Thursday, July 30, 2009

On Sacrifice

Hand on my shoulder
You rocked me awake, gently
I knew I was struggling
I knew I'd grown older
You reached for my hands when they could only take
And you showed me that everything's good when you give it so free

Then you made me afraid of what you might do
You scared me so badly

Loving me
You remade my eyes--clearly
Colors, faces, reasons for living
That I couldn't see
You poured out your love and you sang to the skies
And you brought me to life when my future had died--nearly

Then you twisted in rage and cut me down
Clutching my face, dragging me closer
Mocking my past--pushing my future
Taking your gifts, refusing to leave
Slitting your throat to save my life


An exercise in surprise; exaggerated happiness undercut by sudden ugliness. This song comes from a difficult, painful place. I'm arranging it minimally; a far-ranging vocal melody barely accompanied by some guitar. As far as surprise goes, it should be fairly effective in performance.

Monday, July 27, 2009

No More (In the World of Men)

I come from a home where the guns are cocked
The book is open and the safe is locked
Wide open spaces are holes to be filled
Babies just breathing await to be billed
Diseases and difference just need to be pilled
Everyone pays when the black stuff gets spilled

You don't need to ask questions when the answers are wrong!
You just get us excited when you talk about change
Can you really change a habit when you've had it this long?
We think we need ideas, but we need something strange...

I see what you're pushing and I've seen it before

I come from a home where the end is near
The walls are thin and the pace is fear
I live in a place where the past is a tower
The purpose is fluid and the illusion is power
Senses are gods and they won't be ignored
Your rights and your wrongs will be tallied and scored
Life is one exit and it's got to be doored
The food chain got topped and we're really just bored

You don't need to ask questions when the answers are wrong!
You just get us excited when you talk about change
Can you really change a habit when you've had it this long?
We think we need ideas, but we need something strange...

I see what you're pushing and I've seen it before



Get ready for Elliot 2.0, the guy who actually updates this blog regularly. This surge is what we need! This is a favorite of my newer songs--in my endless questing after good music, I've come to realize that the songwriters with the gravest messages come across more effectively when their seriousness is not all-encompassing and is sometimes leavened with appropriate doses of irreverence or, at the very least, scornful mockery. So, I try to keep the humor principle alive, especially since it's a large part of my non-music life.

Looking back on my past postings, I realize I've tried to write too much after every song, mostly in fear that nobody really reads poetry analytically these days. That may be so, but it's probably best to explain less and hope someone can appreciate the serious brain sweat I've put into this stuff just from reading (or later hearing) it. Henceforward, I'll strive to annotate less.

This song is pretty recent and was set to music quickly after being written. It's been a favorite of mine because I'm very happy with both the images used to describe our society, and also the way the words flow with the music. This song is a resounding rejection of the same rhetoric, list of problems, ways of thinking, and list of solutions we've been force-fed from every angle for as long as we can remember. Bullshit! Instead of a repackaged version of what we've already heard, seen and done, the only thing that's going to provoke actual """"change"""" is something known to the English-speaking Buddhist world as "expedient means"--a shocking, strange but simple event that grants deep and profound insight. Unfortunately I'm not sure if this is really possible on a large-scale level, since I've mostly seen it happen on an individual basis. Here's hoping. Something like the sudden worldwide absence of electricity or food might do the trick, but it's also likely that by the time those eventualities come around we'll not be in a very efficacious position as a species to act on our new insight.

More incoherent blathering:

The format exhibited in “No More” is a big aspect of my current MO: a bit longer, more of a dynamic range between loud/soft and fast/slow, with a sense of drama, and with the music often attempting to conceptually illustrate the poem. The song’s in an open guitar tuning---DADGAD (thanks Davy, thanks Roy); you’ll get to hear me bust out some lead guitar and also a bit of slide (more of that later).

The words focus on the peculiar state of the modern human condition—I’m not sure we think very often about just how different the experience of our lives is compared to 100 years ago, or maybe even less. I think our arrogant fascination with some of our civilization’s “advances” denies some of the types of favors we’re not doing ourselves in terms of our longevity as a species and the quality of experience we reach as individual human beings.

Revisiting and re-singing these words over and over for recording, I’ve been pretty satisfied with the fulfillment of my vision for this song—the verses start with one poetically-dense stanza where the lines ideally contain layered meaning (“I come from a home where the guns are cocked” is supposed to represent our violent nature, but also the underlying male/penis connections when it comes to aggression and guns, or “I live in a place where the past is a tower” is meant to illustrate one of the primary human characteristics that sets us apart from other animal species—we have a continually-growing collective record of history from which we all [more or less] benefit, but also the fact that our pride in that history and our accomplishments has given us a sense of superiority over our surroundings that is causing us untold problems). I don’t want to insult anybody’s interpretive abilities, and the meaning of poetry is also meant to be determined by the reader/listener, but for those interested I’ll fill in some more blanks further down after the lyrics—I also use these notes as an opportunity to process my work personally.

The second halves of the verses are more direct observations, and the chorus concludes that our inertia is great enough that we won’t be able to use our own tools to solve our problems—to really wise up and overcome ourselves, we need some sort of catastrophe to act as an “expedient means” for immediate understanding. This song is a rejection of the stale political solutions (even attractive, eloquent liberal ones), ways of thinking, and ways of thinking, speaking and communicating that bore me to death on a daily basis. The refrain at the end mocks this repetitiveness with a little bit of humor…something from my personality that doesn’t get a chance to show up quite as often in my more serious songs as I’d like. Hopefully it leavens the heavy message a bit. If you’re still reading, you’re either procrastinating from something more important(!), of maybe you’re my biggest fan…tomorrow I’ll do something a bit…quieter.

More notes:

“The Book is open” is about how the different religious scriptures often dominate our behavior as a species in questionable ways, but also that the interpretation of these texts is “open,” and people will always bend them to their own predetermined rationalizations regardless of the texts’ supposed authority.

“the safe is locked” has to do with the effort we expend on gathering and protecting material wealth, but also that our wealth is inaccessible to a great deal of our population.

“I come from a home where the end is near” details the irony between the perennial crisis many religions have been perpetuating over the past 2,000 years about some god catastrophe being imminent and the more measurable ways that the end of our species and civilization is threatening.

“The walls are thin”—our technological and governmental advances mean that our privacy is sacrificed daily, and also our gross overpopulation means that you can hardly turn around without bumping into somebody else.

“The pace is fear”—find me a more common motivator for human behavior.

“The purpose is fluid”—we’re so adept at shifting our reasoning and convictions to suit our wants that we can’t even separate our true wills from our own hot air, and let’s not forget—the whole basis of our tenuous living existence on this planet is fluid—water.

“and the illusion is power”—illusion might produce tangible power more often than physical force (just watch the news, and I’m not only talking about FOX), and also the power we think we have over our lives, over each other, over our actions and over our physical habitat in the long-term, is ultimately a laughable fallacy.