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!

Tuck the Tag into Your Sleeve…

As I mentioned the other day, my new song, “Picture Day,” was largely inspired by a bit of schoolyard bullying I experience in my youth. The biographical details, however, were someone else’s entirely. In fact, the idea for the first verse was lifted entirely from my good friend Tom Powers, who wrote The Greatest Show in the Galaxy: The Discerning Fan’s Guide to Doctor Who with me about ten years ago.

Here are the lyrics to that verse:

Picture day in school,
Clothes you had to borrow.
Tuck the tag into your sleeve.
The shirt goes back tomorrow.

Quite a while back, Tom told me that when he was in grade school, his mother would buy a nice shirt for him to wear when class pictures were taken, but that he had to keep the tag on the shirt because she needed to return it for a refund the next day. That image always stuck with me, and for a while, I had a note on my desk that simply read, “Write song about Tom Powers/picture day.”

The real life details differ from my song in two key ways. The first is that Tom had to tuck the tag into the collar of the shirt rather than the sleeve. The second — and more important — difference is that Tom wasn’t bullied as a result of wearing the shirt. In fact, it occasioned a gesture of kindness on the part of another student. Here’s what Tom has to say about the incident: “My mother always made us tuck in the price tag. One time a grade school classmate offered to remove it for me… I remember sheepishly tucking the tag back in as if I preferred it being part of the shirt (even though it was itching the back of my neck all day) while saying, ‘No, that’s all right.'”

But I loved the image, and I thought it worked perfectly as an inciting incident for the song I wanted to write about being bullied. Of course, it took me a little while to make the connection. I knew I wanted to write the song abut being bullied, and I also knew that I wanted to write the song about picture day. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that I realized that the two could be one and the same — that even if the embarrassment that Tom experienced when someone offered to cut the tag off his shirt for him didn’t result from bullying, it was still the kind of “outsider-y” feeling that I felt whenever I ventured down to the schoolyard in grade school.