Order from Chaos

The song I mentioned a few blogs ago is still plaguing me. Last night, I gave my latest version to Mac and Jordana, and almost immediately they saw what I couldn’t, that it just doesn’t work. So, it’s back to the drawing board, although, of course, not back to the beginning. The song is salvagable, it’s just a little clumsy right now. My effort to fix the clumsiness made it so much worse. It was like meeting a one legged man and, in an effort to help, cutting off his other leg.

There was a good moment in the meeting, when I said, “I completely agree that it doesn’t work, I have total faith in you guys that it doesn’t work, but you have to have faith in me that it doesn’t work the first way either.” I have to say, it isn’t how we work. There is no blind faith and understanding, we put one another through the ringer in terms of justifying changes. I had to play the song for them several different ways before they agreed. Compared to earlier in the evening, when Jordana wanted to change the word “dick” to “balls”, and she immediately gave up because she couldn’t justify it, we’re pretty demanding of one another.

It’s hard for me to explain why the song doesn’t work, it’s just that it sits on the ear wrong. I’m not talking about notes or chord progressions, when strange or discomfitting stuff happens on that level it’s usually somewhat inspiring. There is a problem with the construction of the song, the way the parts fit together. In short, it takes too long to get to the chorus, the A section feels twice as long as it should, but the ways to fix that are varied and strange, and sometimes, like last night, I just have to play a bunch of ideas out loud.

We’re also buying a house here in Astoria, and the house doesn’t really work as is either. There is a problem with the space, with how it all fits together. The bottom floor has no walls or doors, it just flows from the front to the back, and we have to have a kitchen, a dining space and a living/entertaining space made out of it. The top floor has three huge rooms with very little identity.

This is where my parents step in. The problem with the song, I went to my mom. My mom that Jordana called “Ol’ Reliable” once, not realizing the absurdity of calling a woman who doesn’t know what time zone she went to sleep in last night “Ol’ Reliable”. Jordana called her that because every time I’ve come to her with a musical problem, she’s given me several ways to fix it off the top of her head.

About fifteen years ago, I played a song I was really proud of for her on the guitar. I was proud of it because I did the trick that every crappy guitar player uses, I kept my fingers in standard chord position and then moved my hand up the neck and pretending these were “jazz chords”. She pointed out that, while the chords were lovely, the progression was actually pretty damn standard, and I went back to my room and figured out that, despite the 9s and 11s and bullshit, I was actually wandering between A, D and G, the same chords as, say, La Bamba.

About eight years ago, I went in to my dad’s house in Napa and was absolutely floored. We sat for a long time and he showed me the pictures of the house before he bought it, and showed me the renovations and design ideas he had. He even pulled out a blue-print for a house that he had designed with his brother and dad back in the fifties. His understanding of space… That’s not really it. It’s an understanding of creating order from chaos. Both my parents are brilliant at creating order from chaos, and it has led all of their children to embrace chaos as an inspiration for the creation of order.

Bear with me, this is one blog where I might not be completely full of shit.

My dad is an inspiration in the rehearsal hall. He is one of the greatest rehearsal conductors that I have ever seen, and every musician friend who’s worked with him, even the ones who don’t like him, say the same. A score is laid out in front of him and a hundred hard-drinking, self-loathing classical musicians sit down in front of him and his lightning musical intelligence is so palpable that everyone in the room leans forward on their seats to see where they are about the be led.

He does the same thing with visual space. He thinks in three dimensions. Sure, this means his kitchen is spotlessly clean, the handles of his mugs all go the same way and the labels on his mustards always face out in his fridge, but it also means he is a master designer and decorator. People build homes based on the idea that they need bathroom and bedrooms and rooms for a TV and couch, but my dad creates space where you sense, right when you walk through the door, where you are supposed to be, where you will be comfortable.

My mom does this with voices. There is a fairly good chance that, as you sit reading this, there is a fair amount of noise going on in the room. These are all just voices. And, of course, my mom has voices spinning around in her head. Clarinets, more than, y’know, evil voices saying “BUY MORE COOKIES” (although, from the looks of it, that voice is pretty loud as well).

The entire world is this great cacophony, people make noise because they are doing things they have to do without any concern for the sound. My mom’s life is designed around making the sounds come together to make you feel a certain way. She has a great ear for lyrics, her writing is superb, but it is the way she is able to build sound upon sound, doubling clarinets with trumpets for the thrill, putting cello with French horn for warmth, switching the chord to the relative minor for melancholy, this is where she creates perfect order out of nonsense.

So, I begged my dad to come out and see the house we’re buying right after we close. I want him to walk into the space and start talking. I know he’ll say “Have you thought about the table right over here?” and I’ll freak out. And I go to my mom with these songs and say, “This isn’t working, and I know why, but I don’t know how to fix it” and she’ll say, “Go to the B *natural* 7, then the B flat major.” and I freak out.

The great thing about both of them is that, if something works and I don’t know if it will, they will say, “You’re worried about this and you don’t need to be.” They know how to make order out of chaos, but they also know when the art is being compromised.

Anyway, I know the song is wrong because the design is bad. The lyrics are amazing, (thanks to Jordana) the stories they tell are part of the larger whole in a perfect way (thanks to Mac) and it’s up to me to fix the music instead of fucking with what they did. Right now, it’s a mess, but I feel like I’ve got some genetic proclivity for making it work.