Thursday, June 10, 2010

movies of books are like Coles Notes

so my new Project is all about writing songs inspired by books. last month saw the first instalment of paul's court: salon of the literary song in my backyard tent, where five of us spent an evening talking about songwriting and books we are passionate about.

next thing i knew, it was the day before our BADAS/S meeting (the other writers' group) and i didn't yet have a song. and whatever book i was reading at the time wasn't one to inspire a song.
what to do, what to do...

when in doubt, change your guitar strings. happens i had recently received two sets of strings in the mail from for my lap steel, in custom gauges for a Mel Bay tuning i had never been able to try with regular string sets. so i put them on, tuned it up, and voila! it sounded Hawaiian. as it should. had no idea how to play the thing, but one shouldn't let that discourage one.

hmm. maybe i could come up with something by tomorrow, given appropriate inspiration. hmm. Hawaii...

i drove immediately to the library (can't walk there anymore as they're rebuilding downtown, and the temporary [two years minimum, yikes!] site is in a disused bar on the highway bypass on the edge of town) and borrowed the dvd of From Here to Eternity. didn't have time to read the James Jones book, and besides, they don't have a copy anyway.

Deb and i watched the movie - she thought it an odd choice - and i had my ears pricked for delicious pieces of dialogue, of which there are many. i had to resist writing notes while watching, and i enjoyed it immensely. next morning - the day of the songwriters' group meeting - i got up early and watched again, this time taking copious notes - three pages of notes.

but whose story would i tell? i'm sure the most popular memory of the film is the beach scene with Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr. and Frank Sinatra's Oscar-winning performance of Maggio proved that he was the greatest singer/actor of all time.

but Montgomery Clift was my man. tragic, brooding, beautiful genius of a man. and the character of Private Prewitt!

it all fell into place as i began to literally cut and paste the bits of dialogue i had chosen. i thought about calling the song Talking to Prew, as for every two lines spoken by Prew, there were eight by, in order, the Sinatra character, the Lancaster character, and Donna Reed's Lorene/Alma.

it was also temporarily called The Treatment, relating to the hazing abuse suffered by Prewitt at the hands of the non-coms who were trying to force him back into boxing, which he refused to do after having blinded a mate in the ring. i later changed it to From Here to Eternity, on the advice of BADAS/S. i played it for them that night without saying anything, hoping that someone might catch the references, but evidently no one else had watched the movie twice in the last twenty-four hours, and they had no idea what it was about. so i'll have to remember to introduce the song a bit whenever i play it for folks.

and i still haven't figured out how to play the electric lap steel with the new tuning. what i ended up doing was playing it on the acoustic Hawaiian Steel, tuned only slightly differently than my usual CGCGCE, viz. CGCGAE. if you've ever wondered what makes that Hawaiian sound, that's it - the open chord is a C6.

From Here to Eternity

Buddy boy, you've made a big mistake
But from here, i can't quite reach ya
All they see in that uniform is a middleweight
Now you're in for the treatment / in for the treatment

Dress us up in civvies, we're as good as the rest
Hell - you played "Taps" at Arlington, for the President
So have some of this i got under my vest
You'll need it more than me when you're back with the treatment
back with the treatment.

But i ain't fighting
'though my war may start a little early

Advance, friend, and be recognized
No way you can win this event
You've seen tears flow from sightless eyes
And now you've seen the treatment
seen the treatment

You've fallen for some dame at the New Congress Club
I didn't know you had it in ya
You ain't enjoyin' life too much, are you kid?
And now she'll give you the treatment
give you the treatment

But i ain't complainin'
Man don't go his own way is nothin'

Don't tell me - the Princess is your style:
I'm Lorene, but my name is Alma
What do you know about pearl diving?
I didn't think you were a soldier
but you're a soldier

You're already married - to the Army
I got a stocking full, to buy a life that's proper
Nobody lies about being lonely
But i will never be the wife of a soldier
wife of a soldier

Now i'm leaving
I gotta turn off the light

please note that most of the words are not mine - i'll have to share credit with James Jones and the screenwriter.

if you happen to be in Orillia in the last two weeks before the Mariposa Folk Festival, take a walk down the main street to Manticore Books, where the wonderful Julianna Hawke will have built a display featuring the artists who will be teaching at this year's Mariposa ArtsU. my sixth of the display will be the fragments of how this song was built.


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