I brought a new song to a songwriting workshop with Sally Barris this past weekend, and it got panned. I learned a few things in the process.
This particular song was written for my wife. The idea for the song came from a moment when we were discussing our regular everyday things that we do, and juggle, and manage. There was a feeling of warmth between us that only couples can probably understand -- couples who have tacked life and kids, and job changes and health issues and aging parents (etc..) together for a while. At this particular moment she was also feeling down about some things she had screwed up (don't we all?).
Anyway, I smiled at her and said "you know... we make a pretty good team."
I played the original version of the song for her, nervously, and she liked it. Loved it, I'd even say. This is highly unusual -- she's my toughest critic -- to the point where I don't even play songs for her any more if I just want her approval (as opposed to her opinion).
When I offered the song at the workshop, though, the song fell flat. The meaning of the song relied on inside subtext that only my wife and I understood. It also wandered a bit (which was intentional -- another inside reference). Finally, the "pretty good team" hook didn't go over with a lot of people. I was told it felt almost negative.
I've been writing songs long enough to know that, when you offer a song for critique, you can't argue with your audience, and you can't be seeking approval. I didn't argue, but I will admit that, despite knowing intellectually that I was "too close" to the song to be objective, I really did want approval of my peers -- especially of Sally. I admit that it hurt to have the song fall so flat.
After I licked my wounds overnight, I tried to address the comments made by my peers, and re-wrote the song. The new version is what's posted on my site under "new stuff, rough cuts." This is the version that I took to our regular songwriters meeting last night.
The new version was well-received, though it still didn't seem to be a big winner. Especially with the ladies in the group.
I just wrote a new tune: "Come the Fury, Come the Flood." Here's the story behind it.
I was really sitting on the front porch of my 129-year-old house in the hills of Appalachia, with a 1934 Dobro (not mine yet -- thanks, Greg) in my lap. I really did hear thunder "down the valley." It really did "roll on over the hill." I really did see lightning strike. I really was wondering if the storm would really come in.
So the first verse was easy. Then I got stuck. So, without thinking about it much, I sent off what I had to my buddy Mike DeGiorgi, with whom I've co-written before, and said "what do you think?" He was busy, so he put me on "finger hold" until he could get to it later in the day.
Here's the email exchange I had with Mike...Me: I think the groove is kind of dark, and it would suit some dark lyrics. I like your idea of going back-and-forth between the real storm and metaphorical ones. I have to admit that one "metaphorical storm" that keeps coming to mind when I sing the lyrics is the looming terrorist threat in the world. Pretty big theme to be taking on. But I think the simplicity of the song could suit a simple message. Thing is, everybody's got a different take on the subject. I'll have to be true to mine. This is one case in particular where I think the song might teach me something in the process. Musically, I think the song is mostly going to be a showcase for slide guitar. I'm working on that part. I hear of chorus already, too -- bet you hear the same one, it's that straightforward. Him: I like the terrorism idea, but you are singing like a blind old black guy sitting on his porch in the middle of Mississippi. Might be a disconnect! Me: Yeah. But I don't mind the juxtaposition. Just have to make the message still work in that context. That's where I think maybe it needs to be pretty generic. Not sure. I'm on a roll, BTW. Got a second verse, and a shell/idea of a chorus. ... and then I went home for lunch and ended up with a first draft, including a chorus. The "terrorist threat" theme morphed into a more generic theme, which is what I wanted. I want to be topical, but I want the song to have a life. Besides, I think the chorus ended up saying it all. I actually went back to remove references in the verses that would point to more specific subject matter -- both a terrorist theme, and recent police shootings.
I was thinking about neither of these subjects very deeply -- just the common thought of how ignorance ("darkness") turns into fear, which turns into hate, which becomes endemic, which brings suffering.
Here's the chorus: Darkness turns to fear Hate gets in your blood Tears fall like rain comin' down Come the fury, come the flood
BTW... about the chorus... Here's how that came about... ( I love this stuff. I often have no idea how this stuff is going to unfold)
The original first two lines were something like: Hate turns into Fear / Fear gets in your blood.
The first line was backwards, in my mind. And besides it all starts with ignorance. "Ignorance" is not a word that will fit into this song very well -- especially the way I'm singing in. I used an app on my phone to look for a better word than ignorance, and found my way to "darkness" while washing the dishes.
I already had the second and third likes, which I liked
I needed to rhyme "blood" in the closing line.
First try: "turns everything to mud." (very lame)
Next try "From the fury, comes the flood." (not bad, but still weak)
I just played it over and over, and got into the part. "Come the fury" came to me as I stepped out onto the porch again.
One little letter. I think it made a big difference.
So... We were wondering... Does Mike get a co-write credit for this? Honestly, I don't think so. I certainly wouldn't think so if the roles were reversed. On the other hand, I really couldn't have done it without him. At the very least, I will give him credit every time I play the song. Thanks, Mike.
Oh -- one more thing. The recording you hear on my home page under "New Stuff" is rough, I admit. But keep in mind I did it all on my iPhone in about an hour. That means the drum track, two guitar tracks, and two vocal tracks. I used an app called MultiTrack DAW to record, mix, EQ, and add reverb. The click/drum track was from an app called Metronome. I used the mics on the phone for everything. Ironic that I was playing a 1934 Dobro through all that (thanks again, Greg).