This week’s entry is an entirely new recording: “Came Round.” On one or two days in the summer of ’99 I wrote and recorded maybe five song fragments with nonsense lyrics that featured dual-vocals throughout the whole thing a la the Byrds. I was contemplating starting a folk duo that would feature collaborative songwriting and wanted to have some material that was purposely unfinished, with lyrics I had every intention of changing, so that the collaborative process could then polish them into songs. Well, of course I never ended up doing the folk duo, and my collaborative attempts in the future never made use of these. Still, I found the process of writing music with carelessly terrible lyrics and no obligation to finish developing the song idea very liberating and easy.
The first song from that batch proved to be something that really stuck in my head, with its bad lyrics intact: “You came ’round; I saw your shoes. You came ’round, and I felt used. You came ’round; I smelled your breath. You came ’round, I felt my death.” Well, at least those are a little cute, but the lyrics I had over the chorus were much worse, rhyming “crossing” with “lossing.”
Fast forward to the present, when the song has become one of the first things I play on my acoustic as a fun finger-picking exercise. How could I turn this cliche fragment with goofy lyrics into a full song? I determined while playing through it a couple of weeks ago that it should have a loud part in the middle starting on a G chord, but that’s as far as I got. Well, in the day before recording this, I wrote the bridge lyrics, wrote another couple of verse lines, decided to have the choruses be just instrumental, and, finally, figured out something to play under the loud part, which I’d originally envisioned as less repetitive chord-wise, but just kind of fell into being what it now is.
…and this brings me to my topic, which is related to last week’s: manufactured inspiration. Since completing this last week, I’ve gotten some comments that this is one of the best things I’ve come up with, that the intense part in the middle is especially rousing, which (quoting one friend of mine) “probably had something to do with the time I wrote it.” But here’s the thing: there’s nothing personal going on with me right now (i.e. when I wrote that part), or in 1999 for that matter, that justifies the level of passion I put in there. The lyrics draw on a couple of sentiments exaggerated from those I’ve either had in the past or have imagined someone else having, and I definitely was looking to recapture some of the magic of my last full acoustic album, “Spanish Armada,” recorded back in 1993 when I was young and angst-filled in the throes of unrequited love and loss and all. …But I’m not really feeling any of that now; instead, this was just fun and cathartic.
This is perhaps not such a great discovery. When an author puts drama in a book, or even more telling, when a filmmaker goes through the painstaking process of getting some emotional moment up on the screen, it’s not as if he or she is, through the many grueling hours required to do that, all choked with emotion about some personal tragedy. It’s imagined, and then manufactured and dressed up to get the imagined emotion out there, but with songwriting, we expect people to be writing passionately about their personal experiences, which in turn leads to the feeling that as an older person in a settled relationship and a generally happy situation, I should have nothing much interesting to write about, and for sure, my output has slowed tremendously now that I don’t need so much songwriting as therapy. So, unless I just want to be writing music as humor or social commentary or expression of the inevitable vague dissatisfaction that comes with living, then I have to make stuff up, but based on this song, at least, that seems to be a viable strategy, the “truth” of the matter be damned.