Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Number Seven

Insist on yourself; never imitate. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Each song I write I feel will be my last. Each comes closer and closer to expressing something that, while it may not sound to someone else as perfect as it sounds to me, is the truest expression of what’s going on inside. The closer I get, the more I think there can’t possibly be a song left in me that will come any closer. When I know the lyrics sound strange to someone else, this sense is even keener.

And then there is the melody, and the actual terror that it’s a fabrication. At first this one was a little too Cat’s in the Cradle (Harry Chapin) and then a lot too Sundown (Gordon Lightfoot). On the fourteenth day I played the song for my guitar teacher and confessed that I was “terrified” that someone else had already written this song, but between our two vast and mostly non-overlapping musical knowledge bases we couldn’t think of what it sounded like.

How do you know if you’ve written an original melody, or if you are slowly approaching the beacon of a known song? You pull up toward something, but are you mooring your ship at a comfortable and well-known song or a brand new and necessary creation? They both feel like home.

It all started with E major. At my February 8 lesson, while plodding through a fingerstyle exercise, my teacher said, “Now play an E…” and before he could explain the rest of how this was all going to add up to House of the Rising Sun, I butt in with, “Oh, I never play E.” Classic Eileen Can’t. To which he replied some miasma of “What?!...You never play E?...Blah, blah, blah…Peter Frampton…E’s the most important chord…”

So, I went home and started messing around with E. I had a scrap of paper on my music stand torn from my dream notebook that said, “Wishing, wishing for general things without the heartache a specific wish brings.” From there it was, well, which chords go with E?

That was the melody.

The lyrics came through eleven drafts of fill-in-the-blank, building up backward from a list of 99 terrible similes and a few good ones, trying to figure out what this song was about besides the Law of Attraction. My songs are always about two things. It’s finding the second layer that takes a lot of waiting and recopying and walking away. And then revisiting.

General Things

The hypnotist says, “Try to concentrate. Close your eyes and focus, then just wait.”
So I wait and the memory is taking its time, like night.

I’m wishing hard for general things without the heartache a specific wish brings.

I’m wishing hard for general things. I wish, I wait, I wish.

I travel through the dry and distant past to a scene where sets are quiet and roles are cast

And the grudge that I’m holding is stubborn and still, like dust.
Mother has a sharp tongue, Father wants to be a star. I resemble them wherever we are.
And I wait and I wonder how they’re here and then gone, like steam.

I hesitate, I cower. I pretend with all my power. I shut off all the lamps so they won’t glow.

I peek out from the covers, try to see them as two lovers. Grace is in the loosening, not letting go.

Now I don’t cry as much as I used to. Have I become someone old, or something new?

And I wish and I wonder if the truth comes in bits, like string.

I’m wishing hard for general things without the heartache a specific wish brings.

I’m wishing hard for general things.

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