Sunday, June 10, 2012

On the 10th day of "pre CD release" Eric gave to me

Alright peoples. The CD release party rapidly approaches. It's only 10 days away now. As I have stated before it has I strong feeling of Christmas approaching (for me anyway) so I'm doing the 12 days of "pre CD release party" blogs. These are related to pear trees or maids a milking only in so much as there are 12 of them. But either way, here is today's:

"Bird On A Powerline"

Love is metaphysical gravity.
R. Buckminster Fuller

You're creating an intimacy that everybody feels, that it's their experience, not yours. I'll never introduce a song and say, now this song is about 'my' broken heart. 
Diana Krall 

I have always looked up to my brother, Wendell. He is a genius. He is a kind person. He is funny. In my opinion, he just lives "the right way". Therefore I've always used him as a guide. Well, in addition to just being an all around master of kickassery, Wendell also happens to be a ridiculously great song writer.

From a young age, Wendell's song writing was vastly important in solidifying my love for music (and therefore guiding my eventual career choice). He and I (in conjunction with our next door neighbors Tommy , Hanan , and Justus Browning) started creating songs when I was around 7-8 years old. Even back then Wendell had the knack for crafting songs. He has always been a strong lyricist and he has an amazing sense of unique melody.

Like in all other things, I tried to follow in Wendell's footsteps with songwriting. I would work and work and study and read about songwriting. I would very intently pay attention to what the songs that inspired me had done differently than others. You could say I've been a student of songwriting since my childhood.

Well I continued to write songs and study songwriting as I grew older . Eventually I became a professional musician and professional songwriter. After years of playing and writing I helped form and became a primary song writer for the Ugli Stick. When the Ugli Stick started gathering songs to begin producing our first album , "Beatdown" in 1999 Brian Graves (the other Ugli Stick song writer at the time) and I pulled all our best songs together. We had plenty for an album. But I knew we had another secret weapon, namely Wendell's stockpile of songs. I figured Wendell would be happy for us to use them being as they were just sitting there doing nothing. You see,  Wendell is an incredible song writer but he is not and doesn't plan on becoming a professional musician. He writes songs because he loves the act of making songs. As I expected Wendell was excited to have a vehicle for some of his tunes and gave us access to any we wanted. Among the ones we used for that album was, "Leaving Birmingham" (arguably the most notable Ugli Stick song to date). We recorded at least a couple of Wendell's songs on the subsequent Ugli Stick albums and I feel like he has continued to become an even stronger writer as the years passed.

When I eventually got to the point where I wanted to start recording "My Brother's Keepers" (read more about it here : I again called on Wendell to help. Through the entire writing process I was amazed by his skill. Virtually every time I saw him he would have another great idea.

These ideas kept popping until one day he said, "Come listen to this one and tell me what you think." He began playing a very basic two note guitar line and singing "I'm just a Bird On a Powerline, I'm nothing to you. Just another 1 of a hundred or two". I felt the power of the idea and song from that little bit. What a drastic and horrible place the main character was in! I thought, "I've been there". But hasn't everyone?  Hasn't everyone been obsessed with someone to the point that they feel their whole existence warp due to the other person's presence? The metaphysical gravity (as Fuller calls it) of this obsession is enough to rend and definitely enough to render any struggle against it useless.

Obviously I was into this song so I told Wendell I thought "Bird On a Powerline" was an incredible metaphor and that we must finish it.

We geared up and began writing about our individual experiences with the pain of unrequited love. It's a miserable, heart sick feeling that we had both known plenty of in the past.

Since I was 7 I've been near songwriting and trying to participate in it (thanks again to Wendell's guidance). I've read countless books about the subject, I've studied successful songs and songwriters, I've taught songwriting in public schools and I've been a part of and even created songwriters' guilds.
With this wealth of experience I have learned that there may not be a right or wrong way to write a song but there are definitely techniques that help facilitate getting that song out of my heart and mind and forming it into a succinct finalized unit. I use those techniques to make the writing of a song easier.

Well with "Bird On A Powerline" I can honestly say we didn't really employ ANY songwriting tricks or special techniques. It is hands down the easiest song I've ever been involved with writing. The pieces fell into place virtually instantly. We had a completed song before I realized it.  At this point in the process we'd usually revise and revise a few dozen times. In this case however, we couldn't figure a way to better it. So (this is the important part)......................we left it.

I guess some people would say the Gods were smiling on us that day.

I like to think that "Bird On A Powerline" had an identity and knew what it wanted to be.

I can't fully endorse Diana Krall's quote above. Sometimes I feel as writers we write from a specifically and uniquely individual experience that no one else can or has ever had. However as we are all part of the general human condition I feel that more often than not others around us share our same experiences and emotions. This is a beautiful thing. And for this song specifically, Wendell and I both drew from our passed experiences and wrote from a very personal place. HOWEVER due to the fact that the emotion being addressed in "Bird On a Powerline" is a universal emotion it fulfills Diana's quote TOO. We may have been writing specifically about "OUR" longing for someone and feeling overlooked, but we were (possibly accidentally) writing about yours too.

Wendell and I are both more "Thinking Songwriters" than "Emotional Songwriters". Therefore I am intensely proud that we were able to get our thinking songwriter selves out of the way. "Bird On A Powerline" reached its best possible state because we helped it become what it wanted to be. It wanted to be a universal song. It didn't wanna be pigeon holed into just being about Wendell and Eric's girl troubles specifically.

When people ask "What's your favorite song on My Brother's Keepers?" My response is virtually always this song. The reason we write songs is to express ourselves and connect with people. I have seen how people connect to this song. The response is virtually always instant and powerful. I'll refrain from getting too deep into my human psychological hypotheses, but I know that people tend to gravitate to this song for two reasons: 1) the emotions involved with unrequited love and being overlooked by someone are universal emotions and 2) the song came into existence very naturally and Wendell and I kept our fingerprints off of it after the initial creation.

The writing of "Bird On A Powerline" taught me:

Songs Like being Themselves. And they repay you handsomely when you let them do so.

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