Affording Good Beheadings

October 23, 2009 12:46 PM

This is a song I wrote in late August, for bingo's Revolving Floor project.

I started from the naked gimmick of trying to re-use the word "seconds" in the same structural spot but with different meanings ("seconds" was the theme of that issue of Revolving Floor), and the story of the song just grew around that, as I tried to think up a narrative that could involve the concepts of assistants-to-ritual-suicide and going-back-for-more and the ticking of the clock.

I like the recording a lot in general, though the big hit of the return of the full instrumentation after the drop in the third verse doesn't feel as big as I'd like.

This is another early effort in tracking live drums, too—unfortunately, I'm still just doing it with room mics, so there's not a hell of a lot I can do about the levels on various drum sounds aside from a bit of EQ tweaking. But for all that it's really satisfying to be able to have drums in a recording, and I've been considering experimenting with some retrackings of old songs that I wrote with a "band sound" in mind but never had a rhythm section for.

Vocals are also kind of experimental here; I hung a second mic (actually my new Zoom H2 in monitoring mode) in a window a few feet off from the main mic when I was tracking vocals, and the mix between those two is intentionally lopsided in the stereo field. Not sure I'm in love with the chorusy result on this song in particular (though I do like the extra roominess it gives the vocals during the drop in the third verse), but it's something I might play with a little more in the future.

posted by cortex (11 comments total) 6 users marked this as a favorite


and the way that we met
in the Purple Room at Powells
at Asian History

and I was browsing for samurai
and you were researching suicide

and we joked about the privilege
of affording good beheadings
by your seconds

and the first time we went
to your mother’s house
for Thanksgiving

and the turkey that you
warned me would be too dry
was too dry

and the smile in her eyes
when I went back cheerful
for seconds

and all the time that we had
months in love
months of struggle

and all the time that we lost
all the time that you took
that you stole from us

and I count it all out
by years and weeks and hours
and seconds

posted by cortex at 12:47 PM on October 23, 2009

I really like this, both lyrically and sonically.

It sounds like a car drives by in the right speaker at 1:47-52.
posted by Kattullus at 1:06 PM on October 23, 2009

I like the parts where it's the piano, guitar and uke combo.
Also, sometimes I like when your voice does that kind of shouty vibrato thing, sort of panicky-sounding.
posted by chococat at 8:38 PM on October 23, 2009

This has a ragged and triumphant glory, like a battered soldier staggering off the still-smoldering battlefield, shaken and wounded, but ALIVE, dammit, and proud to yell it to the world. A damaged exultation that sounds cathartic for you.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:31 PM on October 23, 2009 [2 favorites]

Finally... all our beheading up till now has been way too over-cost. Or simply of lower quality!

Do you still have this research available?
lol, but truly an awesome song here; thank you for not only creating, but sharing too!
posted by infinite intimation at 1:57 PM on October 24, 2009

Heh, Powell's. Is that a car driving by in the right ear at about 1:50? Love it. I really like the feeling of this, the vocals especially, so I think your little mic experiment thing worked out well. Would love to hear more done in this style.
posted by Corduroy at 3:28 PM on October 24, 2009

Yeah, that must be a car driving down the street in the middle of the take. I was hoping for some of that neighborhood ambiance with the mic in the window, and there it is. I had originally planned to pull in a whole extra track of neighborhood noise as its own take, for possible use as texture, but then I goofed the recording I made (monitoring instead of actually putting it down on record) and got impatient to move on, so that never got played with.

A damaged exultation that sounds cathartic for you.

It's funny that all my emotionally-cathartic-sounding songs are generally whole cloth projects. I've never had to go through the unstated ordeal behind the protagonists lyrics, here, and while I certainly try to channel a little bit of genuine emotion into my vocal performances where possible it's more acting-by-identifying-with-fiction here than anything like me getting something out that was needing to get out.

Which is a weird aspect of writing unhappy songs. Life is pretty good, I've got few complaints, and songs about my actual daily state of mind would be mindbogglingly dull, probably. Dammit I Stubbed My Toe just isn't all that emotionally arresting. It's a nice outlet as someone who never really got the hang of straight up acting, as far as that goes.
posted by cortex at 8:49 AM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

I love this. I listened to it, mulled it over, and then took stock of its component parts:

Literary reference
Portland reference
Suicide reference
Acoustic strumming

This song is the missing link between the Decemberists and Elliott Smith.
posted by umbú at 8:44 AM on October 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

posted by cortex at 1:25 PM on October 29, 2009

Pretty good acting in that case, and your drums...

There's a nice little sweet spot between being technically right on and being right on with expression and this really hits the spot for me.

Or, what flapjax said.
posted by snsranch at 7:17 PM on November 2, 2009

cortex writes: it's more acting-by-identifying-with-fiction here than anything like me getting something out that was needing to get out.

Leonard Cohen said something in an interview once that perhaps relates to all this. When asked to what extent his songs are "autobiographical", he said something to the effect that they are all very autobiographical, but with the understanding that the imagination, the world of imagined ideas, is a big part of one's life, as much as one's 'concrete', flesh-and-blood history and experience. So I think that, sometimes, a performance that sounds as "cathartic" (as I put it) as this does can indeed be cathartic for the performer, even if it's not necessarily a simple description or telling of some event or circumstance that actually happened to the singer/performer. So, at the risk of sounding like some armchair psychologist, I have to imagine that, on some level, this needed "getting out", even if it isn't based strictly on some specific story from your life. Something from the world of your imagination needed getting out, one might say, and that might indeed be cathartic.

At any rate, I don't think that it's all that important, ultimately, whether one is writing and singing about something that is some sort of cast-iron fact from one's own life in the physical world. I think we can sing passionately about something we've invented, or something that is related to some specific personal history but uses those only as a starting point for something else. Something from the imagination. Something partly fictional, but no less *real*. I find for myself, as I've gotten older, that a deeper well of personal experience and history to draw from has meant that many of my songs are born of various experiences from various times: a memory here, a memory there, thrown together and rolled up and shaped into a story or an idea that, on the face of it, appears to address or describe some specific person, or event, but in fact is a swirling combination of people and events. And sometimes with very liberal portions of the purely invented blended in.

Well, I'm not exactly satisfied with how I've been able to get this idea across, but, I think you probably catch my drift.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:47 AM on November 4, 2009

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