Sunday, August 28, 2011

Sunday Songs #5: A Game of Thrones ("Winter is Coming")

The book for August's edition of the Bushwick Book Club was A Game of Thrones, the first book in a series recently made crazily popular by HBO's TV adaptation -- everyone and their mother seems to be reading it now (even my mother). It's addictive; I read the first four books in quick succession and had to go back and re-skim the first one to write my song.

I tackled the assignment by making a list of all the things that, if I were listening to a song about A Game of Thrones, I would expect to be included. I've written other songs this way, by making a list (my Ode to Greenpoint, for one). It's a good trick for an assignment song, or any song where you know exactly what it's supposed to be about. The list for this song is below (if you haven't read the book, it'll give you a pretty good idea what it's like).

I wrote the song on the ukulele, but it's long and a little samey and was sounding boring to me, even when I tried alternating strumming and finger picking. So I started messing around on the piano.  I haven't made a habit of playing the piano in public since recitals in the second grade, back when I took lessons; I wasn't a prodigy then, but I was okay. Nowadays, playing piano in front of an audience makes me feel the way I imagine most people feel about being onstage at all: not in control of the outcome, under pressure, on the spot, liable to choke or freeze. But I've made a couple of exceptions for the Bushwick Book Club. (Because if you can't push your comfort zone at Goodbye Blue Monday, where can you? This is a venue with a deliberate goal of encouraging the rough drafts that may transform into brilliant projects.)  

Unexpectedly, I ended up actually writing out an arrangement in something close to actual notation, something else I haven't done in a long time. I didn't have staff paper, so I had to make some up.  

Come the night of the show, the performance was effortful and didn't go exactly as planned, but was not totally embarrassing either. The live recording from the show was too rough to share, so I recorded it again at home to include in the bandcamp album from the evening (especially recommended: Casey Holford's "Five Plus One"). There's another song I wrote on there too, "Hard to be a Woman" (YouTube video here). 

List for A Game of Thrones Song:

The wall
The king in the north
Heart tree
Night’s watch
Take the black
Milk of the poppy
Dark wings dark words
Blue eyes black hands
Wall made of ice
Fear cuts deeper than knives
The hound
Valyrian steel
Mad king Aerys

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sunday Songs #4: Isabella Rossellini

Have you had the pleasure of watching Isabella's Green Porno series? If you haven't seen these brilliant short films about the sex lives of animals, which she directed and stars in (outfitted in a mind-boggling array of papier-mache insect and marine life costumes), get thee to the Sundance Channel's website post haste.  If you haven't heard Isabella Rossellini talk about whale penises and snail anuses in her beautiful Italian accent, your life is a sad and incomplete thing. 

The Green Porno series inspired the song "Isabella Rossellini," a love letter to the woman herself in the language of these films.  We provide no explanation when we play this number at Sweet Soubrette shows, where it has nevertheless become our first successful audience participation number.  I suppose it's not so hard to understand--everybody wants Isabella Rossellini to love them. 

(Okay, not technically posted on a Sunday, but whatever.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Sunday Songs #3: Humble Bee

For Charles Darwin’s 200th birthday in 2009, the Bushwick Book Club took on On the Origin of Species, which I read (most of) on my iPhone, on the subway. A quarter of the way into it I was still wondering when we were going to get to the cool stuff, like the finches and the Beagle and the Galapagos islands and the monkeys coming down out of the trees (answer: never, because those are completely different books).

Even so, it was a surprisingly good read. I especially liked the parts where Darwin talks about the webs of relationships among different species that have evolved together, which are what inspired my song “Humble Bee:”
Humble bees alone visit red clover, as other bees cannot reach the nectar. It has been suggested that moths may fertilise the clovers; but I doubt whether they could do so in the case of the red clover, from their weight not being sufficient to depress the wing petals.
Hence we may infer as highly probable that, if the whole genus of humble-bees became extinct or very rare in England, the heartsease and red clover would become very rare, or wholly disappear. The number of humble-bees in any district depends in a great measure upon the number of field-mice, which destroy their combs and nests; and Colonel Newman, who has long attended to the habits of humble-bees, believes that "more than two-thirds of them are thus destroyed all over England." 
Now the number of mice is largely dependent, as every one knows, on the number of cats; and Colonel Newman says, "Near villages and small towns I have found the nests of humble-bees more numerous than elsewhere, which I attribute to the number of cats that destroy the mice." Hence it is quite credible that the presence of a feline animal in large numbers in a district might determine, through the intervention first of mice and then of bees, the frequency of certain flowers in that district!
After Darwin drew this connection between the populations of cats, mice, bees and clover, a contemporary of his, Thomas Huxley, extended the chain (in a spirit of humor, we think) to include the unmarried women who keep cats as pets. Then at some point either Huxley or someone else extended the chain even further to include the British soldiers who eat beef from cattle who live on the clover.

So the chain goes like this: old maids; cats; field mice; humble bees (now known as bumble bees); red clover; cattle; British soldiers.