The live video above is of my playing my song "Fly, Baby, Fly" at the Starbucks courtyard in El Cajon last Saturday, April 20, with John "J-Rod" Rodriguez on bass and Dave Farrell on drums.
When I first wrote this song a few weeks back, it all came out in one short episode of inspiration. I was talking on the phone with a good friend who was sharing how she felt like a failure in pursuing her dreams, which sounded to me was distorted thinking, that I could definitely relate to!
This friend has followed her dreams really well from my perspective, and is still doing so today. So I envisioned this conversation between someone struggling with these kinds of thoughts and feelings, and a wiser, gentle, person or force, giving the person struggling the strong shot of encouragement and support they need right now.
I played it a few times at open mics in its original form - and made a live home video of me performing it you may have already seen. But I've put below here, so you can compare this original version with the changed one.
After a while of playing it this way, I felt like it needed a change or two. One theme that often occurs to me as a songwriter is doing more with less. This is really a common theme throughout all Art, I believe. To me, this concept means: I can spoil the creative stew by adding too much of too many ingredients, or, I can improve the creative stew by leaving one or two ingredients out.
In my music, employing this concept often means taking out one of the instruments, for a particular period of time in the song. I was at a 7-Eleven getting my breakfast and decaf coffee this morning, and "Jack and Diane" by John Cougar Mellencamp was playing on the sound system. If you know the song, in the first part of it, there are guitar chords, some guitar notes strummed, and some hand claps. At one point before the vocals come in, we hear the guitar chords "Daaaaaaaaaah, daaaaah, daaah-dah-dah," a quick instance of silence, the strummed notes with the hand claps, then a couple more quick instances of silence.
That part of the song could have guitar chords playing straight through the whole time, with the hand claps underneath, and the strummed notes on top. But for some reason, it sounds cooler to me when the chords stop, and I hear only the notes and hand claps, with little silences in between. I've copied in the music video for this song if you want to listen to the first part of it and hear what I mean.
So I was messing with this concept of less is more at home with "Fly, Baby, Fly." and It seemed like it worked better when I just did the guitar chords quickly all at once, and then stopped them at a particular point in the lines, instead of playing chords all the way through like I had written originally.
The only trick to this was that, as I was singing and playing guitar at the same time, the original version was easier at first for me to pull off. If I was strumming the chords all the way through the lines in the verses, I could kind of put my strumming and chord-fingering hands on auto-pilot, and focus mentally on the lyrics and vocal notes. If I was going to do this start-stop of the guitar in each line, in the early going I would have to split my mental focus as I performed it. I would have to keep my attention both on the start-stop guitar part, and the lyrics and vocal notes.
So at home I messed with the guitar in the verses a bit to see what worked. What I eventually arrived at was a new, two-chord "Baah-bap" three times in each line, with no guitar in between, just vocals. It sounded much better to me, and I was pretty satisfied with it.
There was a problem, though.
Sometimes, when I started the first part of the song, before the vocals began, I would do a three-chord "Baah-baah-bap" just naturally, thinking I was doing what I wanted to do. Then I would get up to the first vocal line of the first verse, and realize that I had begun doing the three-chord "Baah-baah-bap," not the two-chord "Baah-bap" I wanted to do. This would throw me off. I thought to myself, well, if it's really the three-chord "Baah-baah-bap" that wants to come out, maybe that's what it needs to be, and I could practice it that way...
But the three-chord "Baah-baah-bap" was a slightly trickier rhythm for me to play for some reason. I could do the two-chord "Baah-bap." No problem. I MIGHT be able to do the three-chord "Baah-baah-bap," but it would take longer. It would require more practice to get it down. I was trying to be easy on myself - in the past I've had a habit of making some things as hard on myself as possible. So I said to myself, "No, I'll stick with the easier choice." I kept practicing the two-chord "Baah-bap." I got to where I THOUGHT I had it down.
Skip ahead in time to the open mic at Starbucks last Saturday. I get to the moment when I am going to play "Fly, Baby, Fly." I have a bassist and a drummer now, who I have not rehearsed with. They're just picking things up as I go. So I start the song. And do I start it right, with the two-chord "Baah-bap"? Um, no. I do not. Probably out of a bit of stage nervousness, I start with the ol' problematic, three-chord "Baah-baah-bap." Oh, dear. We have a situation.
Add to this: John on bass and Dave on guitar choose to match the three-chord "Baah-baah-bap" EXACTLY. I'm guessing, because they don't know what this new song, which they've never heard before, will sound like once we're into it. So the smartest thing for them to do is match what I'm doing on guitar as closely as possible. As the song really gets going, they'll be able to figure out more what to do. But now my misstep has tripled in size. ALL THREE OF US are doing the "Baah-baah-bap." Remember: up to this point, the "Baah-baah-bap" has messed me up in doing the vocals EVERY TIME. And because of that, I NEVER practiced the whole song doing the "Baah-baah-bap." But here we are, three guys playing music up in front of people, and we're all completely committed to the "Baah-baah-bap."
Well, I briefly - like, for a nanosecond in my mind - considered calling the whole thing to a halt and starting over. But I have this punk rock aesthetic, anchored deeply somewhere in the back of my brain, that tells me to always keep going. No matter what the heck feels off or seems to be going wrong. Just keep going. I think I got an album title, or something like that, from that somewhere...
So I kept going. I started the vocals, committed to doing the completely un-practiced, three-chord "Baah-baah-bap" throughout and just...see how it went.
You can see the results for yourself, in the live video of everything I just described, at the top of this post.
Thanks so much for visiting my blog here, and reading, watching and listening. I enjoy reading what you have to say, as well, so please leave a comment if you're so inclined.