Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Wake Me When It's Over

UPDATE: I added some notes about the title after the lyrics.
UPDATE2: I finished the song bio with "The Rest of the Story"
This is our entry for SpinTunes 3, round 1 (click here to vote for it!). The challenge: Write a happy song about death. This begs for a novelty song, but Sammy Kablam challenged us to write an un-funny happy song. So we started thinking about all the different kinds of "happy" there are, and we hope we came up with a very pure, almost tearful bittersweet happy.

Here we're imagining a terminal patient telling his wife not to grieve for him, as he's genuinely and sincerely happy to die and go to heaven.

On a technical note... yep, we're aware that once again we switched genres halfway through the song. It goes from borderline gospel to a rumba. I like mixed genres... sue me. In this case, though, there's a practical reason. This challenge is really the inverted form of an earlier challenge (SpinTunes 1, Round 3: "Happy to Sad in 4 Seconds: Write a sad song about birth"), so here we're attempting to take you from sad to happy. Hence the bait-and-switch.

One last thing... this is under 3 minutes long as a gesture of mercy toward the judges. There are 60 contestants in round 1. If every song was only as long as this one, it would take them three hours just to listen to each song once.


Babe, you know I’m leaving
I’m going home
I can hear my name called in the light
I don’t want you grieving
There’s no need for tears
Everything will turn out right

Celebrate the moments of our lives
Celebrate the memories that you keep
The answers to your questions
Surely lie above
Now it’s time for me to sleep

Wake me when it’s over
Have a party while I’m growin’ colder
And maybe cry into your beer
Because you think that I’m not there

I’ve got a first-class ticket into Paradise
And if you love me you will see me, just close your eyes
And we will spend eternity
In love so endlessly
And when the living ends you’ll see
It’s never over


I’ve got a first-class ticket to the afterlife
And we’ll forever be together when it comes your time
And we will spend eternity
Bathed in love so endlessly
‘Cause when your life is done you’ll see
It’s never over


I've heard feedback from several people that the name of this song should be "It's Never Over". Generally the reason given is the same reasoning you'd use to argue that "Camptown Races" should have been named "Doo-Dah". I don't find such arguments terribly compelling; but the sentiment is prevalent enough that I'm going to take a moment to defend and explain the name.

The song starts sadly, on purpose. Death is a sad thing for most people. The aim of the song is to take you FROM that sadness TO the happiness of life after death. The song is not a snapshot of the mood of happiness: it's a transition into that mood. It's a realization that death isn't sad ending at all; rather, it's a new beginning. You can't communicate that if you give away the denoument in the title. It would be like writing a murder "mystery" and entitling it, "The Butler Did It". So,
whatever the best title for this piece should be, "It's Never Over" certainly isn't it.

"Wake Me When It's Over" appears once in the song, but it's not incidental. It is
the pivotal moment at which the song turns from sad to happy. Through the inclusion of the pun on "Wake", it hints at happiness without giving away the ending; and it implies there's a continuation -- a new awakening -- after it's "over". In other words, it communicates that "over" doesn't mean the end. "It's Never Over" in the title would imply that there is no death, and that's not the song's message. The real message, and that which is communicated by "Wake Me When It's Over", is that there is a new beginning.

So, while I appreciate the feedback, I'm keeping my title because it's quite honestly better.

There's a little more to this story which I'll add later today. 


As I mentioned at the top of this post, Sammy Kablam challenged us to make this an un-funny song. That, however, didn't happen before we had come up with several alternative ideas. Among them...
  • A man dies and goes to Hell, but it's better than the Hell-on-Earth that his wife is putting him through. This is an inversion of the "I'm glad she's dead" theme that turned out to be so very popular in the competion.
  • A happy song about Death. This idea would have the Grim Reaper take a holiday. The only plots we could think of for this idea were funny, but not happy (and there is a difference, although I'm apparently in a minority of people who recognize it. Many of the SpinTunes entries are funny, but cruel or vindictive rather than happy). 
  • A bolt of lightning strikes an Irish wake, killing all of the participants. That doesn't slow them down, though: they continue the party on the other side, and you can join them when you die.
 The last is what we were planning to do before accepting Sammy's challenge (which was possibly a very bad move on our part... there will be eleven eliminations and we're competing with a lot of hilarity). It would have been drunken and exhuberant. The title was a deliberate pun on the word "Wake", and really did describe the story in that the wake occurs after their deaths. Then we switched gears, and the title is all that remains of that idea.

You could fairly conclude that my earlier explanation was simply a retcon if not for the fact that the title did shape the song that we wound up creating, and was the first line of the song that was written. The song actually grew in two directions from that line. The "happy" second part (after the line) was written first. The reassuring first part of the song was written last, when we realized that for narrative reasons we needed to say why the singer is imparting this message. The intent was as described above, and the sentiment was inspired by my own mother's demeanor as she approached her death. She filled the air with expectation and excitement.

If you look closely at the two choruses (if you can call them that), you'll see that they differ as well. In the first, the singer is singing about his loved ones' life without him; in the second, he's singing about their deaths.

So, while my previous explanation of the title is accurate, it was incomplete. The title is also an appendix left over from a previous idea, a bit of evolution in amber which may yet see renewed life... after all, it's never over. 

And that's the rest of the story.


Mark S. Meritt said...

I really appreciate the thoughtfulness you give to your choices. A few counterarguments, but in the end I'll say why I totally buy your choice.

First, the spoiler issue is one that's pretty imperative for lengthier narrative forms like movies, plays and books. Here, an audience's typical relationship involves partaking of the story once and only once, so it's important to refrain from giving things away. But songs, even story songs, are not fundamentally narrative works. They're songs, an art form for which endless repetition is not only common but expected and hoped-for. And this is just as true for story songs, even story songs with surprise endings or plot twists. Except in rare cases, we don't really listen to them for the story, not the way we do movies, plays and books for the story. It's true that something can spoil a first impression, but fundamentally songs don't rely on first impressions. They rely on repetition helping them work their way into people's brains. By the time a song does that, there's not much left that's spoilable.

Second, it's not true that you can't communicate plot development if you give away the denouement in the title. "It's a Wonderful Life" doesn't suffer from what it gives away. Neither does "The Last of Sheila," a murder mystery that hides its solution in the title. Also consider, "Death of a Salesman," "Return of the Jedi," "The Shawshank Redemption," and the other titles listed here: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=552310 -- The real magic of narrative is just that: the narrative, the journey. Not merely the ending, the destination. So while it's certainly valid to not want to give away an ending, it's just not true that a story is always spoiled by giving the ending away. And unless there's either a genuine plot twist or a cynical author, odds are always in favor of a story having a happy ending, which means that a happy ending can hardly ever really be given away. More often than not, the denouement of a story, happy or otherwise, is a foregone conclusion once you've heard the first bits of it.

Finally, "Camptown Races" isn't a great example to bring out, because the title actually never appears as a lyric in that song, whereas the title of your song does. There are songs where the title appears nowhere, and that's obviously just a creative choice. There are also songs where the title appears fewer times than some other lyric, and that's also obviously a creative choice, but one that's usually going to be a bit less defensible, a bit more begging of questions.

But the issue is whether those begged questions can be answered. And for you, they can. None of what I've said denies the real reason you made the choice you made. Which means that you don't need to talk about these things to defend your choice. All you needed was to say that you felt that the title conveys the pivotal moment and the real message of the song. That's an argument I totally buy, and it makes the counterarguments just evaporate. So I'll stand by you even though I was one of the people that at first questioned the title. You had me at "real message." :)

Dave Leigh said...

Thanks, Mark, and I should say that your observations when you questioned me were superior to most. You're the reason I had to qualify my statement above with "Generally".

The "give away the ending" argument I give is only semi-serious. Obviously you hope that one of your songs is going to be heard more than once. But I must point out that while the "reveal" isn't an issue MOST of the time in music, first impressions can make a difference in a competition with what could have been 60 entries. ;)

I'm updating the blog post with "the rest of the story" that I promised earlier. Hopefully that will adequately reveal why my explanation is only semi-serious.

Rusty said...

Good song, Dave. And I enjoy reading the song bios that you and Mark have produced. Maybe Rhod and I will come up with a song bio for "Wake at the Sunnyside." It's funny, our songs have some similar rhymes and lyrics. Both songs play with the word "Wake." And, obviously, both are happy songs about Death. But they are SO very different.

Dave Leigh said...

Looking forward to a bio from you, Russ! BTW, one of the reasons we were OK with going with Sammy's challenge (and I'm still OK with it, whether or not we make it to the next round), is that we truly thought there would be a lot of people going with an Irish wake theme. I was really surprised to find the dead girlfriend theme in the majority. And I LOVE the unique approach of "Wake at the Sunnyside". Only Godz Poodlz could turn this theme into a sales pitch.

Mark S. Meritt said...

Excellent point about first impressions being pretty important in a contest situation like this. A great counter to my counter!

I'm glad my comments gave you cause to say "generally" :)

Thanks for sharing the rest of the story. And I'm really glad you pointed out the difference between happy and funny. Listening to the songs in the round, I was really aware of that myself, how it wouldn't really be fair to think of a number of the songs as actually happy. And for sure, you guys did a nice job making a song that was happy but not funny.

Again, and as usual, lots of great thoughtfulness, which I always appreciate learning about. Thanks for sharing all of it.

BTW, while it's come up, I also really loved the Godz Poodlz song. It's always interesting to see the different angles people take on these challenges, and it's always great to see angles that are really fresh and well executed, and it's even better to see one that just seems almost perfect and inevitable despite not having thought of it oneself -- and that's what I thought about the Poodlz' tune :)

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