The Writing’s Sonic Debris Field

In O! Lucky Man, Lindsay Anderson’s savage film about post-war Britain, someone observes that you won’t make it in the catering business unless you know what to do with the leftovers–and so complete is my agreement with this food-station insight that I’m about to apply it to “Overture,” the audio file embedded in this post. But before we can get to it, to its what, we need to detour through the vaguely akimbo why . . .

At its most distilled, my ongoing work-in-progess is a novel about a former pop musician eventfully remixing a collection of songs from years ago–songs which were the last he wrote. (And if, by chance, I’ve just saved you $26.95, you’re very welcome.) High-concept-wise, it seemingly doesn’t get any simpler than this–but the operational word here is seemingly, and it’s underscored half a dozen times.

The work-in-progress didn’t start out simple: For the first time as a professional writer, I was visited by something that behaved very much like that phrase I’m too superstitious to bang down here. The awful thing that rhymes with Fighter’s Lock. Yes, uh-huh, you know–that which shall resolutely remain nameless. I’d labored for months working out the structure of the book; spent days researching Bosendorfer grand pianos; had meticulously outlined how each sequence of the story unfolded. And yet there I sat–unable to get beyond page 12. This went on for what seemed forever, even allowing for the time spent in Full-Out, Fuck-Me-Hard-It’s-All-Over Freak-Outs.

And then one day–when I was uncomfortably close to bashing-out a series romance novels under the name Christana Metroform to support my obviously washed-up self–I worked out what was wrong. I couldn’t move my protagonist into the remixing process because I onlyconceptually understood what he was tweaking. How to explain this? In terms of the songs he was rethinking, I was attempting to conjure up the tips of the icebergs and not the icebergs themselves. In the case of Page 12, I thought I only needed two actual couplets from an imaginary song which would be expected to feature a 60-line lyric. And, of course, I was Deeply Wrong.

Cue my personal Kubler-Ross Moment: Fast-forward through the numerous meetings of forehead and palm, through the finger-drumming, through the angry denial, to–yes–an acceptance of what needed to be done. Before I could write the book, I needed to write the songs. Like it or not, in order to reveal the tip, I needed to construct the whole goddamn iceberg. Fourteen of them, actually.

And this is how I came to ring up my songwriting partner from so long ago that years and years can be considered equal parts avoidance and spin. “We need to come out of retirement,” I said. “I need songs that no one but you and I will ever see.” Could there have been a sexier, more seductive offer? Apparently not, because we spent the next few months writing and recording my protagonist’s last collection. One that he would pick apart in the studio. (Full-disclosure: After asking my former collaborator to write material that only peeks through the novel’s prose, I neglected to tell him that the songs would also be turned inside-out over the course of the book. I don’t feel guilty about this–sometimes an offer can be too sexy and seductive.)

More fast-forwarding: The demos that represent the pretend collection of my fictional songwriter were completed and, lo, they turned out to be much more than research–at least to our ears. Yes, they were written in-character; yes, they were, by design, in the manner of old-school singer-songerwriter material, but they somehow transcended their deep-background status. Fast-foward once again: The demos did the trick, and my work-in-progress instantly moved beyond page 12. If not exaltation in the streets, there was at least a bonafide Risky Businessmoment that involved me, tube socks, underwear, savage air guitar and a waxed, hardwood floor. But, critically (and less disturbingly), something else happened.

I still remember pointing out to my collaborator that beyond functioning as a soundtrack to the book, the songs were narrative enough to be a set of theater songs. Which–finally–brings us to “Overture.” As I continued to wrestle with the book, my collaborator wrapped a selection of demo melodies into–well, you know.

Yet more fast-fowarding: Discussions with a theater company ultimately fell apart and, sucked back into my writing, the spin-off demo faded into the background. Until today, that is, when I rediscovered it while searching for another demo I needed to tweak the manuscript. Unsurprisingly, “Overture” has remained baroque, fun and, er, theatrical–so what to do? what to do? Spoiler alert: it’s attached to this post . . .

At this juncture, it’s not my intent to release the demos into the wild. After all, they were created for my ears only and it would would be very much like including my working outline with the book. (Which, it occurs to me, is not completely true–there are three songs that definitely transcend their origins, even the being-written-in-character-and-genre bit.) But “Overture” is something different; something designed to be a once-removed core sample of the original demos. And because of this, “Overture” isn’t the inspiration for anything in the novel and, more importantly I’ve a distinct intellectual distance from it. So why not? Why the hell not, indeed.

Thus, Gentle Reader, here’s a glimpse into the musical underpinnings of my work-in-progress that, in their sheer and dramatic orchestral-ness really aren’t underpinnings at all. Insert here your favorite one-hand-clapping metaphor for paradox. If this were a film trailer, “Overture” would be the over-the-top scene that doesn’t feature in the release print–that extra exploding car hurtling pieces of itself at the camera before the smash-cut to black and “Coming Soon.” Up until now, I’ve always wondered about those kinds of trailer moments–why aren’t they included in the release? But having rediscovered “Overture,” I now understand: They’re unrepentant shards of because-we-canfilmmaking that don’t fit into their respective movies and yet remain too cool for the cutting room floor. It’s less a con game than self-indulgence. And you know, I’m okay with that . . .

“Overture.” Smash-cut to black. Legend: “Coming Soon.”

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