September 27th, 2011
Thing a Week 51: Summer’s Over
Isn’t it though? Here’s the thing – this is song #51, and the next one is #52 and I’m freaking out. It was very hard to write this one. You can imagine how much pressure I’m feeling at this point to wrap the whole thing up with a couple of really kick-ass songs about monkeys and robots, really blow everybody’s mind. As a result, I can’t think of anything really interesting to say about monkeys or robots. So this one’s just about somebody leaving somebody else at the end of the summer (hint: no it’s not, it’s about the end of Thing a Week).
It was especially hard because I knew something you didn’t, which is that this is the last song I’ll write for Thing a Week. Next week is going to be a cover. Why yes, it is a cop out. But really, I can’t imagine writing something that’s as appropriate as this cover song will be – you’ll see. It just feels right to me.
Speaking of which, I need a little something from you folks to make it happen. If you have the capability to record decently (no built-in laptop microphones please), I would like you to record a single hand clap and email it to me. Your best hand clap please, mp3 is fine as long as it’s a pretty decent bitrate. By doing so you agree to let me use it for whatever I want from now until the end of time without getting any sort of credit for it, ever. But you’ll be on a CD.
PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: Of all the songs that I can’t remember writing, this one feels the most like it was implanted in my history by space aliens. No idea. I was playing it close to the vest in the blog, keeping it light, but there was definitely some heavy emotional stuff going on about the approaching end of Thing a Week.
I’ve always had trouble with transitions. I get obsessed with the borders between things - everything that came before this moment was X, everything after will be Y. I can’t help but try to unpack that moment, savor it, hate it. Birthdays, graduations, moving day, they’re all terrible. All that stuff functioned as a multiplier for the standard weekly performance anxiety, which had been growing larger all year anyway. It was overwhelming. So I tricked me, and I made this one the last one. I basically left without saying goodbye (though technically I do say goodbye quite a few times in this song).
I have a vague memory of still having large gaps in the lyrics during the recording process, so I’m betting that this song really didn’t get started until Thursday or Friday. There are a couple of clunker lines in there, and sitting here with all this distance, they seem incredibly easy to fix. Or maybe I just write differently now. Anyway, I forgive myself for the melodrama with all the flowers dying and the cold wind, because I absolutely love the kicker lines at the ends of the verses. And the middle section with the lonely accordion and the a cappella singing group vocals sounds positively cinematic to me. All in all, it feels pleasantly unfamiliar enough to convince me that during this period, I was really WRITING in a way I never had before.
That bit about goodbyes moving in circles hits me hard here in this hotel room in wherever-I-am. Five years ago I was finishing Thing a Week, feeling proud and hopeful about the possibilities, but coming up on a scary stretch of unknown territory - what now? Hodgman’s first book was out and I was about to accompany him on his big book tour. I was just starting to do my own shows in other cities. I was gearing up to release all the Thing a Week songs as albums. I was ready to admit that this was my job. It was the end of TAW but the beginning of everything else, very much a time of LAUNCHING things. None of which was at all obvious to me at the time.
And now here I am in this hotel room in wherever-I-am, on tour with They Might Be Giants. They’ve got a new album out, I’ve got a new album out, I’ve got this new band, all these new songs about grownup things. Hodgman has another new book coming out and is about to start touring. So here we are again, five years later, and I’m truly grateful and amazed, but still facing the same scary stretch of unknown territory. What now?
I like to play the game where I imagine going back to tell five-years-ago me what was about to happen to him. There’s no way he would believe it. And I think that’s what really gets me about these transitions, the idea that the end of this thing you know is really just the beginning of this thing you haven’t met yet. It seems like there should be a way to see that new thing, to figure it out ahead of time instead of blindly stumbling across it. Of course you can’t - that’s precisely the difference between the future and the past. And here we all are, eternally stuck in the present, where all you can do is close your eyes, put your head down, and go.