Listen to “Yours to Keep” by Mark Lint & the Madison Lint Ensemble, featuring Bob Linsenmayer, as well of the original demo of the song with Steve Petrinko.
Pop music has at least the pretense that it’s fundamentally disposable, and this is part of what makes it fun. (I say pretense because in my case–as should be obvious if you read back into the history of my music blog posts here, like this one–I hoard every little thing I’ve ever worked on.) So there’s some little pressure when I work on something that turns out to be not just amusing to me but objectively good, like, to other people and everything. So it took me 13 years here to get a recording that I felt did the thing justice.
I long played wacky, experimental music in part because it was just easier. My singing would never make the cut on American Idol, but I’ve always been pretty good at thinking up weird stuff, and if the goal is not to sound super slick, then it doesn’t matter if you don’t have the technology or money or talent to sound super slick.
In 2000, on maybe my third or fourth time getting back together with my college band co-frontman Steve Petrinko since I had split for Austin to write new music as a team (which we hadn’t actually done to any significant extent when roommates in college), we more or less struck gold with this sort of a wedding song, “Yours to Keep.” I wrote the first few chords; he wrote the Dm section that transitions to the chorus and most of the bridge, we worked together on the rest, then he wrote the first words with “God” in them (though I added the word “rent,” making the image of obtaining the sky for someone a bit more understated and/or absurd), I wrote “I’ve ordered the universe to be on its best behavior.” Then for much of the rest of the lyrics, if memory serves, Steve’s role was to curb my nasty impulses and keep this a nice love song that he could play for his girlfriend. I don’t remember my rejected ideas, but there was something about ripping my own heart out and being desperate and probably resentful of the beloved’s power. The eventual chorus lyric “and there’s only one thing I can guarantee: I’ll be yours to keep” came after many rounds of negotiation, as an attempt on my part to not stuff any new ideas into those lines and just keep the good feeling going.
Though I like the demo we recorded together when we met up again a year later, it was a rushed affair, and very slow, and as a switcheroo from our usual custom, I sang the high part in our vocal duet. When during the following year my new band Madison Lint started playing the song, I stayed with more or less that same high part, with our keyboardist Erik Anderson singing under me, and we recorded it as part of our acoustic demo, with some really pretty electric piano work by Erik, hand percussion by Jim Turk, bass by Ken Keeley, and acoustic lead guitar by blues god Jim Low. Apart from the vocals, it was live performance, and a nice one at that.
However, given that I stopped singing the high part live shortly after that when Erik left that band, and I sound better on the bottom, and I really wanted this to be a full-on duet between two LEAD singers and not just me and whichever instrumentalist in the band I could snooker into singing with me, I was not fully satisfied. Even after I abandoned the idea of re-recording the whole thing with a full drum kit in sort of a Crowded House style, I still didn’t want that to be the final recording. I had hopes when joining New People with another lead singer, but Matt didn’t seem much interested in the song, and always had to be more or less forced to sing harmony with me anyway despite his having a lovely voice.
Some time after kicking off this music blog in 2010 and trying to complete more unfinished songs, I got one of my Austin friends, Richard White, to remotely lay down a harmony for me. He’s got probably the most beautiful voice of anyone I ever worked with, and did a pretty nice job, but without my standing there telling him what to sing, he didn’t sing the notes that were now firmly in my head… wouldn’t sing over the verses at all. I then tried, also remotely, to get Steve the original co-writer to lay down the harmony, but for this song, for the perfect Everly Brothers thing I had in mind, what he laid down just wasn’t anywhere near precise enough for my ear.
Finally last summer, my father visited, and I talked him into doing the part, where I could stand next to him and make him redo every individual line 25 times until it was as close to matching my line as it was going to get (and then I could hammer on it some more digitally). He’s an old-time folk singer who now lives in the south now and does a lot of storytelling to children and adults. Though his voice is certainly not at age 80ish now the much-better-than-mine perfect tenor, it’s still very very nice, and it was good to have some recording of us together given how long I’ve been doing this recording thing and had never gotten around to it.
If you listen hard, you can still here Richard doubling my dad during the line before the chorus, and Erik’s lower part during the bridge, and Steve very high during the bridge, and Jim Low the Madison Lint lead guitarist (who sang the high harmony live for a couple of years after Erik left the band and I switch to the bottom) singing a super high part at the end of the song as well as during the bridge. So it’s the Everly father-and-son with a bunch of hangers-on to fatten up the song, I guess. I also fixed a few instrumental flubs, but the nice Madison Lint live acoustic performance is still mostly intact.
Even after recording my dad, I wasn’t satisfied with the mix I came up with at the time, and didn’t want to put the song on a podcast or album the way it was, but what with us now covering Rawls, which is all about making a pact to get together forever, and what with my dad getting remarried in a couple of months to a very nice lady who also lost her spouse not that long ago, and what with our own Seth Paskin tying the knot next month as well, this seemed an apt opportunity to kick myself into just finishing the damn thing.
So, I’m sure after I get my $5 million record contract, I can make the Platonic ideal song out of this, but I’m at last satisfied for the moment.