Tag Archives: Songwriting

I’m In A Band. You Heard Me.

Field Day


Oh, hello. Remember me? It’s been forever. I’ve been terribly remiss, but also hard at work. There’s so much to tell but for now here is all you really need to know: Field Day.


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An F In Collaboration.

Middle age is confusing. As years go by I care less about other people judging me and at the same time seem to have developed a severe case of self-consciousness. It’s like arriving at the point on the graph where acquired wisdom collides with declining relevance. I’m bold! I’m old! It’s an inconvenient truth, especially when you’re trying to do something new, something that requires openness and spontaneity. Something like collaborating on a song.

The plan was this: Gary and I would put our guitars in the car, drive to a lake with a beach and a snack bar, and write a tune. People do this sort of thing all the time. It seemed doable. We swam for a while and then sat in the sand talking about ideas for song titles. There were families barbecuing on the lawn and some rowdy Italian guys hauling kayaks into the water and a couple of teenage girls in gold bikinis whipping their hair around to get the water out. Gary said, “How about ‘Skin’?” We were surrounded by it. I said yes. The guitars came out and I sat on top of a picnic table holding the Danelectro. Gary tuned his low E string down to D and started pacing and picking out drony little riffs. He came up with a cool one and tried to teach it to me but I couldn’t play it, so he dumbed it down until I could.

The rest of the story is humiliating so I’ll make it brief: things that were supposed to happen next — the coming up with a melody and the calling out of lyrics and the choosing of chords — didn’t. I choked. Mojo, it turns out, is a finicky friend. It demands a small room with a closed door. After a strained hour of nothingness I told Gary I was too insecure to work with him and that I would take his riff and write the thing by myself.

Fact: Playing with others is instructive, illuminating, fruitful, and fun.
Fact: Playing alone feels safe.

Here’s a sketch of a song that sounds like failure.

Skin by Middlemojo

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A Bass Guitar, The Father of Hypnosis, And A New Song

A couple of weeks ago Gary suggested I start a song with a bass line. I don’t play the bass, hadn’t ever picked one up, but I’ve tried enough of his crazy ideas to know that they are not crazy at all. Mostly they have to do with limitations. I seem to prefer choices. Maybe it’s a California thing. Endless summer means endless possibilities. But songwriting is ass-kickingly unfamiliar terrain, and when you’re struggling to get the lay of a land limitations are your friend. A narrow path through brambles. A high beam on a dark night. So I borrowed a bass and starting pawing at it and wrote a song.

It’s about Franz Mesmer, an 18th century German physician who was at the forefront of alternative healing. Mesmer believed that life energy flows through channels in our bodies, coined the term animal magnetism, and successfully treated people for everything from blindness to madness. He was maligned, naturally. He was also a rock star. Mozart was so tight with the doctor he named a character in Cosi Fan Tutte after him. And he left us a word.

The song doesn’t have an ending yet. Loud guitars would be nice.

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A One-Chord Song.

Gary’s been trying to get me to write a one-chord song for months. At first it seemed insane, then just impossible, and finally I decided to take a crack at it. The whole idea of the exercise is to remove the focus from chord changes and pay closer attention to what songs, according to Gary, are really made of: melody and rhythm. I chose E but wound up putting a capo on the first fret so I suppose it’s really F. There’s been some debate over my pinkie finger on the G string, which some people believe changes the chord, but whatever. It sounds good. Sue me.

The song is about Bob Dylan. The painting above, Guitar Player, is by him.

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mall -- jason brockert

Mall Song

My friend Wesley sent me a text a few weeks ago from a mall near my house. It included the words suburban and consumer and nightmare. There are a pair of upscale malls close by, and I have a complicated relationship with both of them. They’re seductive and depressing. They’re comforting and soul-sucking. Malls are not what they seem to be; they’re not placid retail oases. They contain something weirder.

I wrote a song about it, which I’ve been calling Mall Song, and the name has stuck as things will do when you don’t change them. I recorded it on the Danelectro with GarageBand’s Dreamy Shimmer effect. A friend asked me if I use the effect to mask my lack of expertise, and I told him that I use it because I like how it sounds, but I wonder. You can’t have a good guitar player but here, have Dreamy Shimmer!

The structure is odd: four verses, a drone-y chorus, and an entirely new section at the end. It drags. I’m figuring out how to sing. Let’s call it work in progress.

Mall 11 by Jason Brockert

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