Saturday, March 19, 2011

FAWMers March II: A Tale of Two Asses

“Light this day, light of joy! I say he who is sad

Must be turned away from this celebration.

This way let all hatred, all sorrow, be allayed;

They desire gaiety, those who celebrate the festivity of the ass.”

Anonymous medieval lyric, soon to be incorporated into my new song

Do it for yourself. You have to love doing it. There is…no prize at the end of the road…the work itself is all that matters. Do the work because it’s what you HAVE to do when you wake up in the morning, not to get published, or to have fans or to have some bullshit [record contract]. Making a living in [it] is a nice benefit, but I would still be making the same [art] on my own if I weren’t getting paid to do it.” Artist Jeff Lemire

It was the tale of an ass leaving, and that same ass coming back. In between were several long, hard years and lessons. But before we get into that, I direct your attention to Spencer's post last week – I would pretty much agree with everything he said and encourage any songwriters out there to give this FAWM thing a try. Of course, it helps to have several other collaborators (most participants don't), but any way you do it, it's gonna be worthwhile.

The creative process is a funny thing. You never quite know if you're gonna finish what you set out to do, no matter how much you plan or what your track record has been. And of course, scariest of all, is you never quite know if what you come up with, even if you actually do come up with anything at all, will be any good. But if you concern yourself too much with those thoughts, you sometimes don't get anywhere.

At the end of January, Spence and I teamed up with two other songwriters in the hopes of tackling the FAWM challenge this year: write 14 songs in one month. We came up with a songwriting strategy: each of us would work on two songs with each of the other collaborators, and create one song entirely on our own, so that we would all end up working on seven songs apiece. This approach, if successful, would result in 16 songs, not 14, but we figured that would give us a couple of “extras” or give us some “wiggle” room if we didn't succeed in writing a song or two (illness, no visit from the muse, whatever).

I decided to write down a dozen or so possible song titles. The titles themselves had no connection to any actual song ideas; they were intended, rather, to be an “inspiration” point for whoever was writing the song. I sent the titles to the others. A few days later, Jack, one of the collaborators, came up with a “story-line” to also help us come up with song ideas. The songs could be based on the story or not; like the titles, it was intended to help but not constrict.

Jack requested to work on two of the titles I created, one of them being “The Ass is Back”. At that point, neither one of us had any idea what the song would be about. As February came upon us, I created titles for about a dozen songs, using some that I had already sent, and some inspired by what Jack had written, and it seemed like a good idea to actually have a “companion” title to “The Ass is Back”, so I threw in “The Ass is Gone” earlier in the song line-up to be a kind of precursor to “Back”, still having no idea what either of these would be “about”. The other collaborators then came up with the rest of the titles.

I was to work on the first of the Ass duo with Gary, the fourth collaborator. For various reasons that I won't go into right now, I had convinced the other three that I would only be writing lyrics, not music, for all “my” songs (with the exception, of course, of the one I had to do on my own). So I started thinking about just what a song called “The Ass is Gone” would actually be? Now the thing about FAWM is this: if you're actually going to finish 14 (or 16) songs in a month, you don't have a lot of time to think about things. Basically, I had to do my half of two songs a week for three consecutive weeks, and complete another song on my own. So you have to make some decisions pretty quickly and start working. I finally figured I'd do a story about a present day farmer, who lived just off Absalom Road, who was a proud man, not necessarily a bad man, but a man who had certain requirements in his life, and who demanded certain things of his wife. So the song became the story of how this man pushes his wife too far, and she leaves him, causing all manner of mishap, including the disappearance of some of his farm animals (i.e., his ass). How Gary could take this peculiar tale and turn it into the extraordinary blues number he wrote is a mystery only he can answer.

In any case, when we posted the song, a peculiar thing happened: it was stuck with a NSFW (Not Suitable For Work) label! We weren't exactly clear on what that meant, but it couldn't be anything good. Would other FAWMers shy away from it? Would it be banned from the FAWM “radio playlist”? And why was it given this label in the first place? Now I will admit this: the way the word is used might imply several meanings: an animal, a pejorative thrown at the wife, a sexual connotation. But the first intention and actual meaning was as an animal – in fact, a few lines before the title line, the lyric is “the goat is gone”. In any case, I couldn't spend too much time thinking about this, as I still had SIX songs to write!

As the month came to a close I began thinking about the song's “companion” piece. Should it have anything to do with the first song? And then it hit me in one of those “aha” moments: of course, the song should continue the farmer's story, but a few years later, after he has had a lonely time reflecting on what he did and why his wife left him. The lyrics for “The Ass is Back” were born and sent to Jack. And then another amazing thing happened: Jack took a COMPLETELY different approach to the music than I had considered, and he completely nailed it! And these, of course, are yet more reasons to participate in such an endeavor as FAWM – the exploration and discovery of creative moments that you couldn't ever imagine.

So “The Ass is Back” was posted and immediately hit with the NSFW label. Jack became enraged at this additional perceived insult, and started a thread on the FAWM sight that has resulted in over a hundred remarks. But to this date, NO ONE has commented on “The Ass is Back”, and it remains the only song we wrote that has that “distinction”. But it's okay, FAWM, we forgive you. The positives far outweigh this spat in the face. You're still the greatest. Seeya next year.

No comments:

Post a Comment