I admit it: I like show tunes. I like opera, I like classical music and I like Tin Pan Alley. I like Gilbert and Sullivan and I like The Wizard of Oz. I hate that The Beatles did “’Til There Was You,” but I like The Music Man. So when the inspiration for “Patience on Approval” hit, I decided to see how far I could go with the melodies and modulations that I associate with pit orchestras. Specifically, I decided to admit as many chord changes as the melody might demand. Now, I’m quite proud to have written a pretty good blues song with a verse and a chorus (unbluesy, that) but zero chord changes, namely, “Criminal Character.” But as soon as I received the inspiration for “Pat on App,” I knew that the song would have a lot of chord changes.
“And what was that inspiration?” I hear you cry. Some years ago, a young friend of mind, a man in his early teens, explained that one of the things he liked about The Specials was the positive content of their lyrics, the emphasis on self-control, for example, and consideration of the future. This I found quite thought-provoking since I habitually have valued rebellion, edginess and other mildly negative postures in popular music. And I remembered a bizarre line from a bizarre eighteenth-century poem, Jubilate Agno, by the bizarre, fanatical and borderline psychotic Christopher Smart in praise of his much-loved cat Jeffrey:
For he can set up with gravity, which is patience upon approbation.
I determined immediately to convert the line into a song, but I proceeded according to two cautions: first, no conflict no drama; and second, you can’t say “approbation” in a pop song. Well, really you shouldn’t say “approbation” at all since the word “approval” does the trick. I allow myself “saprophytic” (in a song “about” science) and reference to the Crimean war (in a song about not knowing stuff), but I draw the line at “approbation.” So instead of praise I would transpose the line into the key of critique, and instead of “approbation” I would say “approval.” So the refrain, addressed to the obstreperous beloved, would be:
Why don’t you stand out [instead of “set up”] for some patience on approval
So a long line, 13 syllables, with a free approach to harmonic structure, i.e., lots of modulations. The whole song would address the beloved to assert that she should change her ways, exercise self-control, think of the future and so forth. Note that the allusion to Smart effectively reverses the trajectory of Smart’s expression: instead of praise for the patience of Jeffery, chastisement of the impatience of the beloved. The value, patience, remains the same, but the direction of its application is different. This factor plays into our discussion about intellectual property; see Joseph’s post immediately below. By recontextualizing the original, I change it. Originality mean a new synthesis; creativity is never ex nihilo.
Interestingly, the complexity of the chords inspired a greater complexity of imagery than I am usually capable of: auditory learner, you know. When do people express impatience? Well, three occasions come to mind, which happen also to be three common topics in rock lyrics: the telephone, the automobile, the romantic relationship. So:
You never wait on the telephone line
Don’t leave no message on the voice machine
Don’t get an answer you sure enough get enraged
. . . .
You sent twelve SUV’s go flaming to hell
And forty red lights screaming after them
The way you drive make a sober judge drunk in shame
Aw you’re crazy in that Korean car
. . . .
You’re saying come on baby make me feel good
You’re saying make me feel good yesterday
Be patient when you’re playing phone tag, let patience moderate your road rage and be patient with me, Dear Beloved. Now, let’s deal with the issue of autobiographical reference. To be completely honest, Dear Reader, you should grow up. Johnny Cash did not shoot a man in Reno just to watch him die. My actual beloved (yes, I already have one, teeny boppers) is a careful driver with nice manners on the phone. And “feeling good” is not the be-all and the end-all. Nor is “having fun.” As the song says:
Why don’t you try to just have a good time
We’ve been here before. Because we have but little time on earth, let’s try to make it good. Certainly, nobody likes moralizing (just as nobody likes sweeping generalization), and the conventional rock persona is, as I’ve mentioned, the outlaw, the rebel. But here I indulge a little pedantry. Song lyrics express feelings, and drama means drama, i.e., conflict. Thus, many songs will be angry, heartbroken, etc. But sometimes I just want to say, Be Good, treat others the way you want to be treated, do the right thing. And I think “Patience on Approval” evades the charge of didacticism by dramatizing the conflict of a lover who is losing patience with the beloved’s lack of patience. Okay, it’s still didactic, but the didacticism is buffered, somewhat, by dramatic distancing.
My cherished co-workers, Adam, Joseph and Julian, were extremely patient when we worked this tune up. Much burden falls on Adam when we work up tunes with many chord changes, but he rose to the occasion admirably. Indeed, the organ sound dominates the mix of “Patience on Approval.” Obviously we cannot, nor would we want to, create the sound of a show tune with our tatty little rock band. Instead—and this was very much a process of evolution—we channeled Booker T and the MG’s. You probably have noticed that I allude (har!) to Steve Cropper every chance that I get—the parallel sixths on the bridge of I’m Hurting exemplify the principle. (I suppose someday I’ll compile a list of my Guitar Heroes, but I would hate to leave out my zillion heroes, even just the musical ones, who don’t happen to play guitar.) So on “Pat on App” I get to lay way back while Booker, I mean Adam, holds down the chords on organ. In the mixdown Lord Erudite (speculating here) seems to have given the bass a highly understated tone—easy on the highs, easy on the lows, almost an uprite bass or organ-pedal sound. Great swing on the high hat, which is mixed a little hotter than usual. Indeed, and I suppose this is obvious, all the parts come through with greater clarity in a lower-volume song than in a big, rock barn-burner.
Which brings me to the guitar solo, which was one of the most difficult I’ve ever faced. In rock guitar one rarely has to improvise over chord changes, especially over as great a number of chords as in “Patience on Approval.” At the risk of self-praise, I do observe that I improvise my solos. Hence, consistent quality will doubtless be an issue. I admit that this one required several takes, but each take was unique. And I am especially pleased with myself in that the final version of the solo (i.e., the one Lord E ended up using) is not patched together from several takes, but is one long, organic musical idea. I have no objection to patching together a part—many great recordings have employed that technique—but it pleases me that I was able to play this solo in one breath, as it were.
In my down moments, I doubt whether Louder Than Dirt will ever achieve public success. I think we’re good enough, I think the performances are strong and I think the material is accessible and of a high (enough) quality. But stylistically we’re all over the map. I realize that this is a bit of praising with faint damn, but I expect that folks who like the stronger rock tone may not like the soul music of “Patience on Approval.” And I don’t know how “heavy” the soul is in “Pat on App,” but it’s a note that I feel quite strongly belongs on Madness and Morals. The Integrity part of Integrity, Creativity, Loudness is that we do our best with what we have to work with. I swear, if you give our various styles a listen, you’ll find some things to like.