October 22, 2009

Music: What Happened?

I just got caught up on Scott Miller's Music: What Happened? series, which he wrapped up last month. All his pieces are extremely well-written, -observed, -heard, and -worth reading.

October 11, 2009

Why Rhyme?

The wag in me wants to ask the question in a broader existential sense (such as how someone with bipolar disorder would ask "why get out of bed?"), but let's start small. More specifically, beyond the effect of "words that sound like other words," what tools do rhymes provide to a lyricist? A few for your consideration:
The sex you're trading up for what you hope is love
Is just another thing that he'll be careless of1
In the most basic sense, rhymes connect words and give them some kind of larger shape. The rhyme here makes a long thought feel whole. The connection between love and of, however, is essentially utilitarian.
Having her on my brain's like getting hit by a train
She's gonna kill me. Oh Celeste, oh Celeste.2
Here there's a little more meat in the connection. It illuminates something less familiar about the words being rhymed.
I'll pretend I'm jealous of all the fellas
And if that don't do then I'll try something new3
Smokey Robinson makes those connections with the sort of language you'd use in casual conversation. That's why he's a great poet.
On a ferris wheel looking out on Coney Island
There are more stars than there are prostitutes in Thailand4
You can't talk about rhymes in songwriting without mentioning funny lyrics. The rhyme sneaks up on you and snaps the joke into place.
I'd go to hell for yuh, even Philadelphia!5
Sometimes the joke's in the rhyme itself.
Although she's none the wiser, although we've barely met
I can recognize her from the treatment that I get6
Rhymes have a kind of gravitational pull that you can align with musical phrases.
Look at the day dressed in copper lamé and it's trying your glass slippers on
I sit in the dark and I listen to Mark asking where has that last firefly gone7
In this way, harmonious combinations of words can become their own kind of music, something interesting to chew on with the melody.

This is by no means a comprehensive list. Hopefully, it points to some of the magic in words that can get you to pick up the pen every day.

1Aimee Mann, "You Do"
2Old 97's, "Timebomb"
3Smokey Robinson, "I'll Try Something New"
4Stephin Merritt, "Strange Powers"
5Lorenz Hart, "Any Old Place with You"
6Jon Brion & Aimee Mann, "I Believe She's Lying"
7Franklin Bruno, "In A Sourceless Light"

October 07, 2009

The 101st

The 101st
Franklin Bruno
available on Local Currency: Solo 1992-1998

F# B / / | F# / B / | x4

Why does the front of my new notebook say
"College ruled" when I know it sucked?
Flat-out fucked in the aqueduct as we
Cross the garden to take a look around.

a# / / / | / / / / | C# / / / | / / / / |
d#add9 / / / | / / / / | C# / / / | Badd9 / / / |

Frozen hands couldn't play guitar, so I
Inventoried my penny jar.
Spiral-bound couldn't make a sound, so I
rooted 'round in the mulch and found--

a# g# B
The hundredth song about you said the
a# g# B cdim
Same thing as the very first I
a#/C# a# d# a#
Came across before I opened up my drawer.
a#/C# a#
So excuse me while I burst into the 101st.


a# d#
There's an accordion file and it's wheezing away
D A C#
Sixteen, seventeen hours a day.
F# a#
With your Debordian guile there's nothing left to survey.

The broken glass on the backyard path
You could cut your foot where the TV smashed.
Like copper coils from the polygraph
As you weed the wheat out and save the chaff.

The hundredth song about you said the
Same thing as the very first I
Came across before I opened up my drawer.
Unrevised and unrehearsed, just like the 101st.

Intro (end on a#)


Is this even a song?

I mean that more metaphysically than physically. The song's got some formal irregularities (the form suggests AABA-with-chorus more than it is one, the rhyme scheme in the verses verges on free-associative), but those seem largely irrelevant. Franklin Bruno's written enough by-the-book songs that it should be safe to assume intent here.

The lyrics help us out a little more, specifically the chorus. We find out the speaker has written 100 love songs about the same person. He launches into the next section by proclaiming he's about to start into #101, i.e., the 101st of the title. So really, this isn't a song, this is a song coming into being. That seems to justify the verses' free associations.

Isn't that weird?


I would like to develop a format for presenting tabs I've done with some commentary on what got me excited about the song, i.e., something that's mixes the practical and academic. I'll be playing with the proportions between the two, but please leave any comments for improvement below.

October 04, 2009

Re: The New Math

I had a request for explication on this post, so here goes. Software's a more familiar concept:
  • It usually can't be had for less than $15, usually a bit more.
  • You probably wouldn't qualify it as an impulse purchase.
  • It has a reputation that transcends whatever platform it's on. People happily use MS Office on the Mac and get cranky when the feature set doesn't line up with the PC version.
  • It is the product that the company wants to sell.
  • It's often a tool that can be used for work: office suite, photo editor, etc.
  • You may use it as part of collaborative work, but your regular use probably doesn't involve someone else sitting at the same terminal with you.
Apps, on the other hand:
  • Are often free, typically no more than $5.
  • They're cheap enough to buy on a whim.
  • The brand they help is usually that of the host platform. Apple will run an ad to show you some of the more interesting apps you can get for the iPhone, but the ad is ultimately for the iPhone.
  • A large company will often offer something for free so their brand has a presence on the device. It can be a gimme to get people to draw people to their core product.
  • It's often an object for play. People get excited about the app that tells them what's playing over the bar's PA, less so about the tip calculator.
  • It's often used as an object for social play and status, with people you're physically near: "check out this neat app that I got!"
This last distinction is where things get interesting. Software has historically been an extension for office appliances. The ubiquity of powerful, portable devices, low cost of their add-on software, and intended use of that software has produced different from the original vision behind desktop computing. "Social" is an overused buzzword nowadays, but here's one place where a little more exploration is in order.