Tuesday, April 23, 2019

How I Wrote the Song "So Cruel"



There was a time when I stopped writing songs. As if my ability to put words to music and music to words had upped and left me, and I might never pen a half-decent tune again.* 

It started right after I had moved to Austin for graduate school. Here, in the self-proclaimed Live Music Capital of the World, I was experiencing a prolonged songwriters block. Im not entirely sure what was blocked, as I was hard at work on other creative endeavors. It was just the songwriting bit that had evaporated. The duration of this musical blockage overlapped with my pursuit of my master of fine arts degree in theatre directing, which kept me busy for three solid years, followed immediately afterwards (well, overlapping that final year, truth be told) with the co-founding of a theatre company, The Public Domain, which was even more time-consuming and just as creatively demanding. So while I was pursuing all sorts of creative arts projects, an arts business and a degree in the theatre arts — ironically, often overseeing the musical aspects of the on-stage work — my songwriting foundered. It turned into a four-year void in my musical creativity, and I was at a loss as to when, if ever, I would write anything worthwhile. 

Then came this song. 

It isnt all that much. A story about a misguided love affair that leaves her bruised at the hands of a brutal him. Not particularly edifying, but as soon as there was the slightest sense of traction, I made the conscious decision not to interfere with whatever combination of words and music were duking it out. I got out of the way. As the thing began to take a rudimentary shape, I thought about that category of Elvis Costello musical missive in which nice young women encountered not-nice men to ill effect. This sort of omniscient author songwriting was a bit alien (I tend to go for first-person narratives), but I gave in to the storytelling and let the thing go wherever it wanted. I tagged along and cleaned up bits as needed. Plus it was short, clocking in at around two minutes long. I could get through that, right? Nothing epic, nothing with great meaning. Just a short, sharp, sonic shock to my idle creative self to jolt it back to what I had known. 

It did the trick. 

Once I finished this little number, I began writing (what I consider) some decent new material, and plenty of it. Immediately after “So Cruel” came “The Bitter End,” Falling Down, Extra Ordinary and Idle Infatuation. You can hear “Extra Ordinary” on 2017’s Thug Nation EP, and I just submitted a new recording of “Idle Infatuation” to NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Competition (there is a sonically meatier version here). My daughter Ari took the recording of “The Bitter End” and turned it into this video. Maybe I’ll do an updated recording of Falling Down next.

*Wags out there might opine I have yet to write a quarter-decent tune, let alone a half-decent one. Let them all wag, I say.

So Cruel

She wasn’t looking when he caught her eye
All of her friends said he would make her cry
In the time it takes for explanations
She got her hopes up, he got expectations

She’d kid around afraid to face the truth
He’d deck her out in shades of black and blue
In the time she takes to make her mistake
His grip tightened, she plotted her escape

She turned away and said she’d had enough
He spun her round and started acting rough
In broad daylight in the middle of a crowd
Later that night, all alone, she cried out loud

Why do you have to be so cruel
When you’re the one I should be running from
You break more than the rules
But I’ll break that spell to get from under your thumb

She packed her bags and tried to get away
He let her go after he made her pay
In the time she’ll take to recover
He’ll wreak havoc with another lover

Why do you have to be so cruel
When you’re the one I should be running from
You break more than the rules
But I’ll break that spell to get from under your thumb

Sunday, September 16, 2018

How I wrote the song “Black and White”


Mr. P's latest home recording is a song of defiance in the face of the "Swift-boating" of truth, happiness and the American way, penned during the summer of 2004, which, when you consider it, runs an ugly parallel to what is going on now, where a well-honed, well-funded right-wing propaganda machine props up another dubious (perhaps illegitimate) regime.

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Click the cookie Robi and you'll be whisked off to Soundcloud where you can read the lyrics. Or read to the bottom of this soapbox diatribe and you'll find them there.

HOW I Wrote the Song "Black and White"

ASIDE #1: Before I kick this off, I could’ve sworn I wrote about “Black and White” way back when I first did some roughed-up recording of the tune in 2004. But if there is an old recording with notes somewhere, it’s long lost now. So here’s the “How I wrote it” one more time (think of it as an encore!), with apologies if you’ve heard this one before.

Right. 2004. The presidential campaign. Bush v Kerry. It was painful that summer, watching John Kerry get Swift-boated by the proto-fascist cranky old white brigade marketed as the “veterans for truth.” Truth. Right.

In an ironic juxtaposition we had, in one corner, a multiple-decorated war hero who did his time a-soldiering in the shit storm that was Vietnam, and, in the other, a man who may or may not have fulfilled his military obligations with the vaunted Texas Air National Guard, scourge of bathers in the Rio Grande and cattle smugglers (presumably). Depends on which side you believe. Black. Or White?

I digress. What I saw that summer was that the fix was in, in as much that the Bush administration and its lackeys were going to everything possible within and without the “truth” to make sure to re-elect the boy-who-would-be-president. Including pillorying a war hero. No longer was it enough to be a decorated veteran. Now you had to be on the "right side" on the home front or you were a traitor. Kerry spoke out against the war he fought in, pissing off a bunch of apologists for war crimes committed during that war of choice. Yet Kerry was the bad guy. Black. White.

ASIDE #2: Do NOT even attempt to think of those days during Bush II ("The Return of the Nativists") as the good ol’ days, especially when comparing them to the catastrophe that is the current administration/Congress/proto-fascist regime. Those days were equally shitty in terms of bad actors grifting the American people to sell us wars we didn’t want, tax cuts for people who didn’t need them, more conservative wankers on SCOTUS, the deregulation of business, banks (that went well, didn't it?), Earth-killing industries, with a sprinkling of so-called compassionate conservatism tossed in to sweeten up the fact that these people gave not a damn for anyone but their own (wave to the nice people drowning in the 9th Ward, Mr. President) 

...Aw, hell, it was like a Trump regime in a Petri dish, an earlier version of what metastasized into today’s foul disease.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. This song. Anyway, I was growing despondent that any succor for the American people was being Swift-boated into oblivion, and I started to lose faith. But then I stopped wallowing and reevaluated the situation. And I got defiant. I thought, “You can do your worst, but I am still going to fight you. I'm still going to call you on your bullshit. I'm gonna vote.”

And that’s what “Black and White” is all about. No matter how crappy the situation, how long your shot is, how high the deck is stacked against you, against your beliefs, against the candidate you support, against common sense – you fight. You fight bigots and big-money and hypocrites and a system rigged to empower (old white male) assholes and you do it by voting. Don’t accept their bullshit. Speak out. And vote.

That is how this song came to be. In defiance. As a call to arms. 

“I won’t do what you tell me, and I’ll rub you the wrong way . For what you’re trying to sell me, I won’t pay.” Nope. Rather: “I’ll take up the fight.”

And vote.

Pledge to vote at the link below and see what you can do to help your local candidate get elected and kick those Trump apparatchiks and apologists into orbit. Maybe they can join the Space Force. 
Voter information:  https://votesaveamerica.com/

Finally, a word about the way this recording SOUNDS. I didn't set out to make a Wall of Sound version of "Black and White," quite the opposite. But when the sounds you are making veer off in another direction, you best catch up before the damn song runs away from you! Plus -- and this is either creepy or maybe it was just my muse helping me out -- when I recorded the guitar solo, I did it without any effects. When I played it back to hear what I had done, the software had, on its own initiative, run the track through a pair of plug-ins I had never used before. The sound you hear is the un-edited version of a sound that appeared on its own

More songs, more info, more more more can be discovered here

Black and White
The newspaper came today, it was black and white 
And everything people say, it’s black and white 
Do I dare to differ? Do I dodge and defer? 
Would it make any difference if I let my voice be heard? 
Night and day, day and night, black and white 

I turned on the TV, it was black and white 
As far as the eye can see, it’s black and white 
Do I change the channel? Or crash out on my couch? 
Would it do that much damage if I passed out on my watch? 
Night and day, day and night . . . 

I know it’s a vengeful world, indignant, anaesthetized
Practically Medieval, but I’ve got a surprise
I won’t do what you tell me, and I’ll rub you the wrong way 
For what you’re trying to sell me, I won’t pay 
Day and night, night and day 

I’ll start revolutions, I’ll take up the fight 
And if your weak constitution needs a quick re-write
I’ve pen and paper, and a dose of Common Sense
You may like what you say, sir, but you’re only fooling yourself
Night and day, day and night, black and white 
Night and day, day and night, black and white