Unnecessarily Explaining My Art: Revolving Door

So. Right. Spintunes round 3: Write a song about a birth, and make it sad (in fact the phrase used was “a real tear-jerker”). And don’t use the words “happy” or “birthday”. I thought about singing “mirthful day of mirth” about a hundred times over an 11/8 kazoo solo just to be a rebel.

Then I decided that was stupid. (Incidentally, kids, most anything you do “just to be a rebel” very likely is, too.)

But, seriously, despite some “this should be easy for Mr. Sad Songs Travis” chatter from the peanut gallery (I love you all, peanuts, worry not) this was easily the hardest challenge of Spintunes and maybe of my entire assigned-songwriting career. See, I’m good at being expressive/emotive, I’m good at setting “atmosphere”. I’m good at playing guitar.

But what I do mostly is just write songs that I hope communicate an emotion. Inspiring an emotion is usually a side effect. Eh, anyway. If I failed the challenge I guess I failed it. I made my friend Missy cry, so.. uh.. there. (Yes, I’m bragging about making a woman cry. And for my next trick…. anvils.)

…..

THE LYRICS!!!

As has been outlined elsewhere, despite the fact that the challenge didn’t specifically say “childbirth”, I couldn’t think of many ways to write a sad song about birth that didn’t include it. Child birth is relatable. We all went through it once, a large percentage of us will go through it again (though from a less cramped perspective, happily). The idea of the birth of the universe itself did actually occur once before any Artifiction chats took place, but I discarded that in approximately 5.64 seconds. There is NO END to the trouble writing a song about the big bang would’ve got me in with my family, and I couldn’t think of a good following phrase for “let there be light”. And, I didn’t take world religion, so… well, I guess a song about… you know, what, I’m not going there. My family’s going to read this too. :p

So! Child birth, sad.

1. The baby dies
2. The mother dies
3. The whole family dies
4. SPACE MONKEY ATTACK
5. Nobody dies but everybody observes the world is kind of crappy and feels bad for the kid

Anyway, those ideas (other than the silly one, I’m not telling you the silly one, if you don’t know which one is the silly one you’re probably the one who pays attention on the airplane when they do the belt thing) seemed the most obvious, and therefore I did not want to do them, because of my artsy-fartsy wish to be original all the freakin’ time.

Unfortunately I was having the most ideas relating to those debatable cliches, so that was kind of a problem.

I decided to alter the idea slightly so I had something in line with where my thoughts were naturally headed. The father dies.

(…that idea in hand, I thought briefly about a song about the birth of one James T. Kirk [from the remake] but I decided it would probably end up being unintentionally sad somehow. “Your father died a hero on a spaceship, now you’re all grown up crashing classic cars….”? Nah.)

I had this idea about 15 minutes after the challenge was released and proceeded to take until the day before the deadline scribbling random lyric ideas down in notebooks and obsessing over whether multiple other contestants were going to use the same idea (they didn’t, which was nice). It was eventually decided that the father was dying of some long-term, non-contagious illness and was in the same room as his wife during recovery. “Okay, this is TOTALLY sad, awesome,” I thought. As the couple is meeting their child for the first time since the birth, Dad (as I’ll refer to the POV character for the rest of this articlog) is sliding rapidly downhill, with a lifespan better expressed in days or even hours rather than weeks.

Annnd I think I’ll just point out a few things about specific lines.

1st stanza:
“my heart skipped a beat in my chest”, “I can’t breathe” — These lines are literal.

“bad things happen to everything, you’re getting a head start” — The idea here is a sense of bitter irony. Bad Things Happen is probably one of the most important lessons you can teach a child (in my admitted somewhat pessimistic view). Dad is being forced to teach this lesson before his child is properly equipped to understand it.

“I was ready to go, you caught me at a bad time” — after the long illness Dad was starting to come to terms with not being on planet Earth much longer… and then he had a daughter. Part of him (but only a small part, as the bridge reveals), wishes he had gone before she arrived.

“I can’t quite find my voice” — again, literal, and not just in the “emotionally choked up” way.

“no daughter’s raised on photos and home movies” — This one wasn’t terribly well explained, but the idea here is that Dad hopes his wife moves on (and yes, finds another husband). He wants his daughter to have a father that is tangible and real, and he doesn’t want his wife to have to be a parent alone. I probably could have gone extra, extra sad stretching this point out a little, but it seemed a little too far from the concept of the birth. Maybe if I write an extended version I’ll try that. But crap, the song is already almost six minutes long.

“i’m dying to know what’s next” — That be that GALLOWS humor, son. (Again, with sad, bitter irony)

“the last nine months I wanted nothing more: to shake hands with an angel in a revolving door” — I honestly think (today) this is one of my best single phrases ever, and it was something I came up with on probably day four or so of the “random lyrical fragments” process. The line probably saved the song. Once I had this I had a road map for the song: Get to this phrase.

The chorus: “Please take care of her for me” — I wish I had been better able to communicate in the vocal that this was not a request — it was a desperate plea. To who? His wife? God? The world in general? Heck, even the listener of this song (“leave this world better than you found it”)?

Yes.

It’s probably worth noting that the fact that it was the father dying, rather than the mother, is -somewhat- of a reveal, since the first chorus doesn’t mention the “I won’t be there” line. But the prechorus of the first verse makes it pretty easy to figure out.

So there are the lyrics, which I’m honestly quite proud of. Again though, not exactly “tear-jerker”, at least not until you read them and really think about it (and possibly have the guide I just wrote, heh).

THE MUSIC

Subparagraph A: The Boring Theory Stuff — Skip if Uninterested

BEGIN THEORY/CHORD CHART SEQUENCE/

Okay, I have a serious, serious problem.

*stands up* “Hi.. My name is Travis…”

*monotone* “Hello, Travis.”

“…..and I’m a B-minor-caholic.”

Yep, it’s in B minor. I’ve actually done a pretty good job of avoiding this key during Song Fu and Spintunes but it’s where I almost always end up if I don’t consciously push myself away from it otherwise. It’s simply a great, great guitar key if you want big jangly chords and somewhat unusual voicings. And I love those things.

I think I’ll write a tab for at least a few parts of the song if anybody’s interested (hit me up on Twitter or the comments).

Anyway, VERSE chords:

Bm D/F# D D(add4)
Bm D/F# G(add9) (sometimes Gmaj7)

Not much to say here. I thought it sounded pretty, but sad. And apparently I like to use the IV chord (G whatever in this case) as a pivot point, cause I do it though the whole flippin’ song.

PRECHORUS:

A A/C# Em9
A A/C# Em9 Gmaj7

… hey look, it’s a prechorus that starts on the V chord. How post-modern. Specifically written because I needed something that sounded different than the verses and chorus. You know. Like a pre-chorus. Ugh. *writes “Need to work on explaining musical intent” on To-Do list*

Interludes:
Bm(add4)(b6) D(add9)/F#
Bm(add4)(b6) Asus4 A6sus4

…..so yeah. Remember how I said I liked B minor? It’s because it makes these gloriously huge-sounding chords easy to play. Although it makes me look somewhat snobby-pretentions when I try to notate them. B minor add four flat six is in fact this:

EADGBE : x24030

…in other words it’s a B minor with the first and third strings open, notes low to high: B F# G D E

As @calebhines will be happy to tell you, it could also be called Gmaj7(add6)/B or Em7(add9)/B.

But that’s just silly. 🙂

The interlude was just a quick little thing I wrote in to nail the other sections together, make things slightly less predictable, and throw in some gratuitous (but tasteful, hopefully) Ebow solos.

CHORUS:
Bm(add4)(b6) D(add4)(add9) G6 D6/F#
Bm(add4)(b6) A7(no3) Gmaj7
Bm(add4)(b6) D(add4)(add9) G6 D6/F#
D(add4)(add9) A7(no3) Gmaj7
D(add4)(add9) A7(no3) Gmaj7

….okay, I’m sorry. That’s perfectly accurate but here’s the version human beings can read:

Bm D G D/F#
Bm A G
Bm D G D/F#
D A G
D A G

Better? 😉

And finally, the bridge, which switches to (mostly) power chords:
G5
A5
B5 F#5

(the half time part is the same but full chords:)
Gmaj7
A
Bm D/F#

/END THEORY/CHORD CHART

….okay, everybody back from the bathroom? Good.

Originally, the rhythm guitar was going to be an acoustic–and indeed, it was, until I did my first mixdown and realized it sounded like garbage, in a non-artistic way–but was eventually replaced by Betty (my Fender Jaguar HH) playing through a (digitally modeled) Fender Twin Reverb. The crappy bass is, as usual, a Fender Jazz standard. The lead guitar is a Sheraton II with Edge-like delay (and I should have used the bridge pickup only, but alas, I did not).

One thing that I think ended up probably getting missed by most people is that the lead guitar (at least the non-Ebow parts) is supposed to represent a heart monitor. The intro and outro especially. Listen to the intro again and see if you catch it. Towards the end, you’ll notice the lead riff plays twice as fast and of course, at the end of the song there is a long, sustained note (yeah, I like to end songs on those anyway, but this time there was a narrative reason…). So yes, the song ends when Dad dies.

I probably could’ve pushed this through by having the lead guitar acutally “mimic” the heartmonitor all the way soon rather that just “represent” it but I don’t think too many people want to hear a guitar play two tones in mechanically precise rhythm for five and a half minutes. Well, they might, but those people are probably on drugs. Anyway, despite any lofty artistic reasons, intentionally annoying/distracting is still annoying/distracting.

I settled for using the lead as a constant reminder that The End is Coming, which subsides somewhat during the verses but plays through the choruses, when Dad is making his plea.

The bridge probably raised a few eyebrows. I can’t say much, other than playing it in the original tempo was very slow, and I decided if I couldn’t be sad I’d at least be intense. Or maybe I just decided I wanted to rock out a bit. Might have been a subconscious attempt at creating some “wiggle room” in the (seemingly) inherent restraints of the “challenge”. Resisting sticking completely to a formula. I dunno. I think it works, for the most part, but some others are going to feel it takes them out of the song, or at least the emotion that the song appeared to be building. I think it makes the last chorus have that much more impact? Maybe I’m bipolar. Whatever.

Anyway, this is long and probably more information than you need. Questions? Comments? Think I’m a pretentious twit? TAKE IT TO THE COMMENTS.

Less than three,
Travis

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1 comment so far

  1. Graham Porter (Emperor Gum) on

    Utterly pretentious! No, this was my actually my favourite song of the round. Not using acoustic guitar was a good choice, the electrics have a cold sound which is completely fitting. I wrote a song a while ago about someone dying and reflecting on life support, so I’m totally stealing some ideas. Vocal harmonies are great too, they sound weary (again in a good way!). My only criticism is its a bit too long, but I really like it. Good job!


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