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.

LYRICAL NOTES

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.

MUSICAL NOTES:

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.

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