic rough draft of "Love the Way You Love." Lara is going to do a home demo of it, maybe mess around with some drum samples to give it a little more spine. Eventually, we want to do it as a full production, where I am sure we will play with it more. But so far, I am quite fascinated by the process of how it all comes together. I'm sure it's different when the songwriter doesn't have a specific goal in mind, as well as a story to serve, but seeing Lara jot a handful of letters down on a piece of paper and then hear the sound of them pop out of her guitar was amazing. It inspired the fan in me. "How do they do it?!"
Current Soundtrack: New Order, Retro: Pop Disc; The Dandy Warhols, "11cc"
Current Mood: nerdy
[to leave comments, click on the time-stamp below, then scroll down on the new page] – All text (c) 2005 Jamie S. Rich