It’s Exam Week again, and I’ve managed to stay on top of grading as of the time of this writing. My school only requires teachers to be on campus this week for exams we’re proctoring, so it’s been much quieter and more relaxed than the two weeks preceding this one.
It’s interesting looking back at this post in its prior permutations, though they both explore the same idea: the genius that arises from pressure.
I don’t work well under pressure, but if I have to twenty-three-skidoo together a song in twenty-four hours, I’m far more likely to get it done than if I have an amorphous, open-ended deadline. I’ve been approached on a small number of occasions to compose music for certain purposes, and I usually fall down on the job. I find that while I can write a song fairly quickly, I do not compose instrumental music terribly well under pressure. That requires a great deal of thought, especially if the music is programmatic in nature.
That said, I’ve been listening to more of my buddy Frederick Ingram’s work, and even some of my old EP. It’s pretty remarkable listening back to some of the songs that I wrote, a few of them nearly ten years ago! I also realize that I actually wrote some pretty good songs—and I’ve been trying to figure out where that inspiration and lyrical subtlety went.
For example, I’ve long written off one of my songs, “Funeral Pyre,” as kind of a throwaway tune. I wrote it the morning I was supposed to begin recording the record (but that session was rescheduled due to a snowstorm). It was based on an interesting line that popped into my head one night before bed: “That crackling fire/was the funeral pyre/for the flame that I held out/for you.”
The song was intended to be a Meat Loafian ballad about unrequited love and romantic mistakes that, despite the pain, bring with them growth. But it’s never been a fan favorite, and I gradually stopped playing it at live shows except only occasionally.
In listening back to it now, I’m actually pretty darn impressed with some of the poetic imagery I managed to evoke (I was probably twenty-nine at the time I wrote it, if I have my dates right). It is very much inspired by Jim Steinman’s writing for Meat Loaf, and the piece is actually quite vocally demanding (though not nearly as impressive as Loaf himself). It doesn’t have the toe-tapping, singalong quality of “Hipster Girl Next Door” or the iconic hooks of “Greek Fair,” but I find that I am finding depth in my own song that I didn’t realize was there!
Well, anyway, that’s enough navel-gazing. I promise I’m not trying to brag about how brilliant younger me was, but it’s pretty cool revisiting my older works. To be sure, listening back to some of those tracks now almost sounds like karaoke, with my voice over pianos that are mixed—why am I only noticing this years later?—a little too loud, giving the sensation of a karaoke track.
With that, here is “TBT: O Little Town of Bethlehem and the Pressures of Songwriting“:
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