Late again! But this time, just on the posting- it’s an improvement.
I have a dear friend. His name is Matt Singer. I really, really like him. Whenever I’m with him I always feel better, especially when I’m sad.
Mr. Singer is a wonderful songwriter, and he sings and plays guitar. He writes great songs. Wonderful, pretty songs and funny, witty songs, too. He is so lovely. He is also a social worker with a non-musician schedule, so whenever I go to his house it’s always late in the evening, which is fine, but it always reminds me that people have different lives than me. Reminders are always good.
Matt and I met at 8 pm in his apartment in Park Slope in Brooklyn. Neither one of us felt particularly pulled in any one direction song-wise. Neither one of us had any snippets of unfinished songs. Right before I left for Matt’s I had improvised some chord progressions, and I pulled this out as we were talking about what to do. What you hear Matt play on the guitar is that chord progression. Initially, we also decided it would be a nice change to put it into 11/8 time (or 6/8-5/8), but as we moved along, this seemed to change a bit because of the voicing.
We worked for probably an hour on finding a good progression and melody we liked. We were slouching on the couch, not having gotten anywhere we really liked, when he started looping the progression his guitar. I started telling Matt a story:
In his apartment, Matt has a wonderful picture of his great-grandfather from a very long time ago. I wish I had a copy to show you. It is very, very old, and has yellowed. In this picture, there are probably five to six musicians all standing very still, holding instruments, most of them expressionless, all looking very, very handsome in very nice suits. I really love this picture. As Matt and I sat on the couch, slouching, I started telling him this story based on this picture of this man I would have liked to have met.
At first, it was a joke because I didn’t know what else to do, but Matt, for some reason, found it very relaxing to hear a story. How this all came about “lyrically” is hard to explain, but it was important for us to have a few “rules” with this piece.
1. Not too poetic. It needed to be mostly plain and simple. This is why when I say, “He lived to love and loved to live,” Matt says, “Strike that.” That is a line I actually said the very first time I was spewing the story out, and “Strike that” is actually what Matt said right after that, so we put it in. Hence, the second “rule”:
2. We wanted it to be more of an odd, natural conversation rather than a formal storytelling. So, in essence, what you’re hearing us say is what we actually said to each other when we started forming what to talk about. (i.e. “Is there a girl?” “Is there a dog?” Matt asked me both of these things as I was telling the story.) We were also both kind of crushing on this man who is somewhat based on the man in Matt’s picture. I also really wanted him to have some halves of something. And, Matt is part Jewish which ups his sexy quotient significantly, so why not make this man Jewish, too? (Secretly, the man in the story looks just like Matt, but you didn’t hear it from me…)
3. We wanted it to be a little off-kilter and weird: The fact that the man has a temper, but no job, and we state again immediately that he has a temper. The fact that the girl isn’t pretty and there isn’t a dog but the mother always told her there wasn’t a dog: the original intention for this line was, “She wasn’t pretty, not at all, but her mother always thought so and told her so.” It was Matt who reconstructed this to be funny by interrupting with “Is there a dog?” which changed the entire meaning of the statement. The detail about the see-through clothes is hard to explain to you only because it’s what she was wearing in my mind. And it’s funny trying to explain it to you because I really believe she didn’t know they were see-through. It’s just what she had to wear. Hot day, thin dress. You know?
I wanted to emphasize that, though there are times when I make decisions arbitrarily, the choices we made in the piece were all very deliberate (i.e. Me singing the first word instead of speaking it.) We recorded this live three times. I actually liked my delivery much better on the first take, but we both preferred Matt’s delivery on the last, so I just took the last take and called it a night. I liked the first take I did only because it felt like it wasn’t deliberate; like I was talking just to Matt. I liked it, but this one’s okay, too. It was important for me to not be dramatic about the voicing in this piece. We recorded it actually slouching on the couch, being as comfortable as possible. This helped, but the more we recorded it, the more I over-thought the way I was saying things, and I can hear just a twinge of artificiality. It’s expected I think.
This is truly one of my favorites simply because it’s different, and it was like the evening came together just to we could do this piece, just as it is. It’s so weird to express, but I love it. Not that this piece is genius or earth shattering, but with a lot of these collaborations I’ve felt like we were digging out a composition that was already complete, just needing to see the surface. In my AP European class in high school we talked about this idea in regards to Michelangelo who believed he simply “freed the sculpture from stone”. I’ve always romanticized this idea, I think. We aren’t that prolific or legendary, certainly, but I’d like to think even musicians like us can reveal into existence the previously formed.
If you want a good time and want to see a really talented musician and songwriter perform, please see Matt Singer live. He has the most beautifully deep range I’ve heard on a man since coming to New York with his gorgeous rich bass, not to mention his awesome whistle. (He has offered up his whistle for Wakey! Wakey!’s newest album on the song Twenty-Two.)
Matt Singer and I will be getting together again to write a song, song. We did a David Bowie cover together for an awesome event called The Puppet Playlist, a really cool production that has musicians and puppeteers do covers of famous people’s songs. (So far, they’ve done Tom Waits, David Bowie, Magnetic Fields… the list goes on.) If you’re ever in New York during a showing, it’s really the thing to see, and it sells out every single time!
The Singer & The Girl with See-Through Clothes
(sing) On a dirt road not so long ago, there was young man, no, not young, but alive and Jewish, and that’s what matters. New suit, new coat, and though it was hot, he did not remove it. He had bags and long legs. And a hat, and new shoes. Half a roast beef sandwich and half a hard-boiled egg. Salt. He likes salt and gets angry easily. A temper. Does he have a job? No. But he has a temper. Oh. Do you think he’s lonely? He sounds lonely. Or sounds like it to me. Well at any rate, he was handsome. Really handsome. He lived to love and loved to live…
Strike that. Okay. He’s a man. No destination that he knew of, but he walked on, dirt road going on and on. Is there a girl? She wasn’t pretty no. Is there a dog? Not at all. But her mother always thought so and told her so. There was never at any time she doubted… no, that’s it. There was never any time she doubted. I want her to wear see through clothes. Okay. Oh good. That really mattered to me. So, do they meet? I hope so.