In the Pink

It’s hard to say where this all started.

I emailed Jen and Jeff a few weeks back and asked them to record a drum track for me so I could build a song around it. Then Jen asked what tempo I wanted, and I said something vague like “I don’t know… Somewhere between 110 and 120 beats per minute?” Then Jen said something like, “So 117.24985?” Which I said would be perfect since that’s always been my lucky number.

So they recorded the track, and I didn’t do anything with it for about a week. But then there was a massive thunderstorm, and my gutter got clogged, so I went out on the roof to see if I could clear the downspout. When I came back in, I realized that if anyone saw me out on the roof, they might think I was crazy — and would likely be correct in their assessment, but for all the wrong reasons. That’s when the first lines of the song came to me: “If there’s a reason I’m up on the roof, it’s not the reason that you think.”

Given the state of the world these days, the song quickly took an apocalyptic turn, and I imagined someone looking out on a world with dead streets and fire in the sky. Of course, that imagery was kind of dark, so I lightened the proceedings with a chorus that I’d written a year or so earlier: “I keep seeing angels in the corner of my eye.” I distinctly remember that I was making an espresso when that line came to me, but beyond that and another line about the angels being devils in disguise, the lyrics never went anywhere.

So, arguably, the song started back when those two lines came to me. But there’s a further complication: As I was working on the song, I realized that I needed an instrumental bridge for the middle. That’s when I remembered an instrumental track that I’d written and recorded a while back called “Poly the Glot.” It had the perfect instrumental break for this new one. Or almost perfect, anyway. I had to change the key and make some other minor adjustments.

Since no one had really heard “Polly” except for a handful of people, I didn’t think anyone would mind that I was pillaging my back catalog for the sake of new material. So while I was at it, I took some interesting sound effects from that track as well — a lot of the electronic screeching you hear throughout the track originally appeared (in another key) on “Polly the Glot” as well.

Oh, I forgot to mention that when I started recording the song, I decided that “between 110 and 120 beats per minute” wasn’t exactly what I wanted, so I sped Jeff’s track up a bit and ended up with a tempo of 142 beats per minute. And to sweeten the deal, I got my friend Tony Yoo involved. He’s the one you can hear singing backing vocals on the chorus.

In any case, “In the Pink” could have started on any number of occasions: Back in 2015 or so when I recorded “Poly the Glot,” a few years later when I was making espresso and the chorus came to me, a few weeks ago when I asked Jen and Jeff to record a drum track for me, or the afternoon I went out on my roof to clear the gutter during a thunderstorm. Whatever the case, I hope you enjoy listening to it!

The Shoot (Part Seven)

The mood in Mike’s car is somewhat subdued. Maybe it’s because the sudden, scowling apparition of Mike’s dad has reminded us all of the feckless nature of today’s outing — and, by extension, of our collective interest in what some might consider less-than-serious pursuits. Or maybe it’s because that same apparition is a grim reminder of the humorless future that awaits all of us if we decide to go straight, as it were: no more art, no more music, no more movies, no more toys, no more comic books. In a word, no more fun.

Mike asks about my approach to grading. Miranda asks if we can focus on the video shoot. The GPS informs us that there’s traffic ahead and asks if we’d like to try an alternate route. It’s an existential question as much as a practical one.

In the distance, radio towers loom over Roxborough, red lights blinking a slow, steady rhythm high above the hills. Natalie lives in a decommissioned chapel at the foot of one of the towers, and by the time we arrive, the sun has begun to set, and there’s a distinct chill in the air.

My stomach knots slightly at the prospect of meeting new people, but I follow Mike and Miranda through the front door and try to blend into the cluttered background. Natalie and her housemates, it turns out, are not neatnicks. Art supplies abound, left wherever they were last used, and my eye is drawn to the various ukuleles, hand-drums, and unstrung guitars that litter the floor.

“So you’re the guy we’ve heard so much about!” Natalie says.

“I am?” I say.

In the kitchen, a man with a bushy beard is rattling pots and pans. He hasn’t said a word, and my innate paranoia tells me that his silence is a sign that he’d rather not be bothered by whatever shenanigans Miranda has planned. Or, more to the point, that I’ve instigated by writing a song about a dead prostitute.

As a matter of fact, the paranoid voices in my head start whispering, that guy definitely hates you.

I look at my feet. I look at the walls and ceiling. I look everywhere but at the man in the kitchen and see nothing but the clutter that reminds me how far I am from the tidy confines of my comfort zone.

“Hey!” the bearded guy says, suddenly standing in front of me with a chunk of bread dripping in something white and pasty. “Do you want to try my mango dip? I just made it!”

“Wow! Yes!” I say. “But I can’t eat gluten. Is there gluten in that?”

“Oh, sorry,” he says. “Yeah, there’s gluten in the bread.”

Before I can say anything else, he pops into the kitchen and returns with a plastic spoon slathered in the dip.

“What do you think?” he asks.

“Delicious!” I say before I’ve even tasted it, mainly because saying I’m just glad he doesn’t hate me might come off as slightly off-putting.

Then there’s a pause, and I fill it with one of the go-to questions from my script:

“So, what do you guys do for a living?”

And then there’s a longer pause, and suddenly I realize I’ve taken over the role of the oh-so-serious old man in the room — that, in essence, I’ve just become Mike’s dad.

“You know, whatever comes up,” Natalie says. “We were going to plow some snow today, but then Miranda asked if we could help with your video.”

“Oh,” I say. “Sorry.”

“Don’t be!” Natalie says. “This sounds like a lot more fun.”

And there’s that word again: Fun!

Apparently it comes natural to some people.

Tom and Marc dif looks-01

We didn’t end up going with these costumes.

The Shoot (Part Five)

Back at the house, Mike is grading papers, which makes sense because he’s an English teacher, and English teachers spend every spare minute of the day grading papers. That I’m an English teacher as well makes me wonder if I should have brought some papers along on today’s adventure, but Miranda is of the opinion that Mike’s grading is ruining the mood.

“We’re shooting a rock video,” she says. “It’s supposed to be fun!”

“Just one more,” Mike says, cross-legged as he looks up from the sea of papers circling him on his bed like the ridges of a crater. “I’m almost done.”

I’ve heard that before — mainly because I’ve said it before. Grading papers is the ultimate excuse for avoiding life.

Mocha, meanwhile, is still barking, and Miranda is on the phone. With whom, I don’t know, but they’re making plans to meet soon. Which means, I suppose, that our shoot must be nearing an end. What’s next? A few takes with me and Mike frolicking in the snow-covered backyard? We can knock that out in fifteen minutes — a half-hour at the most. Then I’ll be heading home, and I can resume my regularly-scheduled life.

“Good news!” Miranda says when she gets off the phone. “Natalie’s in, and so is her boyfriend!”

“Don’t let me hold you up,” I say. “Let’s get this shoot finished, and I’ll leave you guys to your plans.”

It then occurs to me that we’re all in Mike and Miranda’s bedroom, which is less of a bedroom than a gallery space with a bed. The room is filled with comic books, artwork, and vintage toys — all arranged in perfect, touch-me-not order. The other rooms in the house are pretty much the same, giving the place the air of a hip, funky museum.

“What plans?” Miranda asks. “We’re going to Roxborough to pick up Natalie and her boyfriend, and then we’re shooting the rest of the video.”

“Roxborough?” I say, silently gauging the number of hours the excursion will add to the one I’m already on.

“Can’t they drive out here?” Mike asks.

“No,” Miranda says. “They don’t have a car. Besides, Natalie says there’s a field by her house where we can do some filming.”

“What about the dog?” Mike asks.

“What about the dog?”

“It’s almost his dinnertime.”

It’s almost my dinnertime, I want to say but for some reason don’t.

“Then feed him,” Miranda says.

Mike trudges off to fetch some dinner for Mocha, and I start to feel bad for being such a misanthrope — even if only in my own head.

“I really appreciate what you guys are doing for me,” I say because, really, who else would volunteer to direct, shoot, and edit a video for someone just because they like a song?

“Are you kidding?” Miranda asks. “Do you know how long it’s been since I’ve done anything creative? I sit behind a desk all day.”

It’s worth noting that Miranda studied art in college. One of her big projects involved covering every inch of a room with playing cards and then inviting people in to pose as if they were attending a cocktail party.

In the nude.

Or something like that.

I probably don’t have to mention that I wasn’t involved.

“It’s actually good for me, too,” I admit. “I mean, just getting out of the house. That was one of my resolutions this year. Get out our more. Be more social.”

The smell of canned dog food fills the room as Mike sets a bowl on the bed where Mocha is accustomed to taking his meals.

“Marc was just telling me that his new year’s resolution was to come out,” Miranda says.

“Really?” Mike asks, and Mocha starts barking at his food.

“Not come out,” I say a little too quickly. “Get out. More often. And be more social.”

“Come out, get out,” Miranda says. “The point is you’re having fun.”

Right. Fun. I almost forgot.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Me in the Pop Culture Wing of the Museum of Mike and Miranda’s Peculiar Interests. I’m dancing with a 3/4 scale model of Michael Jackson, and the dog is barking at me. My shoes are off because I’ve just spent the last half-hour stomping around in a wet and muddy cemetery.