Song Backstory: World Trade Sinner / Patrick Brayer
I thought it might be interesting to offer up some song backstory as part of this ongoing online journal effort. I was at breakfast this morning with my daughter Eleanore. Was that the sound of bacon cooking, or the smell of ship to shore radio static? I started whistling a song, almost more in an attempt to see if I could even still whistle, than it was entertainment. I don’t know where it came from, as I tried to place its source. First I thought it was an old famous melody, and then it all came back to me, I wrote it. And then the background circumstance behind the behind began to trickle in. I can’t remember the original name of the song, as that shortsightedness is part of the circumstance itself. The song it became I re-titled, World Trade Sinner.
The song’s history started when I received a CD in the mail from a friend named Darol Anger, and with it a request to submit some lyrics to an instrumental awaiting on the disc. Because it’s me, and it’s my life, I of course got the wrong track number and wrote a set of stream on consciousness lyrics to an erroneous and felonious melody. I’m not sure I even stuck that closely to the melody in the first place. Once again, welcome to me. But mind you, as I’m working on it, there in the past tense, I am still unaware of the onslaught of wrongness.
This might be a good place to talk about my writing process and my failure to write a usable bankable tune for the popular world. You’d think that writing would just be writing, but the longer you do it the more you realize how personal it all is. Every writer has not only their own process, but also their own philosophy on just when it becomes an art, and not just a grocery list. To me, I start with an image, or an idea. Some might call it a hook. And then if things are going smoothly the song takes over, and writes itself. I’m not talking about or condoning a spiritual, or voodoo level, I’m just saying that it happens. A lot of people want me to write another “Imitation of the Blues”, which is a song I wrote when I was about eighteen years old. Historically, the song has had a more interesting life than I have, being recorded by, Alan Jackson, Larry Sparks, Chris Darrow, John Doe, etc. I’m sixty-two years old now so you can begin to feel how early that was in my process discovery. I can’t write in that old way any longer because that would mean turning off my inner voice, which I trust to write a more honest song. And I’m not saying for a moment that the songs are better this way, I’m just saying that it wouldn’t be art if I failed to let my inner voice have voice. And for this brief moment here, that is what I’m fighting for. I’m fighting, I guess, for the sake of my Art. This blog that I’m working on is already filled with articles, and essays that have been mostly rejected for their inability to fit any accepted formula. I am finally in the process of learning, in my need to grow, not to apologize for that. Yet another process on the process. I guess you might say that my brain is the liverwurst sandwiched between the two processes. That’s why I don’t do a whole heap of a lot of rewriting. And that is I hope proof of my effort, other than grammatically, to trust my instincts.
So, back to the song. At the time of this particular writing I was living with my wife in the top story of an old white craftsman home overlooking the public library in downtown Upland California. We had these two kittens, which we obtained from underneath a friends house, whom we then named Jack and May after a Stanley Brother’s murder ballad called, Lover’s Quarrel. There was a little sign posted on the front door, which read, The Upland Mind Museum, “how the west was one”, which really helped to keep solicitors at bay. I wrote the song in question on September 10, 2001. The next morning, my wife headed off to work, and I began to set up my studio so I could have a listen to the song, assessing to see if it needed any changing. On the way out my wife told me that some planes had run into the World Trade Center in New York, and that it was on all the channels. So I propped opened my studio door so I could view the TV from where I worked. I began to examine the song critically, wondering perhaps if Darol Anger was just going to think I was insane, when it just sort of scared me with a jolt, how the lyrics i wrote the day before just seemed to line up with the tragedy then perfectly in my eyes. So, you can see what you think. I know it’s abstract, and if it has such a relevance to me only, that’s o.k. It wrote itself, that’s all I truly care about.
(The Cowboy Jean Cocteau)
In an afterthought, I was talking to Lyle Lovett on the phone a few months later, and I was telling him about this strange thing that happened to me. I described it to him and asked if these kind of things ever happened to him. Then after a pause he was crisp to reply, “no, but I sure wish they would”. After which I swear I could almost hear his hand rifle through his Jean Cocteau hair. I realized then at that moment that it was my seeming sense of failure which afforded me perhaps something, a freedom, not even afforded to a great like Lytle. He was calling to thank me for a CD compilation that I had made for my friend Stuart Duncan, which contained a whole set of Skeets McDonald and Art Tatum recordings back to back, which he said he liked to use for the opening of his shows at that time.