|saving the world with song, video and commentary|
|copyright 2016 janice leber / chopped liver productions|
|chopped liver productions|
This is a good one. I'm looking forward to telling you about how this song was written.
I rarely collaborate on songs. I have a quick turnaround time and besides -- well, I just know how the song is supposed to go. But then again, I have this crazy song-a-month challenge going and I'm always looking for song ideas.
Last fall, my Facebook friend Joe O'Neill posted an angry rant about a friend who, like him and a lot of people his age, is struggling with student loan debts and feeling victimized by the ridiculously stringent and expensive rules of Sallie Mae. His rant was poetic and conveyed his rage so perfectly that it really stuck with me. My mind kept rolling over his poem. I heard a tune along with the first four words immediately.
So I wrote to Joe and asked if he'd mind if I stole his poem and did some major surgery on it to make it song-worthy. He said OK.
I downloaded the text and started jiggering with it. Every few weeks I'd open up the file, move things around, write a line or two, rewrite another line or two, save it and close. Slowly, over the course of months, the words began taking shape.
I still wasn't sure it could be a real song. There was little meter and almost no rhyme and was going to take some serious reworking. I wasn't sure which of Joe's words would be the chorus or the hook, so the whole project lingered menacingly in the back of my mind as time went by.
One Saturday morning I was walking my dog through the lovely Hollywood neighborhood of Northeast Portland when all of a sudden I noticed there was a tune in my mind. It came out of nowhere and i wasn't even thinking about Joe's song (or so I thought), but the melody in my mind went like this: "Owing all she owns, owing more than all she owns ..." As soon as I was conscious of this turn of phrase I added, "she'll never get away from Sallie Mae," and I knew I had my hook.
Time continued to march on while this song remained unwritten. Meanwhile, the song for May, "Beautiful Mind," finally got animated and uploaded, and I celebrated this achievement for about two hours before I started thinking about what I might be able to do for June's song. And I immediately thought about Joe's poem. I opened the file and started moving things around, and with the easy acceptance of a desperate person I thought, "This is ready to be a song!" By the end of the day I had the first verse. The second verse was a matter of filling in the blanks with Joe's phrases and telling the story in the same meter as the first verse.
The bridge ("Running, running ...") jumped into my brain in one piece. That's one of those moments when the writing was so easy I have absolutely no memory of it. It was a simple matter of, "Here's the bridge and it's exactly right the way it is." The third verse came together pretty easily, so after months of very little action, the song came into being in two days.
recording the song
The song started out in the key of C. I recorded it in C and thought I was done but when I listened to the playback my voice sounded kinda screechy. I don't want to sound screechy. Preachy, maybe. Screechy, no thank you. So I decided to knock it all the way down to A and my voice sounded much richer in the lower key. Unfortunately when I transposed it on the ipad, it took the guitar part UP nine semitones instead of DOWN three. So all of a sudden the tinkly guitar was SUPER tinkly and I didn't see any option for taking it down an octave. A few listens convinced me that it was OK up high.
after the song
Joe and I met in 2012 (at the Disco Trike trial, if you know what that's about), and we hit it off right away but I feel super close to him after the experience of writing this song. Since I wrote it I've seen a number of Facebook posts about how Sallie Mae is making people indentured servants -- they're stealing Joe's line! I think to myself, "This song's time has come." Whether people hear it or not, I love this song and I think it strikes an important note in these times.
If I was trying to be all political I'd put links right here so you could learn more about Sallie Mae for yourself. But I'm just a songwriter. I don't know nothin' about political stuff. I don't bother my pretty little head about such things.