Throw Some Shade

I got the idea for the song when I was thinking about people who accidentally end up in internet memes and what their lives are like, or just people who get caught on camera doing something dumb when they’re young and it follows them around for the rest of their lives.

The verses are about living in the wake of that kind of event — wanting to move on but not being able to because social media is everywhere. And I imagined a guy knowing that his girl friend had that kind of past and wanting to tell her that it’s okay, and that it’s also okay if she takes her frustration and anxiety out on him sometimes because he gets where she’s coming from. Of course, it isn’t a great relationship, and they both know it, but for now, they’re a comfort to each other even if they know the relationship isn’t going anywhere.

The line about sliding the bottle over because the oats are in the back of the closet came to me one morning when I was making breakfast. I literally slid a bottle of olive oil over to get to the canister of Quaker Oats in the back of my cabinet. Hmm, I thought. That’s a pretty specific detail. Maybe I should put it in a song

I was also pretty happy with the phrase “morning heart attack,” even though I don’t quite know what it means. I think I was going for the idea that the person who is looking for the oats is always on the verge of a panic attack. And it just occurred to me that “oats” are sometimes associated with the exuberance of youth — as in “sowing wild oats.” But the oats in this song are locked up in a closet, just like the life that the character isn’t living due to her anxiety.

I wish I could say I did that on purpose!

What to Say to Your Musician Friends

Last week, I put out a new song called “Before the Boys,” and since then, I’ve been extremely flattered by the comments that friends of mine have made — from the friend who meant to text her husband about the emotional response she’d had to the song but texted me by accident to the friend who emailed me with a thoughtful and detailed appraisal of the song. Comments and compliments like these mean the world to me, and I imagine that other musicians feel the same way when friends, family, and even strangers reach out to say a kind word or two about music they’ve written and recorded.

Of course, it isn’t always easy to know what to say to a musician — or any artist for that matter — about a recent release, especially if you’re not a musician yourself. So here are a few ways to say “Nice song!” in a way that the musician in your life will really appreciate:

  • Hey! This song reminds me of… This is a great way to show your musically-inclined friend that you’ve not only listened to a new song but also thought about how it fits in with other kinds of music that you like. Also, you get bonus points if the point of reference is a song that your friend likes and admires. For example, a friend of mine recently wrote, “Reminds me a bit of Brian Wilson with that jangly staccato piano.” I took that as a huge compliment!
  • I love the line about… If you want to let your musician friend know that you really listened to the lyrics, mention your favorite line — or, better yet, favorite lines — of the song. Maybe there was a clever rhyme that you noticed, or maybe just an image that jumped out at you. Whatever the case, the songwriter in your life will really appreciate that something in the song made you take notice. For me, it was a friend who mentioned that he liked a line in my song about an X-chromosome!
  • I shared this song with… Again, if your goal is to let the songwriter or musician in your life know that you really appreciated a song, share it with someone! Back when I was in high school, the way to do this was to make a mixtape. Now it’s even easier. Just share a link to the song with someone who you think will appreciate it, and also let your friend know that you did so. I was extremely flattered when a friend of mine told me that she shared “Before the Boys” with her daughters!
  • I added your song to a playlist! Musicians and songwriters love to hear this because it means that you’ll be listening to their song again and again. If you want to add some context, let them know which playlist, and maybe even who else is on it. I was quite flattered when my mom mentioned that she was adding “Before the Boys” to her “Driving to the Cape May” playlist!

I’m sure there are plenty of other creative ways to show the musician or songwriter in your life appreciation for a song, but these are four of my favorites. If anyone has any other ideas, please feel free to share them in the comments!

Album cover for "Before the Boys."

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.