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.

 

Advertisements

Song Portrait #12: Dance of the Maenads

Do you like my laundry room? Why am I wearing a muumuu? Where have I been? I will address these important topics later. Right now I speak of Dionysus and the song at hand.

Dance of the Maenads is the seventh song I have completed for my song cycle based on Greek Mythology. Just as I have struggled with Dionysus over the years, I have also struggled to complete a song inspired by Dionysus, despite the fact that I find this god of drink, lust and general debauchery to be one of the most intriguing characters in Greek Mythology. I had started writing two songs prior to this one told from the perspective of Dionysus. I was not feeling either of them and dumped them, as I always do when the process of writing a song feels forced. Then I saw a production of The Bacchae.
Euripides’ The Bacchae, tells the tale of Dionysus and his plot to seek vengeance on the city of Thebes.

Dionysus is the child of Zeus and a mortal woman by the name of Semele. Dionysus was born when the jealous wife of Zeus, Hera, made Zeus send himself down as a lightning bolt to kill the pregnant Semele. This caused the premature birth of Dionysus. Most the inhabitants of Thebes do not believe this story and think the story was made up to cover Semele’s illegitimate pregnancy by a mortal man. Semele’s own sisters believe that Zeus killed her as a punishment for lying. Dionysus shows up in Thebes with a plot to introduce Dionysian rites to the city, avenge the slander of his mother’s name, prove his divinity, and inflict pain on those who have perpetuated the belief that he was not born a god. Among those who deny his divinity is King Pentheus, who is his mortal cousin. To carry out his plot, Dionysus sends many of the women of Thebes, including his aunts, in to a mad drunken frenzy. These women, known as the Maenads, go to the hills where they use their new found feelings of liberation to engage in all sorts of debauchery and worship Dionysus. I will not give away the tragic ending, but not surprisingly, the intoxicated Maenads lose sight of who they really are and allow Dionysus to use them to carry out some despicable acts.

After I saw the play, I realized that I can not write from the perspective of Dionysus because I am not like Dionysus. I am a Maenad. After I shifted my perspective the song came out really easily. Dionysus is the god of wine, fertility, ritual madness, religious ecstacy and theatre. He is most associated with the grape harvest and wine making. He is known as a volatile god who can bring both extreme pleasure and extreme pain. The song is about the dual nature of Dionysus and all that he brings, how the the thing that makes you feel free can quickly turn into your worst nightmare.

Oh, so about my laundry room, muumuu, and disappearance from this blog. I have been very tired due to being pregnant with my second child. Today is actually my due date. I have also not had the time or privacy I need to work on this blog or music in general as of lately. Today I had a few hours of glorious free time to shoot this video in my laundry room (which doubles as my late-night-practice-with-headphones-on-room). I really hope I can make more time for working on this song cycle in 2015.

Side note #1: The production of the The Bacchae I saw was a Hard Bard production. It was a really well done, lusty, freaky, modern take on the classic Greek tragedy. The actors were all superb, especially the gentleman who played Dionysus and played him as rather flaming. If you live in Seattle I highly recommend attending a Green Stage/Hard Bard production.

Side note #2: One of my most vivid memories from high school is the moment my freshman English teacher, Ms. Johnson-Manos, bluntly stated “I AM TALKING ABOUT THE GOD OF WINE AND ORGY AND YOU ALL LOOK BORED”. Believe me, I was not bored. I was enjoying your class……so please do not despair, brilliant English teachers of the world who are forced to teach unenlightened suburban freshman who don’t realize how cool you are……you are appreciated.

Guest Song Portrait #4: Birchbark Canoe by Jeffery Straker

Video

I took a trip to the north of Saskatchewan, the Canadian province I’m from, a few summers ago. I had a concert in a town called Lac La Ronge and it was a great night in this northern community. Our hosts who we stayed with that night had a wood-fire-heated hot tub and we walked through snow to get into the thing. It was pretty magical looking up at the northern lights from the warmth of the steaming tub in the middle of a snowbank. The next day we were told by locals that we ought to stop at a place called ‘Robertson’s Trading Post’ before leaving if we wanted to see something local with a bit of fame attached to it. So we did. It was an actual real-life fully functioning trading post; like something from 100 years ago. It was full of pelts and furs and aboriginal arts and all sorts of incredible curiosities. If you weren’t coming in to Robertson’s as a trader you could just purchase stuff. I chose to buy a beautifully handcrafted canoe paddle – carved from one long piece of wood. I crammed it into my Volkswagen Jetta and headed home.

The paddle sat for a long time behind my TV, propped up against the wall of my living room as a rustic decoration for a few months before I thought much about it again. Then when I found myself just out of a relationship it took on a bit of a role. I started wondering about compromise and if I’d done enough of it in the relationship to try to make it work. Or if maybe I didn’t bend enough or do enough to make it work for the both of us.

The paddle was propped up behind my TV and as I watched the news one night I was staring at it and I had a flash visual of 2 people paddling an old canoe together across rough waters. And of course in that situation the 2 people were trying their hardest to paddle back to shore in the old canoe because their lives were at stake. There was no second guessing or bickering just 2 people trying as best they could to be a team to get the boat to shore. That’s what you’d do if you really had to – if there was no other option.

It seemed like a great metaphor for a relationship so I started typing out some lyrics into my laptop and soon I had my song ‘Birchbark Canoe’.
I hope you like it.

Here are the lyrics:
Starin at the autumn leaves, withered hangin on the trees
Is that, what I was like in the end?
Fallin far away from you, changing mind and changing hue
Saying, maybe we’re better off as friends

Flickered out, a fading dream, disappeared down clouded streams
Churning with rusted regard
Sailing out, the waters flow, to oceans of mistakes I’ve known
It’s true you only see them from afar

Throw a stone, the ripples flow, we’re driftin apart

CHORUS:
But if just you and me, were floatin out to sea
In a broken old birchbark canoe
We’d both find a way, to come back again
Together, ya that’s what we’d do
Aw, it’s true

The yellow sun, midday june, setting in a somber blue
Shadows tip-toed in, took you by the hand
They led you up a tidal wave, Left you in a blurring haze
Like you’d fallen, & just couldn’t seem to land

PC:
Throw a stone, the ripples flow and break on the sand

Chorus:
Fill/Instrumental
Chorus

Song Portrait #9: Fading Away (Echo’s Song)

Video

This song was a gift from a wood nymph.

It is hard to find time to write in between being a mom (yeah!), teaching music lessons (yeah!), and waiting tables (boo!). When the muse enters my home she usually finds me occupied, too tired to pay attention to her, or trips over a bunch of toys and leaves out of frustration. For this reason, my husband, who is also a songwriter, and I vacation separately so we can have some alone time to work on music. This year I spent two lovely September days in a cabin in the Olympics. I brought several partially finished songs with me, including this one.

This is the fourth song I have finished in my song cycle based on Greek mythology. It was inspired by another song from this series, Nemesis. Echo was a nymph who had a beautiful voice and the gift of gab. The jealous Athena punished her by placing a curse on her so that the only words she could say were the last words said to her. Echo took an interest the beautiful, yet terribly vain, Narcissus. Narcissus mocked poor Echo upon finding that she could only repeat back what he said to her. In her grief, she retreated to the mountains and withered away until all that was left of her was her voice.

When I arrived at my cabin I had an idea for using the whole tone scale somewhere in the song, the chord progression for the chorus (which ended up being the chord progression for most of the song), and the idea of “fading away” as the song’s main theme. The rest of the song took shape over the course of a day. I would take a hike and think and then come back and work on songs. I did this over and over during my trip.

So far, all of these mythology songs have surprised me with the direction they went. While I did research all the myths, I did not take a heavy hand to writing any of the lyrics. I just let my viscera guide me and every time I have been surprised by which characters I am most sympathetic toward. Narcissus is not a bad guy in this song. At least Echo does not think so. She thinks he is young and foolish. She recognizes that she is young and foolish too. She believes that if they had met later in life, after working out some of their youthful angst, they might have had a wonderful love affair. She looks back with regret and a certain melancholy sweetness as she fades away and he drowns.

Oh – back to the story and how it relates to the Nemesis song…….

Nemesis, the Goddess of Justice, witnesses Echo’s rejection and punishes Narcissus by luring him to the river. She knows that he will either drown trying to chase his own reflection, or parish by the river bank waiting for the only person beautiful enough to suite his fancy to come out of the river. In a sense this is a song about the timeless theme of young love gone bad. I hope I was successful at telling this story from a new angle.

After the video there is a beautiful slide show of photos I took while hiking.

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

Video

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.

Guest Song Portrait #2: At Sea by Chris Darby

Video

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 #5: Avant Garde Heart

Video

“Reality just is. It is the light that permeates the thin bedroom curtains on the morning of a fierce hangover, after all the nocturnal beer tears and boozy sentiments, and the self-annihilation disguised as fine art”.
-Koren Zailckas, Smashed

I read Smashed, by Koren Zailckas, four years ago and was absolutely entranced by the book. Aside from being able to relate to the author’s experiences on a personal level, I found the imagery in the book to be intoxicatingly beautiful. I found myself writing down passages, and they became the inspiration for this song. Some of the lyrics in the second and third verses were taken from the quote above.

The book is about the author’s struggle with alcohol abuse as a teenager and young adult. This book brought me to a time in my life when my social life revolved around one place – a bar in Chicago called the Inner Town Pub. I hosted the open mic night, ran the soundboard, and performed there every Thursday night for two years. The owl imagery in the song was inspired partly by the physical appearance of the bar. The bar was always very dark and everything was wood – the floor, the tables and chairs, the bar itself. There were also owls everywhere. They were gaudy owl relics from the 1960’s. The entire time I was at the bar I was surrounded by owl clocks, owl lamps, and owl figurines perched on branches and watching me with grotesquely large eyes. There was another type of owl who inhabited this bar: the patrons. They were mysterious and beautiful creatures who lived primarily nocturnal life styles. They would sit on their bar stools drinking, observing, perhaps looking for prey.

Of course, not all of the patrons were owls. As much as I was guilty of overindulgence while at the Inner Town, I was also living the life of an artist. I was writing new songs and showcasing them at the bar. I can say the same about all the people who came to the open mic every week. During this time I met many talented people who were extremely committed to the craft of songwriting. These people continue to be an inspiration to me today. Then there were the owls…….

The owls were not artists. They often posed as artists or hung out with artists as an excuse to live lives of hedonism and debauchery. This is where the inspiration for the main character in the song comes from. The narrator is a sleazy sort of guy who enjoys hanging out at this bar. He does not do anything creative, but to his credit, he does not pretend to either. He meets a young woman at the bar. He briefly enters her world and sees the things she creates. She could be a painter, a musician, a film maker, or a performance artist – it really does not matter. Either way, the man regards her work as being nonsensical. His reaction to her work is that he could have made that. In fact, anyone could have made that. Is this woman a genius creating avant-garde art, or is she a person with little talent making things just because she can in order to fit in with some sort of subculture? The owl man never finds out because he decides they should never meet in day light. He is too emotionally detached to get to know her, or anyone else well. He will go back to sitting on his perch and observing until another interesting looking mouse comes along.

When I starting writing this song, four years ago, I played it on guitar and it had a slightly different chord progression. During the chorus the progression meandered in to a different key and I could not figure out a way to bring it back to tonic. I stopped working on the song and then completely forgot about it. A few months ago I was working on a different song that had a lizard analogy in it. I realized that the character I was writing about was more like and owl. Then I remembered this song – that had been simmering on the back burner for a long time. I dug up the journal where I had written the lyrics and sat down at the piano. After all these years I was able to finish it really quickly.

Overall, this song is about a lot of things I wrestle with: the nature of art, the nature of the artist, substance abuse and substance abusers, and the fact that being a musician seems to be inseparable from living a semi-nocturnal life, where there are always owls perched on a bar stool.