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.