TrueLove

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I pulled out the old guitar this morning and doodled around with my last song, written fourteen months ago now. I'm just leaving a period where I couldn't quite bear to even pick up the danged thing, so it took me a while to remember how to play this song. Looking around for the lyrics, my memory fails me so often now, I stumbled upon this Morning Missive, written just before I finished the song and sent to my dear friends in Arizona. This piece properly describes the act of creation when The Gods decide to exhibit their foolishness and put that process in my hands. It serves as a fine reminder that I never know how to write, how to create, but that the process seems fully capable of taking care of itself and producing anyway.



I wrote my first song over fifty years ago. This proclamation dates me, I know. Since that momentous event, I have written many, many songs, more than I’ll ever remember, thank heavens. I remember feeling paranoid then that some unscrupulous operator might try to steal my tunes, so I copyrighted the best, painstakingly transcribing words and music, filling out the proper forms, then sending them via certified mail, return receipt requested, to The Library of Congress in Washington DC, where I suppose they still reside today. Nobody ever tried to steal one of my tunes.

But then, my tunes aren’t, strictly speaking, tunes so much as melodic poems. Every song I ever wrote might, under a real musician’s scrutiny, turn out to be nothing more than the slightest variation on the same basic melody, like the songs in The Music Man. I offer this observation as no complaint or criticism. Some of the best songwriters seem to be serial replicators, melody-wise, and the popular songbook sometimes seems to be nothing but the same sorry attempt to say the same unspeakable thing, over and over again.

When I heard myself blurting out that I’d write an original song for my Dwarlink Dwaughta’s wedding, I knew I was volunteering to step into the middle of something I’d trod in many, many times before. This vast (or, half-vast) experience of mine doesn’t buy me much. Sitting down to write a new song elicits the most overwhelmingly powerless feelings in me; deep inadequacy as I at first seem capable of remembering only songs I’ve already mastered, already written. Nothing original in that. I might spend an infinite amount of time, well, an infinite-feeling amount, before I ever stumble upon even a hint of anything original, and even then, I might be channelling my inner Johnny Mercer, aping some real master, and poorly.

I will have purchased a deep funk with my bold offer, and I will own all of it. I might appear to be carrying on with my usual activities of daily living, but I will be churning inside, convinced I have finally out-smarted or, more probably out-stupided, myself at last. I will spend a couple of days imagining various escape scenarios, drafting excuses, hoping not to disappoint anyone but myself when I regretfully back out of the deal. Then the dwaughta calls to confirm that I really am going to sing at her wedding, and I quickly confirm my earlier stupidity … er, agreement, and nobody’s the wiser.

I write a reasonably respectable vamp, but it aches for a chromatic chord progression more complicated than my usual personal Louie Louie one. I’m halfway there, having trekked all the way to the base of Everest, though I’ve yet to really start. I discard the vamp, or set it aside for less humiliating work, and almost forget about it as the week of the wedding dawns. Then it’s almost the middle of wedding week and I’ve made no more outward progress, but something’s been cooking inside, low and excruciatingly slowly.

Two this morning, I wake to find a melody turning around and around in my head. The chords tag along, and I can see myself playing this combination I’ve never put together before. I try to shake this movie, knowing today will become one very long day if I don’t stay in bed until at least four, but I fail to ditch the impulse to rise. I eventually do rise, stumbling into the dining area to pull my guitar out of its case. It’s, remarkably, still in tune, and I sit at that stylish table and play.

I almost never write melody first. For me, it’s usually words then music, then words rewritten to fit the music, then music refashioned to fit those words; iteratively, recursively, really, until the finished song emerges. This time, though, the earlier drafted vamp suggests a repeating word pattern that follows, perhaps even enhances the simple melody. It’s simple, but also quite compelling, and all the accumulated and nurtured inadequacy shifts into a subtle but also quite powerful sense that I’m doing it again, or that it’s doing me again. I’m actually writing a song:

TrueLove

It’s impolite to speak of passion,
just so entirely out of fashion
in this day.
Too risqué.
And when considering a marriage,
one daresn’t speak of baby carriages
on the way,
tre ouverte.
So are we stuck with pompous circumstance,
a wedding march in stripy pants?
That’s no way to remember this day!

I might just say what Love isn’t
to avoid sounding deficient
in any way, so here’s what I think I’ll say:

True Love might insist upon no melody,
True Love, hardly ever rhymes.
True love, brings that most curious of harmonies,
and visits in her own peculiar time.
… … …

Well, that’s the pattern, anyway. The song will, like all popular songs, attempt to speak the unspeakable. In that way, it’s true to the genre. It will also, somewhat disrespectfully name its game, declaring what it dare not say, and thereby saying it, before proceeding to describe all TrueLove isn’t and never was. There will be girl verses and boy verses, and perhaps a grand finale couple verse, each exploring while exploding some popular myth of what TrueLove entails. It doesn’t have to wait ‘till Spring. It almost never rhymes with June (or moon). It doesn’t do the dishes or pay the rent or necessarily remember to gas up the car. It might end up being indistinguishable from the life we already are, which should be the point.

The song will be Schmaltzy, and unashamedly so. It will exhibit a wry sense of humor along with a certain fatherly bon homme, poking fun and deadly serious, too. It will be fun to sing and people will remember smiling, even if they don’t actually remember the words or the melody, which will end up being almost as chromatic as forgettable; the medium for carrying the message, which will be no more than the medium for carrying the felt sense, which is how popular songs end up saying what cannot be said. What cannot be said gets translated via melody and lyrics into a felt sense, ultimately not describing anything at all, but inducing the sensation of having heard something quite profound. Now, I have a couple of more days to populate the pattern with precisely the proper words, which, if well-crafted, will seem to fit rather awkwardly, but nonetheless exactly correctly, too.

I now fondly anticipate the upcoming days. I feel confident that everything will somehow fall together, plus, I suddenly have a soundtrack behind everything I do. These newly-born melodies follow me everywhere, setting the rhythm behind everything I do, and I will be doing plenty. I will carry my little moleskin notebook everywhere, and I will be jotting down possible variations on the basic pattern as I stumble across them. It ain’t no wedding march, but this isn’t planned to be a marshall affair. The dwaughta wants an informal gathering of family. Little fuss. We will make more fuss than requested, anyway, just being together in this way.

Songwriting is a form of self-induced salvation featuring a long excursion through the most degrading Hell, also self-inflicted. I do not wonder why songwriters throughout history have fallen apart, for it’s a trying endeavor every time, and one rewarded with no more than a few days of real felt glory, followed by further refinement and the occasional request to dredge it up again. Songs live a very, very long time, and for me, never really stop growing and changing, but then I’m the guy who cannot do the same thing once. They are my children. My legacy, I suppose, also my grandchildren’s heritage. Imagine transmitting felt sensations across time. Quite the humbling responsibility.

My friend Franklin teaches people how to write songs, though he never taught me, and I never even tried to teach anyone else to pull off this curious ploy. Why is it that if you put a guitar in someone’s hands and show them a chord or two, they suddenly become a minstrel poet prepared to pass commentary, even dispense ‘sage’ advice, to everyone within ear shot? As a teenager, I think popular music instructed me more than all my teachers, parents, pastors, and patrons combined! What so compels people to listen to these troubadours and even follow their rhyming directions? I think this the most curious phenomenon around.

Playing guitar probably didn’t make me wise, yet I feel sage when playing. This sensation might be a side-effect of hyperventilating when singing, a light-headed insightfulness that sure seems profound. Perhaps this sense of profundity transmits between singer and audience using one of those ultra low frequency wave lengths nobody’s figured out how to measure yet to produce the shared sensation. Groupies thrive on this stuff.

I never had any groupies, though I’ve had my share of TrueLove, even some of the mythical kind, but much, much more of the kind a guy like me or you should fully appreciate. The kind of love that wouldn’t make believable fiction, so it just has to be TrueLove.

6/14/2015


©2016 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved









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