Media Memory

Well, there were a lot of ideas running through the conception and recording of this week’s selection, “Media Memory.” I am a tired man, but I will try to do them justice.

Those of you who know me personally know that, in my heart, I am hardly an indie dude. I’ve always loved big, mainstream, pop music. Sure, it can be formulaic, but that particular approach to songwriting evolved into a formula because it works so well — because it’s a brutally efficient method for injecting a melody into the human brain. (Apologies for the fascist imagery.) My favorite practitioner of this kind of all-American hitmaking is Tom Petty. His songwriting is unadorned and effective, and the Heartbreakers (his band) exemplify L.A. session-man restraint at its finest. Allow me to overstay my welcome by adding that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed all the songs I’ve heard from Sheryl Crow’s latest album, Detours. And I’ve already used this space to profess my attraction to the work of Aimee Mann. So you all know the drill: I’m a big dork.

It was only a matter of time before my love and respect for big mainstream pop found its way into my songwriting. In this week’s song, the arc from the verse to the chorus, and the placement of the choruses within the overall arrangement, is all exactly how Petty would do it. (Not that I’m claiming that my songwriting is as brilliant as his by half.) I also borrowed from two different Bowie songs — “Lady Stardust” and “Ziggy Stardust” — as well as countless other pop songs that are lodged in our Jungian collective unconsciousness.

On a related note, it’s been a long-term goal of mine to write more direct lyrics — another thing that Petty, along with lots of country-music writers, makes look easy. So this is my attempt to write a straightforward “story song”: a promising Hollywood actress is outed as a lesbian, and even in our enlightened modern age, it ruins her career (see: Lucy Liu, Anne Heche). Topically, I’m ripping Petty off yet again, via a little song of his called “Into the Great Wide Open.”

I always appreciate your feedback, but I’m especially curious to hear what you (yes, you) think of this one, since I consider it a pretty drastic departure from other stuff I’ve posted here.

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Comments
14 Responses to “Media Memory”
  1. James Smythe says:

    Alright, I’ll let you know what I think: This song is fantastic. I’m always wowed by your stuff, I really am, but this is really something. It makes me wish that I had a full-band version – as much as I appreciate the lo-fi stuff, the very nature of this makes me wish that my favourites were recorded by a full band (hint hint). The transition – the “What a world, reporters on her trail” bit is perfect, and I totally see what you mean by the Bowie references. I don’t think it’s as drastic a departure as you do as I consider – thought I may be in the minority – you to be a pop-song writer. Even at their heaviest – say, Swim Team – the Baby Teeth songs are pure pop, just given that special sheen.

    Anyway, as always, stunning: and this may be your best song yet posted to this blog.

  2. I’m with James. This is my favorite of those I’ve heard posted here so far, I think, and the most memorable (pun half-intended) too. All the parts seem to flow nicely from one to the next, and the Bowie/Petty stylin’s are abundant but not over-obvious (the lyrical content is also righteous). Also like James, I’d love to hear a full band version of this. It could only benefit from a fuller sound and (dare I say) more production, I think. A true beauty, though, this one!

  3. KatiaSilver says:

    Well, deep down, I love the collective unconsciousness and I think that it’s been very powerful lately. (Is that possible?) I really enjoyed this song and the story. Departure or not, it’s satisfying. Nice work young man.

  4. Lara says:

    I think you’re really finding the ranks you were meant to join (if that makes any sense). I l-o-v-e this song and also agree with the others; hearing this song full-band would rock my socks off. This song achieves what you want it to, and that’s artistry. You are the Puppet Master. Excellent.

  5. The Bubble King says:

    Well, after passing out on the couch watching TV, I woke up last night and dragged myself to bed, but happened to listen to the track before falling back asleep. I decided to wait until I wasn’t half-sleeping before commenting. My primary thought was that, given a full arrangement with Baby Teeth, and some practice time to sharpen it up, I think this will be a top notch tune. I don’t think it should be inherently embarrassing to like mainstream pop. There are lines of distinction within that realm, and certainly Petty is among the greats. Even the most God Speed You, Black Emperor!ish musicians must admit that without traditional, classic talents, there would be no basis for what they are doing.

    And, of course, story songs, though long criticized by critics (who needs ’em?), hold and always will hold a special place in the hearts of many.

    Speaking of Sheryl Crow… once upon a time she was a music teacher at an elementary school which is about a half a mile from my parents’ house. I have always felt neutral about her music, but I must admit that I saw the cover image and title of her new album, and couldn’t help but feel they lacked imagination. But I guess if the contents are good, and the fans like it, then it doesn’t matter.

  6. Abraham says:

    Well first of all…. thanks everyone. This burst of enthusiasm for my mainstream dabbling definitely made my day.

    James: Thank you for fulfilling my dream that this song would bring out a new commentator. I really appreciate your enthusiasm for this one — as I said, I was a little shy about trying out this style, but I’m glad you see it as part of the continuum. Come back often!

    P M S: Thank you for coming down so righteously in favor of this one. Your connoisseur’s opinion means a lot!

    Kat Sil: Right on. Glad you like it. Yes, I do think it’s completely possible to have a more pronounced collective unconsciousness from time to time.

    AraLai: Good, good. Thank you. As you know well, I get all hung up on whether this or that artistic move is too contrived and premeditated, but contrivance and premeditation are known in other fields as… editing, or doing a second draft.

    B B King: Cool. Thanks for the vote of confidence. I know, it’s really tempting to write off that Sheryl Crow album based on the awful cover. And maybe it’s really bad and I’ve just been drinking too much Kool-Aid. But I like what I’ve heard.

  7. Ahhmee says:

    I truly believe this is what it’s all about, going after what you have a passion for. I think this song is an excellent departure from what you have been doing and it clearly shows that if you love something, you should go after it. Bravo.

  8. Detholz! says:

    As gravity continues to pull my ass harder into my soft dais here at the Piano Palace, this song built from “feh” to “wha?” to “whoa!”

    You really had me by the end– viva la repeating chorus and the traditional forms, grasshopper. Beautiful lyrics as well– or should I say as usual? The chorus is razor sharp. And, love the ending!

    Looking forward to fleshing this out in rehearsal– don’t think it’ll need a whole lot of arcwelding by Pete and I.

    Excellent work, Baba!

  9. Abraham says:

    Ahhmee: Thank you so much! I do have a passion for straitjackets, and I’m not being funny. When I work within “the rules” of something, I seem to feel better about what I’m doing. I know you and I have already talked about this, but I thought I’d bring it up for the blogus populi.

    Detholz! Cooper: Whew! I was worried about what you would think… I’m glad you dig it. I know you always like the poppy stuff, but I can’t help fretting about whether a given new song will be avant-garde enough for your tastes. All in my mind, probably.

  10. detholz says:

    Ava-who?

    Never mind what I think. Do what you do unapologetically and unabashedly.

    I’m sure I speak for Pete on that score as well. We both believe in your superior talent and musical instincts!

    Up the irons, matey!

  11. Judah says:

    First of all, I really like the advice above: “Do what you do unapologetically and unabashedly.” It’s amazing how differently (and nervously) we hear our own music through the ears of fellow composers. We’ve certainly all been there, wondering whether our work or taste is sufficiently hip for those we trust and admire.

    (Remember my fleeting enjoyment of Dave Matthews ca. 1998? You did not approve. On one hand, I wouldn’t retroactively renounce my appreciation — it was what it was — but those 2-3 CDs have since gathered dust for nearly a decade. In a similar vein, I love our friend Jon Coulton’s list of influences on MySpace, which includes: “Billy Joel — there, I said it.”)

    Media Memory: really nice. I don’t see it as a grand departure for you, for what it’s worth. Perhaps that’s because I came to know you as an Elvis Costello guy, and he’s always straddled the pop/indie divide as well as anyone. I guess that’s more to do with the music, though; in terms of lyrics, this song is in keeping with your ongoing mission to pare down your lyrics to their essence (as EC only does selectively, though more so recently; perhaps you share the same long-range goal).

    I haven’t heard Sheryl Crow’s new album. I can’t quite figure out where she ranks as a singer-songwriter. I wrote a review of her live album on Amazon in 2001 which still haunts Google searches of my name. I kept using words like “solid” and “strong” to describe the record. There’s good stuff there, but nothing great.

    That said, it’s interesting that you mention her in conjunction with Aimee Mann. On one hand, Mann generally seems the much stronger artist, but per our earlier commiseration, her output is kind of mystifyingly bland, whereas Crow’s isn’t. Well, it can be bland, but there’s nothing especially mystifying about it — and when it’s pretty good, it’s pretty good.

  12. Abraham says:

    Judah: So good to have you back in this hot, sweaty room. Yes, concerns with being hip enough are (were?) never far from my mind, and over the past year I’ve become more and more comfortable with flying far, far away from them. These new tunes are sort of a newly committed step in that direction. I guess you could say that I no longer fear being pretty good…. when I’m pretty good! Happy new year, my friend.

  13. Bridgid says:

    Wait, Lucy Liu is gay?

    Ok, I’m late to this entry, but here it goes. I was first struck by how much I liked the kind of negative space in the opening accompaniment. The way it suddenly stopped and then picked up again. I found that exciting. Also, no foolin’, you’ve written a chorus I could sing for days and days. I was pretty much entranced by this song from start to finish. Yay Abraham!

  14. Abraham says:

    I *think* Lucy Liu is gay… at least, I saw a magazine cover stating something to that effect a couple years ago. I am very glad you liked the song so much… we are working it up for next weekend.

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