Joseph and I had a most enjoyable conversation tonight. We discussed the great good fortune of having found our passions, our calling, Joe’s movies, my music at a young age. (Which is not to say that Joe, who is a great filmmaker who uses Louder Than Dirt music exclusively, is not passionate about music, but that he is intensely passionate about movies, nor that I am not passionate about music, for I certainly am, so we make movies and music together, GET IT?) And other topics followed, Joseph emphasizing more the anomy that accompanies the excess of consumable, disposable content, and I emphasizing more LOUDER THAN DIRT IS THE GREATEST ROCK BAND IN THE WORD and afterward wrote the song that contains these lyrics. Ah, but first I quoted Yeats
And so I must go down where all the ladders start,
A young songwriter friend of mine (you know this is DK speaking unless otherwise noted, right?) asked me how to write better lyrics, “to use metaphors and stuff.” Kind of a big mistake, given my lust for commentary. Indeed, I’m afraid that’s all I gave him, commentary—I think I just interpreted some of my lyrics instead of a. explaining where the song came from and b. giving general advice for songwriting. I have noted that I am also (in my humble opinion) a lousy guitar teacher. Part of the problem is that I’m self-taught, but the bigger part of the problem is that I started playing musical instruments in early childhood and can’t remember, much less come up with a method for, the steps in one’s technical development. I was rather a late bloomer as a songwriter, but the situation is similar. I’ve blotted from my memory the bad songs that one must write before establishing a decent batting average. Well, I’ve been fretting and worrying over this topic, and as I have mentioned in earlier posts, I am all too happy to display my frets and worries Continue reading →
“STF” is the Parental Advisory song on Madness and Morals. Sorry. It’s always something. The refrain, which gives the songs its title, is “Shoot that f—– where he stands.” Consequently, I intone the f-word 10 or 12 or 16 times throughout the piece. Honestly, I think it’s more shocking that I vow to shoot somebody all those times than that I should use a forbidden word. In any case, I feel I must shoulder the responsibility of justifying abusive language and reference to violence in the happy little pop tunes that make up Madness and Morals and in much of popular culture.
I recently took my daughter, who is 14, to see Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, which I found an excellent adaptation of one of my favorite novels. In one scene, a young woman is shot dead as part of the torture of an English intelligence officer captured by the Soviets. This event, a horrible shock in the film, is not in the novel, as I recall. I felt bad about putting my sensitive young daughter through that shock and expressed my regret after the movie. My daughter, with surprising wisdom, replied, “Well you know, in movies you have to show. . . .” not just tell. And I realized that we accept violence in art so long as it is integrated into the artwork and not just an optional extra. This fact has been established for quite a while, Continue reading →
Now we’re getting somewhere. Now we are at the heart both of the social character of art and of the essence of creativity. You should really listen to Madness and Morals in the order that we carefully devised for the songs, the order that begins with “Suspicions.” If you listen to the proper sequence of songs, you will hear the album open with the bracing chords of “Suspicions”: chang-CHANG-ka-chank-chank. And if I had heard those chords in my childhood, I would have immediately recognized them as the opening of a song that I loved. Now, I would have been mistaken because the chords are not exactly the same as those in the popular song, but they are certainly close enough to exhibit a strong family resemblance. If I had heard the opening of “Suspicions” in the tender days of youth, I would have recognized it as the opening of “Not Fade Away” by the Rolling Stones. Of course, my sophisticated reader will have already corrected my youthful self: the Rolling Stones performed a distinguished version of this, one of many great songs by Buddy Holly. But “Not Fade Away” is not by the Stones. Beyond doubt the Stones (or their handlers) acquired the use of the song by the permission—doubtless accompanied by royalty payments—of the Holly estate, or whoever owned the copyright at that point in the mid-sixties. So while I borrowed an instrumental figure, the Stones presumably paid for the use of a whole song. Several points are worth noting here. For one thing, let’s not sentimentalize copyright as protecting artists (or their heirs). Once established, copyright is a portable, not to say fungible, asset to be bought and sold subject to market conditions. And the market for copyrights can’t be as favorable today as it was in the sixties. At the risk of oversimplification, for I’m sure there are exceptions, digital media are Continue reading →
Honestly, folks, I don’t know if discussion of the origins or inspirations for these songs is the least bit helpful. Some critic once stipulated that the author’s intention is neither available nor useful. Nevertheless, I derive double pleasure, selfishly, from these postings. First, I enjoy recollecting the process of composition. Secondly, and I hope more importantly, I enjoy contributing my special insight as composer and, along with the magnificent artists with whom I collaborate, performer. That is, I hope to add to the world’s reception of certain artworks, which happen to be humbly my own and my band’s. Unfortunately, my reminiscing over the genesis of the songs exposes me as a quiet, bookish, somewhat depressive scholarly type alongside the loud, boisterous, obnoxious rocker of the public persona that I do indeed wish to project. It’s not that one is the real me and the other a falsehood; rather my true character is fractured and, um, variegated. Not necessarily in a pretty way. So, when I tell the truth, I use 5-dollar words and worse, drop names. Many of my dear readers probably regard the mentions of Manet and Wilde and Keats, to say nothing of Hendrix and Pink Floyd and Robert Johnson, as showing off or parasitism. On the other hand, if I’m truthful, I must attribute my creativity to these great masters, of whom I am aware and my awareness of whom I can’t just put away. So anyway, “Polytoxic.” See, I have to name Keith Richards and James Joyce. Sorry. Continue reading →
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. Continue reading →