Short version: my new song. (Dedicated to Doug Bennett).
Long version: It's something that I don't talk about much but I have written a bunch of lyrics for songs in my day.
It started with a teenage friend, Greg Terry: we were fourteen, in his bedroom, him with an electric guitar. I couldn't play anything but I had a gift for words, sorta. So we began to write songs, for a band we were going to call Epicurean Nightmare.
Yep: Epicurean Nightmare. We had a logo and everything. We got the word "Epicurean" from a random flip through a dictionary, looking for ideas for band names. Both words have an E and an N, and nine letters, so our logo kinda intertwined them. We were thinking of both bad food and a sort of blow to high culture - a celebration of low culture, sorta, which is not a totally un-clever name for a punk/ metal band (Greg was a bit more metal than punk and ended up playing in some sorta Christian metal band called Brainstorm, if I recall; I have no idea what he's doing now).
I remember a few of the songs I wrote lyrics for - "Rock Refugee," "I Want I Need I Cry I Bleed," and, maybe our favourite, "God of Shit," inspired by John Milton, which we were reading in high school English around that time. It was kinda our version of "Sympathy for the Devil." A lot of the verses are lost to time and fog, but the chorus kinda went,
Is there pain anymore?
How long have you been trapped?
Who labels you so pitiful
Oh lord of crap?
...which in a way I think was me commenting on growing up in Maple Ridge. A lot of my lyrics took in sex and drugs and alcohol in ridiculous, whiny, pretending ways: I mean, I had never smoked a joint or had much more than a sip of beer, but I still wrote lyrics like this:
Far away on a bottle of booze
Thunder in my head and shit on my shoes
Sometimes I wonder why,
But I'm doin' my best to ignore it
Be as blind as all the rest
The TV blasts out bullshit
I ain't stupid but I'm doin' my best
Lyin' in the gutter at 3am
The cop says, "move along"
(Something something something)
Where the hell did I go wrong?
Anyhow, Greg banged out chords and would sing the lyrics in his bedroom. He had his own songs too - "Blowjob," "I Wanna," "I Gotta." They were a bit, shall we say, purer as an expression of early brute punk, and hornier. No idea if he ever did anything with'em - but I kinda remember them, too. He did some gender bending with "blowjob," inspired by "Jet Boy/ Jet Girl," and had a line about how "she didn't like my blowjob." I didn't think it made any sense at all, back then, but I guess I get it now.
Anyhow, those songs with Epicurean Nightmare were my first lyrics. Greg and I kinda fell out while we were still in junior high, though I gave him a bunch of new lyrics I'd written sometime in the 1990's, when he came into a video store where I was working, which, again, I have no idea if he did anything with.
That was about it for me as a lyricist for ten or so years, until I befriended a guy named Michael, whom I eventually once again collaborated with. That friendship eventually went south, too, and I have no idea what he's doing these days, but he DID play at least one local gig, some ten or so years ago, where he sang a few songs I'd co-written. One of them - the best thing he'd done, I thought, and MOSTLY written by him - was a song called "Choke," which I see has been removed from Youtube. I rearranged a couple of his own lyrics and subbed in maybe a verse and a half of my own, which referred to "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," playing on the bit about visions, revisions, indecisions, and decisions which a minute will reverse (all of which can be worked into a pretty good song lyric, actually; too bad the video has been removed or made private or whatever has happened to it, it's actually a pretty great song).
And yeah, yeah, I know - using Milton and Eliot in rock lyrics is just dorky, but none of these are songs that I am particularly proud of now. My favourite song I have ever written was "If I Was a Bat," which David M. wrote music for, and has performed three times now, including this recent performance at the Rickshaw, opening for Marshall Crenshaw (who was amused by it, he told both of us later, before he even realized that I'd had a hand in it - he said he didn't laugh very often at songs, but that one made him laugh, and that was a good thing). That song has some history: the lyrics were written in Japan, when I was riding my three wheeled bike through rice paddies, ducking as bats swooped by me, on the road between the high school I was teaching at and my apartment. It came to me during one such ride, and it sat around for fifteen years before I had the idea of asking David to do something for it and sing it at my wedding, since it perfectly expressed, in a way, my anxiety that I was going to be deformed by upcoming cancer surgery and made into something my wife would not want to be married to - some speech-impaired or mute thing who maybe couldn't eat normally, etc. Being a bat was code for becoming some sort of a freak, though that hadn't been the initial intention of the lyric (which was just about being weird, maybe too weird to love).
Since David M's version of it had music different from the music in my head, when I had first written it, I sang my version on Youtube, for posteriety, just before my operation, in case I would no longer be able to. That arrangement of it has in turn has been performed (only once, to my knowledge) by the great Pete Campbell at a David M. gig where Coach StrobCam guested; they whipped it out one night right after David's version of the song, much to the surprise and delight of myself and Erika (both in attendance).
One song! Two versions! Covered once! That's a lot of traction for one of my lyrics, actually.
I mention all the above because I have just now posted a new song on Youtube: "Bald Man with a Hat." I explain it amply on the Youtube vid, so I will leave it at that. It was inspired in part by the previous blog entry, and by a joke Doug Bennett used to make in bars. Hope y'all enjoy.
Hey, I just noticed that "If I was a Bat" and "Bald Man with a Hat" have the same number of syllables in them, and rhyme. Sheer coincidence, I assure you.