Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Review of SpinTunes 8 Round 2

Ranking this round is easy for me.
  1. Ryan M. Brewer
  2. Ross "Dammit Ross" Durand
  3. Everybody else
It looks like there's a tie for third place, and the judges will have to sort it out.

So, rankings out of the way, here are my thoughts about the songs, in listening party order. It looks like there are three basic approaches to this challenge: 1. Comedic, 2. Sympathetic, and 3. Embrace the Hate. I haven't read your song bios before writing this, so that you get feedback as to what *I* get out of what you wrote.

1.Jutze - I Hate You 02:16
Jutze embraces the hate in a comedic and "meta" way. Sounds a lot like the Sesame Street Cookie Monster. It's a bit repetitious for my taste, and feels a bit like what you might right with writer's block. Either that or it's really clever. Jutze messes with your head like that.

2.TurboShandy - Stoic 02:30
This sounds a bit Dylanesque, but TurboShandy already know that. It sounds very nice. I don't believe he hates anybody. ;)

3.Jenny Katz - Voodoo Doll 03:24
I love Jenny's voice. I wonder how much she'd charge to read my mail out loud to me each morning? 'Cause I could listen to her all day. I like the metaphor equating the singer with the voodoo doll... the pain she inflicts on you is at the cost of taking on pain herself. Lots of intelligent, cosmic lyricism here acknowledging the inter-relatedness of hate and love.

4.Felix Frost - Steely 03:09
Felix Frost's arrangements are intricate and unpredictable and many layered. His lyrics are obscure, but intriguing. My One Big Complaint is the almost complete lack of dynamics in his songs.  I don't know if that's the result of programmed instruments, but it doesn't have to be. This song has basically two volume settings... loud and LOUD. I'm pretty sure the waveform in his DAW peaks at max just about the whole time. That's not an envelope, it's a bar. Dynamics are what communicate emotion... even hate. There's a lot here for the mind, but not much for the heart.

5.Sara Parsons - Who Am I Kidding? 03:07
Sara's is another voice I could listen to all day. This song is pretty, and perhaps too much so. I'm just not finding much hate in it. There's disappointment in it, and the target seems to shift. Maybe it's in herself, and maybe in him, maybe a little of both. But a nice, easy listen.

6.Governing Dynamics - Trump Card 04:37
Some heavy bass pulled forward in Time from 1972. This song is full-on Embrace The Hate, in both lyrics and tone. Bang-on the challenge.

7.Caravan Ray - Disdain In The Refrain 02:20
Caravan Ray goes for full-on comedy. It's busy and bouncy and the insults are so casually dropped it couldn't be offensive if it tried. Which it isn't trying to be. I get the feeling this is a song containing all the snappy comebacks a guy would say if it didn't mean losing his job. It's fun.

8.Edric Haleen - Born Of Hate 03:23
Edric kept saying his isn't a song, and then he played this thing that's totally a song. He goes for Embrace the Hate with something that's either a commentary on War or an ad for the world's greatest first-person shooter. I would cast Russell Crowe and Hugh Jackman in the film adaptation. Seriously, though, it is possible that the fact that it followed Caravan Ray's entry accounts for my limited empathy with the protagonist. The number's well-suited to being embedded in a drama where you've had the time to set the mood and become invested in these characters, but there's not time in three and a half minutes to do that.I'm guessing that the bulk of the audience will be drawn to more personally relate-able themes.
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9.Dr. Lindyke - I Hate Myself For Loving You 03:18
It's an old story... she loves him; he barely knows she exists. She can't get close, but she can't leave either. That's the kind of love a person can only hate. And she's no one to blame but herself. See... it's Heather. And she blames herself. I crack me up. This is a rumba. Here's the song bio [link]

10.Zoe Gray - Black With You 02:46
You embrace the hate in a unique way, Zoe. This is really intelligent and well-plotted. My constructive criticism is the same as for Felix... Dynamics work wonders in enhancing the emotion. The emotion is clearly here in the song... but with a little more subtlety in the delivery you'll put it in the hearts of the audience. A ton of extra points for bringing kismesis to the party.

11.Brian Gray - Stupid Face 02:28
Nearly a capella, but on steroids. And it's pure comedy, from the title down. When you see "Stupid Face" you're expecting something at least a little childish, and boy does this run with that ball! Really, really fun stuff! And c'mon... how many times do you get to use "lit bags of poo" in a lyric?

12.Adam Sakellarides - Damn You 02:56
A tango!! And a great subject as well! I only wish the vocals were up to the material, but that's me being selfish. If I were judging, I'd overlook it entirely.

13.T.C. Elliott - You Cheated On Me (And Now I Hate You) 02:09
That's pretty straightforward, idnit? What's to explain? An uncomplicated song about pure, honest hate.

14.Jailhouse Payback - Clippedcorners 04:14
You have to love a banjo. Really, you just HAVE to. And to my ears this is one of the very best SOUNDING songs in the round. It's a real "feel-good" sound that I like a lot. But it's not comedic, so I'm looking for a REASON for it to be a "feel-good" song about hate, and I don't see it. So I'm conflicted.

15.Army Defense - What Can I Do 02:35
Same as for Jailhouse Payback. It's not a comedic song, but it's really bouncy and light, and it just doesn't FEEL like everyone's against her. I know, it sounds picky of me, but all the songs are so good this round that being picky matters. Do I like it? Yup. But maybe not as much as ones that I'm not conflicted about.

16.James Young - I Hate You 03:38
See, this also has got a feel-good sound, but unlike the previous two it feels like it fits. The target here is clueless and vacuous... "sickly sweet like candyfloss". The music perfectly captures that. And if that weren't enough, the second half of the song proves the singer's every bit as clueless. I like the fact that this song doesn't end in hate. Perfect.

17.Ross Durand - Sometimes 02:57
"Another thing about you I hate / Is just one bowl and just one plate / At breakfast time". DAMMIT, Ross. Just... dammit. You made my wife cry again. Awesome song. Now go away, I've got something in my eye.

18.Ryan M. Brewer - Fear [Of Failure] And [Self] Loathing In Las Vegas 03:57
This is Embrace The Hate, and with a relentless bass, spot-on harmonies, and incisive poetry it makes you believe it. Sing it, Brother.


19.Heather Miller - You Make Me (Shadow) 02:55
Guitar's a little iffy, but the song is really top notch in all other respects.

20.T.C. Elliott - The Kitchen Table (Shadow) 02:28
This is most certainly a hate song.

21.Menage a Tune - Wevenge (Shadow) 02:32
This starts out as a children's song, then turns dark. Elmer and Bugs have a classic love/hate relationship (there's kismesis again!) like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty or Kirk and Khan... only with cartoon bunnies and slapstick rifles, which makes it fun.I'm not sure I like where the piano goes in the later verses. I understand the intent of using dissonance... just don't think I'd do it in quite that way, but I know you're working with limited resources.

22.Boffo Yux Dudes - Suitcase Full of Hate (Shadow) 02:28
Hearkening back to the British Invasion of the 1960s, this number has an awesome period sound mixed with all the depth of morning dew. Which I only say because the BYD are really hoopy froods.

23.@suspiciousden - to dust (Shadow) 02:45
I've told her, and now I'll tell you. I visualize this as animated by Tim Burton. It's sort of creepy in an "I want to be creeped out" way. This is THE unique take on Embrace The Hate. It's not an "I'm mad at you" kind of hate. It's the "you'd better lock the bedroom door when you're sleeping and prepare all your own food" kind of ambiguous "I don't know if she's serious about not caring omgomgomg she's gonna KILL ME" kind of way. A shuddering, cold, clammy dead rat in your soup kind of hate. Sometimes Den scares me. I wish this were an official entry. Or I'm glad it's not. Hell, I don't know.

Monday, February 24, 2014

I Hate Myself For Loving You

OK, so hot on the heels of one emotionally negative SpinTunes challenge ("Missing You") we have another, which is this:
Disdain In The Refrain - Write a hate song about someone. (2 minute minimum) 
Simple. Clear. Not at all the way I was hoping to follow up the first challenge.

William looked at it pretty much the same way. It's not our style to deliberately hate on others, so William went off to figure out some way of writing a "hate song about someone" that wasn't hateful. In the meantime I wrote a perfectly horrid, terrible, hateful song, sung from the perspective of a member of the Westboro Baptist Church. Fortunately, William hit a home run with his lyrics and concept, so I didn't have to produce the backup plan.

Here we have "I Hate Myself For Loving You", and you'll find the song bio after the lyrics.

I Hate Myself For Loving You 
wmh 2.17.14 

I hate myself for loving you 
The way you walk and all you do 
Let’s just face it and be through 
‘cause I hate myself for loving you 

Every time that you walk by 
I pray you'll look my way 
And in some moment catch my eye 
But once again you turn away 

As time went by I saw the signs 
I’m not Ray Charles but I was blind 
Then in my heart I found a way 
But that’s old news... 

Was it love? 
I couldn't say it never was in any way 
But facts are facts, and this much is true 
I hate myself for loving you 

Come tomorrow the skies will clear 
From partly cloudy to severe 
And as the days grow longer I won't fear 
The end’s in sight... 

I bounce and crawl from day to day 
I want to drop these keys and walk away 
I try to tell you in all I do 
But it’s another lie... 

[chorus x2]

Lyrical Notes

You may notice that's not my voice on the recording. Heather Zink did the heavy lifting this time. The short story behind that is that Heather actually provided the impetus for the creation of SpinTunes. She got SpinTown to start it up, which is why the sign-up form includes a release that says anything that goes wrong is "Heather's fault".

However, Heather's never been allowed in the SpinTunes Facebook group since she's never submitted a song. After years of waiting for that to happen, we finally just said, "Hey, we could use a female vocalist, and Heather can sing," and this is the result.

Welcome to the group, Heather.

The song itself evolved over the first couple of days. The story that William gave to me was intended for me to sing. We then re-worked it when I brought in Heather. Her motivations evolved somewhat as the the ideas bounced around, but here's where they settled. Here's the mini-bio we put on the Bandcamp site for the competition:
It's an old story... she loves him; he barely knows she exists. She can't get close, but she can't leave either. That's the kind of love a person can only hate. And she's no one to blame but herself. 
The song is a rumba guaguanco. Basically, that's a Cuban storytelling song, and we unsurprisingly use it to tell a story. If you want to find out more about rumbas, there's Wikipedia. There you'll find that the kind of story usually told in the rumba has to do with the man's (usually unsuccessful) pursuit of his mate. Here we invert the whole story by putting Heather in the spotlight.

We also invert the challenge while simultaneously keeping to both the letter and the spirit. The singer here flat-out says she hates herself, and she means it. And she also says why. And it's not really because her love actually did anything wrong. It's simply because he doesn't notice her in the way she wants. Her conflict is completely internal. And yet, she still genuinely loves him, even though she's ignored and unjustifiably feels used.

The fact that she loves him has to be communicated in the song, or her hatred toward herself doesn't make sense. In that sense this is a love song. But he doesn't, and never will return that love. Nevertheless, she's caught in orbit around him, unable to get close, unable to break away, and she hates herself for allowing herself to be thus trapped. That hate is as genuine as her love for him.

The challenge never says "someone else".

Musical Notes

I play all the guitar parts here, which amount to basically two... the rhythmic strumming and the acoustic lead.

I also arranged the rhythm from several tracks done by Denise Hudson. Starting from a rather uninspired practice track, I replaced the instrumentation with Denise's, and then added some touches that I'd've never considered had it not been for her... the "froggies" and "sillly metallics", as well as the bead shaker.  In all, here's what's on the track, instrumentation-wise.

Heather's voice
Guitar (strummed)
Guitar (finger-picked)
a silver bell that I like very much

The only thing I brought to the party was the guitar and the brush. Apparently, you don't need a lot of melodic instruments in a Latin song. And as I'm writing this I'm smacking my forehead because last Christmas I gave one of my son's a cajon that would have been perfect for this challenge, and I didn't even consider using it.

Maybe next time.


This song was engineered using the "grandfather's axe" method, in which crappy tracks resembling what you want are gradually replaced with better tracks that are what you want until there's nothing of the crappy original remaining. For instance I sang the vocals for an early track for Heather to practice to. That was too low, so I transposed it up a whole step, and sang it poorly until I got a vocal track from her.That meant replacing the rhythm guitar.

Heather's track is recorded using the built-in mic from her laptop, which is what she had. I'm fine with it, as it gives us a microphone sound reminiscent of the 1930s, which is just where I imagine this story to be set. And Heather's performance is, to my mind, excellent.

Then there's the basic rhythm, which is pretty much unvarying throughout. This started as a simple practice rhythm with fake instruments. But the timing was off... at 130 bpm it was too fast, so I knocked it down to 115, but that made it sound strange.. So I created  a 115 bpm loop out of it by cutting and jostling the instruments that were on the 130 bpm track. Then I got new tracks from Denise, some of which I used as she gave me with minor adjustments. Then the loop I made contrasted poorly with the instruments, so I replaced those instruments with the ones Denise provided on the several different tracks she gave me. Whatever base drum they had became a conga played both to resonate, and then slapped; their wood block became claves, etc. The hairbrush sort of trails and subtly extends the conga.

She did say the tracks were for cut-and-paste, but I'm not sure she anticipated that I'd be doing as much cutting and pasting as I did, and for which I feel a bit guilty. The shakere is, with some minor corrections of stray notes, just what she gave me. For the rest I placed notes or phrases and built the rhythm.

The last thing I did, other than replacing the vocals, was to put in the acoustic guitar lead, a meandering bit in which I basically just stuck to the scale and the three or so motifs I'd chosen for this bit of accompaniment. It's played only to the level that my skills allow.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Reviews (and next challenge) Are In - Spintunes 8 Round 1

Our entry for the first round of Spintunes 8 was "Why?" [song bio]

Well, the reviews are in and the rankings are totaled, and we came in 5th place in that round, comfortably moving on to the next.

Here's what the judges had to say.

Daniel Caldwell put us in 8th place (22 points), and had this to say:
I really, REALLY liked this one. That piano is beautiful (reminded me of some of the music from the show LOST), and the layering of the “ahs” under the main vocal part is excellent. When the song picks up, I start dancing in my seat a little bit. I have nothing negative to say. Splendid work.
That is the best review we've received for a round, probably ever. I have nothing negative to say. We were still ranked 8th, and that's perfectly OK, because I think there were a lot of better songs.

Paul Potts also had us in 8th place (22 points).
Dave's vocal performance on this track is quite lovely and nuanced, although the harmony "aaaah" seem to be a bit off-pitch here and there. The lyrics are up to Dr. Lindyke's usual high standard. It's touching that Dave dedicated the song to RC. I've listened to this song at least five times, and I'm still a little unclear about how I feel the drums. Sometimes they seem just a little too busy to me, particularly the kicks, but then on another listen they seem just right, and they seem to keep the song propelled along. I can't quite decide. It's an interesting choice. This is one of the stronger tracks, but maybe not quite in the very top few.
Paul ranked us just above Jenny Katz (which I think is insane, but such are musical tastes, but I'll say more on that sort of thing below). His comment about the drums is insightful. This piece has only two instruments, the piano and the drums. The piano arrangement is intended to be reminiscent of a ticking clock (which you'd usually do in percussion), so the roles of these instruments are somewhat reversed. I didn't want to do a bunch of orchestration, to keep the loss "personal", so was attempting to use the drums to sound as if they were "more than what they are"  [song bio]. See Joe's review, below.

So yeah, those drums are used in a slightly odd way, but I think it's pretty much what I was going for.

Katharina Bordet had us in 3rd place (27 points)
This could have done with mixing the voice in louder as well as going a bit bolder with the singing. All in all a really nice song, very sad though, but the feeling was captured well in music and lyrics. I really like the song but the end I LOVE. I wish he would’ve gone there sooner. 
I was surprised to see us ranked this high, in large part for reasons I'm about to explain. But again, such are musical tastes. Katharina focused on the chorus, which I was glad to see, because I quite like it myself. I've heard from a number of people that the song was slow at the outset (see Joe's review below), but I've got a little bee in my bonnet re: our society's recent tendency of treating music and drama like fast food. We go to a movie these days and there's no character development, no nuance in the plot. The opening scene has an explosion just like every other scene. Music is much the same way... Artists start with the "hook" and stay there. For me... boooring.

Now, I've judged these and I knew that we were taking a deliberate risk when writing it. In the first round a judge has 30 or so songs to rank, and you're asking for it if you don't get to the point really early. I felt that the risk was adequately balanced by the payoff in the chorus.

This song takes its time. It starts with just sedate piano, then piano + "ahhs", then the drums kick in at about a minute and a half. So the song's really not going good until you've getting 3/4 of the way to the minimum time limit. That's a slow build-up  But that was done for artistic reasons. The kind of loss addressed by the song isn't something you get over easily. I'm really glad to see Katharina and the other judges get past that, even as they experienced some understandable impatience.

Joe 'Covenant' Lamb had us in 8th place (22 points)
Elton... I mean, Dave shows up with a steady number... but a bit too steady, If it lost a verse from the start and get to the build a little quicker, and then lost a verse from the end.... a good song, but too long to make a sharp and fast impact. (The chorals worked in the opening, but seemed to jar during the multi instrument sections.)
Quick correction here. "Dave" doesn't show up with anything. Dr. Lindyke does, and that's Dave Leigh & William Hoover. I'm the vocal guy in the public eye; I'm the Penn to his Teller. William is sort of the "invisible partner", not having any social media presence whatsoever, but he provides the core of the songs. We talk about ideas, but ultimately the choice of topic, the plot, and the words are his. I'm here to enhance whatever emotion that I see in the words. He provides the heart, and I provide the logic to make the message understood. Ironically, he uses the tools of logic and I use the tools of emotion to play our respective parts. We'd write a song explaining it, but... oh wait! We did! And Joe's on it! ["Invisible Man" - link]

I was overjoyed to see Joe refer to "multi instrument sections". There are just drums and piano, and no others. As I mentioned in commenting on Paul's review above, my intent was to make the piano seem to be "more than what it is". It appears that, at least in Joe's case, I was successful.

David Ritter puts us 21st place (9 points)
Not a fan of the piano sound.  Need more forward placement in the vocal tone production- Especially in the upper registers.  The vocals get choked up there.  The mix isn't very full. Very thin.  Drums and cymbals in this one get very distracting - 1.5
David actually puts us where I thought we'd be when I listened to the round. My piano's line out is broken, so I'm having to mic it very close to the small built-in speaker and try to compensate with equalization. The end result is, I think, kid of muddy. And I wasn't pleased with any of my vocal takes... this one is the least horrific. The minimal instrumentation and drums were deliberate; but as I've already said, I thought we were taking a risk anyway. I don't fault David for his critique or his ranking. Very fair.

Max Finsettler put us in 8th place (22 points)
I feel bad rating this song so low, because I can't say there's anything especially wrong with it. I just believe other songs were better. Why? 'Cause I know. Granted, "knowing" and "believing" are kind of entirely different concepts, but you get what I mean...apparently.
I know the feeling. In every round there are songs that you feel are perfectly fine for what they are, but are overshadowed by more memorable, more clever, snappier, better-produced entries. I don't feel bad at all being ranked down for that, and to be perfectly frank, 8th place isn't getting ranked very far down. It's better than I had anticipated, and maybe worse than what William did... but he's biased.

Max's "knowing" and "believing" comments aren't cryptic or weird, but a clever play on the lyrics of our piece.

We were shooting for pretty much what we got, although my insecurities placed us closer to the bottom at the listening party. When all's said and done and all the rankings are averaged, we scooted into 5th place, although we were most often ranked 8th.

I expected this, through some quirky math I've noticed over the years. Songs which are simply competently crafted tend to be ranked pretty consistently at the middle of the pack. Because they don't call much attention to themselves, they gain that position by neither sucking nor excelling. But the songs that are truly artistic expressions of "big ideas" are those that tend to either strike a chord in the listener or miss it entirely. You love them or hate them. As a result, the songs that rank above the middle-of-the-pack are different for each judge. And the songs in the bottom quartile tend to be fairly consistently ranked as well. Apparently people are better able to agree on what they don't like than what they like. When the scores are averaged, the crafted songs tend to benefit from that numerical cavitation at the top and rise a little bit. I tried to explain the math to William before this round was totaled, and I think he thought I was nuts.

Well, I am, but that has nothing to do with my math.

What did surprise me, very much, were the songs that were rated below us. Edric's entry is both artistic and crafted, so it deserves to be at the top, but so do others. For the record, here are some artists who I personally thought should have scored consistently above us, but didn't.

Ryan M. Brewer
Jenny Katz-Brandoli
Brian 'Mandy Patinkin' Gray
Zoe Gray
Ominous Ride

Your mileage may vary.

Moving On...

The next challenge is in, and I don't like it, which means it's probably pretty good:
Disdain In The Refrain - Write a hate song about someone. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due by Sunday February 23rd 11:59PM)
I'm not fond of the entire concept of deliberately hatin'. But I do have a suggestion. It'll be interesting to see if William runs with it.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Reckoning

This is about being hospitalized.

Musician's notes / song bio after the lyrics.

The Reckoning
wmh - Nov 2013

This room has been so cold for so long 
And the growing shadows tell me of the time 
There is a fear and a love here so very strong 
Telling me that I do and do not belong 

And with all of the arbitrary 
And incisions 
Over years by 
Countless barbers 
I've been made to bleed 
And though the pain and the 
Scars have been 
Quite severe, it's the 
Judgment and the 
Reckoning that I need 

So let’s move along now 
You barristers and dames 
I recognize your faces 
But remember not your names 
Some got the education and some got the brains 
Some carry the keys while others just pull the chains 

[instrumental break

Until my presence here has been replaced with my absence 
There’ll be no high pressure measures and even less to tell 
And as long as symptoms are passed along as evidence 
I’ll go on believing rumors that the treatments are going well 

[repeat chorus twice]

Musical Notes

William spent some time in hospital after a nasty fall.

The imagery is straightforward, if a bit obscure. The nice part about that is that it may make the subject matter appear to be deeper than it really is.

It might be worth a word of explanation to some folks that the "barristers" are insurance folks, the "dames" are nurses, and "barbers" refers to surgeons. (barbers were surgeons in medieval times, and to the current day they were considered a form of medical practice. When I was a kid that surprised me, but that was a long time ago.) The lyrics also nod to the fact that the nurses seem to more about what's going on than some of the doctors.

Musically, it's simple as well. Just a guitar, drums and voice. That very "loose" verse at the end was designed that way with a friend in mind. It's deliberately written in her style, and I hope she does cover the song.

For some reason I can't get the vocals where I want them on this version, but will keep trying. I also usually put a bit more effort into the track art, but I couldn't exactly think of anything that actually screams "The Reckoning". So I went with the Caduceus in a fit of laziness. I'm open to suggestions for artwork. Technically, the Caduceus is wrong anyway. Although it's often used as a medical logo, that bit of symbolism properly belongs to to the rod of Asclepius.

The drums are from Jim Dooley with the exception of two fills. Check out JimDooley.net for his large selection of royalty-free loops..

Monday, February 10, 2014

A Word About Sportsmanship

In hockey, a player can be put in the penalty box when he exhibits poor sportsmanship. When his time is up, he re-enters the game,

What doesn't happen is that the player is told his time is up and he can continue the game from inside the penalty box.

If an official should suggest such a thing, it's no longer the player who's being a poor sportsman.


This is our entry for Spintunes 8, Round 1. The challenge:
"Missing You - Write a song to someone you miss, but can't be with anymore. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, February 9th 11:59PM)"
Lyrics are by William, as usual, and the music is from me. Commentary after the lyrics:

wmh 2.2.14 

Time seems to wave goodbye to the past 
But what does time hold for a man like me? 
I've little to lose and nothing to gain 
And all I have now are these memories 

Lost in a cascade of my dreams 
From long ago until today 
The friends I made in my youth 
Have long since drifted away 

Why does it have to happen? 
Why did it happen to us? 
Why can’t the hour glass let us be? 
Why can’t the sundial turn to dust? 

Seems I remember you from just yesterday 
You must be the friend I knew long ago 
Aren't you the one I met as a child? 
I believe what I believe ‘cause I know 
I believe what I believe 'cause it's so 

In years gone by I've questioned creation 
But the answer was as easy as Pi 
All life’s legacy is a circle 
We shall all live life and then die 

Why does it have to happen? 
Why did it happen to us? 
Why can’t the hour glass let us be? 
Why can’t the sundial turn to dust? 

Seems I remember you from just yesterday 
You must be the friend I knew long ago 
Aren't you the one I met as a child? 
I believe what I believe ‘cause I know 
I believe what I believe 'cause it's so

Musical Notes:

Much of what there is to say about this song was said in my previous post [link]. But then again, that post doesn't really say much about this song at all.

As I mentioned before, we've met this challenge a number of times. Over the years we've had friends die in accidents, from suicide, from drugs, in battle. We've moved away, drifted apart, changed schools, jobs, and cities. The challenge for us, then, wasn't to write to this topic, but to do it in a way we hadn't before. I wanted to avoid death as a topic, in part because we're still recovering from a death in the family.

We had originally discussed a number of ideas, including variations of all of those I listed above. We even entertained the idea of someone who was happy to sent off to prison. In the end we agreed the theme would be "best friends". Each verse would be a different best friend, and each verse would end with a move, or a change of school or job, that sort of thing. The chorus would then come after each verse, and would assure the listener that the world keeps turning, Life goes on, and there's always someone new around the corner.

The lyrics I got from William weren't anything like that. In fact, they went pretty much where I didn't want to go. But they're what I had, so I finished the song and submitted it. I change his stuff around so much I can't complain if he uses an idea as an "inspiration" for something a bit different.

In this case the song is a fairly standard lament about loss.

  • The first verse sets up the hopeless feeling from the loss of a loved one
  • The second verse is about the isolation you feel when you rely on one person who is now missing.
  • The pre-chorus justifies the title. Everyone asks these questions.
  • The chorus hits the challenge. The song must be addressed to the person you miss. In this case it's left purposely ambiguous so that you can assign personal meaning. Did we meet as "children" (literally) or "as" children (in younger days)? Do I remember you "as if" it were yesterday, or was it really yesterday that we last spoke? What do I believe? The line, "I believe what I believe 'cause it's so" is there to allow the listener to take comfort in his belief, whatever it might be.
  • The third verse acknowledges that the singer has questioned "creation", which could be questioning religion, or using "creation" as a euphemism for the Universe; but those questions are evidently resolved to his satisfaction. It's left unsaid what "the answer" is, and the listener is tasked with filling that in for himself. The answer is easy as "pie" in the sung lyrics, but "pi" as written. You're justified in interpreting this according to your own beliefs. The end of this verse is a nod to the Circle of Life and the inevitability of mortality. 

Musically, this is simply piano, drums and voice. I searched a bit for proper orchestration, but decided in the end to just use more voice. The song's a little slow, not just because it's about death (I have others on the subject that are pretty lively), but to leave room for the rather complicated rhythms later on. Though it sounds as if it changes tempo, it's a solid 110 bpm throughout. The first full minute is a repetitive tick-tock played on the piano, to remind us of the slow passage of time. This theme is held throughout, except for the chorus.It introduces the third verse, and plays us out as well. I hope it's not boring.

I went for some powerful sustained notes in the chorus to help the piano sound bigger than it is. I'm a little hamstrung by the fact that my keyboard's audio output is broken, so I can't put this through a decent amp or A/D converter. I have to record everything from its built-in speakers through a microphone, and then compensate with equalization. When writing the minimalist orchestration, I considered that Elton John toured Russia with only his piano and a percussionist. I'm no Elton, but surely it depends on the song, and this song is written for that kind of treatment.

The drums are a chopped-up, re-cut full-length loop from Jim Dooley. Hopefully they're arranged to again make the piano sound "bigger" than it is. Once the work had been done I realized the song was too slow, and sped it up about 10%, going back and patching where necessary, and re-recording the piano and vocals. That's me on the backing vocals as well.

Now, in saying "fairly standard lament", that's not to say that it doesn't have some power, as I learned personally (read the previous post). Formulas and ambiguity do their job well... well enough that I myself found it creepy how well the song fit the loss of two people very close to me, even though I didn't write the lyrics at all.

A Tribute

I learned after the song was written that this round of SpinTunes would be a tribute to Randy Christopher, aka "RC", who was a frequent participant in SpinTunes and the winner of SpinTunes 7. I was privileged to be one of the judges for that contest.

Normally, the winner becomes a judge in the following contest. Sadly, RC was taken from us before that. So all of the songs, gathered, are dedicated to the memory of Randy Christopher and presented to his family and friends. Click on the picture below to listen to and download the album.

As I mentioned, We've lost a few friends, and all of them were on our minds as we wrote our entry. So we'd like to dedicate our entry to Randy Christopher, but also in equal measure to  Lillian Cribbe, Bill Hoover, Bradley Mayo, Deston Lee,Terrell Cribbe, Keith Miller, Brian Melton, and all of those friends and family who we miss, and can't be with anymore.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

SpinTunes 8 Round 1 (and Cleveland)

Spintunes has begun again and the opening round has taken a hammer to me.

The challenge was issued on the very same day of my nephew's funeral. (Bradley was also my next-door neighbor. Sorry, I won't talk at length here, it's family. You can click on Bradley's photo for an obituary).

So I come home from that to read the challenge:
"Missing You - Write a song to someone you miss, but can't be with anymore. (2 minute minimum) (your submission is due Sunday, February 9th 11:59PM)"
Yeah. THAT's nice. Well, I didn't want to do the obvious subject, not because it was obvious, but because it was too soon. So William and I discussed some other topics, including one that was fairly up-beat and I was really jazzed on doing.

The theme would be "best friends". Each verse would be a different best friend, and each verse would end with a move, or a change of school or job, that sort of thing. The chorus would then come after each verse, and would assure the listener that the world keeps turning, Life goes on, and there's always someone new around the corner.

The lyrics I got from William weren't anything like that. In fact, they went pretty much where I didn't want to go. But they're what I had, so I finished the song and submitted it.

When it rains it pours

Now, just prior to finalizing and submitting a song, I like to get feedback. But most of my "musical" friends are actually competing this time around, so I thought I'd go ahead and call someone I haven't spoken with in a while, Deston Lee. Deston and I did amateur theater when I was in the USAF, stationed at RAF Croughton. She was my co-star in "On Monday Next", "Guys and Dolls", "Arsenic and Old Lace", and "Frankenstein". She also started a group of Choraliers, and was one of the very best operatic sopranos I'd ever heard. When she produced a local interest pageant for her adopted town of Rockford, IL, I provided the sheet music arrangements for her musicians.This is exactly who I needed.

So it's Friday. I've got a "release candidate" final mix, and I was reaching for the phone... and I mean this completely literally, I'm actually physically reaching for the phone to call Deston, and it rings, and it's her number on the caller ID.


I answer, and it's her husband Bill, calling to tell me that Desi had died in his arms.


I would eulogize Deston here and now, were it not for the fact that Bill did such an incredible job of it himself (click the pic). I'm not sure I could have done it, but I do know that he would never have allowed anyone else to do it. He would feel that no one else could do her justice.

And he would be right.  Every word that he writes here is true. And then some.

After hanging up the phone, I cried. You have to understand, I don't mourn. I didn't mourn my own mother (who was my very best friend) and I never cry for myself or my loss. We all die. If we live well and face the end with dignity there's nothing to mourn. I didn't cry for Desi, and I didn't cry for me. It was for Bill. In all my years on Earth, I have never once ever met anyone who loved another person more than Bill Lee loved Deston. And I felt the pain in his voice when he quietly said, "I always thought there would be more... time."

And as to how he got through writing that obituary, I'm certain that he kept in mind the thing I'm sure she would have told him:

"The show must go on."

I couldn't attend Deston's funeral in Illinois yesterday, but I signed the digital guestbook and bought flowers, then submitted our song, in that order.

Then I really wanted to do something that would be a little more upbeat. So I dug out a draft of one of our other songs... FYI, we've met this challenge a dozen times over the years. The challenge here is to do it in a new way. So I drug out "Drying Ink", aka "Cleveland", and decided to give it another go.  My earlier attempt had some serious timing issues, so I thought I could do it better.

Previously I've said I have no explanation for this song. But that's not entirely true. I have an explanation. I'm just not going to share it with you. Just know that Cleveland and Otis were and are real people. And yes, it's another song about a fallen friend. Cleve is gone from us, Otis isn't, and the cause is in the song, you just have to look for it. This is an attempt to take a sad subject and treat it in a way that isn't sad at all. It's a tribute, not a dirge.

It's also not our entry, nor is it really a "shadow", as it was written months ago. But it meets the challenge entirely.

wmh 2.14.13

I lived in Cleveland
Cleveland lived in me
The doubts I felt at first
Turned to trust and honesty

You lived your life on the line
Which few would ever do
And things you could never see
Meant the whole wide world to you

Held In Vigil
Blank paper and drying ink
No one could foresee
Your painful exit from this world
By the powers meant to be
Tomorrow won't see me
I'm gonna be leaving
And I Desire Simple 

Cleveland, tell me
Have you seen my wife?
She's my million-dollar gal
And I trust you with her life

Cleve, please rest in peace
You are still a guiding light
A brew or two at noon
A shot of whiskey every night

Held In Vigil
Blank paper and drying ink
No one could foresee
Your painful exit from this world
By the powers meant to be
Tomorrow won't see me
I'm gonna be leaving
And I Desire Simple 


Held In Vigil
Blank paper and drying ink
No one could foresee
Your painful exit from this world
By the powers meant to be
Tomorrow won't see me
I'm gonna be leaving
And Desire Simple 
And Desire Simple 

Simple things...

I lived in Cleveland...
I lived in Cleveland...
(this one's for you, Otis)
I lived in Cleveland