Saturday, November 10, 2012

It's Written In The Stars - A Songwriting Circle entry

Most of the songwriting challenges we meet are part of song contests and competitions. In them, every participant receives the same challenge and responds accordingly. This is a little different. Conceived by Edric Haleen, the Songwriting Circle has every participant stand in a virtual circle and pass a challenge of his own devising off to the person on his left. As a result, every participant gets a unique challenge.

That's the basic concept. In practice it's a little bit more involved... everyone actually submits two challenges, so the recipient is less likely to be stumped. Also, for fairness, you don't know in advance who is going to get the challenge. Also...
    •  Your song must be at least one minute and thirty seconds long.
    •  Your song may not be solely instrumental -- a lyric is required.
    •  Your song must meet the requirements of your particular challenge..
There is no winner. The idea here is to meet the challenges, complete the circle, and have fun in a creative and artistic fashion. For more on the competition, see Edric's Happiness Board website.

We submitted two challenges, which wound up going to JoAnn Abbott. These were to either:
  1. write a song with two or more distinct key signatures (Examples: "My Generation" by The Who, "Penny Lane" by the Beatles, and "I Walk The Line" by Johnny Cash).
  2. write a song describing a new County and Western dance. (Examples: "Boot Scootin’ Boogie" by Brooks & Dunn, "Four on the Floor" by Lee Brice, or "Bomshel Stomp" by Bomshel.)
For our part, Ross Durand challenged us to either
  1. eat a fortune cookie and then write a song inspired by the fortune inside, or 
  2. read [either Dave or William’s] horoscope for October 26th, 2012 and then write a song based on it.
Of course, we did both, and put them in one song. We explored these concepts and fortune telling in general, and realized that, simply due to the way probability works, there may be one person, somewhere in the world, for whom every superstitious fortune comes true out of mere chance. Such a person may read the horoscopes for a genuine heads-up on the events of his day. This is a song about that person, inspired by William's horoscope, and my fortune cookie.

For reference, my fortune cookie reads, "If you love, love will follow you." William is a Pisces, and his horoscope as published in The State newspaper on Oct 26th, 2012 read, "A family or community setting feels very claustrophobic now. Your desire to get away and your craving for something different are thwarted by current economic circumstances. Finding the unusual and delightful in your everyday surroundings is the challenge now."

On to the lyrics:

It's Written In The Stars (And Published In The Paper)
by Dr. Lindyke

Mr. Weatherman of Fate
Will you please forecast my future?
All things must come to pass
And there's nothing I can do, sir
I wish to tell you everything you've ever said's come true
So every morning I rely on you

It's written in the stars
And published in the paper
And each turn of the cards
Reveals another caper
And I'm hanging on each word you have to say
I can't wait to see what I will do today!

Dictating my destiny
Is a dangerous game to play
But if I follow your advice
My life could change today
You're a prophet! I believe my life is in your hands
A star to guide me through the shifting sands

It's written in the stars
And published in the paper
And each turn of the cards
Reveals another caper
And I'm hanging on each word you have to say
I can't wait to see what I will do today!

And when family and community are 
Feeling kind of claustrophobic, my 
Getaway is thwarted by some 
Reasons mostly economic, I'll
Count on you to see me through, you
Told me this was gonna happen, there's
No place to hide, so enjoy the ride
No matter how life tries to step on you...

It's written in the stars
And published in the paper
In a Chinese restaurant -- 
A message from the baker, it says 
"If you believe in Love, then Love will follow you", and I say...
I can't wait to see what I will do!

It's written in the stars
And published in the paper
And the lines upon my palms
Evaporate like vapor, and there's
Only so much Time that God has given you, and I say...
I can't wait to see what I will do!

Lyrical Notes
You might notice that we break a few songwriting rules here. It's OK, they were stupid rules in the first place.

Most noticeably, we treat what should properly be our chorus as more of a verse in the last two instances. We change everything beyond the first two lines.  Also, we changed the closing "hook", dropping the word "today", thus changing the meter, emphasis and rhyme of that final line.  In fact, when we say [chorus] we really are talking about the musical accompaniment rather than the lyrical structure. You might expect in a song about predestination that we'd stick with a predictable refrain, but we're going for irony over expectation here. As Doc Emmett Brown would say, your future is what you make of it, even though this character believes otherwise. This change-up is a subliminal message to that effect.

In the bridge, you'll note when you hear it with music that this is the sort of structure that's commonly used in "ukelele ballads", which I hate. But it was a pretty good way of representing horoscopes, which I also hate. So this was my personal way of indicating that the subject matter of this verse is not to be taken seriously. You may not "get it", but we didn't write it for you. It's an in-joke for me.

We're kind of loose in the rhyme, as usual, Rhyme isn't what carries this kind of song anyway... it's content and the tune. I did have to change a line or two that started were "too harsh" according to my kids. So strict rhyme was sacrificed to remove cognitive dissonance.

As for who did what in this song... this one's one of those that's so intertwined that it's hard to say what William did or I did. I had the idea of the title, and then William came back with a bunch of verses singing in first person to the psychic. I added back in the titular lines and made sure we included the horoscope and fortune cookie pretty close to verbatim, varying it as much as "inspired by" would allow.

Musical Notes
I originally had a completely different tune for this, much closer to our usual sound. Then I had a thought that I'd love to see these songs passed back to the challengers so they could cover them. That lead to a re-working of the tune from scratch, and a change of instrumentation from piano to guitar. You might not get it from my delivery, but it's fairly compatible with Ross Durand's Western style. Of course, when I do it -- seeing as how I'm not going to insult Ross with a parody of his style -- it sounds more like Jenny Katz. If either one of them covered it, I'd wriggle like a puppy.

One thing that survived the change in tune was the key change in the bridge. I knew from the start that we were going to have this, as it was one of the challenges we passed on, and I wanted to meet that as well as the challenge Ross gave us. (There was no way I was going to try to make a Country/Western dance out of it.)

A late addition was the whistling. As of this writing, I'm 50 years old, and didn't learn to whistle until just a few months ago. Now, the song that I first learned to whistle was Steve Durand's "A Beautiful Voice"... the well-deserved winning entry for Spintunes #4. So when I saw that this challenge came from Steve's brother Ross, the whistling had to go in. There originally weren't going to be any trills in it, but I sort of over-rehearsed, and found them impossible to get out. So, deadline looming, I did my best to use them on purpose and it went in as you hear them.

Other Notes
This third edition of the Songwriting Circle went off without a hitch. All 12 participant (hmm... Zodiac signs? If so, I claim Aries) delivered on their challenges, and the results can be found at