Song Portrait #14: Middleman

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Many years ago I was bumming around the Pioneer Square neighborhood of Seattle, and I decided to visit the Gold Rush Museum.  The museum celebrates the history of Seattle during the years of the Klondike Gold Rush. In 1896 gold was discovered in the Yukon Territory of Canada.  When word of this reached Seattle, merchants rushed to make Seattle the official “Gateway to the Gold Fields”.  A rumor existed that prospectors would not be allowed to enter Canada without a year’s worth of supplies.  Shop owners quickly exploited this rumor.  Why mine for gold when they could mine the miners? 

Most artists are gold miners.  We give up comfort and stability to chase after a dream that will probably not come true.  The gold we are mining for is recognition.  Most of us will compose/paint/choreograph/sing/write/act/dance/perform whether or not we receive any recognition, but having one’s work recognized is the ultimate golden nugget.  It is the chance to quit that soul sucking day job.  It is the chance to have more time and money to put into creating more art. It is a validation that the trek was worth it.  Of course, where there are miners, there are always folks waiting to mine the miners. 

I started writing songs in the late 90’s and became very serious about pursuing this whole singer-songwriter thing around 2000, so when I started this endeavor I was living in a pretty low tech world.  Independent musicians were starting to have websites, but social media sites did not exist.  It was normal not to have a cell phone and smart phones were still years in the future. That said, calls and emails were not expected to be responded to instantaneously.  Sending a venue a CD was a normal part of the booking process. 

Over the next decade technology advanced tremendously!  Making decent quality recordings and videos became cheap and easy. Social media sites sprang up.  It became increasingly easier for independent musicians to manage their careers and book their own shows and tours.  Club owners and bookers found themselves overwhelmed by independent artists trying to book shows via email and social media.  It is not surprising that a market opened up for a bunch of middlemen. 

Over the years I’ve watched so many artists who are truly talented and original pour money into companies like Sonic Bids or X-Ray and never get anything in return.  Even music teachers get screwed by companies like Take Lessons.  All of these middlemen have created a business model that aids consumers and creates endless frustration and financial hardship for musicians.  So why do we go through the middlemen?  Because more and more venues or festivals will not listen to your material unless it is submitted through Sonic Bids.  Because the first thing that comes up when I google “guitar lessons Seattle” is TakeLessons.com. 

After I went to the Gold Rush Museum I had the idea of writing a song about mining the miners that used the Gold Rush analogy.  The idea sat in the back of my head for years.  Then this song just came out.  It came out without out any references to Victorian era Seattle, panning for gold, or trekking through the Canadian wild.  I was just pissed one day and wrote this song in about an hour.  It also came out with power chords. 

Power chords are two note chords consisting of just the root and fifth of the chord.  They are usually found in punk rock and are easy to play.  I have to admit, I’ve prided myself on being a good finger picker and playing fancy jazz chords for a long time, but the last three songs I have written on guitar (I See Gold, Las Vegas Bride and this song) have been all power chords.  I have been really into Amy Ray for the past few years….she rocks.  I think I am having a power chord revolution.

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Song Portrait #13: Las Vegas Bride

It has been almost an entire year since my last post.  I wrote my last blog entry on January 1st, 2015 and gave birth to my second child the next day. Somewhere in that post I stated that I hoped to work more on this blog in 2015, knowing full well that this was probably not going to happen. But that is just me wanting to have it all: my music, my family, a roof over my head (unfortunately not provided by music…) and a fabulous blog about songwriting.

Really, though, I do have it all. My two sons and husband rock my world. I do manage to find time to be a mom, work for money, and work for personal fulfillment. Some of my creative projects have just had to simmer on the back burner. They are simmering and my creative kitchen has some interesting aromas coming out of it. One thing that has happened quite a bit this year is going back and finishing unfinished songs that I started writing years ago. I never try to force writing, so if a song creeps out the back door or just tells me to “fuck off,” I listen. Sometimes they come back and tell me they are ready to be finished. Such is the case with Las Vegas Bride.

I started writing this song in 2006. Originally the song was about someone who marries the wrong guy.   Most of the lyrics and the chord structure were very different from what they are now. The song told me to fuck off. Between that time and now I’ve been through many phases of my life. I watched other people my age cohabitant, get married and have babies while I lived in a studio apartment with my cat. Sometimes I looked at them with jealousy – as if it must be nice to be so normal and do what you are supposed to do. I wondered if I was chosen to be a slave to the muse or if I was truly in a state of arrested development and destined to become a crazy cat lady. Then I actually did cohabitant, get married, have babies and move to a not very cool neighborhood.

A few years after I stopped working on this song, it came back to me. I was in my house (which is in a cul-de-sac) with my first baby.  I spent so much  time walking him in the stroller that I had little time to actually play an instrument. While I was taking these long walks I worked out this song in my head. While some of the imagery and ideas come from the older version, it really became an entirely different song.  When I finally got the chance to sit down with it at the piano I found I had written it in a key I hate (A flat!).  I played with it on piano, and then it went to guitar. Then it went back to piano in a different key (A…with a modulation to B flat, much better). Finally it made it’s way to guitar in the new key and said “I am complete now”.

So what is this song about? The choices we make in various emotional states, the struggle between what we want to do and what we are supposed to do, what happens when multiple dreams can not co-exist in one’s life, and my personal lifelong conflict between wanting to have a family and wanting to live in a van.

 

Year of Snakes is accepting submissions!

It has been about a year and a half since I started this blog about songwriting.  I started it during the Year of the Snake as a way of showcasing and celebrating my songwriting during my Chinese zodiac year.  If you are interested in the snake and my relationship with this mystical creature, read the first two entries!  Even though the Year of the Snake is over, I will be keeping the name because I think the life of the snake is a good analogy to songwriting on multiple levels.  Writing a good song makes me feel like I have managed to unhinge my jaw and devour something larger than myself.

It is now the Year of the Horse.  Last year I featured a few “guest song portraits”, featuring other songwriters I like.  This year I plan on using this blog/vlog mainly to showcase the talents of other songwriters.  I don’t have much time to make these videos, and I want to hear more or YOUR excellent songs.  That said, I am accepting submissions:

Guidelines:

1. Please read and view the blog/vlog so you can see what the format is.  The format includes a video as well as a written piece about the song.

2. I am interested in showcasing songs that have an interesting story behind them or interesting compositional elements.

3. Your video needs to be posted to YouTube, so I can access it easily.  I am more concerned with good audio quality than good video quality, but please make the video as high quality as you can.  The written piece can be about the inspiration behind the song, the process of writing the song, the compositional elements of the song, or all of the above.

4.  If you have a submission, send an email to erinherself@erinjordan.com with a link to your YouTube video and a draft of your written piece.  I will get back to you as soon as I can!

5. If you send a submission please subscribe the blog!  You can also “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

 

Guest Song Portrait #3: Had It All by Heather Stewart

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I met up with my very good friend and fellow songwriter, Brad Swanson, for a co-writing session. I brought in this melody with the idea that it would be a traditional love song. We got to talking about life and death and love, as you do in these songwriting sessions. My father had recently and somewhat unexpectedly passed away which was an extreme wake up call for me. I went on a tirade to Brad about how I wanted to make sure on my death bed I was proud of taking risks, facing my fears and accomplishing my goals. Thus, the song was born. It is a love song of sorts, but a love of life and taking the chance to have it all.

Song Portrait #8: Black Widows – Featuring piano from Shoreline’s Piano Time

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Black Widows was a writing assignment to write a fun song.

I’ll explain further:
When I tell people I am a musician a common response I’ve gotten over the years is, “That must be really fun!” Fun? I wouldn’t describe playing, or writing music as being fun. Here are some terms that describe my relationship with music: gut-wrenching, therapeutic, spiritual, life affirming, insightful, exploratory, and empowering. Music has been an all consuming force in my life.  Fun is a term I use to describe things like laying in bed and eating ice cream while watching Project Runway.

As a singer-songwriter, I have learned that sometimes all those gut-wrenching and therapeutic songs are songs that are just for me, not songs for an audience. I have also learned that when I let music become all consuming I get eaten alive.

Black Widows was an exercise in lightening up and writing a fun song. I had been playing with this rather fun piano part for a while. Instead of digging deep in to my soul for some lyrics I came up with this story about a black widow. “Noises in the night and little things that bite” are fun, you ask? Sure. They are fun in a gleeful, yet macabre way. I already explained in the first paragraph how I struggle with fun.

I wrote this song for my band at the time, The Whiskey Romance, to perform. Since then I have gone from writing mostly songs about myself, to writing mostly songs about other characters. I find that the content still comes from my soul and that the songs are just as gut-wrenching, theraputic, spiritual, life affirming, insightful, exploratory, and empowering without slipping in to boring, whiney singer-songwriter mode. At least that is my intention.

NOW ABOUT THE PIANO!
The city of Shoreline, Washington has hosted Piano Time for two years now. Piano Time is a month long installation of music and art throughout the city of Shoreline. Twelve pianos were made in to pieces of art by local artists and displayed throughout the city during the month of August. The pianos were open to the public to play. I managed to make it to nine of the pianos. A friend of mine was tuning the pianos all month and gave me a tip that the Alice in Wonderland piano was in the best condition. I fell in love with this piano when I saw it.  I think Black Widows was the perfect song to play on it. Both are playful, yet dark. Whimsical, yet creepy. The artist who painted this is Heather Carr. I checked out her website and really enjoyed entering her world.  Her website is: http://heatherunderground.com .

Guest Song Portrait #2: At Sea by Chris Darby

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On Sunday, December 7th, 1941, planes from Japan attacked the United States Naval base at Pearl Harbor, off the coast of Hawaii. It’s a story that most people growing up in the United States know well. My grandfather, Thomas O’Reilly, was there on that morning, and lived to tell the tale. Many were not so lucky. Today, at 93 years of age, he is one of the remaining Pearl Harbor survivors. He has a great many stories about that incident, and the Second World War, and I consider myself lucky to be able to visit him whenever I visit southern California, where he has made his home.

One of the things he has told me over the years might seem a relatively minor thing in the scheme of stories he has to tell. But it resounded with me a great deal the moment I heard it. We were talking about customs in the Navy, and he told me that when a sailor is lost at sea, instead of listing them as ‘deceased’, or ‘missing in action’, they are referred to as ‘at sea’. I thought that was a most poetic way of putting it, and now I often think of those who have passed as being at sea. It helps me keep them in my thoughts.

Just before Thanksgiving of last year, a very good friend of mine passed away from cancer. Even though she had been diagnosed with it for about a year before that, I thought there was no way she wouldn’t survive. Life has a funny way of surprising us sometimes. Even now, I still can’t believe she is gone.

A couple of months after I got the news, I reflected back to the Navy custom that my grandfather had relayed to me. I thought I could base a song around it, and dedicate it to my friend. This is what I came up with. It still needs some work, but it is the song I am the most proud of at this moment.

This video was recorded in a cabin in southern Missouri, where I have just started work on my first solo album. This song will definitely appear on that. I will be residing in this cabin until the album is complete.

At Sea

The ocean breeze sings me a song tonight
These gentle winds will roll me to sleep tonight
Out here at sea, these stars will be my guide
These soft winds will roll me to sleep

When everything is lonely I’m at peace
Forgive me now forgive me, for I may never leave
I’ll stay on this ship and we will sail
Away, away, away into the pale

The ocean breeze sings me a song tonight
These gentle waves will roll me to sleep tonight
Out here at sea, these stars will be my guide
These soft winds will roll me to sleep

I was a weary captains son
And I woke upon the water in the end
No duties left, and nothing to defend
Now I am just a lonely ocean song

The ocean breeze sings me a song tonight
These gentle waves will roll me to sleep tonight
Out here at sea, these stars will be my guide
These soft winds will roll me to sleep

Song Portrait #4: Nemesis

I had been working on a song about Narcissus when I got sidetracked by the detail of how the beautiful boy, Narcissus, ended up at the river bank where he ultimately met his demise.  Researching the story led me down another path which led to the creation of a whole other song.

Narcissus was quite vain and proud.  He was admired by many suitors, but none of them were good enough for him.  One of these suitors was a nymph by the name of Echo.  She had been a talkative nymph who was admired by Aphrodite for her voice and song.  This ended when she tricked Hera, the jealous wife of Zeus.  Hera put a curse on Echo so that the only thing she could say was the last word said to her.  Echo fell in love with Narcissus and followed him through the woods.  When he finally met this strange creature who could only repeat back his own last words, he rejected her.  After this, the heartbroken Echo withered away in despair, until only her voice remained.

The goddess Nemesis soon heard of this and decided to punish Narcissus by luring him to the river, where he would become mesmerized by the only creature perfect enough for him – his own reflection.  The name Nemesis is derived from the Greek word nemein, which means “to give what is due”.  She is an avenger of evil deeds and undeserved good fortune.  She is also a spirit of divine retribution for those who fall victim to hubris.  The words “echo” and “narcissist” clearly have meanings derived from the characters in the story.  The word “nemesis”, however has evolved to mean something different in modern English.  According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the definition of nemesis is  “one that inflicts retribution or vengeance” or “a formidable and usually victorious rival or opponent”.   Most people associate the word with vengeance, when in actuality, Nemesis is a goddess of justice.

I starting working on this song during the peak of Occupy Wall Street, so I was thinking a lot about the ideas of justice and redistribution.  I worked on it a little bit over the course of a few days and the song pretty much wrote itself.  I’d say it is 1/3 current events and 2/3 classic mythology.  I am finding that every instance in modern life has some parallel mythological story – and that is why these stories are so loved and continue to be told.

So, what happened to Narcissus?  Well, because of Nemesis and his own hubris, he did perish.  I do not necessarily think of him as a bad guy though.  You will see how I feel about him when I finish his song – which I am still working on.