Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Dream is Winding Down (Lucid) song biography

After my round 1 song for the new Spintunes-yet-not-Spintunes contest didn’t quite connect on the challenge front (by the way, short version on that: everything except the chorus/first prechorus is part of a To Do list) for some folks, I thought it was worth offering a little explanation on this new one.

So… what was the challenge, you ask?

Just follow this link— okay, actually I have too many links here, I’ll just copy/paste it.  DO NOT FOLLOW THAT LINK.  Ahem.

Tick Tock – Write a song in which you’re counting down to something.  Musically the song should imply that time is getting nearer to whatever you’re counting down to as well.  Once again…avoid going meta.  As an added challenge, you need to collaborate with someone else on your team.  

So!  We’ve really got three challenges here.  As is my custom I sort of “interpreted” some of this, because let us face it, friends: challenge “interpretation” in Spintunes is a thing.

  1. The song is about counting down.
  2. The song has a musical element that SUGGESTS counting down.
  3. There is a collaboration with someone from the Champions slate.

My original topic approach to this challenge, which I admit was probably more creative, was a sort of companion piece to my very first Spintune, from the perspective of a supervillain trying to keep a hero busy while the bomb in the building they’re in counts down to zero (I hadn’t decided if the villain was smart enough to realize he probably needed to get out of the building, or if he was in the building intentionally).  I actually had music for this and some lyrics.  It was a big brassy blues rock type of tune and I might still finish it, but first, I was having some trouble finishing the lyrics and second, I wasn’t sure how to attack the collaboration element.

While I was trying to solve the first problem I ended up writing some lyrics that didn’t go with the music I had and didn’t really go with the other lyrics either (it was that “throwing science at the wall and seeing what sticks” phase of songwriting [That link had nothing to do with this song, so apologies, but it IS hilarious]).  It is pretty rare that I switch ideas mid week, but in addition to liking the new lyrics better I also had a pretty good idea how to handle the collaboration and an idea for the musical element.

To handle challenge number 1, I picked something pretty simple.  If a person is dreaming and realizes that they are dreaming (which is, broadly, the definition of lucid dreaming hey like in the title of the song), in at least some cases it is possible to wake by consciously closing the eyes and counting down from a number, thus ending (or Winding Down, if you will, and I hope you will) the dream.

Okay, so my song is about that moment.  Cool (I thought?).  I made it from the perspective of someone external to the dream though.  Hmm, maybe it’s a coma?  Honestly it could be a lot of things.  Yes, after several straight ahead rock type songs I am firmly back in lyrical cryptical dream imagery land.  I hope you enjoy your stay!

To handle challenge number 2, I had a few ideas.  One was a end-of-song crescendo, which collaborator Jenny Katz used to great effect in her own song, or an almost-full-song crescendo in one of my favorite Death Cab tracks.  For the original song I was writing my idea was a descending chromatic guitar figure (that wasn’t really working, another reason I went with the second song idea).  SO I settled for a litlle guitar motif, basically a series of descending scale tones.  This is again more like “winding” down then a definite countdown.  I will probably get taken to task for this.  I had some other ideas but they were all so obvious as to be blinding.  Just to make it explicit as possible I ended the song with the finally iteration of the motif, while the rest of the music faded off.

For challenge number 3, I had already got agreement from Jenny to do something on the track.  She sent me a version with her singing the whole song (which I’m probably going to post as a remix soon, it is quite good) but I liked how clear the COLLABORATION was with the second version she sent, which was more of a duet, with verse trade offs and harmonies and call and response chorus and all kind of other things I like a lot.  I’ve had a lot of fun with my other Spintunes collaborations and those songs were pretty well liked, so it seemed like a win/win.

This bio is probably twice as long as anybody is going to read at this point so if you made it this far, first, THANK YOU, and  here is something else that was at least twice as long as it needed to be.


Recursion (draft lyrics for Spintunes 10 Round 3)


(The challenge is to write a song that uses “loooong run-on sentences”.  Mine uses three.  In the spirit of that challenge the lyrics are here presented in paragraph form rather than stanzas.  You asked for it, you got it.)

I put my life down in these letters, tried to put the past to bed, but hey came back “Return to Sender” (never opened, never read) in the mailbox I retrieved them as the sun was sinking low over roads–all of them closed–so I had nowhere to go,
but I “should” grow, could have stood to know what I was turning to throw myself off course, where I’m just going around and around and around, and turning the compass, losing landmarks I found, creating art by committee, inhaling smog in the city again.
Again I put the stars above the dashboard, asphalt underneath the the wheel, and voices on the radio who all want to make a deal and as I’m shrugging their deals off there’s a buzzing in my brain, a whispered waking dream where no one feels need to explain ideas less than concrete,where we unite and beat all of the monsters me made for ourselves until we’re going around and around and around, clutching the carousel, awash in the sound of a chorus that makes us and breaks us all down again.
Shifting sand through our hands, I still can’t do the conversion of results out of plans, so I’m left stuck in recursion–
–going around and around and around, clutching the carousel, awash in the sound of a chorus that makes us and breaks us down until we’re going around and around and around. dreaming of clear blue sky while we kiss underground until we make an excursion it’s all a recursion again.

Song Biography – To The Honorable Charles W. Yancy, From Your Admirers

The Challenge and How/Why I Picked What I Did

The challenge this round:

Music To My Fears – Write a scary song, basically explore the horror genre in music format. (2 minute minimum length)

For once, I did not use the first non-stupid idea I had.  That idea was to write a song from the perspective of someone with locked in syndrome, but after a discussion with Graham Porter I found that 1.) the idea wasn’t as unexpected as I thought and 2.) Oh yeah, Metallica has a really good song from the perspective of someone suffering very similar effects (though from war injuries rather than natural medical causes) to locked in syndrome.  And, having remembered that, I was probably going to compare any song I tried to write to that song, which would lead to a Continuous Second Guess situation.

On top of that, there was a clarification from the judges on topics that indicated to me they were probably looking for supernatural horror (which… could have just included that word in the challenge… but having been a judge I know how difficult it is to get consensus on wording prior to the challenge date, so I’ll leave that alone) rather than phobias or other more mundane fears.

Okay, fair enough.

The first immediate problem for me with the supernatural horror genre is I don’t necessarily like it.  I have written at least three songs with a supernatural angle and a few about “mundane” fears but supernatural horror doesn’t scare me much because supernatural things don’t exist, so although I like fantasy I’m not particularly frightened by it.  (You can probably also blame Joss Whedon and Jim Butcher for this; Buffy, Angel, and Harry Dresden have all demonstrated to me that evening in a “supernatural horror” setting, the scariest things are the ones with relatable human connections.)

The other problem is that I’ve had some issues in the past with alternately wildly between “painfully on the nose” and “cryptic as all hell”, per judge evaluation. A topic like this increases that risk by a lot, because as (most) any  horror director will tell you, the monsters are typically more scary when you can’t see them. On the other hand, the “horror” needs to be communicated clearly so as to not run into the dreaded “Only Grazes The Challenge” Spintunes state.

So I started with something rooted in reality: a man who has caused the death of many innocents.  He could be a psychopath who works more intimately with his victims (think Dexter), or it could be a man who wears a suit to work every day and can end lives by signing or not signing his name on a contract (lot of territory there).  For the purposes of the song it doesn’t matter which; all that is really important is that this is a person who can and does kill dispassionately.

Then I added in the supernatural: the killer starts receiving messages (phone calls, emails, letters, whatever) from unknown sources who never identify themselves, but imply that they know where his literal and metaphorical skeletons are buried.  The implication being: these messages are somehow coming from the killers victims.  The song is a mostly a transcription of those communications, although it isn’t just idle threats because that would be boring.


So let’s explain these weird and confusing lyrics, shall we?

For the rest “POV” just means the main character, “killer” refers to Mr. Yancy.

Scrape me out across the gravel
My body offered to the fog
Black out the road untravelled
And the drivers you ran off

The first two lines might me literal or figurative (depending on whether this is the serial killer or the corporate/government one), but the idea is that the POV character was tortured and then discarded.  The second two lines reference the killer’s efforts to conceal his activities and his victims.

Watch your towers tumble
We won’t sleep in secrecy
You can’t outrun these shadows
So easily

This is the first threat, as the POV joins with the other victims (do ghosts have craigslist?) – we are dead but not gone; we are coming for you.

If you feel a breath on your neck
Know what your own is worth
Shadows stirring over your shoulder
Sending the seekers forth

First two lines — Implication: Your breath isn’t worth much, because we’re going to kill you.

Second two lines — more creeping doom.

If every step you take feels like
Growing steadily more lost
Consider where you’re keeping your secrets
And if you ever really paid what they cost

The killer has managed to escape the notice of the living but cannot escape the wrath of the dead.  It is impossible to run or hide from them and justice and/or vengeance will be served (the debt referenced in the fourth line).

You’re hiding out far from the crime
And the flames
Cloak yourself in lack of light
But more than two can play that game…

Honestly, this means almost the same thing as the last four lines.  I try not to do this; I worry it can get to the point of having a verse that is something like “I am ill at ease, I am anxious, I am frightened, I am scared”, but I guess as long as my verses are failing to communicate intent I haven’t fallen into this trap.  But in short, the POV knows the killer’s crimes and has literally nothing else to do but repay them.

So park outside the church
And contemplate the stars
Every voice in the choir knows
Exactly what you are…

There will be no escape, no redepmtion, and no forgiveness for the killer’s crimes.  He might be able to trick people into believe that he isn’t a monster, but his victims know better.



If you can’t stand the winter, freezing nights alone
You shouldn’t make it home….

The killer has made his bed and now the POV is going to suffocate him with a pillow (well, you know.  Roughly.)

Sing — raise your voices
And tear apart the sky
Let the stars rain down

Sing out the choices
That let rivers all run dry
Our song the only sound

Bring out the dead;
The Forgotten left to lie

After writing the “Every voice in the choir” line a few stanzas ago I got the mental image of the victims sort of moving together in a herd and speaking with one voice like a choir.  In the bridge (the only part of the song that isn’t addressed to the killer) they express their resolve to one another (uh, basically).

1st stanza :  Bring the killer’s world down around his ears through intimidation and fear

2nd stanza : Bring light to his crimes (the “rivers run dry” line is maybe the most obscure of the song, unless we stretch the “corporate” idea all the way to environmental damage.  It basically just means denying stealing futures away from people)

3rd stanza :  Basically Morpheus’ speech from The Matrix Reloaded, except, you know…. ghosts.

Now you can’t tell cutting corners
From slashing throats
And you’ve got your widespread respect
And an army of sleepless ghosts
And if the truth gets buried
Floods are carrying out grave dirt
So run as fast and far as you like;
You taught us all how to hurt

First two lines – Killing is as easy as breathing for the aptly named “killer”

Second two lines – This was kind of where I was hoping, if the overall concept hadn’t landed yet, it would be reasonably clear (“army of sleepless ghosts” being the POV and other victims)

Third two lines – The killer has avoided consequences this long but time/circumstance will end the reprieve soon enough

Last lines – you made us (the victims) what we are and you are only reaping what you sow


(just some random notes technical notes here really, feel free to skip it if you don’t care)

Coincidentally, there was a discussion on the Spintunes forums about reusing old riffs/chord progressions/etc. this week.  I somewhat sheepishly admitted I’ve used music but never lyrics.

The chord progression that kicks in 1:05 and the “chorus” (or probably more accurate “B” section) around 2:15 have been rattling around in my head for about *checks email history* four and a half years.  It was originally going to be part of a psuedo-breakup song and was likely going to feature long melancholic guitar solos.  Coincidentally the draft title was “An Exorcism” but it wasn’t really about supernatural horror, unless my complete inability to read social queues qualifies.

I never could quite figure out lyrics, so it percolated since then; it also felt like it needed another section that I couldn’t figure out an angle on.  In contrast, the intro/bridge section mostly wrote itself once I actually had the rest of the concept in place.  So anyway, good to get this one off my chest.

MC Ohm-I mentioned this was the “put spooky reverb on everything” round.  That is definitely the case for this song, although I’m more likely than not to use ambient reverbs anyway, regardless of “spooky” challenge.  The most obvious use was in the intro where I was trying to lay down a soundscape for the Ebow/prelude type verses.

The mighty Ebow appears once again in the intro with the vaguely spooky melody line that emerges from the ambient soundscapey thing.  I maybe should have used the Ebow some more (particularly to fill up some of the quieter parts of the song) but it is harder than you might expect to make it work and I ran out of time.

The very high register counter melodies during the B section are a guitar, but that astute Graham Porter noticed during the listening party it seemed out of normal guitar range.  He is right; it was an octave up pitch effect thanks to a plugin version of the Digitech Whammy.

There is also some rotary speaker going on on the rhythm guitar because I like rotary speakers and they make everything feel slightly off balance.

The heavily distorted parts have just a touch of tremolo.  You can’t really hear it but I have found when mixing distorted parts with cleaner parts this helps avoid a scenario where the distortion dominates too much.

Where’d I Go Wrong?

So now we come to the results.  I came in third from last, which is my lowest single round Spintunes ranking ever.  I think I might now be the only person who has been in every Spintunes as a non-shadow entrant (Edric Haleen was with me until he went and got marriedm that just goes to show, getting married ruins EVERYTHING [this is a joke, congratulations Edric!], BYD has been in every Spintunes but missed the first round deadline a couple of times, I believe), so that is pretty impressive in one (statistical) sense.

I’m willing to say the song has decent-to-good production, reasonably interesting music, probably one of my better vocal performances, GD-standard guitar and competent bass/drum sequencing, so what went wrong?

1. The song isn’t all that scary.

Honestly, I’m just not great at being scary.  I’m about as intimidating as a teddy bear with too much stuffing and that translates over to my music (although I can definitely channel anger when the mood suits me, and fear reasonably well.. actually scaring somebody?  Nah).  I might have been better off singing from victim POV instead (or rather, not a victim with near omnipotence and immunity to conventional weaponry) and trying to inspire fear via empathy.  But, the concept I came up with just didn’t work with that.

Charles W. Yancy was a red herring.

A few people have asked, so to make it clear, Charles W. Yancy is/is based on nobody in particular, I just like the title’s phrasing (especially the “To The Honorable” part) as a sort of sneering salutation that would appear in the threatening communications.   It needed a name, so I picked out. Side note:  Sneering Salutations should be a punk rock record. Somebody make that.

The title is also a sort of down low reference to one of my favorite songs of all time, which also features a long title and a main character (also based on no one in particular) with an impressive-sounding name.

3. The song is a little… but really ONLY a little… too slow.

I’m not at my DAW at the moment but I think the tempo was 83 BPM.  This made the overall length just over 5:20, which you can probably get away with in round 2 when there are eliminations if it’s a really good song.

In a post-elimination world, I think the track length is just too long to ensure that everybody listened to the whole thing all the way through and made all the necessary connections between the lyrics, etc.  This is probably a “multi-listen” track, one playthrough is likely not going to be sufficient to really pick up everything, especially without the plot summary.

I try to avoid shortening a song if I haven’t said all I intend to, but one other way to handle that is to increase tempo.  Maybe 87-90 would have been better.

Another track shortener I sometimes use is ishortening or *sniff!* cutting instrumentals. Other than the ambient sound at the beginning I didn’t really have any instrumentals to snip, or they were already pretty short.  I decided the ambience was too important to the mood setting to cut, but again a tempo increase would have at least made it shorter.

Finally I guess I could have removed some lyrics but even though some might be redundant they are also reinforcing.  I don’t know what I would take out.

4. Too much dynamics???

I tried to live up to the “Dynamics” part of my name and do some experimenting with creating tense, musical periods of silence or near-silence, as well as bringing in/dropping out instruments to fit the current “mood” of the song, but I’m afraid it just came off as boring, confusing, or obfuscating for too many listeners.

5. Lyrics didn’t gel with everyone

The combination of all the prior 4 points meant that the lyrics were likely obscured/missed/confusing/not heard enough times.  They definitely are not straightforward , and were meant to convey more mood and emotion rather than a beginning/middle/end story. I also struggle somewhat with exactly how loud to make vocals and how to EQ them — it’s really hard to tell if lyrics are intelligible to the average person when you already know what they are.

What did the judges think?

I did judging responses before; some of them seemed to like it.  Might as well give it another try.

Before I get started I want to say upfront: I’ve been a judge before.  I’m very well acquainted with the feeling of maybe not having much to say about a song and that that doesn’t even mean it wasn’t a bad song.  Also familiar with ranking a song I actually liked very low because of the maddeningly arbirtary shuffling one has to do since there does have to be a last place.  I don’t take reviews personally (at least, I didn’t have to take any of the ones I got this time personally), so if you get the impression I am mad at you or that my feelings are hurt or whatever, let me clarify up front that no, I am not, and no, they are not. 😉

Okay, that probably-too-long disclaimer out of the way:

Jana Pochop explained:

This was confusing…I never really grasped the plot.  Who is Charles?  Who is “we?”  What did he do to you?  There’s a lot of poetic language here but I don’t think it serves to tell the story or make the song particularly about fear.  Great vocals.

I feared this was going to be an issue and I planned on/totally should have written a song bio last week.  But between sick days and a car breakdown, it just didn’t happen.  See the “Lyrics” section for the plot and point 2 under “Where Did I go Wrong?” for more info about Charles.  I am pleased at least one person liked my vocals. 🙂

MC Ohm-I opined:

Another track that I’d expect to hear on Guitar Hero. I wasn’t sure how to feel about this track. It’s done well but I’m not sure anything about it sticks out. But yeah…Guitar Hero, for sure.

I’m going to admit that I… don’t know what that means.  I guess we’re just both sort of baffled right now?  But Guitar Hero has a lot of good songs on it so I will take that as a compliment.  Thank you.

Rusty Cage mused:

This song is definitely spooky sounding.  It’s slow,  it’s atmospheric, and relatively minor sounding, but the lyrics lack that horror theme.  Perhaps the concept is there, but they don’t deliver enough to create the sense that this is horror.  The vocal performance and music did however.

Glad the atmosphere and performance worked for you!  I agree that the song isn’t particularly scary (see also: teddy bear with too much stuffing).

The Dreamstalks postulated:

Wow. Beautiful song with gorgeous vocals. Love the beats. We would have loved to see a little more horror in the tune and vocals. We wanted to be scared a little. Granted, this is an amazing song and deep and passionate. There are traces of “scary” in there but we didn’t feel it within your vocals.

Aw, man, but Rusty just said my vocal performance was scary!  (This is a situation that is going to happen AT LEAST once per round, no worries.) I will totally accept “deep/passionate/amazing song” as a critique though.  More seriously see point 1 under “Where Did I Go Wrong?”, but yes, I agree.

Matthew Jordan riffed:

First and foremost, great lyrics on this one. A very good example of how an alt-rock band could write a “horror” genre song. Love the interplay of your different guitar parts. Something a little bit 90’s about this tune, which is not a bad thing – that was a great decade for music!

Yay, at least one judge liked the lyrics!  That eases my troubled mind because I thought they were pretty good (if vague).  It’s like I have no idea if my songs are any good at all or not (spoiler alert: I don’t)!

“90’s” is how most folk describe the Governing Dynamics “sound”, it doesn’t seem like I can get away from it even when I’m trying so I’ve just started to lean in to it.  Glad you enjoyed the song! (also your check for highest ranking is in the mail, don’t spend it all in one place [$3.27, I’m having a lean month]).

Marian Call analyzed: 

Nice lush but clear rock instrumentation, interesting instrument entrances & exits, but it takes a really long time to unfold and ramp up.  Drums don’t kick in until 1:15, and they die out again, so it feels like we really get started around 1:50.  It’s nice and atmospheric, creating a mood, but it’s also hard to follow or focus on the words.  That can be OK — it lines in its own world and feels pretty happy there, but the world i lives in a little background texture.  Good for in a TV episode or film, with action over it.  I don’t think I’m clean on what it’s about though, lyrically.  Again, that’s not always the most important part of a song.

First of all, glad schedules finally aligned so you could guest judge.  I know that the rest of the competitors also appreciate the in depth analysis.

It does have some pacing issues (see… um.. points 2 through 5 under Where Did I Go Wrong?).

I was indeed going for atmospheric and soundtracky (one of my beta listeners actually asked for the song with the vocals muted, which told me I might have pulled that off a little too well; seems to be the case).  I kind of wrote a movie to go with the song in my head while I was writing it; unfortunate that it doesn’t exist.

I feel like you really understood what I was after, if not my lyrics (see top section for way too much explanation on those) and assume the low ranking was mostly challenge miss factor.

Walt Ribeiro ranked the songs but does not have reviews posted; I will respond when he does.

Blackbirds – Song bio

Once again, I have written a songthing for Spintunes and you get to listen to me unwisely explain my art.

First you should probably hear the song and you should definitely take a listen to the other competitors of Spintunes 9 Round 3.

Good?  Thanks for sticking around.  I know that took like 40 minutes.  Worth it, though, right?


The challenge was:

SCORE! – Finally! Your favorite book is being made into a decent movie! The producers need a title song to promote the film and hopefully win an Academy Award. You’re hired. The song must have the same title as the book. (2 minute minimum length)

Okay, so there were a few things about the challenge that caused some forest-for-the-trees type discussion among the competitors.  I came up with a few clarifications. Except they didn’t come from the judges, really.  I just decided these things from context.

1. Nobody is going to fact check “favorite”.  (This is good because I rarely have actually “Favorite” media.  I once unwisely chose my favorite movie as a security question and ended up calling customer support because I could guess it in five tries, three months later. I have more like “what am I in to right now?”.)

2.  “Winning an Academy Award” is just shorthand for “it should be a good song people will like”.  They easily could have said “shift a lot of OST units” or “hit the top of the charts!! or some reasonably impressive level.”  In other words it wasn’t necessary to worry that the book we picked would never in a million years actually win an Academy Award.

3. I think that bit about the title needing to be the same as the book is pretty open to interpretation, don’t you? Okay, just kidding.

So the book I chose is Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig.

The main protagonist of Blackbirds is a woman in her early 20s by the name of Miriam Black, and she has a curious power: if she touches her skin against another person’s, she receives a vision of exactly when and exactly how that person will die.

For pretty understandable reasons, she doesn’t stay in one place for long or make close bonds with people.  As this doesn’t lend itself well to employment and she isn’t independently wealthy, she survives by touching people and finding a target who will die soon and leave behind cash/credit cards/other assets she can use.

That sounds pretty dark, and Miriam is a smart ass, foul mouthed misanthrope (with some pretty good reasons to be so), but she’s also instantly likeable (or was to me, anyway).   In the book, you gradually learn that she originally tried to save people from their fates, but any preventative measure she takes only ensures the exact vision she saw will come to pass.

Then she meet a kind-hearted trucker named Louis, and things get complicated fast.

I’ll avoid typing out a summary of the whole book.. and it turns out the book doesn’t have a Wikipedia page or a full synopsis anywhere I can find so I can’t do that either.

random aside note I can’t find a better place for:

I didn’t know it when I chose the book but it looks like Blackbirds is getting a TV adaptation.  Nice.

All right, let us dive into the lyrics, shall we?

Like a lot of my songs the perspective jumps around a little. The narrator of the song isn’t consistent because (again, like a lot of my songs) this one is all about mood and atmosphere rather than focusing on a character or linear plot.

One touch
You want to rush away
Eyes open, nothing left
To erase the written fate

So, as established, after “One touch” Miriam knows how you die.  Unsurprisingly this is often a depressing, violent, shocking, or otherwise upsetting thing for her.  Often, she has an immediate instinctual need to try to prevent the touched person’s fate (to “rush away” from the vision).  But soon enough (in most cases anyway) she remembers and accepts that her visions are immutable.

Tell me
Why you stay in my wake
Why do I feel you’ll stay until
There’s nothing left to take


Miriam does, for all intents and purposes, stalk people once she knows that they’ll die and will leave behind things she can use to survive.  Some of them sense that something is very off about Miriam — and towards the end of their time together, particularly if the touched is a person of less than upstanding moral character, she’ll stop concealing why she’s been hanging around.

Searchlights in the distance
But they never pierce the gray
Would we stay lost all night
If you could have your way

For all that, Miriam would (and did) try to save people if it were possible, but time and time again it’s been proven to her that she can’t.  Getting “lost in gray” is an idea I’ve used to indicate death before (maybe not shockingly original, but what can ya do).  The searchlight here is Miriam’s futile desire to change the futures she sees.  The answer to the question posed in the last two lines is actually “No”, though the person speaking might think otherwise.

Whispers that wind around your ear
Rhythms that only you can hear
You earned all their songs, a how but not a why
Laughter seconds before screams
Prophets strangling our dreams
Blackbirds blotting out the sky


The whole chorus refers to the death visions – whispers of the future that are for Miriam’s ears only.  The line “You earned all their songs – a how, but now a why” refers to a section of the book where Miriam references “earning this gift” and having worked out how it works but not why it was given to her.  (Spoiler alert: the way she earned the gift was awful and traumatic.)

“Blackbirds blotting out the sky” – as you might have guessed from the title, there is bird imagery involved in the book, that only increases through the second and ESPECIALLY the third books in the series.  On top of that, the generally atmosphere is that of a crapsack world where destiny is a fickle and unchangable–and yet, for Miriam, knowable–thing.  I liked the slowly-and-terribly-approaching-doom of the image of blackbirds blocking out all the light.  Plus, you know.  Title drop.

One touch
It echoes back your name
Too much to think about
Who’s waiting out of frame

As mentioned, the real action of the book kicks off after Miriam meets a trucker named Louis and touches him.  (spoilerish alert) She sees that he will be brutally murdered in a fairly short time, and just before he does he will look ‘off camera’ and say “Miriam?”

You arrive on darkest wings
You can say what the night will bring
Carrion, poisonous things
You arrive on darkest wings

More than a few people realize (some too late for it to do them any good) that death seems to follow Miriam around more often than coincidence would account for.  She struggles with the overall meaning of her “gift” as well.

Car crash in the pouring rain
Engines out on a falling plane
You’re the chooser of the slain
But who will choose for you?

This is again more reference to the death visions.  I also really wanted to work “chooser of the slain” into the song because it’s implied that in the Blackbirds universe, the myth of valkyries is probably related to or directly based on other women with gifts similar to Miriam’s.

Whispers that wind around your ear
Rhythms that only you can hear
You earned all their songs, a how but not a why
Laughter seconds before screams
Prophets strangling our dreams
Blackbirds blotting out the sky
Echoes pounding through your head
Futures hide beneath your bed
Make them believe, you said no one else will die
Highways until your work is done
Burdens weighing like a ton
Blackbirds blotting out the sky

And a chorus to wrap it up.

Honestly I could say quite a bit more about this song, but it’s already dangerously close to the judges’ due dates and I want to make sure SOMETHING is posted prior to that, so I’ll just mention in terms of of musical style that Chuck Wendig posted a playlist of sorts of music that inspired Miriam’s character, the plot, would be good to listen to while reading, etc.

Originally I was going to try for something in the same vein but one commonality you’ll note between most of those tracks is a female vocalist.  I did have one friend who was going to give it a shot, but then I didn’t have tracks ready until Friday evening and it was too late to get things together (and probably would have been in a bad key for her anyway), so I proceeded.

I really wanted to go for an ’80s darkwave kind of thing, with moody synths and other production elements, but I don’t have a midi controller right now and I’m not skilled (or patient) enough to do the piano roll thing, so I used the good ol’ EBow and an “ambient” sound patch as a synth stand in.

Overall, I feel like it does sound like “soundtrack” music, and it fits the tone and themes of the story well.

On a final note, I did send the song to Mr. Wendig on Twitter.  You can see his reaction here and here.

Where The River Meets The Earth (Film Noir Blues) – Song Bio

Welcome to another Song Bio.  …this intro is crap, but hopefully it gets better.

Bandcamp link to hear the song…


This one was written for Spintunes 9 Round 2.  Even thought I just put a link there, I guess I’ll copy/paste the challenge, because I am a gracious and accomodating blogwriter guy:

“Undeserved Love – Write a song about unconditionally loving someone who plainly isn’t worth it. (example: “Grenade” by Bruno Mars)”.

I’ve been looking for a challenge that would be well suited to a blues song more or less since Spintunes (as in Spintunes 1) began, and although there have a few challenges that probably would have worked, they never quite gelled with whatever subject idea I came up with.

Longtime blog readers (ha!) will probably remember that as soon as I get an idea for Spintunes that isn’t clearly stupid that is usually the one I end up using.  That actually wasn’t completely the case with this song, but in terms of genre I immediately thought “BLUES” after I read the title. So, it was nice to finally check this off my Spintunes bucket list.

Lyrically, this started out as a pretty typical “baby-done-me-wrong” kind of blues song.  It was okay, it checked off the boxes.  But it felt a little too flat and colorless… and after all, Spintunes is a Songwriting Contest.  I did include in a couple of instrumental sections, but I was trying to hard to avoid the “song as an excuse to solo” trap that is all too easy to fall into when writing in this genre as a guitarist, so I took another pass at it.

I’ve been watching Angel, recently finished The Last Policeman trilogy, and am a huge fan of The Dresden Files, which is probably why the idea of “obsessed/doomed detective” occurred/appealed to me.  The instrumental intro’s definite impending doom vibe, plus the inherent compatibility of midtempo  6/8 blues and film noir, probably had something to do with that as well.

Inasmuch as there is a real plot to the song it goes like this:

  •  A mysterious woman hires our detective.  He is enamored with her, and accepts, though the task (never specified by the song) is dangerous.
  • The detective learns in the course of the investigation that the mysterious woman has omitted important details and might be more than she appears (possibly in the supernatural sense).
  • The detective has developed an unhealthy obsession with the woman and does not walk away though he clearly should.
  • Everything goes wrong.  Both the mysterious woman and the detective face imminent danger from (again, unspecified by the song) unknown entities.
  • It ends badly for them.

It’s intentionally light on details for three reasons:

1. The song is primarily about the love (obsession?) that the detective has developed for his employer, as well as his Rubik’s complex for the case overriding his better judgement.

2. Assuming a passing familiarity with detective stories and/or film noir, the listener can supply their own details.

3. (If we’re being honest…) The song is headed towards “too long” as it is. ;p


So as mentioned, this is a first person account of an old school hardboiled private investigator’s final case, that begins (as these things so often do) with a mysterious woman walking into his office on a rain-soaked night in Chicago or Sin City or who knows where.

The first part of the song, which I’ll go ahead and call the verse, is the detective speaking to his new employer.  (There is a time jump to later in the case between the first half and second half.)

Now let me tell you something
Before you state your case today
Anyone in this broke down town
Could see you’re trouble from a mile away
But I can’t leave a puzzle alone
And everyone’s gotta get paid


Babe you’ve been living out of nightclubs
And they all miss your when you’re gone
Soon they say your stormy eyes turn to ice
Sweet red wine lips to poison
I lit your cigarette
I cashed out on your con


“But I can’t leave a puzzle alone”: A reference to the dangerous level of curiosity that is inherent in many, if not most, detective characters.

“I lit your cigarette”: It’s film noir.  Somebody had to light a cigarette sometime in there.

The second part (the chorus, I suppose) is more like inner monologue, or maybe voice over narration, or could even be the detective rambling to a favorite bartender over a bourbon:

I can’t let go of the chase
Though the lights are going out
Darkness hiding her face

The case cracks and suddenly
I move with the chaos
spinning around me

And I’m blacking out….

In other words: “The more I learn about my employer/her case the less I seem to know about her/it, but the more my need to know increases.”

“I move with the chaos spinning around me” could be metaphorical or literal when you consider the supernatural angle.

The next part (the bridge) is the obligatory “look what you’ve done to me” part of the story, from the detective to the mysterious woman:

Don’t touch me cause I’ll blink
Every missed clue is adding pain
How many did you leave
Mad in the thunder and falling rain

Don’t say a word your Siren song
Has me staring down a train
If I’ll escape this mystery
I can’t run to you again


Like the cigarette, it just ain’t film noir without a nervous breakdown in a thunderstorm, is it?

A direct reference to being driven mad and namechecking the Sirens is a little more evidence of a supernatural element.

But I can’t outrun it this time
Unprepared by so many years
Of passions and crimes

I know just where this road leads
Sideways rain falling around
And right through me

And I’m blacking out….

“Unprepared by so many years of passions and crimes”: Translated: “My growing obsessions with the case and this woman has finally completely overridden my judgement, though I should know better.”

“Sideways rain falling around, and right through me”: See also “hail of gunfire”.

I’ll see you in the black
Down where the river meets the earth
I’ll see you soon now
Unless you didn’t get there first


“where the river meets the earth”: Hey, finally the title drops.  While the first instinct might be to think this refers to the shore, it actually refers to the other place the river meets the earth: the bottom

So, the detective is headed to the bottom of the river, but isn’t sure if his employer will be joining him, or if she’s already there.

Yep.  I killed my protagonist again (admitted: somewhat looser definitions of  “killed” and maybe “protagonist” on some of the linked songs).


Warning: This will likely (edit: definitely) contain some freeform rambling about chord progressions and music theory and stuff, if that isn’t your thing you can stop reading now.

After a chimey Am9 chord and a bit o’ ye olde vibrato bar, we kick off with a musical punch in the face meant to convey an impending doom, beginning-of-the-end kind of scenario.  It was originally slightly more restrained until I figured out the angle I was going to use on the song.

The bass is playing the notes A – B – C  – D  – D# (passing tone) – E.  One guitar follows this in octaves while the other plays a higher register descending thingy (C – B – A – G – G#).  Trem picking is the order of the day.  I like trem picking a lot, probably too much, but it definitely communicated what I was after here.  Anyway, for as big as this sounds, there are no actual chords being played — it’s all dyads until the end.  “Less is more” or maybe “fewer is bigger” applies here.

After the “hits” on an E7 I immediately decided to follow the loudest part of the song with the quietest part.  Because contrast and dynamics and stuff.  While the loud and crazy part hints at what is eventually to come, the quiet part sets the scene for the minimalist story.

I probably did about thirty takes of the first guitar solo, fifty if you count the ones where I played three notes and said “nah”.  I completely agree with the ideal of blues/jazz solos being improvised, but it just didn’t quite work here.  Over those 30 takes I eventually decided what notes needed to go where.

The chord progession the “verse” and the two solos are basically this:

|Am   (4 meas) |Dm    |Dm*  Dm| Dm   |Dm*   Dm| C      | Fmaj7  E7 |

And then there’s sometimes a tag (which also doubles as the bridge):

|Am   |Fmaj7  |Dm   | E7   |

So while it does sound like blues, it doesn’t really use a (common) established form.  The Dm* I mentioned is actually this chord on guitar:

EADGBe:  x5765x

So the notes lowest to highest are D – A – C# – E.  Technically you could just call this Dmaj7add9 or (if really cheeky) A/D, but it really functions as a DmMaj7sus2(no 3rd) (no really) and if that is interesting to you, you are a big ol’ nerd (me too!) and if it was not interesting I apologize for this paragraph.

The vocals for most of the song but especially the verse are Bob Dylan/Tom Waits inspired growling.  I can’t do it quite like them, but not many can.

The chorus goes like this:

|F   |F  | E7  |E7  |Dm  |C   |E7  | E7  | 2x

The first time through, the lead guitar (which had been winding through the lead vocal, playing little fills and counter melody) drops out to let the rhythm of the chord progression stand out, and then comes back in for the second time to raise the tension into the guitar solo.  Vocals likewise escalate.  Originally I wrote a higher registry melody line here that 1) I couldn’t really sing and 2) increased the intensity too much too quickly and didn’t really leave anywhere to go for the “blacking out” line and the build into the next section.  So.  I’m glad I changed that.

I DEFINTELY had my eyes closed and was swaying back and forth for the guitar solo. First take, baby!  Okay, yeah, no.  I did several takes on this one too, and actually after my first mix went back and completely did the first part of it over  The first take was both too busy and not quite as intense as I wanted during the first take, but I kept it because I liked the second part.

Right at 2:42 you can hear the “good part of the first take” as a second guitar comes in and plays a harmony line and then ends the the solo with a very pissed-off-sounding bending riff.

The solo leads directly into the bridge, which uses the “tag” chord progression.  I’m pleased with what I did with the harmonies here, but ideally I would have liked to have a choir.

The added background voice sticks around for the second and last “chorus” (Ugh, it’s got difference words though.  Maybe that’s the B section? whatever).  The lead guitar is also doing some pretty unrestrained acrobatics in the background — really the only part of the song I’m not quite happy with, I couldn’t quite get the balance and counter melody where I wanted here, but it still sounds pretty good. In the original recording, the lower voice wasn’t present and without that to ground the higher vocal a lot of words like “warble”, “squawk” and perhaps “caterwaul” were appropriate.  I had very nearly convinced me that this was only appropriately “raw”, luckily a beta listener (hi Dad!) pointed out that non-musicians decide this is the point you “cannot sing” and begin to throw rotten produce.  So, anyway.  Tip: Have and actually listen to beta listeners, guys.

The outro (and long awaited title drop) does a miniature version of the quiet/loud thing that’s been going on most of the song and the second voice comes back in for some a sinister low register line to end the song.  Musically, this is the same as the intro, except it plays twice and uses a looser, less frantic rhythm the first time through.


Okay, so.. that’s it!  Thanks for listening/reading.  Let me know if you have thoughts or feelings or prophecies.




Roland Lives – song bio

This is a bit of Borderlands 2 AU fanfic (possibly the nerdiest sentence I will type tghis year), although it works reasonably well as a declaration of independence/rebellion/take-no-more-shit for general purposes, I’d like to think. 

(Some Borderlands 2 spoilers follow) 

I’ll assume that if you aren’t familiar with the game want to know the whole plot, you’ll head to the Wikipedia page (Here have a link: If you’d rather not I’ll point out the important bits. 

1) Borderlands 2 takes place on a distant planet called Pandora. A number of interstellar corporations are interested in Pandora due to a rare element found there, as well as the legendary caches of treasure known as Vaults, left there by a highly advanced species sometime in the past. 

2) In Borderlands 2 you’re a member of a group known as the Crimson Raiders, made up of a ragtag bunch of ex-soldiers, colonists, and terminated corporate employees who are stranded on Pandora. 

3) The leader of the Crimson Raiders in a guy by the name of Roland. Aside from being the leader of the group, he was the once that proposed they form in the first place. Although Pandora is a harsh land, the primary enemies of the Crimson Raiders are the Hyperion corporation and their megalomaniacal CEO, Handsome Jack. 

4) The home base/hub area in Borderlands 2 is a floating city called Sanctuary. 

5) By the end of the game, Hyperion has been mostly wiped off the map, but Roland is killed by Handsome Jack before the final victory. 

The game is pretty much over at that point, but a possible future (and the one my song uses) is that the Crimson Raiders band together and claim the more hospitable parts of Pandora for themselves, with a strict policy of as little corporate involvement as possible. 

In universe, the song was written and recorded in a garageas a tribute to Roland, and was taken up as a popular battle hymn afterwards, eventually adopted as the anthem for the country, the Crimson Nation. Sanctuary, being the place the Raiders began (and being rather handily defensible) is the capital. 

Song To Stay Awake – Song Bio


Spintunes 8, Round 1 challenge was to write a song to someone you miss and can’t be with.

This is a picture of my nephew, Dakota Smith, and I from the summer of 2004.  My song is to Dakota.


Here are the lyrics with slight explanation.

Song To Stay Awake

Awake in the starlight 
Hardly a world away 
If I misjudged the distance 
I’ll feel every inch today 

On May 14th (before the song picks up), my Dad had left a message on my answering machine (remember those?) to tell me that Dakota had an accident while at his father’s house in Lenexa, KS.  Dakota had fallen and bumped his head.  He was taken to the hospital (Children’s Mercy Hospital, which is a very excellent child hospital in Kansas City) and looked over.  He was okay.  I very clearly remember the last thing on the machine: “He got a helicopter ride out of the deal, anyway.” (Life flight) I remember smiling at that, thinking that Dakota was only 17 months old and he had gotten to ride a helicopter, which I had not.  I was going to have to tell him how jealous I was next time I saw him.  And after this, I wasn’t worried at all.  The doctors said he was fine.  Dakota still had his entire life ahead of him.

As the song starts… sometime around 6 am my Dad called me again.  This was the very first time I got a phone call at such an hour and knew, without a doubt, that it was some kind of terrible news.

A still-ringing gunshot
But only through-and-through 
And so many miles before 
My voice could reach you 

At some point after dad had left the message, Dakota fell into a coma.  There was a lot of frantic questioning.  You told me he was going to be okay, I remember telling my father.  He apologized, but there was no time to talk about it.  It’s more than 100 miles from my parents’ house to Children’s Mercy, and he had to go.

I don’t clearly remember when I decided I was going to make the trip home (which is around 700 miles, most of which is desolate highway).  I do remember taking a full 20 minutes to remember and execute the necessary steps to get dressed, and then loading up the car to make the journey.  I waited an hour or so both to get my head on straight and for my professors to wake up so I could explain in person why i was missing class (and probably wouldn’t be there for a week or more).

As far as I know you’re only sleeping 
Hope against hope you’re only sleeping 

At this time, although the situation was bad, aside from “coma” we didn’t know the scope of it.  Several people had seen Dakota and seen him move, but he wouldn’t wake up.  As I learned later on, when a person in a coma moves that often is actually a bad sign (see second link above).  But we (by which I mean, Dakota’s extended family) were choosing to see it as a good sign, like people in desperate and powerless situations are apt to do.

So much left to do 
So much to see 
Don’t cut your story short 
There’s so much left to say 
Life to be set free 
Things that I forgot before 

I sang this song to stay awake 
This song to keep us warm 
This song to make the miles disappear 

So, there wasn’t any one song, and the “song” wasn’t just music.

This was before iPods (for me anyway), streaming music from the Cloud using your phone, and all the other content delivery systems we now enjoy.  Partly because I was tired, and partly because I needed something to occupy myself other than numb worry, I turned on the radio and sang along with literally every song.  I sang “Teenage Wasteland”.  I sang “Friends In Low Places”.  I sang “Toxic” (that’s a Britney Spears song).  I sang old hymns I half-remembered from Methodist church, several years before that.  (As it turns out, when you’re driving across the whole of Nebraksa, you get a more diverse set of radio stations than you might expect.)  I think I probably sang the entirety of Counting Crows’ “Recovering The Satellites” twice until the batteries in my portable CD player died.  When I got tired of singing, I’d take breaks and inevitably get a little too lost in my own head.  Then I would sing some more.

I bought you a movie 
On the way to the town 
Prayed you’d see it with me 
A proposal turned down 

As my songs often do, I’m jumping around in time a little bit.  Before I left Chadron, I stopped off at Wal-mart to get snacks and drinks so I could stop as little as possible on the way home.  I think I was also going to try to grab an album to listen to on the way (remember: no iPods yet) but instead I saw one those big new release displays for The Incredibles.

I had seen The Incredibles in the theater and loved it, and I knew Dakota would too.  So, in one of the weirdest and most ineffectual acts of defiance in history I bought the movie with the intent to watch it with Dakota when all this coma nonsense was over.

At mile two hundred 
I sang with all I had 
To keep the car moving 
Taking the good with the bad 

Just outside Ogallala, NE (which is roughly 1/3rd of the way through the journey), my mental resilience was worn to nothing and I stopped paying attention (or, in the extended song metaphor, I got a little bit lost in the song).

I got stopped by a policeman and I was ticketed.  When people have heard this part of the story in the past, the usually say something like “what a dick!”.  I have neglected, in the past, to say exactly how fast I was going.  Lets just say that if I’d had a smartphone I would have been frantically Googling “is felony speeding a real thing” while I was waiting for the policeman to come ask for license and registration.  After I explained where I was going and why he knocked 15 mph off my ticket and gave me a very firm (but not unkind) warning to slow down.

I did slow down, and I remembered the most important driver education lesson which is The Other Drivers Don’t Know Or Care About The Day You’re Having.  It was the sort of tap on the shoulder/gentle slap in the face that someone needs when they’re about to fall asleep operating heavy machinery.  In summary, he probably saved my life.

Like I have not escaped this wreck yet 
Worse could come then dying young and perfect 

This was all nine years ago this March and the right mood can still put me right back in the middle of it.  Without getting too melodramatic, sometimes I feel like I’m still on the road.

So much left to do 
So much to see 
Don’t cut your story short 
There’s so much left to say 
Lost time to be set free 
Things that I forgot before 

I sang a song to stay awake 
A song to keep our eyes open 
This song, to hold reality at bay 

The “song” was music but it was also hope against all available evidence.  A candlelight vigil on the highway, the blindest kind of optimism.

Not long before I got that ticket (again, I’m reveling in the non-linear nature of musical storytelling) I got another call on my cell phone.  Dakota had been declared brain dead.  He was given no chance of recovery.

The story didn’t end there;  it actually got much uglier.  But that isn’t what this song is about, and I don’t see a need to elaborate at the moment.

And I unwound, I unraveled 
Added verse for every hour I traveled 
At 1 in the morning i’d reached the end 
Of the elaborate game of pretend 

It may not be surprising to learn I’ve tackled this topic before in my Fu/Spintunes career (one of those times actually being in Spintunes 7), although this is the least obscure I’ve been about it.  (If you want to hear the Song Fu one, you’ll need to go to the link, download the whole round’s zip file from the bottom of the page, and find “Travis Norris” in there.  “Finite” is one of my favorite of my Fu tunes and I’ve been meaning to add a bridge and re-record it for awhile.)

This is a song to stay awake 
This is a song to change the world 
This is a song to erase time that was taken away

Thanks for reading.


Houses (Spintunes round 4 draft)

from the time of our births
til we return to the earth
all that arrives will depart
til you defeat your innate
will to destroy and not create
passing shadows is all that we are

rearranged grains of sand
and displaced air
the tide rolls in and
we’re without a prayer

you won’t find me and old man
staring out to sea
waiting for the sand in the glass
to run out

if you can ignore the siren’s call
long enough to put up four walls
and a roof that keeps the elements at bay
you might leave the world a bit
better than it was when you found it
before you slip back into the gray

when you put down your hammer
when your day is done
someone was watching
they’ll pick it back up

you won’t find me an old man
staring out to sea
waiting for the fires I brought to life
to be doused
if you want to take a run at slipping one
past mortality
stop leaving footprints
and start building houses

it’s not you against me
not even us against them
we’re on the same shore
when the waves come back in
we can walk together
and won’t stand apart for long

from the time of our births
til heaven crashes to earth
we’re never done until we depart

indentations erased
by the water and wind
time and time
and time again

you won’t find me an old man
staring out sea
waiting for the fires I brought to life
to be doused
if you wanna take a run at slipping one
past mortality
stop leaving footprints
and start building houses

start building houses
start building houses

Dark Places (Spintunes round 3 draft)

lost downtown in the burning summer
wasted so many things all that year
oh oh
but I guess you’d know

after all that we have been through
do you still feel the need to drag me down with you?
oh oh
well I guess so

W: but I told you
M: and I heard you
W: this is the last time
M: this is the last time
M: that I call after midnight

headlights on an empty street
smile like you never knew me
like you don’t see right through this charade
i’m not gonna pull you out this time
I’m not gonna be around
to see your bleeding heart on parade

I guess I’ll just go missing
I can see it all shattered
stained glass that got dirty
and then got swept away

I’m not playing this game
I was getting along fine
I wish you’d just leave
when I know you won’t stay

and the sirens
and the stars we can never see
and the silence
that follows us down the busy street
there’s no hiding
from the sliding back into day
why do you like the night
so much anyway?

sunrise on an empty street
smile like you never knew me
like you don’t see right through this charade
i’m not gonna pull you out this time
I’m not gonna be around
to see your bleeding heart on parade

so tell me why the light takes you apart
the patterns I knew are only traces
for all the world, I swear I’d love to make anew start
where I don’t always find truth in dark places

such dark places

Swing Shift

“Write a song about the last day of work.”



You’ve got questions
I’ve got answers
But you’re so angry
And it’s getting hard to smile

Something’s growing
Like a cancer
But it tells a lot of good jokes
While it eats me alive

Drowned in infinite wisdom
Daily 9 hour prison
Tiny cuts and attrition
Cause alarming incisions

And now half of the time
I don’t know my own mind
By the time 5 o’clock
Is drawing near
And I think you should know
I’m shutting down this whole show
Wherever I go
I’m not coming back here

I’m not blameless
I’m not blaming
But nothing here looks healthy
And all of it’s unchanging

In the hallway
Eyes on the tiling
I think about tomorrow
And I swear I can’t stop smiling

You can call these toys tools
I don’t mind a few rules
But I just can’t stay cool;
Smart ones acting like fools

I eye the clock for the time
I break out of this grind
Every second this fog
Becomes more clear
Take my badge and my phone
I’ll take the longest way home
Because I know
I’m not coming back here

I’m sure you’ll get along without me
Though I know you’ll miss doubting me so much
You don’t know the first thing about me
I hope you never stay in touch

This will go down as the day
That I made my escape
Uncertain futures will
cause me no fear
Take my badge and my phone
I’ll take the longest way home
Because I know
I’m not coming back here

I’m not coming back here