Friday, June 26, 2015

We Haven't Got A Clue

This is a fun one, written for this year's (2015) Summer play by Boogaloo Folklife Productions. Most of Boogaloo's past productions have been musicals, but in this case the story is an old-fashioned murder mystery called "Murder on Apple Road", written by Daniel O'Shields. I suppose we could have given this play the "Sweeney Todd" treatment, but that's not how it was written.

Nevertheless, I did feel as though we really needed an opening song to kick things off, and Dan's script provided just the hook. It opens with a radio news broadcast reporting a suspicious death. So in a creepy opening, we planned have the radio turn itself on, broadcast the report, and follow it up with an appropriate song, which I'd write (production notes follow the lyrics). However, I was so late delivering the song that every rehearsal started with someone simply saying, "And here's where the song goes". So here's the song:

We Haven't Got A Clue
by Dr. Lindyke
Say goodbye to dear Aunt Gladys
She’s joining dear old Fred
She’s gone to meet her Maker! 
Raised to Glory! 
(I mean she’s dead) 
Someone here is guilty 
And we’ll find him ‘fore we’re through 
All we need’s a little evidence 
But we haven’t got a clue 
I heard that it was poison 
or possibly a knife 
I heard he used a pickaxe 
in the bedroom 
On his wife 
Someone here is guilty 
And we’ll find him ‘fore we’re through 
All we need’s a little evidence 
But we haven’t got a clue 
I heard she was stabbed with an awl through the heart! 
I heard she was found dead sitting in a car 
With a hose stretched to the window from the exhaust! 
It was a car, alright, but it veered off the road 
With the brake lines cut (or so I was told) 
On a cliffside highway sheathed with winter frost! 
She was pushed to her doom from a balcony! 
It was a poisoned page, ‘cause she loved to read! 
No, it was candy-coated mothballs for the kill! 
I heard she was shot with a .45! 
No, No! She ran off and is still alive 
And she hides out in a casa in Brazil! 
If he’s on the policy 
Or mentioned in the will 
There’s a chance that the murd’rer 
Could be waiting 
Among us still 
Someone here is guilty 
And we’ll find him ‘fore we’re through 
All we need’s a little evidence 
But we haven’t got a clue
Lyrical Notes

The challenge for me here was to write a song that was about the play that gave away nothing in the play. After all, it is a mystery! Once I had the title, "We Haven't Got A Clue", the rest of it came rather quickly. I simply engaged my well-developed sense of black humor and imagined a bunch of nosy townsfolk gossiping about all the possible ways in which they imagined the murder to take place, and tied it together with myself as the newly arrived detective who hasn't yet formed an opinion.

Musical Notes

Though I had the lyrics very early, there were some issues, both personal and work-related, that prevented me from actually arranging and recording the song until very late. In fact it was the night before dress rehearsal, and only two days before opening night before I actually started the work of arranging. By that time, I realized that I couldn't remember the quirky chord progression I'd originally planned for it!

And quirky it was, too... I wanted this to be reminiscent of all of the old "Miss Marple" and "Poirot" mysteries I remembered as a boy, with a little humor thrown in, a la Murder by Death, The Cheap Detective, or Clue. I knew from the start that it should be a sort of slow, lurching Tango, featuring a French accordion, so I started from there, adding some variations in other instruments. The featured oboe was first, with various organs, piano, a electric piano and harpsichord ganged to stand in for the bass, and bits and pieces of percussion from a kick drum, muted hi-hat, wood block, sticks, and a struck wine glass. It might not sound like it, but all together there are about 20 separate tracks, and some of those are occupied by more than one instrument. The percussion track carries maybe half a dozen various doo-dads I struck, scraped, or shook for an accent here or there.

I had hoped for perhaps some violin, but couldn't pull it off quickly enough to meet my deadline. Instead, in the "gossip sections" I went with plain piano, and added a soft organ to hint at a melody that's not sung. Rather, the characters simply gossip in speech, as in a musical.

Tom Giarrosso and I provided voices for the male gossips, and the female gossips were JoAnn Abbott and Denise Hudson.

I had planned from the start to involve Denise, because she's an amazing vocalist and generally knows exactly what it is I'm looking for... in this case, she needed to put on her very best "Helena Bonham Carter" to provide some harmony and lead vocals in the verses. I'm very glad she was able to help out (and on the day of the deadline, too!), as this is a very boring song without her.

The last thing added was the shouted "GUILTY!!" in the last verse. This came from my son Timothy, and was then filtered a bit as if shouted from the bench in a courtroom. I can't imagine the song as "finished" without it... and it's there because it reminds me of a scene in Pink Floyd's The Wall.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Standing on the Edge

I talk a lot about SpinTunes, but I haven't talked much about Song Fight or Nur Ein. I really haven't been moved to participate in Song Fight, but Nur Ein is a bit more the sort of thing I'm used to. Nevertheless, I didn't plan to take part at all this time as I don't like to take on too much stuff at once, and usually at this time of year I'm rehearsing for a play.

Well, I am rehearsing for a play, and I still don't plan to take part, but friends of mine entered a "Round 0" entry, and it inspired me to do this. The prompt (which should be used) is the title, "Standing on the Edge". The non-optional challenge is to include your own name in the lyrics. Duck soup.

Standing on the Edge
Dr. Lindyke - 04/22/2015

[intro - beat and bass]

I’m standing on the edge
On the ledge outside my window
In reflective contemplation
Of the troubles I’ve been into
I don’t need a conversation
To try to talk me down
Soon Dr. Lindyke ain’t gonna be around.

I don’t get no inspiration
From reporters on TV
I didn’t start the conflagration
And it won’t end with me
Like Hamlet’s slings and arrows
Misfortune’s stalking me
And all who choose to see or not to see


If I had a sense of purpose
Aimed at cleaning up the street
Would I have a bigger impact
With my face or on my feet?
I think that we all know the answer
And so I dust my hands
And leave the ledge to fly to better lands


If history repeats,
We’re gonna play this scene again
With the lemmings queued behind me
Pretending to be men
Overcoming minds divided
By those who'd drive a wedge
They’ll take their places standing on the edge

[instrumental outro]

Lyrical Notes

This means whatever you want it to mean. Honestly, it started out as nonsense words using the thump... thump... thump... beat of I Am The Walrus, but as I was driving to work (and it's a long drive!) the lyrics gradually got replaced with these. There are obvious references to Billy Joel's We Didn't Start The Fire and Shakespeare's Hamlet, but other than that, the final polish was just to make sure it was vaguely political-sounding while arguably aligning with the politics of the listener, no matter who that might be.

Sometimes you write something that surprises you. My personal favorite line was a surprise to me at the moment I first sang it: "Would I have a bigger impact / With my face or on my feet?" It could be about how he lands; it could easily be a bigger choice of jumping in resignation and walking the streets making a difference. It could mean something else entirely.

The bit about "and leave the ledge to fly to better lands" is deliberately ambiguous. In some Libertarian refusal to play by the "rules" did he take a third choice and literally fly away like a bird from the ledge? Did he "fly" to a better land (Heaven) by way of the pavement? Did he walk away and buy an airline ticket? Is it just figurative?

Is this even about suicide? Or is it about the inevitability of death, leaving an endless chain of people with the same thoughts; an endless cycle of oppression and rebellion?

I honestly don't know.

Musical Notes

I guess I should point out that this song, arrangement, recording, et cetera, was completed in a couple of hours at the behest of Tom Giarosso. That's probably why the opening sounds a little like "Fraggle Rock", and it also explains the rough garage band sound of it. I just sat down and banged it out on the piano over an existing Jim Dooley drum track without too much thought. This recording is live take 2. I just went behind it and added the rough vocals (take 1) and a keyboard bass track.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

SpinTunes 10 Round 4 Reviews

Dr. Lindyke didn't make it into the final round, so we're coming "back to the island" to vote. As usual, I'm writing the intro before hearing the music and writing the reviews.

This round's challenge was tough... and fantastic.
The Final Step - Normally dance is inspired by music. For the final challenge of SpinTunes 10, you will need to write a song inspired by dance...and not just any dance...this one. We should be able to play your song over this video...and have people think it's what he was dancing to. (2:32 minimum length...the length of the dance routine) (your submission is due Sunday, March 1st 11:59PM) 
Side Notes: The original audio was removed for a reason.  The dancers name wasn't mentioned for a reason.  Please do not attempt to look up more information on the video.  We'll use the honor system here.  I will be posting the original video & crediting the artists involved after your deadline. 
And as usual...lyrics are still REQUIRED.
What makes this a fantastic challenge is that it goes beyond artistry and expression. It's a test of the songwriter as a craftsman. It is an exacting specification of timing so as to make it look as if this dance were choreographed to the song and not the other way around.

When I first saw the video, I thought it was fairly obvious that this was being danced to a loose swing number, in the tradition of Frank Sinatra. It's a slower number though, and the the movements in general (and I'm not talking story-wise), suggested something with about the same "feel" as "Blues in the Night" (performed here by Peggy Lee and the Benny Goodman orchestra). I think that going outside that box can be justified only with a tremendous amount of surprise and delight. In other words, jumping genres (for me) would be a home-run or a fail.

Interesting technical trick: If you pull this video into an editor and stretch the timeline, you can map out the beat exactly. Adhering to that timeline in your DAW gives you precisely what you need to produce. But if you do that with this number it's immediately obvious that there's a lot of rubato in the performance, which supports the idea that a Sinatra-like number is behind it.

Also, choreography doesn't necessarily just act out the words. By the same token you shouldn't be narrating the motions, because I don't think you'd be doing the choreographer a favor. However... you've got to bank on a few things if you want this video to look choreographed to your song. Expansive motions in the dance should be in response to expansive lyrics or music. Choppy or sharp motions will. be. in. response. to. punctuated. music. And literally everything is significant. Tiny gestures should highlight tiny nuances in the music that you might otherwise miss. It's easy to take a tiny adjustment of the hat's brim at face value and just compose right over it; but it's impressive to highlight it in the score and make it look as though it was the dancer's choice to consciously respond to the music.

So I'm not looking for the beat... I'm looking for motions that naturally synched with the music, as if the two were being performed in the same room at the same time. After all, that's our primary requirement: "We should be able to play your song over this video...and have people think it's what he was dancing to." That applies not just to the rhythm, I think; but to the dress, the props (hat), the motions, etc.. And as a nice plus, it would be good to make this guy look like the best dancer in the room.

The story is up for grabs, but I walk into this with distinct personal preferences. I don't much like it when dance numbers are about dancing. While it's nice that a performer likes what he does, wouldn't it be nice if he were expressing something that everyone else can relate to? Love, or success, or failure, or freedom, etc.? "Dance music" can be so much more than "shake your booty", and I respond well to a good story.

Production-wise, I don't care. Honestly, the dude's dancing on a blank stage. We can allow a conceit that this is a rehearsal, and a single piano played by Mandy Patinkin off-stage would do the trick just fine. I can imagine a more polished production to include both orchestration AND a glitzed-up outfit for the dancer. The important part for our purpose is that they match.

The Reviews
Enough of that.  Here are my reviews in the same order the songs were presented at the listening party. I'm linking to the videos rather than the Bandcamp album because the nature of the challenge requires it. If you're not ranking this by watching the video, I feel you're doing the contest a disservice. People must think that the song is what he's dancing to, so we're not, not, NOT looking for merely "the best song"... at least I'm not.

Pete Murphy - "Dance All Night"
This is nice dance music. If you just listen to the songs without watching the videos it fares very well, very arguably the best. However, it's very exacting and precise, which is exactly what the video isn't. Though there are some nice moments of synchronicity ("slide", "glide", "wrap my arms around you") it overall gives the impression of a song that was laid on top of the dance rather than a dance choreographed to the song. It's the sort of thing you'd want to hear while clubbing, but I can't really buy the connection to this dance.

Zoe Gray - "Smooth"
This opens up with a groove that reminds me of Michael Jackson, which is a really Good Thing(tm) given the hat as a prop. The story is good one... a self-adoring hedonist. This works really well with lines like "I'm so smooth like peanut butter..." synched with the self-hugging. There are passing references to dance ("when I chassé all the females stare") that aren't synched with the moves of the same name, and again given this style that's good because it doesn't feel like narration. There's one piece though, that I would have liked a bit more synch, and that's where he falls after the a la seconde turns at around the 2:20 mark. Ignoring that fall makes it look like the dancer's mistake, whereas I think it would be better if he were made to look flawless.

By the way, the NSFW lyrics have some shock value, yeah; but I'm not so sure they help Zoe out. My wife's reaction was "oh, hell no". I personally judge the song, and I think it would be ignored entirely if someone else were performing, so it has no impact on my rankings. As it is, there are really only two questionable words (and they're sort of casually tossed in the first verse), which should make you doubt their necessity. The rest of the song carries along perfectly fine without them.

Ross Durand - "Brand New"
This is a great example of how the music can completely change your interpretation of a visual experience. Ross totally runs with the rubato performance, making it look as though the dancer's illustrating the singer's unsteadiness. Moves that are suave when set to other music look deliberately unbalanced here. That's not a bad thing either. The moment of self-adoration and the broadly expressive "...until I found YOOOUU!!!" are spot-on. At about 1:13 or so there's the sheepish body language of the dancer accompanied by "...I don't know what you'll say..." which really sucks me into the story. Our dancer goes from being Mr. Smooth to Buster Keaton (with maybe a bit of The Little Tramp mixed in), and frankly, I'm totally on board with both approaches. I think it's interesting that the fall at 2:26 really works here because of the subject matter and the rising vocal (almost an oops!).

Edric Haleen - "Dance!"
"Mr. Smooth" is back from the very first beat of Edric's show-tune number. And let's call it what it is, shall we? Up top I mentioned a lot of things that you don't necessarily do in choreography, such as narration, and also things I don't like, like dance songs about dancing. Edric is a honeybadger. Edric don't care. Edric narrates the shit out of this dance; but the thing is, it's done well. And though he is writing a dance about dance, it's more broadly a dance about free expression. Little nuances abound... the "ting!" of the hat brim, the clearing of the throat, etc. Nothing is left to chance, and the timing is dead-on throughout the number. Edric doesn't ignore the a la seconde turns and fall, either, choosing to prompt it with that rapidly-descending arpeggio. This isn't the kind of song you'd typically hear on its own, but it works as part of a show, and the "rehearsal-like" feel of the video allows us to go along with it.

(This doesn't affect rankings, but I would love to hear this with better sound fonts. Most of these instruments are OK, but the brass... whhuufff.)


For reference, here's the original dance as choreographed by Ryan Kasprzak and danced by Evan Kasprzak

Dr. Lindyke's rankings have been submitted, and are being kept in a hermetically sealed mayonnaise jar on Funk & Wagnall's back porch.


Postcript: One other thing, and I was really remiss not to mention it before, because I started editing this with intention of doing so. Spin mentions that it's up to us former competitors to eliminate three people. I couldn't agree less. These are the last four composers standing out of a field of thirty-three. There's no elimination involved here. They're all superlative. Rather, our job is to elevate one of them.

That is all.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

SpinTunes 10 Round 3: No Time For Dreams

Well, Round 2 was really, really competitive. A lot of good entries were posted, and our entry didn't fare as well as we hoped. We ranked 11th in the round, but due to some volatility in the top ranks and the fact that some very strong competitors dropped out, we retained 5th place on the leaderboard. The top four go through to the final round, so this one means a lot.

Here's the Round 3 challenge.
Non-Stop Hits - Write a song that features looooong run on sentences. (2 minute minimum length) (your submission is due Sunday, February 15th 11:59PM)
Example: "Albuquerque" by "Weird" Al Yankovic
Side Notes:- The originally worded challenge was, "Write a song that is one long run on sentence."  Using 2 run on sentences would technically meet the challenge.  But why go for the minimum when it's likely the judges will clearly be looking for more.
We've considered a lot of interesting possibilities. These include:
  • the point of view of a goldfish swimming circles in a bowl. They have very short memories. Sadly, I'm afraid that might sound a lot like Dory from Finding Nemo.
  • someone with ADHD. 
  • Kanye West rapping about all the people who he feels did not deserve the Grammy over Beyonce'. I'm not sure I want to spend a lot of time imitating his style, though; I hate Autotune. 
  • variations on a married couple who interrupt each other's sentences, extending them. This would allow us to do a duet while still meeting the challenge. While we feel this could be really brilliant, it's easier said than done.
Given the strictures of time and ability to deliver, here's what we came up with:

No Time for Dreams

We got
one cart, one horse in this podunk town,
one job to do, the kind that beats you down
but you ain't gonna find me hangin' 'round
'cause I'm not the kind for that, you'll find I'm
not gonna spend my whole life at the mill
wonderin' and waitin' and wasting until
I am old and I'm grey and I'm too tired to care
like everybody else workin' shift down there but
I'll be a doctor, a lawyer, a cop
'cause nothing can stop me from reaching the top;
an ambitious young man... with a head full of dreams.

I've got...
one girl, one heart, one love to bind
me to Heaven on Earth, one chance to find
the man inside me she needs but I'm not blind
'cause there's still time for her to find I'm
not gonna spend my whole life at the mill
wonderin' and waitin' and wasting until
I am old and I'm grey and I'm too tired to care
like everybody else workin' shift down there but
my family needs food and a roof o'er their heads
so I'll put off my dreams for a new day ahead
A responsible man... has no time for dreams.

[instrumental break. Time passes]

And the candles on top of my cake
Spread like wildfire year after year
And the bills and tuition have made it their mission
To keep me imprisoned right here.

I've got
one life to live, just a day at a time
one ankle chained to the daily grind, cause
you've got to sacrifice, but no one explained
you've gotta throw the dice with the rice,
and now I have spent my whole life at the mill
wonderin' and waitin' and wasting until
I am old and I'm grey and I'm too tired to care
like everybody else workin' shift down here
and I think back to the youth that I'd wasted away
and I think that it's time that I called it a day
'cause a man past his prime has no time for dreams.

And the candles on top of my cake
burn with bonfire brightness this year
And my sons and my daughters and all the grands
are crowded around me so near;
and as I look upon them my heart nearly stops
There they are; the doctor, the lawyer, the cop
And I wonder that I've been so blind
that I never could see...
All of the dreams that I ever had
have come home to say to me, "We love you, Dad."
Not too bad...
for a man...
with no time for dreams.

Not too bad for a man with no time for dreams.


There are some personal goals that we thought it would be nice to accomplish. 
  1. To approach it a bit like the way we approached the "non-rhyming song" challenge of Song Fu. There we wrote a non-rhyming song where you didn't notice it didn't rhyme.
  2. No shouting, rapping, ranting, or beat poetry. No talking. This is a song, so I want singing, in measured delivery. This may actually work against us, as the example we were given is simply a frenetic beat poem, and in rounds past we've seen at least one judge display a preference for music that sounds like the example. Since it would be silly of the judges to expect the contestants to produce 25 cookie-cutter knock-offs of Weird Al, I'm not paying much attention to that. The challenge here says what it says, and we're going with that. Within that limitation, we're going to try to write the best song we can in Dr. Lindyke style.
  3. No lists (a la "We Didn't Start The Fire"). The sentences should be sentences.
In deference to the quirks of judging, we're didn't pursue our first goal. Instead, we're focused on making it clear that our sentences are long, obviously run-on, and contain more than one thought, We are paying no attention to the originally worded challenge and here's why: if the judges required a single sentence, they should have left the wording alone. They didn't. Secondly, the examples (as we've noted) seem to carry a lot of weight. "Albuquerque" has some run-on sentences, but a whole lot more that are not. That said, we want the judges to hear that we're using run-on sentences.

In picking a topic, one question that came up is, "what have we got that the other contestants don't?" The answer: age. We're flippin' old, and that gave us a subject. Actually, William gave me a great piece involving a divorce, which I simply couldn't make work. Basically, once delivered as a rant, it wound up being about 30 seconds long, and there really wasn't a lot more to say on the subject. It would have been obvious padding. The topic of "No Time For Dreams" is one that I've tried to tackle a few times over the years and never really got much beyond the last half of the last verse. William's given the concept a shot as well, under the title "No Regrets", but again, it just never gelled. This challenge gave us an opportunity to try again. I was a bit panicky and frustrated after some days of no progress, and that may show in the final result (in a positive way, I think).

From my perspective, the song is based on a more clueless version of my wife's father, who grew up in the mill town where I now live. The difference is, he didn't wait until he was near death to appreciate his life.

I like the fact that the chorus is embedded in each verse. This is probably commonplace. Still, it's pretty cool, and allows us to flow in and out of this structured segment from the rambling run-on that surrounds it fore and aft, giving us a chorus that contributes to rather than interrupting and detracting from the challenge.

Speaking of flow, in editing this I applied some techniques I learned from a previous rap challenge. This reads like a rap song because it was written like one, using a flow diagram and copious internal rhyme. It's sung as a folk-rock ballad, a la Bob Dylan or Neil Young.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, given this challenge, we tried pack as much info as possible in as few words. We didn't see much point in torturing the judges with a 10 minute opus (though we've done it before). We had no intention of filling it up with a bunch of superfluous asides just to fill space. We didn't want it to feel rambling. We have a clear story, and we're describing and entire life here. Thus, you find out everything there is to know about his town, his love life, his work, and his family in just a few lines. These are alluded to without detail, because you the listener are perfectly capable of filling that in from your experience based on a few key words.

One of my favorite parts, lyrically, is this bridge:
And the candles on top of my cake
Spread like wildfire year after year
And the bills and tuition have made it their mission
To keep me imprisoned right here.
We needed a way to denote the passage of a lot of time... again, without a 10 minute opus. I imagine a time lapse with more and more candles. There's no mention of what kind of cake it is, because you get it without the bonk on the head. On my wife's 50th birthday we made the mistake of putting 50 candles on her cake. When the first one was lit, the flame jumped from wick to wick resulting in a 2-foot pillar of flame. That's what I'm imagining here... a life burning away. The second half of the bridge sums up the entirety of his activity in those years: working for subsistence and to put his children through college.

After the bridge we see the toll that life has taken on him. From the hopeful young man in the first verse to the resolute father of the second, he's now beaten and resentful.

The last bridge/verse changes that, and it's for this reason that we depart from the verse structure and move back to pure Folk. We're no longer clinging to run-on sentences and rapid-fire internal rhyme, because those were there for a reason apart from the challenge. This man is defeated. He's no longer pushing with ambition, defiance, or resentment.We return to the structure of the bridge in that birthdays are a time of reflection, and that sort of slides into a modified verse in which, freed from that dogged focus, our protagonist can take a look around and see something very important for the first time. The "wonder" in this verse is in the sense not of curiosity, but amazement:
All of the dreams that I ever had
Have come home to say to me, "We love you, Dad."
Not too bad...
For a man...
With no time for dreams.
Not a bad way to end it, I think; and in fact, these were the lines that were written first.


The arrangement is deliberately simple and Dylan-esque. It's played entirely with root chords on the guitar. The instruments are as basic as a band gets: drums, acoustic guitar, and bass. The harmonica is a chromatic Koch.

As mentioned before, the verses were structured like a rap song, so the tune and delivery is likewise structured to stress those syllables that would be stressed in rap. That was kind of interesting to write, in that means rapid-fire stressing of internal (near) rhyme. Slow folksy rap delivered tunefully... I know, it's insane. Actually, not so much. The dirty secret is that Rap is Folk music... it's just different folk with different experiences.

The last verse is very different from the rest. It wants to be even more different than it is, but I didn't think it would hold together if it were too great a departure. Clearly it's the same song, but it's a very different man singing it. A new chord progression; no more percussion; no more drive. The internal rhyme is gone, and with it the internal stress (both in the tune and in the singer).

In the previous round we were chastised a bit for being too repetitive with the chord progression. Well, we do it again here because that's the point... our singer is stuck in a boring, repetitive life. It's an artistic choice, and not one intended to get us votes. We'll have to wait and see whether it's better received here.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

SpinTunes 10 Round 2 Shadow: Howl in the Family

A shadow for SpinTunes 10 Round 2 (in addition to our official entry)

My wife just adores Ross Durand's music, so I had to do this silly little pastiche. I had to. Also, since I insisted to William that were doing "Hitchcock, not the Munsters", I got it into my head to sing about a family much like them. Consider this to be about their poor country cousins.

With full apologies to Ross, of course.

Howl in the Family
My children were bitten by werewolves
Now they howl at the moon when it's full
It's a good thing that I never feared wolves
I'm a daddy that don't take no bull
I spend quality time with my young'uns
We still go to the park and play catch
'cept one week out of four
When they scratch at the door
Then we go to the beach and play fetch

We're keepin' it Howl in the Family
Just everyday folk right next door
Universal appeal 
That we just can't conceal
We're ord'n'ry right down to the core

My wife, she turned into a zombie
And she wanted to feast on my skull
But my poor baby had to go hungry
'cause my cranium just ain't that full
I invited the neighbor to supper
He's in Mensa with a Ph.D.
Then I bashed in his head
And she fed on the dead
'Cause she means all the world to me

We're keepin' it Howl in the Family
Just everyday folk right next door
Universal appeal 
That we just can't conceal
We're ord'n'ry right down to the core

You may wonder why I'm not infected
Well, I am but there don't seem to be
Any symptoms that can be detected
Of zombies or lycanthropy
So I guess I'll go back to my coffin
Where I'll sleep 'til the daylight is gone
Then I'll knock back a flood
Of delectable blood
'til tomorrow brings one more new dawn

We're keepin' it Howl in the Family
Just everyday folk right next door
Universal appeal 
That we just can't conceal
We're ord'n'ry right down to the core

Universal appeal 
That we just can't conceal
We're ord'n'ry right down to the core

Lyrical Notes
It is what it is. Although with that horrible title pun, I might have been channeling Glenn Raphael. And yes, "Universal appeal" in the chorus does allude to Universal Pictures, home of the classic monsters portrayed by Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney.

And for the record: Yes, I should be ashamed.

Musical Notes
My wife heard it and opined, "You're no Ross Durand".
I hadn't even told her it was a pastiche.

Nevertheless, she's right.

SpinTunes 10 Round 2: Happy Anniversary My Darling

Last round saw us in fifth place out of a field of thirty-three. Not a terrible lead-in to Round Two.
Here's the new challenge:
Music To My Fears - Write a scary song, basically explore the horror genre in music format. (2 minute minimum length) (your submission is due Sunday, February 1st 11:59PM) 
Examples: "Creepy Doll" by Jonathan Coulton; "Dragula" by Rob Zombie
We weren't terribly inspired by the scariness of the examples given. "Dragula" has all the fear factor of Count Chocula or Booberry. "Creepy Doll" is basically comedy. The best way to make something not creepy is to flatly say it is. The rule of thumb is show, don't tell. Even in a campfire story, let the descriptions lead the listener to conclude that something is frightening, or creepy, or gross. More than half of horror takes place inside the skull of the audience.

We've already done a number of songs that I think were better examples of horror than these, including "Blood Moon" and "There's an Earwig", "Stained Glass", and of course, "Dr. Lindyke". So we're giving it another try.

Horror tends toward the supernatural these days, but the core of the genre isn't ghosts, ghouls, monsters, or slashers... it's the emotion of horror.  The dictionary defines it as "an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust." Where "terror" is fear that something terrible is about to happen, "horror" is the fear that it might happen or the realization that it did. Terror is in the present; horror is everywhere else. Vampires and werewolves don't strike me as frightening because I know they don't exist. But psychopathic killers and necrophiliacs are another story. So a personal goal is to keep this horror story grounded in the possible, avoiding the supernatural.

Happy Anniversary, My Darling

Forget the morning, ignore the breaking light
All that lies before us transpired in the night
We've long been undisturbed by the events that we surround
But there's a time for everything and the time for this is now

I approach with much conviction, gilded shovel in my hand
To open up my heart, just to cover it with sand
And with all the things you've told me, the denials and the lies
I feel as though your motive is to bury me alive

There's a key to all this method, but I keep it safe from harm
Along with all the passions that you'd smother in your arms
There's a cold and lonely winter contained within your heart
Made into breathless summer when we have been apart

To preserve our endless love
We tore our lives asunder
In the wisdom we've been offered
Absence makes the heart grow fonder

And so we had to sever
The passion from the pain
The discord from the rapture
The spirit from the frame

But Darling, true love never dies...
And Darling I will love you 'til the end
And Darling, when this night of love is through
I will bury you again.

I will bury you...


Lyrical Notes

In a Hitchcockian approach, we borrow the exposition technique from Psycho, exploring the motives of the villain and revealing nothing certain until the last line, which revises our understanding of all the lines that came before. While listening you're to think it's just another passionate love song. The horror of it is an aftertaste. It's the realization of what's just happened under your nose. It's not the sort of thing that paralyzes you with fear... rather, the more you think about it, the worse it gets.

One form of horror is the revulsion we feel when we see evil. I think that the best horror stories remind you that evil is a parody of good. The greatest evil results from the perversion of the greatest good, and what could be better than true love? We based our horror story on a terrible twisting of unshakeable devotion and fidelity.

For inspiration, William suggested we look to the strange obsession of Dr. Carl von Cosel. You can see a video account here,  or read about the case. Basically, it's a story of necrophilia. Dr. von Cosel of Key West, enamoured with a deceased patient named Elena Hoyos, attempted to preserve her body in his own home, where he fancied her as his wife and had relations with her decaying flesh for seven years. The most horrible aspect about a story like this isn't the corpse... it's the twisted mind of the obsessed doctor... the fact that he could look upon this hideous parody with love, and even lust. What makes it worse is not just that it can happen, but did.

We really didn't look to write some tribute to von Cosel; rather, we took it as inspiration to create a backstory for our own composition. We imagine a married couple with a fiery, if argumentative, relationship. Rationalizing that distance will intensify their passion and that their love is eternal and transcendent; the man kills his wife and buries her. Then on special occasions he disinters her for a conjugal visit, hence the title.

I often say there are two kinds of songs, "mood" and "story". This one's sort of both. Though you're intended to believe that the golden shovel is metaphorical, his "heart" is his wife, and he kills her with the blade of the spade. He literally severs her spirit from her frame. Hopefully the ambiguity will have the listener relating to the protagonist only to find at the end that he's the murderer.

Musical Notes

Musically, it's actually pretty simple repetition (i-III-VI-v). Since the story itself occurred in the 1930s, this alludes to the sort of melodramatic style of the period. Not a copy of the style, but reminiscent of it.

All the verses are similar, but gradually escalate to that forceful chorus at the end where we finally witness a change in the chord progression, to (iv-VII-i). Then, passion spent, the last line is a capella. I shouldn't need to tell you why.

I considered orchestration but rejected it. It's recorded with nothing at all but a piano. I imagine our protagonist actually serenading his beloved at a piano in his home, much as Dr. von Cosel played the organ for his Elena.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

SpinTunes 10 Round 1: Date Night

Well, it's SpinTunes time again. It's the 10th contest, meaning we've been doing this twice-yearly exercise for five years now. Nice. Here's the challenge:
Heart Beatz - Tonight's your lucky night...or so you hope. The fire is crackling, and you have a candlelit dinner waiting for your special someone. All you need is a seductive tune to put your lover in the mood. Write it. (2 minute minimum length) (your submission is due Sunday, January 18th 11:59PM)
Basically, it's a challenge to write a song of seduction as opposed to a love song. This gives lots of lovely leeway, and of course the first thing that springs to mind is pretty much most of the repertoire of Luther Vandross or Barry White. That's the imagery intended by the guy that wrote it. How the judges interpret it is anybody's guess.

Nevertheless, after spending the first weekend thinking about it, my lyricist came up empty. So we did a brainstorming session. It seems to me that every woman I've ever heard state what she finds attractive lists a sense of humor near the top. You wouldn't believe it to read lists from "experts" on the Internet, but I have yet to see it fail to show up on a list in real life. So we're going for that. Not comedy, mind you; but playfulness.

For reasons of "I don't wanna write that", I didn't want it to be about promiscuous sex. But I did want it racy.

I also thought about some songs that both my wife and I find to be particularly sexy. That's both of us, not one or the other. We both came up with the same song at the top of the list, "Love Is Strange" by Mickey & Sylvia, from the film Dirty Dancing. It has humor, it has sex, it has lust, it just makes you smile.

A couple of other things about it: It's completely transparent about its intent. "C'MERE, Loverboy!" Also, it's a duet. As I mentioned above, it's appealing to both men and women. And it has spoken dialogue. I wanted something like that, with those kind of features. So that was my guide. But of course I didn't want a copy.

While talking this over with William I used this description of what the song should say:
"I want to go to bed sore and wake up happy". 
Fortuitously that got stuck in my head, because that became the song's hook.

We start with deciding sort of story the song would be telling. Everything but the first verse came first, but I wasn't happy because I didn't want it to feel cheap; then based on another bit of our conversation I went with the idea that these weren't strangers, but a married couple with kids. That makes this a "date night". Now the question was just "how far can you take this?"  The kids are with Grandma, and Mom and Dad have the house to themselves. Being on a budget, in this story they're watching old movies on Netflix.

Another thing: William had brought up "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" by Rupert Holmes as an example of what we were looking for. The premise of that song is that a bored married couple find out something new about each other.

Note that the challenge was to write a "seductive tune" not a "song about seduction". It should put your partner "in the mood". I think "Escape" meets the challenge in spades.

"Date Night" has the duet, the spoken dialog, and hopefully the playfulness we were looking for. And it gives a socially acceptable situation where you can just unabashedly troll for sex (and the last line is a direct allusion to a "happy ending"). It's arguably more energetic and not as blatantly seductive as "Love Is Strange", but I think it works for a married couple. Inspired by "Escape", the couple in "Date Night" make a little discovery. Of course, what they discover is a willingness to try S&M and bondage, but at least they didn't put it on Craig's List... yet.

by Dr. Lindyke

[tv noises]

[she] This movie’s not very good. I’m bored.
[he] Well, it IS date night.  [turns off tv] What would you like to do?
[she] I don’t know,  Let’s do something different.

[he] hmmm... different...
Baby I know you like to have a good time... 
Well, the phone is off the hook and the kids are at your mom’s
May I suggest a little game where we can have a few kicks
A little more entertaining than a night of Netflix?

[she] go on...

It’s a little bit of whip, a little bit of chain
It’s a little bit of pleasure, a little bit of pain
It’s a little bit of you and a little bit of me
Baby, let’s go to bed sore and wake up happy.

[dialogue over the groove]
[she] I was kind of hoping you’d go there
[he] oh, really?
[she] In fact, I got us a little present, just in case.
[he] oh, REAlly?
[she] oh, yeaaaaah….


[she takes the reigns]
To keep you in your place ‘cause I like it rough
Let me introduce you to my brand-new cuffs
They’re covered in fur so they don’t chafe
And you can pick a word to keep you safe

It’s a little bit of whip, a little bit of chain
It’s a little bit of pleasure, a little bit of pain
It’s a little bit of you and a little bit of me
I want to go to bed sore and wake up happy.


[he] Babe, they say if nothing’s ventured, nothing’s gained
[she] You know I like my lovers with some spirit I can tame
[he] I have got the fire stoked bright to light your brand
[she] So everybody knows that you’re my man

It’s a little bit of whip, a little bit of chain
It’s a little bit of pleasure, a little bit of pain
[he] It’s a little bit of you 
[she] and a little bit of me
[both] Let’s go to bed sore and wake up…. happy.


Some rejected Ideas:
  • Any Barry White or Luther Vandross parody or pastiche
  • A Star Trek filk song based on Mudd's Women
  • A different role play (D&D)
  • A song "sung by" Larry Laffer (Leisure Suit Larry)


There's absolutely nothing highbrow about this arrangement.

I began with percussion, consciously using a classic R&B rhythm... it's an homage to every porn flick ever filmed in the 1970s. Since the song builds up, it starts with just the snare, then adds kick and hi-hat. The full drum kit doesn't kick in until Cherry hits her chorus

The rest of it is very seat-of-the-pants flying. The electric bass was the first instrumentation added, since it supports any R&B track, and I didn't want to be constrained to any particular key when writing it. I just let it go and figured out the chords afterward. That was pretty simple, as it's a basic three-chord song.

The piano was a puzzle. I tried all sorts of bluesy arrangements and nothing worked. Then I took it down to the simple chord-free accents you hear, and that went very well with Cherry's vocals, keeping the whole thing light and playful. Denise Hudson's Motown-style backing vocals were her idea, and they're icing on the cake.

One last thing: It should have an instrumental section in the middle eight, and the last chorus should be repeated. I will be adding those, because I just love this silly song. However, there are FIFTY ONE (51) entrants in the opening round of SpinTunes 10, and I've judged before. I'm not recording either the instrumental or the repeated chorus, so as to keep this under three minutes out of the goodness of my heart. It may come back to bite me.


As often happens, we've already met this challenge with a previous song. Namely, "I Hate Myself For Loving You", sung beautifully by Heather Zink.


Reviews have started to come in.
  • One reviewer comments that this is "A song about a date rather than for a date"... Nope. One of the best ways to get your lover "in the mood" is to watch or listen to other people who are "in the mood". This song is soft porn, plain and simple. It squarely meets the challenge, no "rather than" about it. Besides, the challenge isn't to write a song for a date... you're trying to get laid.