January 20, 2013

30 Songs #30 - The Bronze Age: Back to the Beginning at the End of the Line

Theseus and Ariadne, from an old edition of Mary Renault's novel "The King Must Die." More about these crazy kids later.

What does a creative dead-end sound like? What about writer's block? What's the musical equivalent of scraping the bottom of your own mental barrel? Not to get melodramatic, but that's basically what this final, belated "30 Songs" post is all about. Yep, nearly a year after the previous entry, I'm finally gonna wrap this series up on the creative equivalent of a prolonged shoulder-shrug called "The Bronze Age." It might not be my best or most original or even complete lyric, but it took nine verses and about 14 months to finish, so I'm gonna drag this bastard through some literal and figurative mud—purely for my own gratification. Why so harsh? Well, consider the demo I uploaded to Radblaster's Band Camp page last night:

Yeah, it's a bit of a mess—an edited-down twelve-bar jam with no chorus, plus my shouty/tuneless vocals—but for better or worse, I actually put some thought into it, so just humor me here. This nine-verse monster does have a lot going on, in the best pretentious-wanker traditions of Dylan, Sting, and yours truly. Here's the lyric:

The Bronze Age

Way back when I met Olivia, I was in my prime
I felt the apocalypse everywhere, but all she knew was time
Stretching out to the infinite, the epic, and the sublime

We almost tore the world in half, immortals on the loose
In empires of inertia, convenience and excuse
Customized to fall in love, programmed to seduce

And shatter the surrounding splendor every day,
Absorbing fallout every night, too worn and torn and frayed
To understand the madness that carried us away

She spun like Ariadne turning corners into curves
meanwhile I was trying not to lose my nerve
she got what she wanted, I got what I deserved

Until exhaustion rearranged my neurochemistry
I could not keep up with her, she wouldn't wait for me
And what seemed like a perfect match wasn't meant to be

Cause we hijacked the last train leaving the abyss,
she got off without me, I went round the twist,
And told myself I knew that it would end like this

When I washed up in Athens, everybody knew my name
weren't Caesar, but I came I saw I conquered just the same
I took what I wanted and never took the blame

I overwhelmed the Bronze Age with silver and gold,
I crucified myself on stage and all my albums sold
a million copies and that don't ever get old

But seventeen years later, my life is standing still
I'm fending off implosion like a fool on the hill
I know I should forget her, but I don't think I will

At first, this lyric shared a similar vibe to my other songs that grew out of the Weapon of Young Gods practice-novel project ("Tempting Fate," "Historical Friction," and "Stranded")—it was ostensibly a dialogue between Roy and Olivia, two characters from the book—but unlike the others, its backward-looking, stuck-in-the-past feel didn't work as well. That's mostly down to it being made up of lines that didn't fit into those other three songs, so it was definitely the weakest of the four, and I knew I had to do something extra with it to make it worth finishing. That turned out to be simply letting loose and expanding it; the twelve-bar format made it easy to keep adding on material, so I just went with that and tried to make one of those wild-and-crazy mid-60s Dylan rave-ups like "Tombstone Blues":

It would have been a great idea if it worked, but I ended up making something more like the rambling, endless, latter-day-Dylan story-songs like "Highlands" or "Honest With Me," where the music acts as a backdrop or lyric-delivery-vehicle:

I even briefly entertained injecting some real epic stuff in there, because I thought "hell, why not write my own 'Tangled Up in Blue?'" but it didn't take long to realize that wouldn't work either. However, the whole Dylan angle was an easy jump to an obvious metaphor: his legendary, star-crossed romance with Joan Baez—which undoubtedly has been overblown and analyzed to death among relentless Dylanophiles and nostalgic Boomers, but whatever. The tenuous Dylan/Baez metaphor is only interesting here because it's reversed; as surely everyone knows, Bob Dylan was the one who went totally, gloriously gonzo, leaving Baez to warble gorgeously about social-justice in the aesthetic dust.

Okay, so that's two sloppy metaphors (my own novel characters and the two '60s folk icons), but that couldn't possibly carry nine verses, so I decided to go way, way back—both historically and in my own mental/creative/analytical development. See, before I vanished down the Hunter Thompson rabbit-hole at 16, I was big into historical fiction, and my favorite author was Mary Renault. I'm sure everyone has a novel that blew their minds as a kid, and when I was 14 mine was a radical slant on the mythological Greek hero Theseus, as written by a lesbian British expat in the late '50s. Renault is probably more famous for her semi-scholarly, heavily romanticized work on Alexander the Great, but her version of the Theseus myth in The King Must Die and its sequel The Bull from the Sea was my introduction to her books. They were full of sex and death and all kinds of crazy decadent shit, and I loved how Renault's Theseus wasn't a musclebound hero, but a scheming Napoleon-figure with a short fuse and compulsive libido who fought bulls and tore through Minoan Crete circa 1600 B.C., running off with the goddess-priestess-princess Ariadne only to abandon her on an island during the sail home to Athens.

There was much more to it, of course, but that third connection was enough to not only support the lyric but give it a title and overarching theme: the demented things we did as young people back when our brains weren't fully formed and we couldn't think beyond the next 24 hours. Not a golden (or silver) age at all, but a primitive and dangerous time to be alive—and for some of us, it probably feels miraculous that we survived it. I know I was fairly certifiable for several years in the mid-1990s, which I guess would be my own socio-emotional Bronze Age. The lyric does go a bit off the rails near the end—I threw in the jaded rock star and anachronistic Caesar lines because hey, it's a metaphor, they were fun ideas and I couldn't resist—but for something so loose, it does hang together fairly well on paper, despite its nature as (mostly) a compilation of leftover phrases and ideas that I hadn't been able to shoe-horn into my previous stuff.

Hopefully that chaos is tempered a bit by the simplistic delivery mechanism: the hopelessly clich├ęd and yet irresistibly fun-to-play twelve-bar-blues jam. Musically, it's pretty simple—I messed with a Radblaster rehearsal jam from 10/22/11 at Wall of Sound in Anaheim, editing it down from a semi-cover of Eric Clapton's "Driftin'," which is Adam's go-to for singing over instrumental twelve-bars. This was the original jam, complete with my out-of-tune D string:

mp3: Driftin' (Radblaster jam, 10/22/11)

At this point it should come as no surprise that Adam can do blooze-belting better than I can. Speaking of Adam, my first stab at finishing this lyric was built off a riff he recorded in 2010. That version, called "Crippling Nostalgia Blues," only had four verses, and ended up being my introduction to recording with Logic:

mp3: Crippling Nostalgia Blues (Demo, Feb. '11)

If those background vocals sound familiar, it's because they're a watered-down, much weaker ripoff of Grinderman's glorious twelve-bar slab of potential energy called "Worm Tamer," which I couldn't stop playing in 2011:

The music hibernated while I lashed the lyrics together, and I'm still not sure it's good—and since I can't sing that many verses in a single three minute sitting, it's not likely to receive any Radblaster rehearsal time, which is probably best—but it is what it is, and I've made do with that before.

That's about it for this one—way more than it should have been, but for a messy rant about three pairs of star-crossed lovers, "The Bronze Age" was definitely a long time coming. Not sure the wait was worth it, but now I can finally put the past to bed and move on. Maybe write some stuff that doesn't rhyme, or isn't so serious/self-conscious. And yes, it did take me about 15 years to finish 30 song lyrics worth shouting about, so at this rate I'll equal that when I turn 65.

Oh, and this is probably also the last "Dubious Ventures" post on Blogger/Google, since I've moved everything to keirdubois.com, so I guess I'll see y'all over there. Thanks for enduring.

Song stats:
Music by Radblaster, October 2011
Lyrics by Keir DuBois, December 2012.
Appears on the following albums: None yet

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