Thing a Week 28: When You Go
The creative process is a funny thing. This week I was convinced that I was completely out of songs, that I would never write again, that all the ideas in my head were really just the same lame idea that I’d been using over and over again all along. And I had this piece of something, I knew it was a sad song because I was feeling frustrated and blocked and that’s when the sad ones usually come. I hated it, but I kept smashing it against the wall because I didn’t have any other options and it was Thursday morning already, and I have Paying Subscribers for goodness sake. But then something shook loose and by 3 PM I had a new song. Where did it come from? Why did it take all week to show up? Why can’t I remember how it feels to write when I’m trying to do it and can’t? After 28 of these you’d think I would have found the magic button in my brain that makes a song happen. Still looking.
Anyway, this is an a cappella breakup song (not necessarily about the end of a romance). It didn’t start out a cappella, but there were so many vocals that I decided to take all the instruments away and I liked how it sounded enough to finish it up that way. You don’t hear a lot of really sad a cappella songs, they’re mostly about putting limes in coconuts and zombie jamborees and that sort of thing. At least that’s how we did it at Yale. Ahem. Full disclosure: it is almost certainly a distant relative of Todd Rundgren’s “Pretending to Care.” Also, I realized too late that I had stolen a little chord change/melody line thing from a Jim Boggia song. I hope he either doesn’t mind or doesn’t notice.
PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: Ha! Old me discovers writing songs is hard! I can’t decide if it’s comforting or disheartening to discover that five years ago I was working on exactly the same mystery. I can tell you that I’ve given up on it ever becoming easy. I’d like to say that I’ve developed a kind of faith in the process, so that when it’s Thursday morning and I still have nothing, I can take comfort in the certainty that something will arrive. But while I have that faith in my head, I rarely have it in my gut, so what good is that? But enough complaining (I am writing this by a pool in Hawaii, so you know, it’s all pretty good actually).
Still very proud of this song. A cappella is hard to record well, and there’s a lot I would change technically about this recording, but the song itself is one of my favorites. I wrote (cryptically) that it was a breakup song, but not necessarily about a romance. I was mostly thinking about my daughter when I wrote it, imagining the far off day when she leaves for college, or the army, or a swimming pool in Hawaii. Thinking about how parenting is a supremely masochistic kind of self-sacrifice - you spend years teaching them how to be independent adults and then THEY TURN INTO INDEPENDENT ADULTS. If you are parenting correctly, you are essentially teaching your children all they need to know to one day break your heart. That’s the awful, beautiful core of parent-child love.
Over the last few years many people have written to tell me what this song means to them, frequently it has to do with the loss of a loved one. These stories mean a lot to me. Anyone who’s ever made something and had a complete stranger say they liked it knows how wonderful that feels, and I will gratefully accept any and all high fives for Code Monkey and Re: Your Brains. But it is a powerful thing to put an honest, personal song out there and have it bounced back at you as a completely different, but no less honest and personal story from someone else. It’s a sure sign to me that I have done something right, something that, however small, is somehow still important. It is raw, pure, red hot human-on-human action, and it is the very last thing I will surrender when my entertainment empire is crumbling into dust.
You can find more info on this song, a store where you can listen to everything, and also other stuff at jonathancoulton.com.