Saturday, March 17, 2018

Story Song Structure (2): Tired of Being Alone

Ah, Al Green. The Reverend Al Green. For me, an album artist first, Let's Stay Together was a big part of my mom's album collection, and always ready to be put on, pretty much whenever. I'm Still In Love With You, as well, and many others.

But his songs... almost completely separated from the albums, Al Green was, is, so much a part of R&B radio as to have defined it, certainly in the 70s.

Tired of Being Alone (song link here) as a story, though?

Well, in terms of what I've been thinking, certainly with the framing device.

I'm so tired of being alone

I'm so tired of on my own

these two lines introduce almost every verse of the song, the frame is inseparable here from the story. The two move together, with the frame almost static.

Almost. The third verse moves the intro lines dynamically, he changes the intro to this verse, modulates to a quieter place.

To ambiguity.

This is story, I think, romance, the lover's lament, a path less traveled in book and story form, if my impressions of the romance genre are correct, but an essential path in the mid-20th century song form. Here, I read it as Al writing a letter. Not an explicit, plotted, step by step story, rather a dynamic tone poem of loss and questioning. Not beseeching. Just, well, wondering if maybe?

The story line lies in how he tells us little by little through each of the verses what's happened. How they started, where they went.

Where he is, now, wondering.

And he doesn't resolve the ambiguity, does he? I can say what my opinion is, that he knows this is a lament for himself, he knows she's not coming back, but that's ok.

He has his dream, and that's good just by itself. He's said his piece now it's time to go.

Let's see how these look. I've posted flower picks so far this spring, as our displayers come out to show their works and wares. But here's my first picture from this spring of our more mobile garden residents. Pardon the focus if you will, and my paw. Both are a consequence of using a phone camera; between the slight morning breeze making her web dance, and the lack of direct control over the point of screen resolution, I had to back her with my hand to force the contrast, and I didn't quite get her into full relief on both pics.

Just for reference, these are two out of about fifteen or so, the rest were too indeterminate to make good with.

For another reference, she was set up for her morning fishing expedition in the yellow rose who made our first flower of the spring...

Friday, March 16, 2018

Story Song Structure (1): Della and the Dealer (instead of Viva Pancho Villa)

Well, this one didn't get off to the start I was expecting.

First, let me back up. I was listening to "Viva Pancho Villa" by Hoyt Axton, andn something struck me about the structure of story songs, and popular song form more generally, once I started really looking for it.

Sorry about not posting a link to the particular song, but there's no readily available online performance of it.

So I'll instead talk about another song of Hoyt's, "Della and the Dealer". Which is cool, because Della is actually my favorite of his. Plus, that means I can point to another contrast with Pancho's structure, which you can see in the lyrics, or if you're interested enough to go out and track down a for-pay version of it. They're both on Hoyt's album "A Rusty Old Halo", which is well worth it.

Ok, first, you know Hoyt Axton. As a songwriter? Greenback Dollar, The Pusher, Never Been to Spain, and most famously Joy to the World (i.e. Jeremiah was a bullfrog). Hell, if you're into hair metal from the 80's, Hanoi Rocks covered Hoyt's Lightning Bar Blues! So, songwriter. (Hoyt's mother co-wrote Heartbreak Hotel, so we're talking songwriter royalty here...)

And, you know his face. Actor: Alec's father in the original The Black Stallion movies, and the father in Gremlins, the one who brings our little beasties home as the world's best (and worst) Christmas present from a road dog father...

Right, that Hoyt Axton. Like I said, my favorite of his songs is Della and the Dealer, which has one of my absolute favorite lines in song:

If that cat could talk

what tales he'd tell

'bout Della and the Dealer and the dog as well

But the cat was cool

and he never said a mumblin' word

But let's talk about frames. In art, the frame's obvious, right? It's there in story, as well, the so-called framing device.

It's there in song as well. Most often? The chorus, the part I mumble along to and try not to offend too too many people by singing along in off-key accompaniment.

(if you're a musician, I'm eliding the technical descriptions here on purpose, sorry if I put it in a way that seems obvious or accidentally misleading..)

Basically, I'm thinking of the chorus as the way Hoyt sets the verses, the main through-line of story, frames them.

(here's a link for Della at youtube)

What's really cool in Della? Hoyt uses two different choruses, frames if you will, a static frame, and a dynamic frame.

The static one is the "...but the cat was cool..." chorus.

The dynamic one is how he opens and closes the main throughline:

Della and the Dealer and a dog named Jake

and a cat named Kalamazoo

Left the city in a pick-up truck

gonna make some dreams come true

The dynamic change is in the last statement of this frame:

Della and her lover and a dog named Jake

and a cat named Kalamazoo

Left Tucson in a pick-up truck

gonna make some dreams come true

A change of three words, but it tells us all we need to know about Della, who she's riding with now, and what dreams they're looking to make come true now. Three words that tell us who lost the fight in the main storyline; simple ain't it?

Try it and see.

Now, contrast that with Viva Pancho Villa, if you're interested enough to go looking for it: Hoyt uses a single static frame there, and it's almost a chorus that seems like it's only trivially connected to the song story he's after.

Well, one, if you're interested in ex-pat stories, Pancho is one, and their scheme never quite gets off the ground. The chorus is connected by one of the characters, and I suspect that Hoyt had the original song Viva Villa in mind, with the ex-pat's storyline now inverting the frame. I.e., which is the frame, and which the story?

That may be a step too far, I don't think it's quite there in this one because the implication is that the character's in this story sing "Viva Villa" as part of their bar-night celebration. But, there are other songs that do directly invert the frame and the story in a much more explicit way. I'll explore that later, but next time I'll talk about Al Green, a master of lover's lament story songs...

Thursday, March 15, 2018

So blogging today in a state of vapor lock. The short answer might be that I'm still exhausted from the trip and recovering.

Which is true. Though I got my fiction words in today, now up to about 12500 on Wolf in Taos... . Or true enough.

Full day at the day gig, some fiction writing, and then I realized when I was considering what might tilt my, er, fancy for blogging material, and a hundred things occured to me.

None of which I'd have been able to do justice to. I knew if I tried to dig into something more detailed, I'd get a couple hundred words in and stare at the screen while the inner blogger went off for a cup of tea and found a place to nap instead.

Such is life sometimes. I do have a few things I want to discuss, something about story structure in songs, something else about the great null thing, another ....

You might now see my dilemma. I know there's a block of things coming and I have no energy to finish them today. So I won't. Not tonight at least.

Besides, that just gives me other things to write about tomorrow and the next day and the day after that...

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

We had another loss in the scifi community, while I was gone so I didn't know about it until I got back and had a chance to catch up with things a bit.

Kate Wilhelm for me was one of the joys of short fiction. Basically, since I've been alive, and definitely since I started reading the short fiction magazines, Kate was a regular joy for me. Her name was magic; if she was in the table of contents, I knew I had at least one story in the issue that was going to make it worth it and more than worth it.

I didn't follow her mystery work as much, but for scifi and fantasy, she is a name to conjure with in the short story.

I dug around for her bibliography to refresh myself on which stories I'd read, and there was one that jumped out more than any other, immediately. That it won the Nebula that year doesn't surprise me: if you haven't read it, if you can get your hands on a copy of "The Girl Who Fell Into the Sky" (careful, there are few other titles out there that match up with similar titles, so Kate's name is important here), then I promise that meeting Lorna will make it worth it for you.

I also didn't put two and two together until I dug for it; I didn't realize Pulphouse had published "The Girl Who Fell Into the Sky". I think I'll run over and ask Dean W. Smith if he still has copies floating around...
I almost missed our second rose coming into spring bloom; this is our showoff, he's out in the front bed, and he's perfectly happy to display for all to see

So A wolf in Taos Valley is up to about 11500 words. Not as much as I'd been getting per day, but the past week has been spring break, our daughter's high school band put together a trip for the kids, and we've been chaperoning the shindig. So, I brought the laptop along without much if any hope that I'd get anything put down on the story at all.

But joy of joys, I did. I'm not in Dean W. Smith's league by any means, but I'll take a few hundred words a day under the circumstances. I think we averaged about four or five hours a sleep per night over the trip. No one leaves a bunch of teenagers with time on their hands on a trip like that. For some reason they have a tendency to get in trouble if you do...

If you've got a few to spare, have some good thoughts for the family and friends of the Channelview High School and their bus drivers. They lost a tour bus in Alabama on their spring trip, one of the drivers died at the scene, and as I write this one of their band directors is in pretty bad shape. As it turns out, I think they were about an hour behind us coming back this way, so we found out about it on the road. Our bus driver knew both of the drivers involved in the accident, the bus industry is a pretty small family all together, and this sort of thing hits them hard.

Same thing with the Channelview kids. At that age, we put our kids out there on the roads for a lot of things, games, bands, heck I saw an AP Chemistry class at one of the parks we went to, enjoying their spring break. The feeling involved when all you see is a headline about kids and a bus crash... Our phones lit up like rockets, and I can promise, every single parent in the band was there waiting for us when we got home.

There were a few kids asking the question "Why on earth are they all out there like that?" Typically, it can take a bit for everybody to get organized and get the kids home, no delay today. So I had to explain to them a bit about what their parents must have felt yesterday morning watching the news, waking up and the first thing they hear on the news is "tour bus crash in Alabama, one dead at the scene" while their children were on the road through that area.

We got everyone home safe and sound from our little group, everyone had fun amidst the chaos of wrangling that many kids without losing anybody, they made some memories that will last a lifetime. Small blessings, the Channelview families got their kids back, as well. I just wish the driver's family could say the same, and that their band director's family weren't sitting in a hospital watching the clock tick.