Graham Higgins Illustration - Literate Graffiti Dept.


March 28, 2010

28-3-10 Lyric rising

There’s a very simple chord shape you can move up and down the neck : E0-2-4-4-0-0e. It’s called a power-chord; it’s used a lot in rock. There’s no daintiness in it, it’s the lifting-gear to get the backing where you want it for the vocal to stand on.

Strumming around in the quiet house I was struck by the sound of it moved up to the 7th fret, E0-7-9-9-0-0e; a siren chord, open and harp-like, hovering on the brink of discord. Dropping that down two frets gave me a two-chord scaffolding for a verse and I dropped the bottom E string to a D for extra boom.

The descending chorus-chords followed, reminding me a bit of the three-chord groove of Sniff & The Tears’ ‘Driver’s Seat’.

(I note that only because it constantly surprises me to find ‘records’ stored in my memory. There’s only a ‘something about’ my chords that was enough to spark off a replay of a single from 1978. I’ve played with arrangements of it for acoustic but it would take more skill than I can bring to the Bm, A, G riff to make it worth the listen. It’s really a band-song or a showcase for a distinctive vocalist.)

I took a cue from my friend Jo, who does furious drives when she’s feeling mad at the world in general. I’ve done the same motorway therapy myself, cruising night roads to the sound of Palestrina, Janacek’s string quartets, The Fabulous Thunderbirds or Stevie Ray Vaughan. It’s a karma-wrecking selfish use of precious fossil fuel but high-speed solitude is a great healer. The silence when you pull into a Service Area car park, interrupted only by the ticking of the engine cooling after the rumble and body-boom of a drive can be profound, literally a breathing-space.

The lyric so far has settled into:-

Don’t dwell much on my transgressions

Familiarity wears me down

Breath I’ve wasted on confession

Time I’ve wasted in this town

That’s how it goes, pal,

No telling how the deck is stacked

That’s how it runs, kid,

The big wheels turn and the dominos fall…

Changing gear, acceleration

Taking me from the storm’s eye

No final destination

No lucky star to travel by

I’m out of explanation

Words fail when reason dies

I’ve had it with this conversation

The flim-flam farrago and the alibis

Wheels spin, the road unravels

In the rear-view movie and the lights ahead

Driving through the hours less travelled

From things undone and words unsaid.

Can’t outrun what’s in your head, son

Round and round and around it goes

Thoughts you can’t put to bed

When time hangs heavy and the clocks run slow.

I’m going to try this out tonight at The Acoustic Café, though I shall have to write out the lyrics to keep within sight. It won’t begin to become a song until the words fall into place automatically. I find that a song takes about three performances to begin to settle in.

  1. I envy people who can fly all over the guitar neck. For technical reasons, I have to stick close to the nut (otherwise my stupid fingers stop being where they ought to be). My most daring chord is merely a four-string C#m, and even that requires me to watch my fingers into place. So my style fits around my limited capabilities: I tend to concentrate on getting the bass notes right and letting the rest go where it wants to go. I’ll have to pass on the power chords – reluctantly.

    I hope the song went down well at the Café. Did it? It looks interesting, and I’d like to hear the words with the tune. I know that feeling of getting away. (Non-driver that I am, I have to do this on trains, unless I’m doing it in company.) That feeling that every yellow quarter-mile post flashing past is taking you further and further from all the stuff that’s been on your back for the last too-long…. But whenever I try to write travelling songs, they end up a hopeless mess with a heartbroken-hobo, a C&W flavour and more corny lines than Kellogs. So it goes.

    Comment by Sue Jones — March 28, 2010 @ 8:28 pm
  2. The Café audience is always charitable. I think if one person had said they liked it l might have felt it was a proper compliment but on the other hand that doesn’t go on much anyway. It was more an occasion to get a first performance out of the way. I did keep the words on a stand. I’ve at least got past the stage where you make reading errors or forget that the first syllable is stressed, or that you’re meant to run two lines together. I know the lines, just need to keep them in the right order.The guitar part sounds more complicated than it is. When I was younger and played less it seemed unbelievable, daunting, when performers sang over arrangements you might at first take to be instrumentals.
    I wrote another road-song when I was playing with DADGAD tuning and there was a driving-song I wrote ages ago which really needs a double-bass and brushed drum jazz setting. I haven’t yet found the right kind of bass notes on the guitar.The road in songs is almost always a metaphor from Harry Lauder’s ‘Keep Right On To The End Of The Road’ to Route 66 so I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised if my imagination goes to it for inspiration.
    I think the thing about the therapy road-run is that however full of stuff your mind is, you’re very committed to the real, manoeuvering through traffic that doesn’t care a bit about what might be occupying your head.
    I’d agree with you that power-chords would probably not sound their strident best on your baby guitar.

    Comment by admin — March 29, 2010 @ 8:33 pm
  3. No need to respond to this one: just act on it. Your link has two https – that’s a slight overkill. http colon slash slash and then the www will do nicely. And then it will work. (I got there by myself eventually. I don’t recall that record at all from 1978.)

    Comment by Sue Jones — March 30, 2010 @ 8:49 pm
  4. Fixed. I watched the vid again and realised how much I appreciate real drums and only minimal synth. All that Modernist stuff is so much of its time now. It also reminded me of late warm Summer nights in the flat in the attic listening to the 12″ of Joe Le Taxi. These are both arrangements that sound as if they just go on infinitely and you hear a random few minutes of them. Also in that bracket, 12″ dub reggae mash-ups, or Mantovani: texture more than contour.

    Comment by admin — March 31, 2010 @ 9:01 pm
  5. Yeah! Real drummers have so much more life in their rhythms, however steady they appear. Ditto a good bassist. Give the flash-harry axe heroes something to noodle against with just enough give in it.

    Comment by Sue Jones — March 31, 2010 @ 9:57 pm

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