Saturday, February 27, 2010

This Twilight World in Which I'm Trapped

I used to love listening to a Teri (she’ll spell it her way, and I’ll spell it mine) Gross Fresh Air interview every Friday afternoon on the way up to Santa Rosa to pick up my daughter after school. Often, if I’d enjoyed a particular interview, I’d listen to its early evening re-broadcast, and would be amazed to remember exactly what I was driving past as Teri was posing a particular question or her guest responding to it.

I’ve realized in the past week how often I do the same thing with my own work. There’s a verse in my song "House Arrest", about suicidal depression, that I vividly remember coming to me while I waited for Claire in a little plaza in downtown San Sebastian, Spain, in 2004.

In this twilight world in which I’m trapped
There’s no settling in. I can’t adapt.
My gifts are worthless, best left wrapped...

About a year before that, when we took a tourist-oriented coach trip to Stonehenge and its environs, we were collected in front of a hotel in London’s Oxford Street. I’d had the idea a few days before to make a new song I was working on (I always write the music first, and then the lyrics) about domestic violence, sung from the perspective of a battered woman. En route down to Victoria Station, where we were to collect others for the tour, we traversed a particular roundabout, and this verse came to me whole:

I say the wrong thing and I get slapped
There is no right thing that I can say. I feel trapped.
This territory’s unmapped.

The clarity with which I can remember this (not failing, by the way, to note that both these moments involved the use of the easily rhymed trapped) makes me ponder the possibility of divine intervention in creativity. And yes my tongue’s indeed in cheek about “divine”, but I genuinely did feel myself a conduit at that moment those lines came to me, just as I had, I now remember, almost 30 years before, when I wrote the chorus of may well be my best song.

Then the memory of feelings dared and secrets shared
Returns each morning that I wake up all alone
Now I find myself a little scared but nonetheless prepared
to love again.

I’ve been working recently on the second, much-improved second version of Anthems of Self-Loathing, the album that will contain both "House Arrest" and the domestic abuse song, "Quake". I first composed and recorded the whole thing in 2006, but was displeased with the results, and so set about starting over from scratch during the lonely 10 months I spent in the Midwest after my 2007 repatriation from the United Kingdom. Retooling arrangements for existing songs, I came up with two new ones. When I listened to them the other day in my little studio in the Hudson Valley for the first time in months, they took me right back to the awful loneliness that threatened to swallow me whole in Wisconsin, where the few friends I made were musicians who were either on the road or married or both, and thus not very accessible, and where I felt even more than usual that there was no place for me in the world. I spent many a melancholy evening alone in the studio apartment I’d rented trying to lose myself in my work.

Working on my most recent album, your reluctance to buy which hasn’t gone unnoticed, I went for the first time in my illustrious songwriting career with my original lyrical impulses, however wacky. While composing the melody for a song that wound up being about the Irish potato famine of the 1840s, "Nights of Cinnamon", for instance, I found myself singing, “Days of sulfur, nights of cinnamon,” just to have something to sing. In days gone by, I’d have reworked that. But in 2009, inspired by news of the death of Frank McCourt, whose books I enjoyed so much, I went through the door at which instinct had pointed, with results that I can’t imagine anyone failing to find remarkable. Or maybe I’m just saying that because it’s been Snowmageddon around here the past 48 hours, and I was mortified not to have posted a new essay yesterday (my first unintentional miss in 2010!), and can’t allow it to happen anew!

No comments:

Post a Comment