Rising Up: New Song… ish.
Hate grows where they sow divides
So they’re trying their best to plant secrets and lies
They want to paint the daytime black
We’ve got to keep it together – we’ve got to push back
You can’t use darkness to drive out the dark
Can’t use hatred to extinguish the spark we have
We’ve got to stand together for love
Because standing alone just won’t be enough
Keep your head in the air and your feet on the ground
‘Cos tomorrow is another day
We’ve got numbers and pride and right on our side
No matter what they do or say
So lift up your voices and sing
‘Cos we’re coming on
And we’ll keep coming on
Ain’t no mountain too high to climb
‘Cos we’re rising up
And we’ll keep rising up
They teach anger and they try to breed pain
If you think about it too much about it it’ll you insane
But if we build bridges we can knock down their walls
And as fast as they build them we’ll make them fall
Alright: sit down
This ain’t ‘The Ballad of a Thin Man’
‘Cos I am a fat man, yet I rattle like a tin can
Hollow on the inside, and if you followed me outside,
I’d show you what it’s all about (if you’re inclined)
But I have to tell my story to the birds in the trees
‘Cos they’re the only sane people who will listen to me
I know I’m a sinner, and I can’t be a saint
But I know what I am and I know what I ain’t
Godfuckingdammit. This song has been an absolute roadblock for weeks – perhaps even months. I wrote the slouching Stones-y, vaguely hip-hoppy backing track about 4 million years ago and immediately fell hopelessly in love with my own creation. I carefully layered on multiple guitar parts… a funky (by my standards) bassline… some gospel harmonies for the bridge… piano… even some horn parts… and then…
No lyrical inspiration. No melodic inspiration. A perfectly realised song in search of a tune. For endless hours I sat, playing it in the car, humming variations of melodies. At one point I started penning an entire rap for it, to match that hip-hoppish drum track. At another point, I stopped listening to it altogether for a fortnight in the hope that fresh ears might bring new perspective.
And then, eventually, a lazy, bluesy melody emerged. And I was sufficiently keen on the idea of a rap that I retained a section to lend some variety to the structure (the danger of all blues based songs is boredom through repetition past about 3 minutes, unless you’re really fucking good).
But then… no words were forthcoming. I wrote a bitter, personal, self-servicing slab of cynicism which felt completely at odds with the general musical tone of the thing. I tried some Dylan-esque nonsense with stream-of-conscious imagery but didn’t real feel it (despite having a happy facility for wordy whimsy I’m never happy unless my lyrics have some kind of meaning).
And so finally in a fit of tired frustration, I penned something more in-keeping with the general sonic milieu of the thing: a soft, optimistic message of hope which, if I’m being honest, carries no great personal profundity or weight.
And thus we arrive at the recording of the vocals and again… I ain’t happy, dear reader. Out of sheer frustration and boredom, I basically did a one take run through, slapped some reverb on it and present it here now primarily to Get It Out Of The Way. After a couple of takes, my mic lead started crackling and I hurled it to the ground with a volley of expletives and gave the whole thing up.
It’s been an odd and frustrating process. I’m used to writing very quickly, but this has sapped my creative energies almost entirely for weeks, leaving me unable to give any attention to any of the half dozen songs I’ve got underway.
Perhaps there’s a lesson here: if it doesn’t come quickly, park it somewhere and let it simmer until it’s ready. I’ve got a feeling I’ll come back to this song in 6 months to re-do the vocals (I’m heartily sick of the fucking thing at present) and find new inspiration.
So, there you have it: a song thematically based on inspiration and hope that was the exact opposite in terms of genesis. It goes to bolster my general belief that however you break songwriting down as a process, or try to distil it into a science, it is so tied up with your personality and circumstance that it sometimes impossible to gain critical distance from what you are doing.
Maybe you’ll listen to it and think it’s the greatest thing ever. If so: good for you. I doubt I’ll ever hear this without a nagging sense that it could – should – be so much more.
While re-reading this post and talking about the problems of being too close to a piece of art, I’m reminded that situations like this is where a songwriting partnership would be a considerable boon. I guess I’m thinking of the way that late-Beatles period McCartney frittered away the group’s solidarity trying to get perfect recordings of trivial songs. In the early days of the Lennon/McCartney partnership, they would each challenge the other and that collaboration built stronger work. Although the process started with Sergeant Pepper, by the time of the The White Album, The Beatles’ albums become effectively a series of solo tracks, with the Beatles being the world’s most glorified backing band to the song’s composer. The net direction of travel ultimately leading the unedifying series of solo albums each member produced throughout the 70s and beyond. As a solo songwriter, I’m constantly aware of the peril of becoming merely sloppy because nobody’s there to hit me with a stick and say “this is bollocks, mate.” Maybe my attitude to this is actually me doing that to myself?