The Sum of a Billion Years

There’s a category of musician I like to call “Cosmic Plumbers.” Strip away his rock star accoutrements, and someone like Richard Ashcroft is the sort of bloke who’d be sorting your boiler out when he’d drop something approaching quiet wisdom into the conversation over a cuppa that you’d find yourself mulling over for a few days. If they had an acoustic guitar and an orchestra instead of a pipe wrench they’d be dangerous. I suspect there’s a significant number of philosophers trapped in the bodies of tradesmen. I tell you all this apropos of nothing, except it’s the sort of backdrop against which I wrote the lyrics to this relatively noisy track. Have a listen, check the lyrics, and we can convene for a cuppa.

Lyrics

All of the light that you can see
The sun, and the skies, the stars, the sea
Were forged in the fires of history

Everything that you think you own
Are like grains of sand upon a beach
Washed back to the depths from whence they came
An unknown and unknowable end

There’s only you and me who are here
And we’re the sum of a billion years

The words that you’re hearing have already passed
They were the future now they’re past
And nothing that’s made will ever last
The good and the bad, the slow and the fast

There’s only you and me who are here
And we’re the sum of a billion years

If there’s no future then there’s no past
So just let it go
What does it matter to you
Stop chasing ghosts and jus- go with the flow The sound of a billion drums
Drowned out by a billion guns
The loss of a billion lives
And the billions they left behind
A billion grains on a beach
A billion souls left unreached
A billion futures to make
A billion hearts yet to break
A billion words to be said
A billion thoughts in your head
A billion years yet to come
A billion songs to be sung

Thoughts

Whew. That was a bit of a cacophony wasn’t it?

I’ve actually wanted to write a song in this vein for a very long time. A couple of songs have come close to this style (such as England’s Bones) but this by far the most deliberate and, I think, successful.

I mentioned Richard Ashcroft in the preamble, but sonically this has splash landed pretty firmly in the Oasis end of the pool. I have mixed feelings about Oasis. There was a time when they were a real rock and roll force, but after What’s the Story they became a sort of self-sustaining parody. I often said that they were the Slade of the 90s: slightly comic and yobbish, and yet capable of landing some absolute monster tunes with genuine emotional resonance. If you’ve got more than one song in the popular conscious twenty years on, I’d say that proves that you’ve got that indefinable “it” that everyone’s searching for.

I’m rambling aren’t I?

The reason I bring Oasis up is that this sprang from a clutch of chords that very much sounded in the classic Oasis vein. Lots of open strings and suspensions (Noel Gallagher was a much cleverer song writer than he is given credit for) which immediately suggested a drone – supplied here by a tanpura, a classical Indian instrument. That’s usually pitched in an odd key to Western ears, a C#, so I whacked a capo on the second fret to save faffing about with the tanpura app.

Next, a loping bassline very much in the classic psychedelic vein. Listening back, I noticed that it was actually slightly flat – but so fractionally that rather than sounding terrible it actually created a sort of slightly phasing effect. Sometimes you’re looking for those little imperfections.

When I started fiddling with electric guitars it began to sound “right.” I don’t know how to explain what that means, but sometimes when you add a part you find that it never sounds right without it. In this case it was the very thick, distorted guitar part – that’s really just power chords chugging along. This was also the moment when it began to get undeniably close to the classic Oasis sound. To whit:

  • Open/suspended chords on an acoustic guitar
  • Heavy distorted power chords
  • Jangled chords with unusual chord voicings – open strings, suspensions, discordance
  • Very bottomy bass
  • Pompous yet meaningless lyrics in the cosmic plumber mode

At this point I pulled myself up and said “hang on – do I want to make an Oasis record?” and decided that I’d go 50/50 on the deal, as I was enjoying the effect.

So, just to mix it up a bit I threw in an Indian violin part (actually an acoustic guitar figure reversed) and some keyboards. By this point I was deep into creating a full Wall of Sound type effect so figured there was no point applying the brakes. I added a second kind-of guitar solo throughout the second half of the song and some strings and horns over the repeated, mantra style bit towards the end. They’re a bit low in the mix, but (I think) help to make it feel like it builds to a climax.

Finally, I chucked in a triplet feel riff at the end to bring the song to a conclusion.

Of course, you can’t do this kind of song without having an overdriven vocal, which I was more than happy to bellow repeatedly into the mic for an hour while The Missus was watching Her Shite on the telly.

And then… it was done! And this brings me almost to the point where I have a full album’s worth of songs. I’ve a couple of other ideas bubbling in my pot, so I could either do a 10 track album or lengthen it out to 12 tracks. I’m not sure though, because this song is knocking on for 5 minutes, and one of them is over 9 minutes, and I’ve no wish to bore the tits off everyone.

I sense this is a tedious blog post, because I’m writing while the kids keep rapping on the door asking to be entertained. Fuck you, Covid-19.

One More Drink

Hi. Hello. How are you? I supposed you’re wondering why I’ve brought you all here today. The answer is simple. I have written a song for you. Now it is still an inchoate mess, but it’s close enough to the finishing line for me to be done with it for a while. So, have a listen, check out the (many many) words and I’ll tell you all about it if you’re still here in 10 minutes.

Lyrics

Well I found out I had a date with death
So I straightened my tie and freshened my breath
Put on some cologne and flattened out my hair do

But when Death came knocking at the door
He looked so worn out – he nearly fell on the floor
I said “are you alright?” and he said “Not much better than you, son.”

So I sat him down, and I brought him a glass
He stared into his drink as the minutes ticked past
He sighed and said: “Son, I’ve been doing this for such a long time.”

So he set aside his sickle and his mantle of fear
And we sat for a minute while he sipped at his beer
I said “how about a deal? You cut me slack for an evening?”

And I said “One more drink and I’ll be ready to die,
A scotch on the rocks so I can leave on a high
Fetch me a glass and I promise that I will go quietly”
He said “One more beer and I’ll be taking your soul,
I work against the clock but no one need know,
Between you and I as long as we’re finished by midnight
I’ll be taking your soul tonight“

So we stepped into the bar with one eye on the clock
He rapped his knuckles on the bar with a skeletal knock
And the bar fell quiet as he coughed and he asked for service

“He’ll have a scotch, and I’ll have beer”
The barman shook and nodded, nearly spilled them in fear.
One turned to two and before we knew it, it was midnight

I said “I’ll drink to you and I’ll drink to your health,
But I think you’ll find out it’s already past twelve,”
And he looked at his watch while I chuckled and drained my whiskey
“I played the game, but you set the rules
I won fair and square, made you a fool,
You work against the clock and you have to be finished by midnight
And you won’t be taking my soul tonight”

And I looked at Death, and Death looked at me
And – I’ll be honest – I thought I’d had had the last laugh
But he just winked and threw his head back in glee
Shouted at the skies “At last I am free!”
And he faded from this world
And so I looked down and found his scythe in my hand
And now I… had become Death

Well I found out that he’d cheated on me
He’d locked me in shackles his and set himself free
And now I’m destined to roam this world for a long time

Now I’ve been knocking on everyone’s door
For two hundred years, maybe less maybe more
And tonight my friend I’m afraid it’s your turn

So have one more drink and you’ll be ready to die
A scotch on the rocks so you can leave on a high
I’ll fetch you a glass and I promise that you can go quietly
One more drink – the last in this life
Then I’m afraid you’ll go under the scythe
I work against the clock and I have to be finished by midnight
And I’ll be taking your soul tonight

So. What’s all that about then?

Fucked if I know.