Sunday, February 19, 2012

There's an Earwig (Spintunes Shadow)

This is the second of two Spintunes #4 Round 1 shadows, the first of which can be found >>here<<. If you'll recall, the challenge was
Night Terrors - Write a song about a childhood nightmare. Include significant use of rubato. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due January 29th 11:59PM)

Example: "Love Of My Life" by Queen
Definition: Wikipedia 
The first of our shadows was a nightmare of William's. I thought it would be nice to include one of mine, but there was a problem... my mother was a fan of all things pertaining to gothic horror. We read books about vampires, watched Dark Shadows, Night Gallery, the Twilight Zone, the Outer Limits, the Addams Family, the Munsters... we went to see all the Hammer and Universal monster flicks... I listened in the dark to E.G. Marshall and the CBS Radio Mystery Theater. In short, I grew up pretty much inoculated against nightmares. I don't recall any from my childhood. The closest I can come actually has me cast as the "monster". So I was stuck.

Or was I? Since I had no nightmares, I decided to write about that. And, since the challenge nevertheless had to be about a nightmare, I borrowed one from Rod Serling. There was an episode of Night Gallery entitled "The Caterpillar", in which a man had an "earwig" crawl into his head and bore through his brain. Upon exiting the other side, it was examined by a doctor who declared that it was female and had laid eggs. I was about 11 years old when I saw this episode, and I still regard it as one of the creepiest I've seen.

This song recalls that episode, with a chorus that assures you that it is because of things like this that my childhood dreams were unusually sound:

Some notes about the composition: 
  1. This is written to be performed with just a drum and upright acoustic bass, but I wanted to be able to play it for people solo, so I wrote the piano arrangement you hear. 
  2. The arrangement for the right hand is supposed to emulate echoes, and a dreamy quality. If I do this as an mp3 I'll probably use effects to get the right sound. The period between the echoes lengthens slightly rather than being exactly periodic as a real echo would be.
  3. It's deliberately "torch-songy" in that I always think creepiness is enhanced by a little masochism. Speaking of masochism, Rod Serling was an incorrigible smoker, hence the "nail for his coffin" line.
  4. The "tiny glass window" is likewise a way of enhancing creepiness. I thought it was nice to invoke the idea of the television (the old console television I used to watch) as a sort of Pandora's Box, in which all these demons and monsters were trapped. This leaves open the possibility that they could escape. (You might not consider that consciously, but I'm banking that your unconscious mind can connect the dots). The glass picture tube then becomes a window in allusion to the other forms of scrying windows, mirrors, and pools common in occult mythology.
  5. I wanted to highlight a form of rubato I didn't hear in any of the SpinTunes entries, but which is actually exceedingly common among the works of torch singers and nightclub performers. Frank Sinatra was a master of it. That is, varying the tempo of the vocal alone, while the accompaniment plays on-tempo. Here I stretch that out to ridiculous proportions in the last verse, which not only slows down to an entire measure behind the accompaniment, but is never actually completed! It's also used in that fashion to a lesser extent in the first verse. I include a fermata in that verse as well for good... measure (shoot me). And the tempo changes slightly going into the chorus, to fall back as the instrumental verse takes over. If I did all this correctly, it should be plain that the rubato should be included to enhance the performance, not merely meet the challenge.
  6. Oh, and how is exactly is this a song about a childhood nightmare? Answer: Play it for your kids and find out. 
For our round 3 shadow, I promise we're going a bit more upbeat and modern.

There's an Earwig
lyrics by Dave Leigh

There's an earwig in my head
Chewing slowly on my brain
And they tell me when the eggs hatch
I will slowly go insane
But I don't mind -- yeah, I like it.
And I'm thoroughly entertained
As I'm dreaming of the earwig in my brain

And I've got no nightmares, no bad dreams,
'Cause Rod Serling scared them all out of me
They're hanging up in the Night Gallery
As he sucks on a nail for his coffin

No nightmares! No bad dreams!
The monsters are all in the tee-vee
There's no way that they can get to me
Through the tiny glass window

There's an earwig in my head
Chewing slowly on my...

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