Sarah

Death. Again. I know. What can you do?  I was confronted with it again recently. One of those long-term online friendships you develop, where you possibly know more about someone than their friends and family in the ‘real’ world – where the barriers are lowered a bit further because of an avatar and a username and the resulting distance. This woman was sharp, funny, self-lacerating… and ultimately self-destructing. Realising I’d not heard back from her from my last couple of WhatsApps I went to gently pester her on Facebook. Where I discovered that she was, in fact, dead. The fourth person I’ve known now whose death is in some way connected to alcohol. It prompted a song.

Lyrics

Sarah.
I once knew a girl who was like you
And like you she hid in the daylight
And only came out at night
Until one night
She emptied her heart into my ear
It wasn’t what I wanted to hear then
Or ever at all

Sarah – porcelain skin in the morning
Tangled and blonde in the pale sun
Always a gleam in your eye
But your skin is so cold to the touch
Did it finally get too much?

Laughter
That’s what I will try to remember
Like when your stockings fell down in the Co-Op
While you were stocking up booze
But then you ran
Straight back to the sun with a bottle
It took a lot a bottle to say it
But you were never afraid

Sarah – porcelain skin in the morning
Tangled and blonde in the pale sun
Always that gleam in your eye
But your skin is so cold to the touch
Did it finally get too much?

I’ll keep the picture of you squinting at the sun, stood on your hands
And you can keep the ones you where you cried
I guess that I always thought that you would live forever
On the never never
You lived the pain, the pleasure
And I guess that I believed you

Sarah.
I’ve never known anyone like you.

Thoughts

So as you’ve probably gathered from those words, this is quite a personal song, with allusions to real-world events that probably only she would actually get. As such, it’s hard to know whether the song would really resonate with you the way it does with me (or at all).

But while notionally ‘sad’, it isn’t intended to be a sad song however. She lived her life pretty uncompromisingly, and I’m 100% sure she’d roll her eyes if she knew how she’d died. While her internal life was an tangled mess – much like her external life, come to think of it – she was always blithely cheerful about things. Even in the grimmest of spots, she’d say “ah fuck it” – and absolutely mean it. She seemed kind of indestructible, but in the end… wasn’t. So I guess what I’m groping towards is that I’m sad she’s dead, but glad that I knew her for the last 7-8 years or whatever.

Lyrics aside, I’m actually pretty pleased with the music. The song is essentially in E major, but with a few sideways changes which make it (I think) quite tonally interesting.

The verse is quite dense – starting on E major, then stepping up through E+ (which you might recognise as the same basic movement as Buddy Holly’s Raining in my Heart), before landing on the logical A major, but then dropping a step to a G#7 (a very ‘Lennon’ type trick) before finishing on F#. The chorus also has a fairly odd moves: the main refrain (“Saaaarah”) is a plangent A – Amaj7, then there’s an Esus, E which happily contains some of the same notes – probably why it sounds so satisfying. Then it moves up through F#m7,G#m7 and ending incongruously in a rich Cmaj7 which has a nice sense of suspension. A slide up through D major resolves everything back into the home key. A change I’m well pleased with.

After a brief trip to a slightly exotic ‘Indian’ type scale in E*, the verse repeats, but on the second repeat hangs on the Cmaj7 before clanging away in a F9/Cmaj7 change (I think – I’m no good with formalities so I could be talking out of my bum). After the crabbed nature of the verse, this section of the song feels very… open? I don’t know. It sort of lifts. Then there’s an angrier sounding part (A minor, A minor 7, D7/F#, F).

If none of this means anything to you, then it doesn’t matter. I’m basically letting you know there’s a lot more in this song then I usually have going on.

I’ve still a bit unsure about the instrumentation. Originally it was just acoustic guitar (double tracked, with parts panned left and right) and a bass knowingly played in a classic mid-sixties Beatles style, palm-muted for that distinctive ‘thump’ sound, and roaming around each chord to add some space and offer a counter-melody. I then added in 3 electric guitar parts, which I sort of umm and ahhh about because they sound a bit heavy. But I also like the effect – particularly as the song builds towards the climax of the final third.

I guess all in all I’m very happy with this song. I just wish it came from a happier place. Now fuck off: someone’s just left a load of biscuits on my desk, and they demand my urgent attention.


*I think it’s the Lydian mode, but to be honest I haven’t a fucking clue

Oh, Dennis!

Churning my way towards this make-or-break third album (I KNOW) I’ve blown the dust off this previously undeveloped groovy little number for your delectation. This poses me something of a conundrum as I’ve now got 15 songs to choose from – not counting the dozen or so slow numbers that are also kicking around. Crikey. I’ve never had this kind of energy. Anyway, set to this syncopated psychedelic groove are a set of lyrics about another distasteful subject: lovable Scottish necrophile and serial murderer Dennis Nilsen. Have a listen, read the words, and I’ll see you in the pub for a chat afterwards?

Lyrics

Back to mine for rum and coke and then we’ll see just what you’re made of
Listen here: O Superman is soothing – put on these headphones

Then drop your neck into this noose
While I lean back and feel the groove
Stop! Nobody move
Don’t fight the feeling just let go
Then you can take the starring role
Stop! Nobody move

Now we’re done just lay back and stay here while I go outside for fresh air
I’ll be back tonight to play some more – we can watch some TV

Then drop your neck into this noose
While I lean back and feel the groove
Stop! Nobody move
Don’t fight the feeling just let go
Then you can take the starring role
Stop! Nobody move

Background

As intimated earlier, the bare musical bones of this date back a few years, but I never worked it up into a full song until recently. I liked the general vibe of the monotone verse, but it wasn’t until I hit on the idea of heavily syncopated bass and piano parts that it sprang from being a passable acoustic tune into something with a little bit of spark.

I sweated a fair bit over the instrumentation to give it something distinctive (I’m painfully aware of the danger of repeating myself) and while the chorus cam fairly easily, it was clear early on that effect would start to get tiresome after a verse or two. Luckily, I’d penned it in F#, which gave me the idea of an instrumental passage in a sort of attenuated 12 bar. And with the Vth being G# that opened up the possibility of deploying one of my very favourite sounds: the Indian tanpura/tampura/tampora (there doesn’t some to much agreement on the correct spelling) – a drone you might have heard on various psychedelic records over the years.

I’ve always been a very limited guitarist, but this is the second song in succession where I’ve ventured into the realms of a solo. I’m not super pleased with it, but it’s nicely idiomatic – using as it does the general ‘indian’ scale. I say ‘Indian scale’ but I don’t know quite what that means, other than it’s a major scale without certain notes and a couple of sharpened/flattened notes along the way. It’s a very late 60s sound.

Music completed, I then found myself at a loss (again) as to what to sing about. I’d always had the vocal echo (excitingly panned from side to side if you listen carefully) in mind but didn’t have any strong lyrical ideas. I feel like a lot of my recent songs have been a bit ponderous and self-revealing, but I was listening to a podcast about Dennis Nilsen and was really struck by some of the details of his case that I wasn’t aware of. He was a huge lover of music, and for many of his murders he would make the victim put on some headphones to listen to one of his favourite prog tracks… and then strangle them with the lead. His favourite track to which to strange people to death was O Superman by Laurie Anderson – hence the mention in the verse. It’s a fairly fascinating minimalist prog track and for a while I toyed with the idea of an outro along these lines, before settling on a prog-ish squelchy keyboard extemporisation.

But really, it’s a pretty facile lyric. It doesn’t have a point of view, and treats serial killing as an amusing side note. Not that every song has to have some kind of deep meaning or anything. Maybe it suggests that this track doesn’t really spring from a personal place, but is more of a musical exercise.

Anyway, I enjoyed making it and don’t cringe particularly hard when listening back to it, and I guess that’s not a bad result.