The Anatomy of an Edited Song
to edit a song I've already written this year for the RealWomenRealSongs project (RWRS). That seemed easy. Rather than write a whole new song to a whole new prompt this week, go back and fix one up: tweak week.
it's a total nightmare. The great thing about RWRS is that it has forced me to be okay with sending half-baked songs out into the world. I only had a week to write it! I also have a life! These songs are not all big winners, but they are part of the process! It's an exercise in letting go! I've gotten really good at saying those things to myself. I've been riding on potential and have been totally satisfied with what could be; happy with my diamonds in the rough. Now I've got to actually go back and see if any of these songs are worth saving (what if they are not?) and then do the work to make it live up to it's potential (what if I cannot?). Ugh.
to get super meta and document the editing process. I hope it is interesting. I know I just set up as very "poor me" but the truth is I love this, deep (DEEP) down. I want to be an excellent writer. I want to improve and improve and improve and this is the way to do it. I hope that my fellow writers will relate and share with me how their process differs and chime in in the comments and that non-writes might enjoy a window into someone else's mind (and mine is all I've got--sorry).
That is my hope, but the truth is: even if no one else finds this interesting, it is providing me the motivation to get it done and think it through thoroughly. It was due on Tuesday and I haven't skipped a week yet. Time is running out before song #40 is due. This is helping me get it done.
The first version of the song:
A note about the music:
There is one note in there somewhere about how the "it makes feel crazy" part has the same melody as the chorus, so I worked to change that. I also thought that the verses and the chorus stick in the same range of notes without a lot of contrast. So, I dropped the verses a third (I think) and chanbged the melody so that builds on "it makes me feel.." and soars (that might be pushing it) on the chorus. Mary Gauthier spoke this summer about how having long vowels in the chorus makes listeners want to sing along--I keep thinking about that. I also feel good about the long notes in the chorus in contrasts to the more stuccato words in the verses. I tightened up the arrangement so that between the end of the verse ("it makes me feel crazy....I remember everything you said") and the start of the chorus ("I could cry an ocean...") I don't play through the chord progression. It's a long song and I need to find a way around of playing an empty progression every time--generally, it's nice to have some breathing room, but not when my song is over five minutes.
It took me forever to record 1) the phone kept ringing 2) because I changed the tuning, I occastionally got stumped on the guitar 3) I kept reverting to the old melody on "it makes me feel crazy"--you'll hear that I still do NOT nail it on the final video.
The "final" version:
I think it's much better, but it could probably use more work. I'd still like it to be shorter--I should probably cut the last "it makes me feel crazy" even though I like it. Editing is hard. I'm pleased for now.
I could cry an ocean, baby, I could cry the sea
but that would never change what you don't feel for me
I could call your number, baby, I could beg and please
but that would never change what you don't feel for me
I could play remember when all night long
Remember when we sat under the stars and you played me that song
I could talk who said what when 'til the sun comes up
we sat on the pier; you whispered in my ear; now you just shrug it off
It makes me feel crazy when you say it's all in my head
I remember everything you said
I could play the "feel guilty" card 'til my wrists bleed
expose my grief, blackmail you 'til you leave her and force you back to me
It makes me feel crazy when you say it wasn't that big a deal
all I have is how I feel
Tag? Verse 3B?
It makes me feel crazy when you say that's not the way things were
because now you're with her
Goal Setting: Song Analysis
I hang with a great group of songwriter/amazing people who inspire and challenge me: the superfriends. Over the years the superfriends have established a grand tradition of goal setting, particularly in regards to the musical/writing life. Sometimes they are long term (ultimate life-long, three-year, one-year). Sometimes they are mid-term (six months, nine months), and when we go to Song School at Planet Bluegrass they are short term (this week). Usually we write them down and sign them. Then, we check in over the course of time and see where we stand.
On one hand, this is very light hearted. We like to tease each other mercilessly about how the goals are going. Sometimes a person (Andy) has strange and unobtainable goals and if the rest of us are unsuccessful in dissuading the goal from being formally set, we are very successful in reminding the goal setter (Andy) of the strange and unobtainable goal and asking how it is going (knowing that it is not going anywhere). On the other hand, the goals are serious and seriously helpful business. It is great for me to clarify what I want: what I want to do, achieve, learn, see, or experience. It is great for others to hold me accountable to those things; to encourage, inspire, help, guide, and remind me. It is great for me to see my friends working hard, struggling, and making magic happen.
Ultimately, we all want the others to do well and goal setting has been a way that is helpful in making it happen AND in ensuring that we see successes and are able to acknowledge them as intentional and hard fought, not just a thing that happened (Emily's pledgemusic campaign went live and is kicking butt--high five! Hope ordered business cards--high five!).
One of my goals was to spend some time analyzing great songs. I have never done this in a formal way, which is surprising. The poetry unit in my AP World Literature class was my favorite. I wish I could have taught a whole poetry class--totally my cup of tea. So why have I not looked at the songs I love with the same analytical eye as the poems I love? I know the danger of picking things apart too much (see this poem by Billy Collins and this song by Paul Jacobson), but I also know that to get better at anything, it helps to study the greats.
My original intent when I sat down this morning was to analyze the Shangri-Las song The Leader of the Pack, one of my all-time favorite tunes, and share my deep and poignant observations. I know it is a weird choice, but it has held its grip on me for like 35 years. I adore this song. I meant to write a short introduction and get to it. Now it is a long introduction and will have to stand alone for now, but I'm hoping it will be the first in a series of posts that actually include looking at great songs and figuring out what makes them that way. Stay tuned.
PS: You should tell me what songs would be on your list greats to study.
PPS: Andy is working hard on some really worthwhile goals.
I went to an antique store a) because it is a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a Saturday morning and b) to kill time while the bike shop put together Mo's new ride.
I showed great restraint and bought neither this:
"Someone had the sense to put bells on it so you can hear it when it crawls up onto your bed in the middle of the night."
But I did get this to take to gigs:
Summer Camp for Songwriters
The Song School at Planet Bluegrass in Lyons, Colorado is summer camp for songwriters, complete with tents, traditions, canteens, and sing-alongs (oh, man, the sing-alongs!). Though I've gone to the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival many, many times, this was my third trip to Song School and the first after a four year hiatus (aka: "my teaching career").
The nuts and bolts of my Song School experience are as follows:
But the nuts and bolts are not the real story.
I got to glamp with some of my favorite people in the whole world: friends who make me laugh until I can't breathe, tell me when a line isn't working, and inspire me to write more, play better, and live well. (PS--it was soooo NOT glamping). I got to witness someone write his very first song and then play it ten minutes later; see someone play on stage (to a roaring crowd) for the very first time (and play guitar standing up for the first time!); watch folks wrestle to uncover the truth of a song and themselves under a tent in front of friends who want nothing but for them to be great; sing on stage with Hope and Tom Prasado Rao; watch Buddhist monks at work; take an unexpected field trip to dinner and a Darrell Scott/Tim O'Brien concert in Boulder with a carload of funny, funny people; sit by lamplight and pass guitars, songs, and a bottle around a circle; be lulled to sleep by the St. Vrain river rushing mere feet from my tent; have warm morning coffee with my feet in the cool dewey grass staring up at the canyon walls.
And that was just Song School. The festival brought magical sets by magical people--music to fill my soul.
Now I'm back home. The kids have gone to school, the husband to work. I have many awesome projects on my plate that I am excited to tackle; I'm trying not to panic that most of them don't have a paycheck associated with them. I'm trying to lasso all the inspiration heaped upon me last week and ride it until next year.
Pressing projects of the day: 1) plan my 40th birthday party and 2) get tickets for the Willie Nelson and Neil Young concert.
Ready, set, go!
Answering the big questions.
I do not have a solid plan for my future. What's that saying about a net appearing when you leap? I'm operating on that principle.
Do I want to teach?
People talk about teaching as a calling, which puts a lot of pressure on teachers. I love teaching. I love helping kids read and love reading. I love talking literary analysis. I love writing and talking about writing. I love high school kids. I love teachers. I do not necessarily love the public school high school English classroom at the moment. For the record (said it before, will say it again): Hastings Public Schools is great. The climate of public education in America is making the career a hard sell.
Am I going to make it in show biz?
Define "make it" and define "show biz." I am almost 40. I live in Hastings, Nebraska. The next Taylor Swift I am not, which does not break my heart even a little bit. I think our culture has a skewed view of "making it." In the most accepted definition of the term, I will never make it, which does not break my heart even a little bit.
Here is what I want: to create art I am proud of, send it out into the world and have people connect with it. I want to grow as an artist, improve, learn new instruments, get better at harmonies, write better songs. These are all things I have been doing for a long time. I have done them considerably less-- CONSIDERABLY-- since I started my teaching gig. I want to follow the things I love.
Star Belle is talking about putting together a little tour next winter. The Mrs. Dunbars are talking and planning. I am writing like a machine (thank you, RealWomenRealSongs). Both bands are at the point where we can actually make a small amount of money when we play, which is nice. Plenty of people make a modest living in music -- exponentially more than "make it." It's not the craziest thing in the world to ponder.
So, what will next year look like?
I'm still waiting for the net to appear. I have a family who knows me and loves me and has supported my leap. Unless something goes terribly wrong, we won't starve. We'll be fine. My hope is that I get paid to do things that involve education and music. Paid or not, those are two things I will continue to pursue. What that will look like, I don't know. I may have to forge my own path. I may no longer have a traditional job. I may take a year off of teaching and decide to go back. I may in fact be the next Taylor Swift. Pigs may fly. Hell may freeze. I may win the lottery leave you suckers behind. It's hard to say.
Here is what I know: last week I was on a family vacation in Wisconsin. We rented a big house (for 20 people) in the middle of a meadow surrounded by woods. Hope and I sat out in the empty garage, doors closed, played our guitars and sang with all we had. It was awesome. It was just us and it didn't matter. I felt like I had made it.
So here's to the leap. Here's to the net appearing or not. Here's to starting out my fortieth year with an open heart and schedule.
This is one of the songs we sang in that garage, written and performed by Hope Dunbar, that pretty much sums it up.
New website! New blog! There are so many new things happening and so many old things not happening that it is hard to know where to start.
I look a leap and resigned from my job. There was no incident and no hard feelings, unless you count sadness, and we should because...well...sadness is hard...and it made me sad to leave. However, it was time for me to go--a thing some people totally got and a thing some people still don't understand. But I took a leap and here I am...hanging in the air, not knowing where I am going to land. It's exciting and terrifying.
This summer has been all excitement. As soon as school got out Hope and I drove to Nashville to attend a SongFood Workshop with Darrell Scott. The next weekend Star Belle played at Swallow Hill's Denver Uke Fest where, in addition to the show, we led a workshop, went to workshops (hula dancing, anyone?), and shared the stage for a few songs with headliners The Ooks of Hazard. A week later my whole family (parents, sister, brother, nieces, nephews) celebrated my mom and dad's 50th wedding anniversary in Mexico. The NEXT weekend Hope and I played the Flatwater Music Festival as The Mrs. Dunbars. We spent the Fourth of July at a bluegrass jam in the Nebraska Sandills, camping, relaxing, playing in song circles, and drinking cowboy coffee off the fire in the morning served by a real live cowboy. Also, I've also been writing a song a week all year, with songwriters from all over the country, as part of Cary Cooper's RealwomenRealSongs (27 so far!).
Whew! A lot of music. A lot of travel. A lot of time with the people I love. That's what I call a successfull summer. What comes next? We shall see....
What I'm reading
What I'm listening to
My Favorite Murder Podcast, Someone Knows Something Podcast, The Cars Greatest Hits