Destiny Train

For a few months last winter, I was stuck having to take the regional “GO” transit to get to work.  I found it strange that so much of my schedule was now much more dictated by train schedules, and the associated stress of getting to the station on time, and frequent delays.

At the time, I was also taking an online course on songwriting taught by Pat Pattison of Berkeley College of Music. Through the course, I used the title “Destiny Train” for a couple of songwriting exercises. In the end, I found the songs resulting from the assignments to be overtly academic – to me, they sounded like songwriting exercises.

So I started again fresh, once again looking to Trent Reznor’s song Head Like a Hole for the structure and rhyme scheme, resulting in a song that sounds less clinical and more emotional, at least in my opinion.

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I’m waiting here for a sign
I’m waiting here for a very long time
I’m waiting here for my ride
I’m waiting for you to lie

My patience is wearing thin
My blood is boiling from within

My destiny train
Waiting in vain
Left in the cold
No one to hold

My destiny train
What a shame
It’s not my fault
Time can’t be bought

I’m running now after you
I’m running ‘till I pull through
I’m running against the clock
I’m running though I’d rather walk

My patience is at its end
For my seat I must contend

I guess that’s what I get
For all my eggs in one basket
But the way things are going
I may not last through it

I’m waiting for you to move
I’m waiting for you to prove
I’m waiting to get on track
I’m wishing for my life back

My patience is wearing thin
My blood is boiling from within

And for reference, here are the two versions I wrote for the Songwriting course assignments:

One Great Mistake

This song resulted from a webinar with songwriting coach Alex Forbes. Alex presented a method for writing, and attendees were supposed to follow her step-by-step instructions to formulate their own song.

Her method centered around taking a stand on something you believe in, have a deep thought about, or a topic or phrase upon which you have something meaningful to say. For me, the idea I found compelling was that as we go through our lives, everything has to be right just to be content, but if you make one grave error, your life can change in an instant. An accident, a bad decision, or saying the wrong thing in a high-profile public context were some examples I wanted to use.

Alex’s next step was to formulate a title that encapsulated your central idea.  For me, it was “One Great Mistake.”

She then continued with tips on marrying the main lyric (chorus) with a melody that brings out the meaning of the words in the best way. Song form was discussed, as well as the idea of daring to suck as a songwriter. Meaning, write, write and write.  Be prolific.  Finish songs. Many of them will suck, and that’s OK – you’re learning something with each one.

Suffice to say, following a prescriptive method such as this tends to churn out fairly conventional song structures. Focusing on the clarity of expressing your idea makes for a very straight forward lyric and delivery. At least that’s what I found.

After writing the lyric, the music came to me fairly easily.  I knew I wanted to make the music just as straight forward as the lyric, which for me, meant a straight up the middle rocker. I also talked about this song on an episode of Song Talk Radio.

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Walk your whole damn life
Never give it a second thought
But take just one misstep
And you’re bedridden for months

It’s become second nature
You take the wheel most every day
But one distraction later
Twisted metal, body decay

One great mistake
That’s all it takes
You gotta be careful
To not bend, twist or break

Meet the girl of your dreams
Maybe your dreams were wrong
Spend your life in regret
It doesn’t have to be so long

It’s a game of subtle speech
Be careful what you say
You can fold under the pressure
And kiss your future away

But that’s the way we’re made
It’s a delicate precarious balance
Don’t take it for granted
Falter once and all will vanish

Cyberpunk

I wanted to write a song about society’s obsession with gadgets and technology. This is not a new idea, I realized.  A good lyric writing trick for me is to adopt the point of view of a made up character. That gives me the freedom to be silly and quirky, while at the same time being more specific than “seems like everyone is obsessed with gadgets and technology.” Creating a character makes it easier to be biased, and that makes for a more interesting lyric, in my opinion.

The structure is a play on the title Cyberpunk, in that there is a synth-driven “cyber” section, and a faster, guitar-driven “punk” section. A song with a tempo change and such a radical shift in tone and attitude didn’t really need a bridge section, so I left it with two verses and two choruses. Enjoy!

Download the full album for free.

Your profile pic a tiny abstraction
Instagram filtered grainy attraction
Honey are you lookin’ for some action?
Stoke my ego need some validation

Stalk my friends they don’t see it comin’
Go all week never talk to no one
Got my hi-speed DSL modem
I’m a cyberpunk hacker ninja-wan

And I will

Tweet about it
Hundred forty letters that’s fine
Post about it
If you like it and share it I’ll shine
Text about it
As my bride comes down the aisle
Talk about it?
Don’t bother it’s a waste of time!

Have a date she has new Samsung
Textin’ ‘cross the table it is fun
Is there an app called “i-condom”?
If not I think this date is done

Back online I’m a superhero
Shootin’ zombies post-apocalypto
New high score beat out coolguy-nine-oh
Time to gloat me all alone

But I will….

Hurting. Choosing. Learning.

The verse lyrics were actually written several years ago, after I was talking to a psychology student about the paradoxes that can exist in people’s internal thinking. As I decided to paint a few vignettes about different life scenarios, the use of haiku poetry seemed somehow fitting, as well an interesting lyrical and melodic challenge. My co-writer at the time wrote a chorus that departed from the abstract nature of the verses and became a catchy, melodic explanation of the song.

For my album release, I decided to scrap the original chorus and create another that encapsulated the essential feeling of the verses.

I also completely rewrote the music from the earlier version.  I looked once again to Trent Reznor for inspiration, in using a sparse, simple piano melody and various white and pink noise effects. The minimalist instrumentation also suggested I kept the chord structure quite simple, without too much movement.

Download the full album for free.

Bad touches feel good
Shame of pleasure brings silence
I am only five

Pity my poor life
Won’t someone take care of me
Help this adult child

Hurting. Choosing. Learning.

A slave to the high
Reduce my pain for me please
An addict less harm

Raise my family
Through my love and words and fists
Love this or leave it

Hurting. Choosing. Learning.