Friday, 6 December 2013

Ghostly Choirs

In my very early 20s, I was working all evening or night shifts.  I was almost entirely nocturnal.  So it was hard to find people around when I wanted to do stuff.  Finding people around when you want to do stuff is somehow much more important in your 20s, before all your friends marry and take off on you, and you kind of get used to that.
   I'd put up an ad for musicians, and had met a few local musicians, and there was a coffee house on a Wednesday night.  Now, at that point in time, Wednesday night was my "Friday Night/Saturday" because I didn't work Wednesday or Thursday.  I always worked Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  Often, I worked night shift on Tuesday night, either until very late, or actually until the next morning, and then I'd go to bed at dawn and wake up Wednesday, wanting people to do stuff with.  And so I arranged to meet up and play at this coffee house.  It was great.  It was my "Friday," and I was hanging around with people I did music with, and this was good because I'd been feeling more than usually lonely and lost at that point.  So we played some songs, then everybody suddenly had stuff to do, though the evening was still young, and I'd not be able to sleep until the wee hours.  The main guy I'd been planning on hanging out with afterward met a girl, and very abruptly took off, despite our plans, without saying anything to me.  Just tossed his guitar into the trunk of my car with mine, expecting me to get it back to him later, and scampered off into the night to find the girl.  I didn't have a girl.  As usual, there was a distant one who didn't actually intend to be with me, though I (kind of) had her respect.  That's kind of who I am, to women.
   So, feeling quite flat, I got in my car and was driving home, in mid-evening.  It was dark, and it was fall.  No moon.  No stars.  Wind blowing leaves on the ground.  I got more and more lonely and morbid and depressed the more I drove.  And then I drove past the graveyard most people from my church, and quite a few relatives are buried in, and I thought "I'm so morbid and alone, I think I will actually go into the graveyard, sit on a tombstone, and write a song just for my only audience, these dead people, who aren't about to run off with girls."
   And so I did.  I shut the car off, and noticed that it was very dark, and I went and sat on a tombstone, and I made up a song.  I liked it, so I sang it a few times so I wouldn't forget it.  Then I saw a police car pulling in, so I took off rather abruptly, got into my car, and drove to Tim Hortons, where I got out a pen and wrote the lyrics down on a napkin.  I'd gone in there so as to have light and something to write on.
   At first the song was called "Hello, Dead People."  That seemed too "on the nose." So then I called it "Wednesday Night" for the longest time, before realizing that more people would "get" the title if it was "Friday Night."  They would understand this better than my saying that I'd spent Wednesday ("my" Friday) evening writing this, really, because for most people Wednesday isn't their first night off.
   I did various quiet recordings of the song, just the main voice and a quiet guitar, like some of my most successful pieces are recorded.  And I played it from time to time at open stages and performances of various kinds.  I always felt a little self-conscious about the words, and felt like it needed a preamble.
   One summer night, in the woods around a campfire with a bunch of visiting musicians from Toronto, I played it and a girl gushed at length, over my honesty in writing a song about not having a girl, rather than about how many girls I score.  She kept repeating "People don't SING about that.  You don't HEAR songs like that..."  She had a boyfriend it wasn't working with, and would have been more than happy to have me as a platonic gal-pal, but I would not.  Was already that for too many women.

   Another time, a guy  (a dwarf/little person who is a friend of a friend) came with us to an Open Stage, heard me sing it and told me "I like that 'Bloated People' song."  I said "It's 'Hello, dead people" and he said "No, it isn't. It's 'Bloaaa-ted people..."  Made me laugh.
   The song sat around with all my other songs, getting forgotten for years and years at a time, then would be played for someone (or just me) perhaps once in a given year, then not played for years again.
 When I was getting drums recorded for various songs recently, for the album the song goes on (which is about thoughts relating to death of various kinds, literal or metaphorical), I decided to get drums for it.  I'd never had drums played with brushes on a song of mine, so I asked for that.  And I threw in, very last minute, the idea that there'd be a ghostly choir at the beginning and end.  George played drums to my voice and acoustic guitar, with a single high little voice marking where the choir would be. Sounded pretty silly like that, without all the bits.  And George got his biggest kick drum and his brushes and played away like a trouper one Friday night in his darkened music store after hours.
   Last week I finally put the tracks down to it, as a way of filling my actual Friday night, which was to be spent alone. I did a different version than ever before, abandoning the stripped down acoustic guitar concept, and (extremely rare for me) putting not a single acoustic guitar in it, opting instead for an attempt at a vintage, kind of 60s, surfy, rockabilly ballad sound.  I did it all in a couple of hours, doing the "biggest" fake choir I'd ever tried.  About eight voices, as I recall.  It wears my voice out pretty quickly to sing for extended periods of time falsetto.  The new version pretty much recorded itself, really pulling the ideas right out of me.
   Then I listened to it a couple of days later and didn't like it as much.  It was jangly.  It was jarring and harsh and odd.  The vocals had been recorded too "hot" and were scratchy and grating.  So tonight I resang it and remixed it to sound more smooth.  I think it's more listenable.  The words are:

Friday Night
Hello dead people, do you sleep well at night
Or do you lie awake thinking you could have done better?
Hello dead people, are you feeling alright
'Cause if this stone's free then I'd like to rest my bones here
Tell me, dead people, can I ask you a few things
'Cause I'd like to if you could spare a minute

Tell me, how does it feel to wake up in a grave
Knowing there are things that you must leave unfinished?
And how does it feel to lie there in a box
As the world fills up with folks who never knew you?
How does it feel?

I'm listening, kind dead men, what is it you'd like to say?
You would like to tell me how to treat a woman?
She needs a listening ear and she needs a gentle touch
Twice a much as someone to solve all her problems
What was that dead women? What you looked for in a man?
Would I fit the bill or even the description?

Tell me, where could I find someone who'd think I was alright?
I could sing to her, instead of to dead people (no offence)
And why do I feel like I scare them all away
Leaving dead folks as my company tonight
(originally: As I sit here on a tombstone Wednesday night)
You know how I feel?

Good night dead people, I guess I've got to go
I might have years of life stretched out before me
Take care dead people, it was real nice being here
But that policeman's gonna ask why I'm talking to you
Good night dead people, I will lie here too, someday
But for now there's things that would remain unfinished
But just before I go, can I ask a couple of things
'Cause I'm curious and I don't like to wonder

Tell me, how does it feel to have decades left to sleep
When there's nothing left on earth could ever wake you?
How does it feel to sleep beyond all harm
When there's nothing on this earth could ever hurt you?
How does it feel?


Anonymous said...

To me.Grave yards are freaky places.Give me the real heeby jeeby's

Anonymous said...

I wondered about a background clock bell sounding with the choir