Sunday, August 7, 2011

Acoustics

By Lisabet Sarai

I love my kitchen. And it's not just due to the ample storage and counter space, or the Italian four burner gas stove my landlord installed when we moved in. The wall behind the double sink, under the overhanging cabinets, is ceramic tile - easy to clean, indeed, but better still, offering great acoustics.

When I'm washing the dishes, I sing. I always have. As kids, my brother and I were responsible for this task. We used to sing duets, while I scrubbed and he dried or vice versa. I remember teaching him the first and only song I ever wrote (a romantic ballad entitled "I'm Crying") while tackling some particularly stubborn spaghetti sauce. He's a professional song-writer now; he tells me I inspired him.

My musical opus reduces to that single tune (which I can still sing), although I've penned lots of poetry, which is music of a sort. Unlike my brother, I don't play any instruments, but I have a prodigious memory for lyrics, and to a lesser extent melodies. As a teenager, I dropped piano lessons partly because I never learned to sight read music. After playing a piece two or three times, I didn't need to read it. By the time I got to more complicated compositions, this talent had become a liability.

Anyway, singing in my current kitchen is akin to singing in the shower - better, because I don't need to worry about getting soapy water in my mouth. The wall and the underside of the cabinet create a resonance chamber. My voice sounds rich and full as I belt out my favorite tunes.

Isn't this rich?
Aren't we a pair?
Me with my feet on the ground,
You in the air...*

Or:

You want to know
How it will be:
Me and him
Or you and me.**

Or:

The blonde in the bleachers,
She flips her hair for you.
Above the loud speakers
You start to fall...***

Or:

The minute you walked in the joint,
I could tell you were a man of distinction,
A real big spender...****

Or:

Desperado,
Why don't you come to your senses?
You've been out riding fences
For so long...*****

Unlike nearly everyone else these days, I don't go around with wires sprouting from my ears. I do have a cheap MP3 player, but I use it only when I exercise. Nonetheless my mind hosts an extensive and rather eclectic mental play list. Torch songs from the nineteen forties, folk ballads from the sixties, musicals and G&S operettas, classic rock, blues - I sing them all. It's difficult to sing rock and roll - you need the voices of the instruments as well as the vocalists. But I try.

There are many songs that speak to me, about love and sex, time and loss, risk and reward: Melissa Etheridge's "Come to My Window", Meatloaf's "Anything For Love", Bob Seger's "Night Moves", Bruce Springstein's "Thunder Road":

Have a little faith, there's magic in the night.
You ain't a beauty but hey, you're all right
And that's all right with me.

I used to have a decent singing voice. I sang in my high school chorus, even auditioned for a state-wide choir. My siblings and I won second place on a TV talent show, doing a harmonized version of the Beatles' "Misery". I've always been an alto. Now my voice seems to have become lower and more gravelly with age. It's more difficult for me to follow a complex tune these days too. The words are still there, though, and when I'm singing to the kitchen wall, I sound great.

Lots of authors report that they listen to music while they write. Not me. I'm such a word girl that the lyrics will distract me from my own sentences. Even now, trying to pen this blog post, the songs I've quoted are ringing in my mind, clamoring for my attention.

Our love is an old love, baby.
It's older than all our years.
I've seen in strange young eyes
Familiar tears.******

I'd better stop. I feel as though it's cheating to fill up my blog post with lines and rhymes of other people. I could do it, though - without doing a single Google look-up for the lyrics.

I'll end by mentioning that I just sold a story featuring a ménage of blues singers. Wild About That Thing (the title comes from a classic Bessie Smith tune) will be released in September. I learned a couple of new blues songs in the course of creating this tale.

Now they're part of my play list too.





* - "Send In The Clowns" by Stephen Sondheim, from A Little Night Music

** - "Triad" by David Crosby

*** - "The Blonde in the Bleachers" by Joni Mitchell

**** - "Hey, Big Spender" by Dorothy Fields and Cy Coleman, from Sweet Charity

***** - "Desperado" by Glenn Frey and Don Henley

****** - "Old Souls" by Paul Williams, from Phantom of the Paradise

14 comments:

  1. Fun post! We're a songwriting family, too (and I was also a piano-lesson dropout), so lots to identify with here.

    And my inner sixties-music nerd cheered you for including "Triad"—and correctly attributing it to Crosby. I imagine most people, if they don't read the fine print, think Grace Slick wrote it.

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  2. That said, props to Grace for adapting it from an f/m/f ménage song to an m/f/m one—beautifully daring for the time!

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  3. Hi Lisabet!

    I think for our generation and the ones following the boomers popular music and the people who write these songs are the poets of our generation. They're to us, what Homer, and Dante and Shakespeare were to theirs. There's nothing wrong with that, because the poetry is where ever we find it.

    I used to find myself singing a lot, though for some reason I've lost the habit. I want to say i never had the voice, but in modern music that's never been a issue. There aren't many good voices in rock. The Grateful Dead, one of the most successful of all bands, had no voice craft at all and not one strong singer. But rock singers like Hendrix, Dylan and Garcia just had the guts to yell it out, which gives the rest of us some freedom to sing out too.

    Good post.

    Garce

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  4. Hello, Jeremy,

    I've always thought that "Triad" was one of the sexiest songs ever written. But then, I read STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND as an impressionable teenager and was forever changed!

    That being said, I've never heard anyone's rendition but Slick's, and it's hard to imagine anyone doing it better. (And now, running through my head, I have the lyrics of the theme from some old James Bond movie - don't recall which one - "Nobody does it better. Makes me feel sad for the rest. Nobody does it better, baby. Baby, you're the best...")

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  5. Hello, Garce,

    Yes, they were poets. Joni Mitchell's lyrics continue to amaze me:

    "Love came to my door
    With a sleeping roll
    And a madman's soul;
    He thought for sure I'd seen him,
    Dancing up the river in the dark,
    Looking for a woman to court and spark."

    I think one reason that these singers had such power, to be honest, is that they were singing about love and sex so much of the time. The world was on fire, literally and figuratively, and they distilled the passion into their music.

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  6. It always interests me to see what other writers have on their playlists, and to try to work out from their work what they might have been listening to at the time. You've got some fairly eclectic tastes there!
    And as to the song you were trying to recall, Lisabeth: It was "The Spy Who Loved Me," by Carly Simon, and was the theme for the James Bond movie of the same title starring Roger Moore. :)

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  7. And BTW, I apologize for mangling your name, Lisabet! *Blushes*

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  8. Originally, the Byrds recorded "Triad"—during Crosby's final months with the group—and they ended up not releasing it. It was eventually released for collectors, though, and you can hear a sample here:

    http://www.allmusic.com/song/triad-t845485

    Now I'm wondering if the Airplane version is actually m/f/m or f/f/m. (She still says "sister lovers," doesn't she? I don't have the complete track handy.). But with a bisexual woman protagonist "in the middle," that's perhaps even more daring for the time, eh?

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  9. I have a personal soundtrack, one that I like to write to or drive to. It is made up Tangerine Dream, Pink Floyd and Queen, with a dash of Zepplin.

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  10. My honey had been lamenting the fact that he couldn't listen to his albums. Yes,vinyl records! He kept telling me he had an extensive collection and wanted to get them out of storage, so for Christmas I bought him one of those Crosley all-in-one players that has a turntable. It was probably the most perfect gift I ever got him. Coincidentely, one of his friends had just mailed him an album (yes, they're 'classic' men who still enjoy some of the old-fashioned pleasures), so we were able to listen to it that night. What a treat! My honey's collection did make it to our house, along with another stereo system with some powerful speakers, and we now listen to them frequently, me especially when I'm doing housework so I can dance and yes, sing, like Lisabet. Just a spoonful of music helps the housework get done...

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  11. J.S. -

    Thanks for refreshing my memory! And never mind about the misspelling. AFter all, it's not my real name anyway!

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  12. Hi again, Jeremy,

    Yes, I remember reading about the Byrd's aborted release when I used those lyrics for another blog post (entitled "Beyond Menage").

    You're right, she does sing "sister lovers", but that's probably just because those were the original lyrics. But then again, who knows!

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  13. Hi, Essemoteepee,

    I used to have a couple of Tangerine Dream albums. Kind of difficult to sing, though!

    Thanks for dropping by!

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  14. Hello, Naomi,

    When we decided to move overseas, my husband digitized all our vinyl. Of course, the sound quality could be better, but if I want, I can listen to my old 10 CC, Supertramp or Cat Stevens albums...!

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