The cliche is singing in the shower, but a shower can also be a well-spring of creativity.
My song, Shortcomings, had been sitting around with several other songs, sadly neglected from a recording point of view, while I attended to less important things. Life is busy, but also short. If I were hit by a bus tomorrow, I would sentence many a song to full-bore obscurity, possibly doomed never to tickle a tweeter, nor wend from a woofer.
Shortcomings wasn’t the oldest in the succession of never-beens, but is old enough that the detailed circumstances of its creation are somewhat shrouded, somewhat revealed, in mist.
I do remember that like many of my songs Shortcomings started with a single idea/lyric: I’m forthcoming / About my shortcomings. The theme hits pretty close to home with me (wasn’t I just discussing my catalog backlog?). In truth the forthcoming part has taken a long time to develop, but I have found that with age it gets easier for me to recognize and own up to my own shortcomings, which are many.
The other thing I distinctly remember about the writing of Shortcomings is the mist itself, from several nice, warm, and productive showers. I regularly find the shower quite conducive to continuing a lyrical flow begun elsewhere. I’m not the only one who feels this way. It’s that lateral thinking thing and even a quick search will reveal tons of articles about the phenomenon, including:
- Why thinking in the shower may be an ideal model for “creative pause”
- Why great ideas always come in the shower (and how to harness them)
- 20 reasons why the best ideas come in the shower
For perhaps as long as a year, the song only had two verses drawn from those primordial mists. When I decided to get busy and get it recorded, I felt the song could use another verse. I actually made a conscious effort to come up with that third verse in the shower. Continuity, coincidence, or not, those were the waters from which the final verse sprung.
The next time you’re stuck for an idea, lyric, or melody, try hitting the showers.
Rinse and repeat, or leading with the preceding
As a straight-forward, traditional, blues shuffle, there’s not a lot of discussion to be had surrounding the music in the song. Except to say that it’s not in eight- or twelve-bar blues form. In fact, it’s not even as varied as those forms, spending most of its time on the one chord during the verses and the five chord during the bridges.
There is no true chorus in this song and that’s without any intent. I really just let this song take me on a ride, with the lyrics in the driver’s seat.
Lyrically, I think the pattern of transitions between verses is worth noting. I remember liking the juxtaposition of the same/similar word that I wrote at the end of the first verse and the beginning of the second. I managed to keep the pattern going by starting each new verse the same way.. So we have (in order): long/along; pride/proud; cries/cries. I think it helps drive the song forward.
Transition between verse one and two:
Transition between verse three and four:
Transition between verse five and six:
I’m sure there must be other songs that do this, although I can’t think of one at the moment (feel free to provide examples in the comments). One song that has a very similar, though much more clever idea is New York City by Ken Tobias, in which two of the lines in the first verse start with a word that can be interpreted as the last word of the previous line, without repeating the word. I suggest listening, using the link above to hear how well it worked and to hear this gorgeous song, if you’re not already familiar with it.
How could I
Ever spend a day without you
Here am I
Watching lonely people passing
By the way
How are things in New York City anyway?
– New York City, Ken Tobias, Copyright 1977, Above Water Music, Gloosecap Music Publishing
Squeaky clean: Avoiding the expletive
Shortcomings was originally written with an expletive, in the second bridge. It used to say, I still f*** up, still let her down. I even recorded that lyric, along with the alternate that took its place. So, why did I change it?
I liked the sound of the f-bomb there. I thought it was in character for the protagonist and motivated. In the end though, I couldn’t see limiting the song’s potential reach by having to label the song “explicit.” Is this selling out, or just being considerate and respectful of a large chunk of the population?
Throughout my life I have used and heard my fair share of curse words. I think most people have in this day and age. Even so, I cringe when I hear that particular word ring through the halls of the college where I work. It’s use by some people is so cavalier that sometimes it modifies nearly every noun in an overheard story of someone’s latest adventure in class or on the weekend.
In the Tightrope to the Sun blog, the article Don’t Run With Those Expletives examines the use of the f-word in four modern songs and comes to the following conclusion:
In all four of these songs, the reasoning behind the usage of profanity is clear. They are all logical arguments. Yet they do not convince me that the intention justifies the means. In all of these cases, I believe the omission of the eff word would not harm the meaning of the song. Surely there are some less attention-seeking, less shock-value synonyms out there.
So does my substitute, “messed up,” cut the mustard. I think so, and yet there is still a part of me that thinks the original effed up is just a little more authentic. But of course that was how I first wrote it, so I’m not very objective.
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to leave a comment.