Feb 14

First off, some general housekeeping. I’m sorry for this Blog’s six month hiatus. It was due to nothing more than the usual writer’s block.

I’d like to thank you for your kind letters, donations and concerns that my fingers were broken but alas they were all in my head.

This post was percolating for quite a while as frankly I wanted to set a certain standard. I wanted these posts to awaken the Muse in all of you. Yes we all have the Muse, Ken Porcaro, whether you see her or not. It’s just that sometimes she’s helping us to create, other times she’s watching TV and eating Cheetos. ;-)

A few months ago, I jokingly suggested that Mike Wich run for public office. He responded with one of the best lines I’d heard in a while. He said:

There are too many skeletons in my closet and one of them is you.

Now that’s a song starter if I ever heard one. Unlike soup starter where you just add water, a good song needs to be fleshed out if it’s going to have the main course of a great line like that.

Today’s case in point is “Hung Up On You” by Fountains of Wayne, specifically Chris Collingwood and Adam Schlesinger. The main line that pulls it all together is

“Ever since you hung up on me, I’m hung up on you.”

Now, for those who know me, I’m not particularly a big fan of country music, though as I’ve gotten older the Rock and Roll chip on my shoulder has gotten soft and moldy from too many people crying on it. This song to me seems more like an homage to certain types of country songs and I think it nails it on many levels. Time to coin a new word: HOMAGENIZED (I’m still wrestling with the best spelling on that one) ;-)

It reminds me of tunes I used to hear countless times in neighborhood bars in New York and New Jersey. The kind of places that offered no more enticement than a bar, a glass that’s seen better days, and a stranger to talk to. Oh yeah sometimes a seat, but almost always a jukebox that hasn’t had a new song installed since 1978.

Great, now I have “Help Me Make it Through The Night” stuck in my head. Sing it with me, “Take the ribbon from your hair….”

These places have a certain kind of warmth to them. Most often they are places most people wouldn’t set foot in, but when it’s cold and rainy outside, they’re a warm bowl of soup. (What is it with me and soup today?)

These types of songs tell stories and there are countless great ones out there. The trick is to have a story that ties in that great line of yours. I’ve seen and written too many that don’t support the main idea and that just waters it down. Without a re-write these tasty gems just sit on the page looking at you like a puppy in a crate.

Here’s how Fountains of Wayne supported their tag:

And I can’t dial the phone just now
Even though I know your number
Can’t bring my broken heart to be untrue
Like you did today
You’ll say goodbye the same old way
Ever since you hung up on me
I’m hung up on you

There’s just something about this song I can’t get out of my head. Maybe it’s the nostalgia of having been in a few of those roadside bars, maybe it’s the familiarity of that type of song. Whatever it is, it keeps my ears in the tune.

A painting teacher told me that during the time of the Dutch Masters and some of the Renaissance painters before them, they used to try to outdo each other by playing with the backgrounds and the overall painting’s composition. The idea was that a viewer’s eye would follow a given path around a painting from main subject to supporting objects in the painting and all over it like a map.

The game was to try and keep the viewer’s eye coming back to the main subject by not having any of the lines in the painting pointing out of the frame, but rather in a looping fashion back to the main subject. The idea was that the longer a person looked at your painting the better it was and the more likely they were to buy it. Talk about subtlety!!

Songs can be the same way in that during the rewriting process you can add a detail here and there that brings up multiple points of reference for the listener. It could be a phrase about a roadside bar in this example, or a slide guitar or familiar hook that is reminiscent of other songs in the genre or anything else you can come up with that keeps their ears in the tune.

Consider it like adding rosemary and thyme to the chicken to enhance the flavor (yeah you knew I’d have to end with a soup reference) ;-)

Mmm-mmm good!!


Here’s “Hackensack” by Fountains of Wayne: