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Monday, October 8, 2012

10-07-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #215 (The Squares “Can’t Stop The Rain” coda)

Once the lyrics and melodies and song structures were in place, Tom and Bruce went to town on the catchy licks and bassline, and we all started harmonizing on the choruses. Because I started to sing the lyrics and nobody objected, I sang lead on the song. Wow, that was a rush! Once we were in the room, I think that Malloy & Brannon kind of had to step aside -- or more likely, the Washington Squares force field pushed them to the periphery, as in a centrifuge. They started the song and handed it off, so we were fleshing it out and finishing that sucker.

I was considerably cheered that, after an hour or so, we had a new collaboratively written song made in Nashville. How cool. Did it matter that five people were in the room and that I kind of took over on a few aspects, and everybody shared equally in the song? Didn’t matter to me, not a bit. I’d do it again -- write with a group of writers -- and come up with some cool tunes.

I know that I took the lyrical/melodic lead, but the song wouldn’t have been the same without the contributions of everybody (esp. the new, faster tempo and cool guitar and bass parts). I’m very proud of “Can’t Stop the Rain.”

We recorded that song and “You Are Not Alone” in David Malloy’s Nashville studio the next day. The version we completed and took back to NYC with us didn’t impress the record company; it wasn’t very folky at all, too souped up with synthesizers and effects that made it sound kind of new wave (like Human League or Haircut 100), which was happening at the time but it wasn’t our style.

At any rate, we did record “Can’t Stop the Rain” as well as “You Are Not Alone” on our first album, the sessions we did at Electric Ladyland with Mitch Easter producing. . . 

10-06-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #214 (The Squares “Can’t Stop The Rain” pt. 2)

So, I put my nervous headache and migraine aside and bravely faced the music (literally). We drove back at the office/writing room for Malloy and Brannon just in time for a “working lunch” to finish writing a song with five people in a -- a “Nashville Committee” songwriting session. I’d heard about them & was so excited! I would now have to prove myself in a competitive group of writer-musicians, two of whom I knew well. And as much as I like to be “nice” and polite and never step on others’ proverbial toes, I WILL speak up when necessary.

Once in the writing room, I sat on the floor, and the guys sat around casually, too. I had a pen and notebook in hand rather than a guitar -- Bruce and Tom had their instruments. I started out saying, “Now here, this melody -- what if you took the last part of this line and started with it because it sounds more interesting?”

Those few notes/that part of the melody became the top of the verse. Bruce added full, dramatic guitar strums -- a D - D - E pattern. Tom noodled around on bass and got the “Shakin’ All Over” bassline to fit.

“And how about that repetitive part, ‘Nah nah nah nah. . .’ -- that can start the chorus?” My brain was on fire. I was deconstructing and reconstructing the melody because it needed some juicing up, sprucing up -- pruning too, perhaps.

After maybe 20 minutes of getting the song melody and structure tight, I tuned out everything else in the room and remembered sensory images -- sights, sounds, smells -- from the summer I had my heart broken for the first time. I thought of how flowers start to die. . . came up with the line, “Last rose of summer, withered” and I thought, what else, what else? I got it:

“--Like the love gone in your eyes.” Gone or lost? Somehow, “gone” sounded more country.

Malloy and Brannon approved of the direction of the lyrics, so I plowed on and sketched out lyrics that included a chorus, “Can’t Stop the Rain, Can’t hide the pain, I see the flash, I hear the thunder--“

The rest of the chorus goes, “--It’s going to fall, despite it all, but I won’t let it drag me under: No, you can’t stop the rain.”

Saturday, October 6, 2012

10-05-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #213 (The Squares “Can’t Stop The Rain” pt. 1)

In my Nashville motel room, trying to work on a song “by committee” and under a deadline, I was sickened by a migraine/stress headache combo. That was unusual, because at this time in my life, I had almost stopped getting migraines; I’d had them as a little kid up to about my teens, kind of weird because most people get them as adults and can’t shake ‘em. . .

Anyway, we were due back at the office/writing room for Malloy and Brannon in a few hours, at which time we’d have a “working lunch” and pound out a song that five people in a room were scheduled to work on and write. Talk about pressure! I felt so nervous, but knew it was doable because I think quickly and words are my absolute stock in trade (if you’re reading this, I’m sure you’ll agree).

True enough, lyrics aren’t just your everyday kind of words, they have meter and meaning and rhythm and rhyme. However, I’m quite adept at wordsmithing, from starting out as a poet and poetaster (one who writes rhyming lines that aren’t always poetic but will do in a pinch).

And, even though I was sort of channeling Roy Orbison, I knew that the lyrics would have to be about rain. That narrowed down things considerably, in my mind. I’d write about the inevitable rain in life, the rain on my parade that came sometimes, the rain that came when love was in vain. My first love was so very painful to me. . . I was only fifteen, and it was so intense to fall for a guy so completely and so stupidly.

I thought about it, and the time of year (the end of summer), and the kind of rainstorms that resulted (thunderstorms, very dramatic and so perfect). I didn’t have anything written down going into that lunch/writing session, but in my mind, I had a sketch started. . .

Thursday, October 4, 2012

10-02-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #211 (The Squares in Gnashville. . .)

As before mentioned, we had this early (G)Nashville connection with the Washington Squares. Apparently, the label really wanted to try to pair us with David Malloy as producer and sometime co-writer and so, we were flown down south to have a writing/recording session.

It was really cool, to go anywhere first of all -- I love adventure! -- but best of all, we were sent on a creative mission. Joy. We arrived in the middle of a hot day and were sent, pronto, to our motel on the outskirts of town. That day, we poked around the neighborhood and found a very silly pastime at a nearby recording studio for the public that was basically a karaoke setup. . . people came in to record vocal tracks to their favorite songs, then received a copy of the recordings on a cassette tape.

I think it was the Barbara Mandrell recording studio or somesuch. . .  but we had such a fun time there. I recorded “Stand By Your Man” and “You Ain’t Woman Enough”; Tom recorded “Like a Virgin” (what can I say? He was a big Madonna fan and it was a riot!); Tom and Bruce recorded “To All the Girls I Loved Before” (a total crack up -- Bruce did a silly voice, more like Ricky Ricardo on helium rather than Julio Iglesias); and Bruce recorded “Your Cheatin’ Heart.”

If there is any way I can find those recordings on that ancient cassette I carried around for years, I’ll certainly try to salvage it and convert to digital (I promise!).

That’s where I’d say the country roots of The Washington Squares were born. . . I’d always loved classic country music, and had friends who were country music writers and bonafide southerners (Stephanie Chernikowski, the photographer, and her friends, Martha Hume and Chet Flippo). I don’t know if Tom was much into country music, but I know that Bruce loved Hank Williams and lotsa rockabilly. . . probably a lot of the early Sun Studio sessions.

10-01-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #210 (The fun stuff -- being in the recording studio with “You Are Not Alone”)

When you’re a musical group, especially if you make your own music and write songs, you want to be in the recording studio, tracking your progress by doing sessions. That’s the lingo. . . yeah, musicians doing sessions; we sound like jazzers or something sophisticated-like.

At any rate, we did record demos (all analog -- it WAS the eighties, after all, and CDs were just starting to happen), notably for a few labels like , with Steve Burgh in NYC, and also in Nashville.

Yup, that’s right: Bert Stein, the VP of our record company, had a working relationship with a few Nashville-based songwriter/producers, notably a guy names David Malloy. Malloy’s friend, Spady Brannon (sounds VERY Nashville, eh?), often wrote with him. Stein was pushing us to record one of the songs they sent him on a demo (written by somebody named “Jason Snaarz,” which we thought suspect -- was probably Malloy and Brannon for all we knew) called “You Are Not Alone.”

Because we’re good musicians, we learned the song and arranged it with our three part harmonies (“stirring!”) and pretty acoustic guitars. . . before you knew it, it became a nice little anthem for the disenfranchised (“They’ve got the system/You’re out on your own/They’ve got ways to make it seem like they’re right/And you’re always wrong. . . They’ve got the power of the press behind them. . . etc. etc.  till the chorus: YOU ARE NOT ALONE/YOU ARE NOT ALONE).

We truly hated the song at first, but it grew on us. . . and it made it to our first album, oddly enough.

I’d still like to know who Jason Snaarz is. . .

Thursday, September 27, 2012

9-26-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #209 (“How’m I Doin’?” -- and we tell him, too! -- Part 2)

Much the same way anything interesting and excellent happened for the Washington Squares, Tom Goodkind got us into some improbable and cool situations. Keep in mind, he probably had some help from his wife, Jill, who was in Public Relations and carried her camera around to snap us with all kinds of celebs, including Hollywood types, an up-and-coming Whoopi Goldberg and a well known actor, Robert Duvall. . . . both very nice to us, actually.

At any rate, we had a request one holiday season (’87 or ’88?) to play for Mayor Koch and guests as a party at his home, Gracie Mansion. I was more excited for my mom and Rick’s parents to know we were doing it more than personally, I think. I just hoped we’d play and sing well, and get a nice meal and some $ out of the deal. Really, I have very simple motives -- and I’m not easily impressed. All right, I’m impressed by kindness, magnanimousness, compassion, and fun. I will namedrop if it helps the listener with placing the person, place or thing I’m trying to describe. Face it, most people seem captivated by tales of celebrities, and I hate to disappoint. . .

So, when the Washington Squares played a party for Mayor Koch at Gracie Mansion, we ate well and played well. The salad dressing especially was really excellent, so I asked the chef how to make it and I still whip up a yummy balsamic Dijon vinaigrette based on what we had at Gracie Mansion back in the late ‘80’s.

Shary Flenniken -- Bruce’s wife -- spent some time bending Ed Koch’s ear at the party. Tom was annoyed with her, maybe because he wanted to also talk to hizzoner but didn’t want to impose? Nah, Tom wasn’t that kind of person; I was more prone to worry about making an imposition on people at the wrong place and time. . . 

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

9-25-12 Survival Jobs for Writer-Musicians -- Starter Job #208 (“How’m I Doin’?” -- and we tell him, too!)

Before New York City was ruled over by mayors the likes of nasty Rudy Giuliani and the current OCD-Napoleonic potentate, Michael Bloomberg, I recall when NYC’s mayor was the suave, waspy John Lindsay. I was a little girl, growing up in Queens, and I remember when Mayor Lindsay visited the Zion Episcopal Church right near our house. At the time, I was in the Girl Scouts; somehow we in Douglaston merited a visit from the city administration (including the comptroller at the time, a young good looking Italian type named Mario Proccacino).

All right, so I shook Mayor John Lindsay’s hand many years ago (Proccacino’s too). Back in the ‘80’s, when the Squares ruled the Village (in our minds!), we had a pretty cool mayor, a colorful guy who we all liked for his sense of humor and amazing resemblance to Frank Perdue (“takes a tough man to make a tender chicken”), Mayor Ed Koch (“takes a tough man to make a tender city?”).

I’m standing next to good ol’ Ed Koch at a Yankees opening day game with Rick Wagner. . . back when we actually could occasionally afford to go (games weren’t too pricey and we had enough disposable income to enjoy ourselves -- or maybe we didn’t know better and spent all we had, that’s probably it!).

Oh all right, it’s not ACTUALLY Ed Koch in the pic with me. . . but a year or two after that, we really WERE in the company of hizzoner Mayor Koch: no lie