Friday, November 26, 2010

What's with the lyrics

I’ve had this blog for a while without really knowing what to do with it so I’ve come to the well worn conclusion, ‘write what you know’. What I know is lyrics, more specifically my own lyrics (I should know them I wrote them after all).

So I’m gonna start with Seasnail. Here it goes…

The same characters pop up in jazz standards all the time. There’s the woman who’s waiting around for the man she loves either because he isn’t treatin’ her right or because she hasn’t met him yet (black coffee, weeping willow, mean to me, lover man…etc) and the lesser heard woman who’s in love and he loves her back (all the love songs like the nearness of you, oh watcha doin to me…).

The feminist in me cannot stand this first character, the woman waiting around for some fictional or no good man. Part of me thinks maybe the reason the character is so prevalent in jazz standards is because jazz began in brothels and possibly the character was a useful and lucrative one for the Madames and prostitutes to adopt. But apparently the prostitues at the time were very powerful figures, feared for their vodoo powers and their agility with a razor so that belies that idea (I’m not an expert on this, in fact I’m totally winging this theory but I think the musicians who played in the brothels wrote songs about their patrons the madames so this powerful female character is pretty common in the early blues tunes like: sea lion woman and evil blues).

But maybe I’m reading too much into things as usual, the story is hardly exclusive to jazz standards as proved by the Penelope in the Odysee and every fairy tale princess that’s ever been.

So the character gets on my nerves. Like in ‘ain’t misbehaving’ who is this guy that has Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald, two of the most powerful sounding women I’ve ever heard, moping at home all day? and why is staying out past eight considered misbehaving? Or Lover Man, if Sarah Vaughan longs so badly to try something she’s never had why doesn’t she just go out and get some?
But after all my protestations, Seasnail is a ‘waiting-round-for-love’ song. Hopefully one that breaks with some of the tradition. I might be waiting, but I will not wait quietly. Waiting will not be a passive state of inertia. Waiting will be an empowering choice. Contrary as usual the first line in my ‘waitin-round’ song is:

‘I won’t wait for you…’

The contrariness is intentional. What I mean is ‘I don’t have to wait’, ‘I could be writing a not-waiting-round-for-love song if I wanted’, or more precisely I’ll wait on my terms, because then I go on to describe the ways I will not wait…I will not wait:

‘porcelain faced
a *willow pattern plate
in this tent I’ve made from your love letters.

And then the line I love to sing

‘coz I’m so sick of love letters’.

I spend most of my days singing about a world entirely inhabited by weeping willows, starlight, faces that flower and daisy petals to sail away on** so it’s a nice refreshing break to sing about being a horny devil who’s sick of love letters. No matter how romantic or poetic a love letter is it couldn’t possibly compare to the reality of having your love there with you, even if the reality is usually messier (I mean you can’t exactly argue about who’s turn it is to wash the dishes in a love letter).

‘So I’ll wait for you the only way I know how,
Like a bride on fire
Like a statue come alive
Like a horny devil drunk on love and crazy for a fight’

I’ve already decided what I’m gonna write about next time. It’s something I get asked about a lot ‘who are the songs about’ or ‘they’re so personal, don’t you mind getting up on stage and telling everyone your business’…so tune in next week, or possibly a little later on that, whenever I get round to writing it really.

*you mightn’t know what a willow pattern plate is but you probably own one, or maybe your granny does. Willow pattern is that blue on white oriental pattern you see on crockery. It tells some ancient oriental love story about a woman who is about to marry a man she doesn’t love when the man of her dreams shows up and they flee together. I can’t remember what happens in the end, I think maybe her father sends an assassin after them and they die and turn into birds, metaphorically at least. The point is it’s a very romantic traditional love story where the man comes along and saves the lady in distress.

**name that tune: willow weep for me, stella by starlight, my shining hour, stariway to the stars.

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