Sunday, January 20, 2013

Famous Last Words

This was posted as a work-in-progress, updated throughout the week as the song was written.


As I may have mentioned here [link], only one of the SpinTunes challenges jumped out at me.  "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch.

If you're completely unfamiliar with it, the gist is this: Randy Pausch was a professor at Carnegie-Mellon university... a researcher in the field of virtual reality. He was asked to give a talk in a series that was once entitled "The Last Lecture", the premise of which is, if you had one last thing to say, what would it be? As chance would have it, Randy Pausch had pancreatic cancer, and this was to be his last lecture. And it was one of the most inspirational, uplifting talks ever presented.

The tricky part of  meeting any challenge, though, is finding that "hook" for your song. For this song it turned out to be the fact that Randy Pausch not only was a virtual reality researcher, and not only that he taught a course called "Building Virtual Worlds"; but that he actually worked as a Disney Imagineer on the Aladdin ride. Disney's Aladdin is famous for the song "A Whole New World". So there's the hook, and a deliberate homage in both the lyrics and the echoed "(A Whole New World)".

There are a number of things present in the song that you'll only pick up on if you've seen The Last Lecture. To my mind, the meme isn't that some dying guy made a speech, but the message contained within that speech. So this IS NOT going to be "The Ballad of Randy Pausch".  Rather, it is a decidedly show-tuney, uplifting, pulling-your-strings-and-you-know-it kind of "message" song.

Of course, we have the better part of a week to play with these lyrics, so they may change. My goal is to have them as close in meaning as possible to Randy's speech, and there are some things I'd like to add or refine. But if I had only one day to write the song, this would be it.

Famous Last Words
inspired by "The Last Lecture" by Randy Pausch

If you had the chance to pass on 
A message to the world
What would you want to say?
If you saw a light and you knew
The end was drawing near
Tell me what would you say?

Famous Last Words...
Famous Last Words...

We can't change the cards that we're dealt
But we can decide how to play them
We're stuck with the feelings we've felt
But we can decide how to say them

You've the power to create a brand new world 
(A Whole New World)
Why not make it something grand?
(A new fantastic point of view)
The good that you do will bring good right back to you
So why not lend a helping hand?

If I had just three words to shout
I think I'd just say, "Tell the truth"
The brick walls aren't there to keep us out
They're there so that we can show proof
That we want it
And I want it!
Don't you want it?

You've the power to create a brand new world 
(A Whole New World)
Why not make it something grand?
(A new fantastic point of view)
The good that you do will bring good right back to you
So why not lend a helping hand?

If you had the chance to forgive
Letting by-gones pass you by
Why not do it today?
The only thing we have is Time
And not so much as you'd think
As you'll find out someday

Famous Last Words...
Famous Last Words...
Famous Last Words...
Famous Last Words...



Updates

Update 1: The two big things I wanted to add were a mention of the "brick walls" (obstacles) not as barriers, but proof of our determination, and that Randy Pausch had said that if he was limited to three words of advice, they'd be "tell the truth". (If he had three more words he'd add, "all the time"). This morning that verse came to me, so I've added it. I didn't want the song to walk out the door without those features. I think I can record a safety track this evening.

Update 2: Added another line from "A Whole New World". Not only do I want people to realize that this is deliberate, but I just happen to keep hearing it in my head anyway, so I might as well make it official. Also some minor edits to fix some things that don't scan so well when actually sung.

My family is my barometer of confusing points, so I might as well answer their questions here, too. So why don't I mention "virtual" worlds if that was his job? Simple... that's not what the talk was about. The talk was entitled "Achieving Your Childhood Dreams", but Randy reveals at the end that this is a head fake... the talk is actually about how to live your life. And the same goes for Randy's classes. He may have taught a course called "Building Virtual Worlds", but it was really about working with others, engaging your creativity, seeing how far you can reach without set expectations or goals, and having fun while doing it. These are lessons that apply to any endeavor whatsoever, which makes this a course about Life. What Randy Pausch describes isn't about virtual reality, but about lowering the barriers between you and others and making the world around you better. You could drop "Virtual" from the title entirely, and it would be as useful.

This is why his participation in the Aladdin ride is my "hook". The ride is virtual, but the song and the message associated with that ride are about opening horizons in the real world, and seeing things with "a new fantastic point of view". Which is exactly what Randy Pausch brought to and expected from his students. This is an allegorical jackpot. And while Randy had an hour and 16 minutes to make his point, I've only got about 3.5 minutes to make the same point in a song, so I have to take the shorter road. Sometimes that means going straight to the underlying meaning and leaving out a few layers of metaphor. Sometimes that means leaving the metaphor unexplained. Sometimes you sacrifice historical accuracy for the sake of the more important truth. I hope that what I do include is enough to get you to watch the lecture yourself and get the whole story.

I also hope that the judges do the same. This is a very short and specific list of memes. In the past we've had judges tell us that if they can't get the full meaning in the song that it's ranked lower in their estimation. I hope these guys do a bit better than that. You simply don't drop a specific list in someone's lap without knowing it inside and out yourself. We'll see.

Update 3: Moved around some of the "Famous Last Words" lines. I HAVE A DRAFT RECORDING! Still working on drums... for now it's just my click-track. Also, while I did record the lyrics for "A Whole New World" that I use, I cut them from the draft and replaced them with strings performing the couple of bars of melody line. I really don't want to have some Disney lawyer issue a take-down notice on an homage. It may stay strings, but if I can swing it I'll have something else there.

Answering more questions... no, there isn't an instrumental bridge. Yes, that's on purpose. The speaker is dying, and the song's already 4 and a half minutes long without it.

Update 4: I HAVE A SAFETY TRACK! It's sent in, so even if I die on the highway, My famous last words will be enshrined.

Another answer: Yes, the lyrics are mostly gleaned from the talk. They're modified for meter and rhyme, but I tried my best to keep the meaning untouched. And why don't I mention the second "head fake"? Because that's Randy's personal space, that's why. Here's the deconstruction, if you care:

If you had the chance to pass on 
A message to the world
What would you want to say?
If you saw a light and you knew
The end was drawing near
Tell me what would you say?

[The above is simply me, introducing the song by setting up the premise of The Last Lecture series]

Famous Last Words...
Famous Last Words...

[I had to struggle with using this, since somebody was sure to think it was going to be a gag. However, they are his last words, and they're famous... and the gag is that this title isn't a joke.]

We can't change the cards that we're dealt
But we can decide how to play them

[This is nearly verbatim from the lecture]

We're stuck with the feelings we've felt
But we can decide how to say them

[This isn't verbatim, but it's a pretty concise summary. Randy describes two different deans saying "no" to his sabbatical at Disney. They both said the same thing: there was a profound difference in the way they said it.]

You've the power to create a brand new world 
(A Whole New World)
Why not make it something grand?
(A new fantastic point of view)

[The parenthetical lyrics were intended to be backing vocals. They're from "A Whole New World" from Disney's Aladdin. I decided that discretion was the better part of valor and I replaced the vocals with orchestral instrumentals. It's clearly an homage, and the epitome of Fair Use, but I don't really want to have to explain that to a Disney lawyer in this age of DMCA copyright take-downs.]

[The non-parenthetical lyrics are the more interesting to me. They allude to a course Randy taught, "Building Virtual Worlds", and the fact that he didn't know how to motivate the students to improve on something that had already blown him away. His mentor, Andy van Dam, advised him to tell them, "That was pretty good, but I know you can do better". The example Randy presented in The Last Lecture was apocalyptic in scope.]

The good that you do will bring good right back to you
(That's Karma!)
So why not lend a helping hand?

[Randy makes the point repeatedly that helping others to achieve their childhood dreams can be more satisfying than achieving your own. He summarizes the benefit of doing good for others in the lecture: "believe in karma"]

If I had just three words to shout
I think I'd just say, "Tell the truth"

[I absolutely had to have this in the song. Randy says if he had to limit himself to three words of advice they would be "tell the truth". If he were allowed three more words they would be "all the time".]

The brick walls aren't there to keep us out
They're there so that we can show proof
That we want it
And I want it!
Don't you want it?

[You'll run into the brick wall analogy many times in The Last Lecture. That's because it's true. So I'm very glad I needed another verse for the "tell the truth" line, because it allowed me room for this, and allowed me the near-rhyme of "truth" and "proof". This allowed me to put "truth" on a little pedestal at the end of the line]

You've the power... etc. [We've already discussed this]

If you had the chance to forgive
Letting by-gones pass you by
Why not do it today?

[This isn't exactly covered in The Last Lecture, so you'll have to forgive my editorializing. However, the general gist of what was said is that if you give people enough time they will astonish you. And if they haven't astonished you, you just haven't given them enough time. Closely related to forgiveness is the quote, "Apologize when you screw up". This phrasing above allowed a tidier segue into the following important quote...]

The only thing we have is Time
And not so much as you'd think
As you'll find out someday

[This is very close to the actual wording in The Last Lecture, adjusted for meter]

And there's your breakdown, and I fully expect that this is all I have to say on the subject until the listening party, except for this one thing... as I finished writing this on my mother's birthday, I'm dedicating the song to her memory.


Update 5: Ok, so I'm wrong. It turns out the drums I'd programmed were terrible. The drums I tried to program to replace them are horrible. So I've picked up a pair of sticks and just played the stupid drums. Sadly, it seems to be an improvement. Thanks to Denise Hudson for giving me the constructive feedback. Also, the one change I'd hoped for, French Horns to replace the strings, won't happen. My son is going to have a wisdom tooth extracted, so no horn playing for a couple of weeks. As a result, I've re-mixed and equalized the strings, and put the backing vocals back in on top of them.

Update 6: Last night was the deadline, and of course we had no worries there. I was happy that the French Horns did happen, and since I wanted that to sound clean, the lyrics came back out again. I'll be happy again after the listening party, when I can share.


1 comment:

sg said...

I like where this sis going! (or has gone?) :)

Looking forward to hearing it.

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