DK goes song-by-song thru Madness & Morals: Patience on Approval

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

DK goes song-by-song thru Madness & Morals: Marche Pacifiste

Music is different from the other arts, isn’t it?  “It’s here and then it’s gone,” sings the speaker of “No Expectations,” one of the Rolling Stones’ great ballads.  But not quite accurately.  I’m not sure that you can capture this quality of music, which is also the quality of our experience of time.  Not, first here then gone; only, passingly here.  Some of these ideas are in the background of “Marche Pacifiste.”  Now I’ve complained elsewhere about the difficulties of discussing instrumental music, but I think that “Marche Pacifiste” actually gives me plenty to talk about.  And so I was noodling around on the guitar, or perhaps dumplinging, because I was playing in my beloved mid-tempo (the tempo of “Cathy Ann” and the folk song “East Viginia”) fat chords, not long, skinny lines of single notes.  In the key of B no less.  And I thought how hymnlike sounded the chords I was playing.  And I Continue reading

DK goes song-by-song thru Madness and Morals: “I’m Hurting”

“I’m Hurting” is probably the most traditional song on Madness and Morals.  My Communicative Education partner, Shane http://communicativeed.wordpress.com/, heard it for the first time last night and observed that it sounds like “Elvira” by the Oak Ridge Boys.  He’s totally right, I discovered to my consternation.  The beat is certainly the same, but then virtually all of what in the U.S. we call “country music” has the bum-chicka bum-chicka rhythm.  The melody, at least of the first line or two, is pretty explicitly that of “Mercy, Mercy,” the first song on the Rolling Stones’ Out of Our Heads (1965), but the beat is the old timey bum-chicka.  So today’s issue, Dear Reader, is the problem of intellectual property and copyright and ultimately the nature of creativity.  On one hand, authors legitimately demand to be recognized for their Continue reading

DK goes song-by song thru Madness and Morals: Disco Superman (Michel Foucault)

Now this is a weird song.  I remember next to nothing about writing it, although it is one of the most recent songs on Madness and Morals.  And yet the refrain

Go head on

and even the melody of the refrain have been on my mind since I was a teenager.  (I’m 39 now, approximately.  Har.)  Where to begin?  I guess I should begin with the question of my attitude toward Michel Foucault, but a more interesting question is that of how (and whether) an author’s attitudes—or any of his conscious thoughts—manifest themselves in the work of art.  Obviously, there is no general answer to the question: various artists impose themselves variously in their artworks.  Equally obviously, the negatively connotative word “impose” tips the hand of my own taste.  In an earlier post I went on quite Continue reading

DK goes song-by-song thru Madness and Morals: Half in Two

One of the cool, unusual things about Louder Than Dirt is that everybody sings.  I want to start today’s post with a discussion of what a great singer Adam, who sings “Half in Two,” is.  Adam is half of the Lawsky brothers—all the great southern bands have brothers in them—and he’s the youngest member of Louder Than Dirt.  He is what in baseball you would call a student of the game.  He grew up listening to the popular bands of the grunge and post-grunge eras (he still loves the Red Hot Chili Peppers), and the cool, almost affectless tone can be heard in Adam’s singing.  He doesn’t use a big vibrato and he doesn’t bend a lot of notes.  He doesn’t sing with gush.  But he sings with great sincerity (“Integrity”: one of LTD’s cardinal virtues); he is himself.  He himself has a lot of feeling, a lot of soul, but he doesn’t use vocal gimmicks to portray his soulful feelings.  One could Continue reading

DK goes song-by-song thru Madness and Morals: “He Ain’t Here”

Since we started work on our last CD, Oily Little Rainbows, and really since Louder Than Dirt got together, I have been in a creative frenzy.  Two factors account for this circumstance, I think: first and most important is the stimulation and support I get from Adam, Joseph and Julian; second, I made a conscious decision to give my imagination free rein.  That is, I tried not to censor my creativity with considerations about, primarily, public appeal.  My formulation has been, “to write the songs my imagination gives me.”  So, for example, “For Certain” is the only pop song I’ve ever heard that mentions the Crimean War—the joke being that one doesn’t know something about it, namely, its cause.  Similarly, “Bacteria” mentions mitochondria, spirochetes and “saprophytic workers.”  So I have a big vocabulary.  So kill me.  “He Ain’t Here” originates in a Biblical reference, although I am an egregious unbeliever. Continue reading

A slight variation from alphabetical order: song-by song thru Madness and Morals: For Certain

Yeah, this is a weird song.  “For Certain” gives me a good chance to talk about theme since I think this song has a theme, but I don’t really think about theme.  I remember the composition of it quite well.  I guess I have to revise my earlier statement that I usually write the chorus first because here is another example of starting with the verse.  Many times, I won’t say most of the time because it’ll prove false, many times I write in my head often while taking a walk or driving.  But this time I wrote pretty much the whole song with a Continue reading

DK goes song-by-song thru Madness and Morals: Criminal Character

This is one of those songs that I wrote fairly quickly, but I wrote about twice as many verses as we ended up using. Beginning writers in any genre: It’s a lot easier to cut than to add. “Criminal Character” has been a joy from its inception. As I recall the genesis of its composition, I am struck by how often a song grows from the mating of two unrelated concepts, often, as in this case, a musical idea and a verbal idea. I have to speak of them in sequence, but I honestly don’t remember which came first. The musical idea springs (or sprang) from a song, “John the Revelator” by Son House, that the Lawsky Brothers and I have done since nearly the beginning. (A song that, by the way, Adam sings the hell out of.) JtR is a twelve-bar blues, but it has no chord changes. You can feel where the IV and especially the V would come, but it just drones in its home key, which for us has always been the guitar key of E. I love drone and work it in whenever I can, but a listen to Continue reading

DK goes song-by-song thru Madness and Morals: Cigarette

Kind of hard to talk about instrumentals, I guess, but I will try. I know, I know, there is singing at the end of “Cigarette,” but, let’s face it, it’s an instrumental. The singing is a big choral group, an orchestral and hence instrumental sound. “Cigarette” is a two minute oratorio. Early on in the song’s genesis I came up with the chord progression, which is a modification of the old I-VI-II-V, repeating the first half, I-VI, before repeating the second half, II-V. I pretty much simultaneously came up with the melody, which I somewhat later harmonized. It was a good while, several months, before I devised the chorus. Continue reading

DK goes song-by-song thru Madness and Morals: Beloved Tease

If “Bacteria” reaches the ideal state in which words and music came together seamlessly, “Beloved Tease” followed a far different progress to become a really good song. I think “Beloved Tease” is a great song despite—or perhaps because of—its unusual genesis. I recorded a demo as I do with pretty much all my songs, which in this case consisted of the opening riff and the verse. I presented it to the band as an instrumental. All my bandmates expressed approval [Digression: my bandmates are extremely nice people, intelligent, considerate—top notch guys. I’m always very enthusiastic when I write a song; I know they can’t all be winners, but my bandmates invariably give each new song a chance and give me boundless encouragement.] for the song, but Joseph suggested that I add lyrics to it. Now, adding lyrics is not my preferred approach. I like it best when, as with “Bacteria” words and music come together. I think you can sometimes tell which comes first or which carries greater weight in less well-composed songs. But here I faced an interesting challenge since the unusual rhythm of the verse, arising without words, differed from my usual lyrical rhythms, which tend in the direction of iambickish pentametroid. Continue reading