Yes, it’s time once again for an inside look into the world of my songwriting. In previous installments, I’ve gone over Ladies and Songs in Excel. This time I want to go in depth with the final song from my album (CD Release August 25!) titled Wedding Day. I do want to give a small spoiler alert in that if you’ve never heard the song before, there’s a certain joy in discovering what it’s about. I really like songs in which the subject matter slowly creeps up until you have to press the rewind on your 8-track player to make sure you heard what you thought you heard. If I’m doing my job correctly, this is one such song. So that you can get the full effect, you might want to listen to it in its entirety before we get started.
The inspiration for the song came from my friends Samantha and Ben. Last October they got married in the very location I’ll be having my CD release. In their invitation, they requested that in lieu of gifts, guests could perhaps write a song or bake a pie. I decided to write a song, but as the date loomed closer, I ran out of time. So at the wedding, after the jazz band played and we set up for the ramshackle open mic-style hoe-down (a wedding staple, if I’m not mistaken), I premiered what I had so far: 4 words, 3 notes. There isn’t any footage of that momentous occasion, but I have reenacted the performance:
And a visual to go with it to show the situation:
I was in the midst of a project recording a song each month, and October and November were already spoken for. So I slated this yet unwritten song for December and began the process of, you know, actually coming up with other words and melodies.
I happen to have a relatively negative perspective towards marriage, in that it’s something that is not a goal in my life, and truthfully, I can’t find much of a reason why people do it except for “that’s what you do.” We want to have children, we want to show our commitment to each other, we want each other and our families to know that we intend to stay together forever; all things that can be done outside the definition of marriage. I want to get her health insurance, I want him to be able to visit me in the hospital, I want to write her into my will, I want him to have citizenship; all legal and social issues that are bizarrely solved by marriage, although I don’t know why they are or should be (our best solution to “I don’t have health care” is “marry someone who does?” Yikes!). To my friends who have made this decision to merge in whatever way that means to you, I am non-condescendingly delighted that you have found something that brings you such joy. I just can’t relate.
My point is that my wedding song was geared from the start to have a little bit of a wicked twist to it. The first draft had references to domestic clichés: she does the ironing, he makes a mess, etc. I had a line about its being a bittersweet moment, and then I realized that the song doesn’t necessarily need to be about someone who is getting married. It can be someone seeing it from the outside. Even better, what if there’s an unrequited history involved. Suddenly, the happiest day of the bride’s life (another cliché!) becomes a feeling of dread for the unrequited party. The slow reveal begins on the first verse:
Iron my suit and straighten my tie
Wipe a salty farewell from my eye
In a bittersweet moment and the rest of your life
You cut the cord and cake with a knife
I really enjoyed including the marriage clichés: crying at a wedding, “for the rest of your life,” cutting the cake; and tying them with the crushing disappointment from the persona: attending as a sense of duty, saying goodbye, bittersweetness, cutting the cord. I started pouring out every cliché I could think of, and I think just about every one made it into the song. Of course, nothing works better than a dirge-like drone to really hammer home the somberness of the occasion. Open fifths of F and C in the low range of the accordion, moving to F and D-flat between lines. Each verse is just a switch between the two chords.
As the subject matter revealed itself to the listener, I wanted a quicker sense of movement and faster chord changes, as well as more of a cadence that resolves instead of the back and forth of the first part. When I recorded it, I also included an electronic drum beat and an arpeggiated set of electronic tones, both to change the mood a bit. With them comes a little more insight about the situation:
And now you’re changing your name
You’ll never requite the same
Here I jump to the chorus, which is really just the words “on your wedding day” over that lovely A-flat chord I had played at the wedding and in the video above. Not much changed here. I originally wanted to put in more words, but the rest of the song was so full of them. I also like that the chorus, when taken out of context, could be a regular wedding song.
Verse two continues with the wedding themes and self-loathing:
The flowers are chosen, the places are set
But all I feel is regret
You nervously smile as you recite a vow
But I didn’t speak up at 16, why would I now?
Wedding clichés in this verse: choosing the flowers, formal place settings, reciting vows, “if any man has any reason why these two should not be wedded…” But this person seems resigned to his fate. As continues in the next part of the verse:
And you have nothing to fear
My wedding toast is not the one you’ll hear
True story: I got in trouble once for threatening to give a faux-drunken speech at a friend’s wedding (the greatest cliché of all!). Ok, I threatened to have my girlfriend do one. The bride and groom did not appreciate that I was mocking their special day, and I realize I could have been more supportive of their vision of their wedding. I swear it was a joke though; she would never actually do that!
Across those lines, I had my friend Margaret, who was visiting me for the week when I was recording, sing a haunting descending line. She also sang the bridge which comes up next. As I’ve said before, my good friend Carmaig de Forest instilled in me the idea that the bridge is a good time to view things from a different perspective. Why not show that bride’s perspective? She could be creeped out (really, she should be!), she could be angry, she could decide to fall back in love with the persona of the song. However, probably the worst thing she could say is:
I know it doesn’t always turn out fair in the end
But know I’m certain you will always be my friend
“We’ll always be friends!” What a double-edged sword! Not only will we be nothing but friends, but you actually want to be friends and prolong this agony. Exquisite!
I’m particularly proud of the melody of the bridge. I wanted the bridge to come back at the end over the chorus chords, but with the same melody as in the bridge. So I needed something that worked over the chord changes of the bridge as well as the chord changes of the chorus. And that’s just what I did.
I ended up changing the lyrics a bit there.
Also in the bridge, the instrumentation becomes completely acoustic for a few moments as the accordion enters for the first time, and the tuba becomes more prominent.
Then for the last verse, as if you didn’t have enough wedding imagery (and I forgot to even mention the wedding bells in the 2nd chorus!), we get the following lines:
Old was when I first met you so awkwardly
New, a new connection that you graced on me
All the time I borrowed trying just to get through
Blew my mind that there existed someone like you
Yes, I went there and included something old, something new, something borrowed, and something “blue.” To add emphasis, I sang a harmony line on each of those words. The lyrics here also show the imbalance of the relationship, as is necessarily the case for those unrequited ones. In the final part of the verse, I put one more in:
Might you know anybody who
Can’t let you go? Well, I do.
The last part of the song is the chorus repeated multiple times with the melody and words from the bridge on top. After a few rounds, the electronic drums come back in, as well as a response to the female vocals:
I know it doesn’t always turn out fair in the end (I just want this all to end)
But know, I’m certain you will always be my friend (I don’t want to be your friend)
One by one the instruments drop out until it’s only the “three” vocalists singing. One more round goes by, and the album ends with the final mixed message: “I don’t want to be your friend.” I love that out of context, it sounds like an empowering statement of separation, but in context, it’s more like a desperate plea. In fact, I liked it so much that I named the album after it!
The only thing I’m disappointed about is that without the electronic instruments and the acoustic Margaret, it’s hard to play it the same way live. It takes a bit more creativity to do it, but it still works. I’ll leave you with a recent live recording made at the Headhouse Songwriters Circle. Enjoy!