Wednesday, February 11, 2015

SpinTunes 10 Round 3: No Time For Dreams

Well, Round 2 was really, really competitive. A lot of good entries were posted, and our entry didn't fare as well as we hoped. We ranked 11th in the round, but due to some volatility in the top ranks and the fact that some very strong competitors dropped out, we retained 5th place on the leaderboard. The top four go through to the final round, so this one means a lot.

Here's the Round 3 challenge.
Non-Stop Hits - Write a song that features looooong run on sentences. (2 minute minimum length) (your submission is due Sunday, February 15th 11:59PM)
Example: "Albuquerque" by "Weird" Al Yankovic
Side Notes:- The originally worded challenge was, "Write a song that is one long run on sentence."  Using 2 run on sentences would technically meet the challenge.  But why go for the minimum when it's likely the judges will clearly be looking for more.
We've considered a lot of interesting possibilities. These include:
  • the point of view of a goldfish swimming circles in a bowl. They have very short memories. Sadly, I'm afraid that might sound a lot like Dory from Finding Nemo.
  • someone with ADHD. 
  • Kanye West rapping about all the people who he feels did not deserve the Grammy over Beyonce'. I'm not sure I want to spend a lot of time imitating his style, though; I hate Autotune. 
  • variations on a married couple who interrupt each other's sentences, extending them. This would allow us to do a duet while still meeting the challenge. While we feel this could be really brilliant, it's easier said than done.
Given the strictures of time and ability to deliver, here's what we came up with:

No Time for Dreams

We got
one cart, one horse in this podunk town,
one job to do, the kind that beats you down
but you ain't gonna find me hangin' 'round
'cause I'm not the kind for that, you'll find I'm
not gonna spend my whole life at the mill
wonderin' and waitin' and wasting until
I am old and I'm grey and I'm too tired to care
like everybody else workin' shift down there but
I'll be a doctor, a lawyer, a cop
'cause nothing can stop me from reaching the top;
an ambitious young man... with a head full of dreams.

I've got...
one girl, one heart, one love to bind
me to Heaven on Earth, one chance to find
the man inside me she needs but I'm not blind
'cause there's still time for her to find I'm
not gonna spend my whole life at the mill
wonderin' and waitin' and wasting until
I am old and I'm grey and I'm too tired to care
like everybody else workin' shift down there but
my family needs food and a roof o'er their heads
so I'll put off my dreams for a new day ahead
A responsible man... has no time for dreams.

[instrumental break. Time passes]

And the candles on top of my cake
Spread like wildfire year after year
And the bills and tuition have made it their mission
To keep me imprisoned right here.

I've got
one life to live, just a day at a time
one ankle chained to the daily grind, cause
you've got to sacrifice, but no one explained
you've gotta throw the dice with the rice,
and now I have spent my whole life at the mill
wonderin' and waitin' and wasting until
I am old and I'm grey and I'm too tired to care
like everybody else workin' shift down here
and I think back to the youth that I'd wasted away
and I think that it's time that I called it a day
'cause a man past his prime has no time for dreams.

And the candles on top of my cake
burn with bonfire brightness this year
And my sons and my daughters and all the grands
are crowded around me so near;
and as I look upon them my heart nearly stops
There they are; the doctor, the lawyer, the cop
And I wonder that I've been so blind
that I never could see...
All of the dreams that I ever had
have come home to say to me, "We love you, Dad."
Not too bad...
for a man...
with no time for dreams.

Not too bad for a man with no time for dreams.


There are some personal goals that we thought it would be nice to accomplish. 
  1. To approach it a bit like the way we approached the "non-rhyming song" challenge of Song Fu. There we wrote a non-rhyming song where you didn't notice it didn't rhyme.
  2. No shouting, rapping, ranting, or beat poetry. No talking. This is a song, so I want singing, in measured delivery. This may actually work against us, as the example we were given is simply a frenetic beat poem, and in rounds past we've seen at least one judge display a preference for music that sounds like the example. Since it would be silly of the judges to expect the contestants to produce 25 cookie-cutter knock-offs of Weird Al, I'm not paying much attention to that. The challenge here says what it says, and we're going with that. Within that limitation, we're going to try to write the best song we can in Dr. Lindyke style.
  3. No lists (a la "We Didn't Start The Fire"). The sentences should be sentences.
In deference to the quirks of judging, we're didn't pursue our first goal. Instead, we're focused on making it clear that our sentences are long, obviously run-on, and contain more than one thought, We are paying no attention to the originally worded challenge and here's why: if the judges required a single sentence, they should have left the wording alone. They didn't. Secondly, the examples (as we've noted) seem to carry a lot of weight. "Albuquerque" has some run-on sentences, but a whole lot more that are not. That said, we want the judges to hear that we're using run-on sentences.

In picking a topic, one question that came up is, "what have we got that the other contestants don't?" The answer: age. We're flippin' old, and that gave us a subject. Actually, William gave me a great piece involving a divorce, which I simply couldn't make work. Basically, once delivered as a rant, it wound up being about 30 seconds long, and there really wasn't a lot more to say on the subject. It would have been obvious padding. The topic of "No Time For Dreams" is one that I've tried to tackle a few times over the years and never really got much beyond the last half of the last verse. William's given the concept a shot as well, under the title "No Regrets", but again, it just never gelled. This challenge gave us an opportunity to try again. I was a bit panicky and frustrated after some days of no progress, and that may show in the final result (in a positive way, I think).

From my perspective, the song is based on a more clueless version of my wife's father, who grew up in the mill town where I now live. The difference is, he didn't wait until he was near death to appreciate his life.

I like the fact that the chorus is embedded in each verse. This is probably commonplace. Still, it's pretty cool, and allows us to flow in and out of this structured segment from the rambling run-on that surrounds it fore and aft, giving us a chorus that contributes to rather than interrupting and detracting from the challenge.

Speaking of flow, in editing this I applied some techniques I learned from a previous rap challenge. This reads like a rap song because it was written like one, using a flow diagram and copious internal rhyme. It's sung as a folk-rock ballad, a la Bob Dylan or Neil Young.

Perhaps counter-intuitively, given this challenge, we tried pack as much info as possible in as few words. We didn't see much point in torturing the judges with a 10 minute opus (though we've done it before). We had no intention of filling it up with a bunch of superfluous asides just to fill space. We didn't want it to feel rambling. We have a clear story, and we're describing and entire life here. Thus, you find out everything there is to know about his town, his love life, his work, and his family in just a few lines. These are alluded to without detail, because you the listener are perfectly capable of filling that in from your experience based on a few key words.

One of my favorite parts, lyrically, is this bridge:
And the candles on top of my cake
Spread like wildfire year after year
And the bills and tuition have made it their mission
To keep me imprisoned right here.
We needed a way to denote the passage of a lot of time... again, without a 10 minute opus. I imagine a time lapse with more and more candles. There's no mention of what kind of cake it is, because you get it without the bonk on the head. On my wife's 50th birthday we made the mistake of putting 50 candles on her cake. When the first one was lit, the flame jumped from wick to wick resulting in a 2-foot pillar of flame. That's what I'm imagining here... a life burning away. The second half of the bridge sums up the entirety of his activity in those years: working for subsistence and to put his children through college.

After the bridge we see the toll that life has taken on him. From the hopeful young man in the first verse to the resolute father of the second, he's now beaten and resentful.

The last bridge/verse changes that, and it's for this reason that we depart from the verse structure and move back to pure Folk. We're no longer clinging to run-on sentences and rapid-fire internal rhyme, because those were there for a reason apart from the challenge. This man is defeated. He's no longer pushing with ambition, defiance, or resentment.We return to the structure of the bridge in that birthdays are a time of reflection, and that sort of slides into a modified verse in which, freed from that dogged focus, our protagonist can take a look around and see something very important for the first time. The "wonder" in this verse is in the sense not of curiosity, but amazement:
All of the dreams that I ever had
Have come home to say to me, "We love you, Dad."
Not too bad...
For a man...
With no time for dreams.
Not a bad way to end it, I think; and in fact, these were the lines that were written first.


The arrangement is deliberately simple and Dylan-esque. It's played entirely with root chords on the guitar. The instruments are as basic as a band gets: drums, acoustic guitar, and bass. The harmonica is a chromatic Koch.

As mentioned before, the verses were structured like a rap song, so the tune and delivery is likewise structured to stress those syllables that would be stressed in rap. That was kind of interesting to write, in that means rapid-fire stressing of internal (near) rhyme. Slow folksy rap delivered tunefully... I know, it's insane. Actually, not so much. The dirty secret is that Rap is Folk music... it's just different folk with different experiences.

The last verse is very different from the rest. It wants to be even more different than it is, but I didn't think it would hold together if it were too great a departure. Clearly it's the same song, but it's a very different man singing it. A new chord progression; no more percussion; no more drive. The internal rhyme is gone, and with it the internal stress (both in the tune and in the singer).

In the previous round we were chastised a bit for being too repetitive with the chord progression. Well, we do it again here because that's the point... our singer is stuck in a boring, repetitive life. It's an artistic choice, and not one intended to get us votes. We'll have to wait and see whether it's better received here.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

SpinTunes 10 Round 2 Shadow: Howl in the Family

A shadow for SpinTunes 10 Round 2 (in addition to our official entry)

My wife just adores Ross Durand's music, so I had to do this silly little pastiche. I had to. Also, since I insisted to William that were doing "Hitchcock, not the Munsters", I got it into my head to sing about a family much like them. Consider this to be about their poor country cousins.

With full apologies to Ross, of course.

Howl in the Family
My children were bitten by werewolves
Now they howl at the moon when it's full
It's a good thing that I never feared wolves
I'm a daddy that don't take no bull
I spend quality time with my young'uns
We still go to the park and play catch
'cept one week out of four
When they scratch at the door
Then we go to the beach and play fetch

We're keepin' it Howl in the Family
Just everyday folk right next door
Universal appeal 
That we just can't conceal
We're ord'n'ry right down to the core

My wife, she turned into a zombie
And she wanted to feast on my skull
But my poor baby had to go hungry
'cause my cranium just ain't that full
I invited the neighbor to supper
He's in Mensa with a Ph.D.
Then I bashed in his head
And she fed on the dead
'Cause she means all the world to me

We're keepin' it Howl in the Family
Just everyday folk right next door
Universal appeal 
That we just can't conceal
We're ord'n'ry right down to the core

You may wonder why I'm not infected
Well, I am but there don't seem to be
Any symptoms that can be detected
Of zombies or lycanthropy
So I guess I'll go back to my coffin
Where I'll sleep 'til the daylight is gone
Then I'll knock back a flood
Of delectable blood
'til tomorrow brings one more new dawn

We're keepin' it Howl in the Family
Just everyday folk right next door
Universal appeal 
That we just can't conceal
We're ord'n'ry right down to the core

Universal appeal 
That we just can't conceal
We're ord'n'ry right down to the core

Lyrical Notes
It is what it is. Although with that horrible title pun, I might have been channeling Glenn Raphael. And yes, "Universal appeal" in the chorus does allude to Universal Pictures, home of the classic monsters portrayed by Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, and Lon Chaney.

And for the record: Yes, I should be ashamed.

Musical Notes
My wife heard it and opined, "You're no Ross Durand".
I hadn't even told her it was a pastiche.

Nevertheless, she's right.

SpinTunes 10 Round 2: Happy Anniversary My Darling

Last round saw us in fifth place out of a field of thirty-three. Not a terrible lead-in to Round Two.
Here's the new challenge:
Music To My Fears - Write a scary song, basically explore the horror genre in music format. (2 minute minimum length) (your submission is due Sunday, February 1st 11:59PM) 
Examples: "Creepy Doll" by Jonathan Coulton; "Dragula" by Rob Zombie
We weren't terribly inspired by the scariness of the examples given. "Dragula" has all the fear factor of Count Chocula or Booberry. "Creepy Doll" is basically comedy. The best way to make something not creepy is to flatly say it is. The rule of thumb is show, don't tell. Even in a campfire story, let the descriptions lead the listener to conclude that something is frightening, or creepy, or gross. More than half of horror takes place inside the skull of the audience.

We've already done a number of songs that I think were better examples of horror than these, including "Blood Moon" and "There's an Earwig", "Stained Glass", and of course, "Dr. Lindyke". So we're giving it another try.

Horror tends toward the supernatural these days, but the core of the genre isn't ghosts, ghouls, monsters, or slashers... it's the emotion of horror.  The dictionary defines it as "an intense feeling of fear, shock, or disgust." Where "terror" is fear that something terrible is about to happen, "horror" is the fear that it might happen or the realization that it did. Terror is in the present; horror is everywhere else. Vampires and werewolves don't strike me as frightening because I know they don't exist. But psychopathic killers and necrophiliacs are another story. So a personal goal is to keep this horror story grounded in the possible, avoiding the supernatural.

Happy Anniversary, My Darling

Forget the morning, ignore the breaking light
All that lies before us transpired in the night
We've long been undisturbed by the events that we surround
But there's a time for everything and the time for this is now

I approach with much conviction, gilded shovel in my hand
To open up my heart, just to cover it with sand
And with all the things you've told me, the denials and the lies
I feel as though your motive is to bury me alive

There's a key to all this method, but I keep it safe from harm
Along with all the passions that you'd smother in your arms
There's a cold and lonely winter contained within your heart
Made into breathless summer when we have been apart

To preserve our endless love
We tore our lives asunder
In the wisdom we've been offered
Absence makes the heart grow fonder

And so we had to sever
The passion from the pain
The discord from the rapture
The spirit from the frame

But Darling, true love never dies...
And Darling I will love you 'til the end
And Darling, when this night of love is through
I will bury you again.

I will bury you...


Lyrical Notes

In a Hitchcockian approach, we borrow the exposition technique from Psycho, exploring the motives of the villain and revealing nothing certain until the last line, which revises our understanding of all the lines that came before. While listening you're to think it's just another passionate love song. The horror of it is an aftertaste. It's the realization of what's just happened under your nose. It's not the sort of thing that paralyzes you with fear... rather, the more you think about it, the worse it gets.

One form of horror is the revulsion we feel when we see evil. I think that the best horror stories remind you that evil is a parody of good. The greatest evil results from the perversion of the greatest good, and what could be better than true love? We based our horror story on a terrible twisting of unshakeable devotion and fidelity.

For inspiration, William suggested we look to the strange obsession of Dr. Carl von Cosel. You can see a video account here,  or read about the case. Basically, it's a story of necrophilia. Dr. von Cosel of Key West, enamoured with a deceased patient named Elena Hoyos, attempted to preserve her body in his own home, where he fancied her as his wife and had relations with her decaying flesh for seven years. The most horrible aspect about a story like this isn't the corpse... it's the twisted mind of the obsessed doctor... the fact that he could look upon this hideous parody with love, and even lust. What makes it worse is not just that it can happen, but did.

We really didn't look to write some tribute to von Cosel; rather, we took it as inspiration to create a backstory for our own composition. We imagine a married couple with a fiery, if argumentative, relationship. Rationalizing that distance will intensify their passion and that their love is eternal and transcendent; the man kills his wife and buries her. Then on special occasions he disinters her for a conjugal visit, hence the title.

I often say there are two kinds of songs, "mood" and "story". This one's sort of both. Though you're intended to believe that the golden shovel is metaphorical, his "heart" is his wife, and he kills her with the blade of the spade. He literally severs her spirit from her frame. Hopefully the ambiguity will have the listener relating to the protagonist only to find at the end that he's the murderer.

Musical Notes

Musically, it's actually pretty simple repetition (i-III-VI-v). Since the story itself occurred in the 1930s, this alludes to the sort of melodramatic style of the period. Not a copy of the style, but reminiscent of it.

All the verses are similar, but gradually escalate to that forceful chorus at the end where we finally witness a change in the chord progression, to (iv-VII-i). Then, passion spent, the last line is a capella. I shouldn't need to tell you why.

I considered orchestration but rejected it. It's recorded with nothing at all but a piano. I imagine our protagonist actually serenading his beloved at a piano in his home, much as Dr. von Cosel played the organ for his Elena.