Monday, May 10, 2010

the project is dead. long live the project

this is my drummer, Deb Gemmell, flanked by our kids, after the triumphant premiere of "Tiny Rehearsals" by Slim Chance and the Future Dead. the t-shirts were Morgan's idea and Dylan's work. they surprised us with them at the show.

it was the culmination of a six-month-long project i started with my brilliant friend Susan Braedley, previously mentioned in these pages as "Suse-my-muse". it was Deb's idea to invite songwriters Carol Teal and Roy Hickling to join us, and my idea to ask Deb to be the drummer.

i had been writing songs about and around death and mortality for a few years, being of an age closer to the end of my life than the beginning, and having people near me begin to die. i was also aware that my contemporaries had been following a similar path.

so i had a few songs, i surmised that Carol and Roy could glean a similar number, and perhaps we could write some over the course of the project in order to have enough for a full-length quasi-theatrical show.

i had no idea. when we first started getting together to discuss what might be used in the show, we realized that we already had a surplus of material and we would need to cull a significant number, especially if we found that we would need to write something specific to an idea that we felt should be included. one song was written specifically for the show - My Late Husband, wonderfully crafted by Roy and hilariously, beautifully sung by Susan.

i have written some on the process, the learning curve we needed to establish how the collaboration would work best. there were struggles indeed, to the point where it looked like the thing might be entirely derailed. almost died, you might say.

(insert cliche here)

yes, it made us stronger. we knew that we had a group of really powerful songs, and we had found a sequence that could flow beautifully throughout the evening.

the plan was to have a sort of script, some narration and dialogue which would bridge the gaps between songs, let us say something about where the songs came from, and to have some fun with.

that's where many of our troubles began. we were worried about having to remember lines, about being stiff doing it. we had lost the original notion, that it would be a loosely structured thing, and we would rely on our natural ability to pull it off with improvisation. but somehow we found our way back, mostly by reinforcing the idea that the structure rested on a solid foundation of good songs. all we needed to do was string them together with intelligence and humour.

the rehearsals got better, more relaxed. the arrangements got tighter, the playing more confident. we were having fun. the in-between banter almost got to be too much fun - we were all riffing on ideas, stepping on each other's lines. it was a happy mess. kinda like life.

in the midst of all this, Deb was prompting me to start planning the next project. no resting on laurels in this house. we hadn't even done the show - no laurels!

so i did, of course. not as easily as that. if you've read former posts, you may know how i've struggled in search of capital-P Projects. Deb knew that it would have to stew for a while, because that's how i work. i call it "organically". names don't matter much.

i hadn't written a song for a couple of months, and we were coming up to our monthly writers' group meeting. i had an idea to write something distilled from a book i had just read, Vancouverite Timothy Taylor's Story House. so i reread the book, making notes as i went, gradually getting a handle on how a song might evolve. and realizing why i needed to do this. i love to read, but i LOVED this book. i was passionate about it. books can do that to me.

at some point i realized this was more than a specific piece of work. it was the project. i would initiate a monthly salon - i've always wanted to do that, dreamed of Alexander Pope in my living room - for songwriters to share their similar passion. the idea seems diverting enough in itself, but i have no doubt that something more tangible may come of it. a show. a series of shows...

so last thursday's afternoon rehearsal, our last before the culmination of the Slim Chance project on saturday night, was followed immediately by the meeting of the Barrie and District Association of Singer/Songwriters and the unveiling of the song that started the new project.
we have overlap!


she comes to me through broken dreams
behind her wrecking ball
the goddess moved a house of glass / up a hillside wall

her crow-black hair; her pale skin; her slenderness belies
the power she holds over me / behind the steely eyes

a third of me surrenders / and i am that much more
she's introducing chaos / my knees are on the floor

another came from paradise / to be my fishing guide
the angler calculates the sea / how far, how deep, how wide

theories fail, and fishing too / she could not catch a king
forgot the rule of tension / explaining everything

a third of me surrenders / i am pierced, seen through
she's introducing order / the past is nothing new

i went to her, there was no choice / the counterfeiter's wife
as we spoke, she nursed her twins / and in my room i cried

anger fades unwillingly / her hair the only blaze
she was the smart one / the one who stayed away

a third of me surrenders / any one can drive
the goddess, the angler, / the counterfeiter's wife.

and then the show saturday. it went very well. we played well, sang well, did fine with the dialogue. even Deb did great under the lights - she was cringing at the thought of being in the glare - i have no idea how she even agreed to do it - but she managed to have at least as good a time as the rest of us.

i was very proud of what we had accomplished together. but i was also excited to let leak at every opportunity that the new project would begin immediately...

i figure i can rest when i'm dead.