My Problem With Editing Myself

Quick bit of history before I get to it:

In 2005 I left Dynamite Boy. I had expended all the energy I could dealing with the “business” side of the music business and was ready to start a family, a steady job making real money, etc… To be honest, it was definitely a “go out on top” moment for us; we had a great manager, a kick-ass booking agency, our last record was the most faithful to what we sounded like as a band (IMHO the self-titled and Hell Is Other People are the only two that ever captured what we sounded like at those points in our band), and support all around us. But for me, it was too little, too late. I’d had enough screaming matches with labels, arguments with bandmates, revolving doors of members, and being told by the label that the only thing stopping us was not putting out a record that sounded like whatever shitty MTV pop-punk band was releasing at the moment and my weight. Yes. My “look” was always an issue for them. And I have had plenty of my own self esteem and self image issues that were only validated by the what I felt was a constant barrage of deprecating comments about me. DONE.

It was as least 2 years before I began to dabble with writing another song. Even then, it was just ideas. In March 2009 I moved to Seattle, and after a month or two here, I got ahold of my friends Stella and Adam. I told them I wanted to start a songwriting group with them. We started a thing called SAWclub – Song-A-Week Club. To be honest, it only lasted a few weeks, everyone kept missing the deadline, but we all wrote a few songs before it concluded. But it was the kickstart and reintroduction I needed again back to songwriting.

I continued writing some, and then had one of my many moments of self doubt, when I reached out to my friend Urny and asked if he thought the songs/music was too different – did it sound like me at all or did it sound like I was trying to be someone else? I was filled with dread that I was going down some weird path that would end with me hating everything I’d ever done and just keep glorifying the “old days” in Dynamite Boy – that I’d peaked as a songwriter that early on and was now just one of those guys that should be hanging out in Guitar Center and wailing leads to some old metal song in his shirt and tie then depressingly going home where he would never do anything with that skill.

I wrote a few more – one for Mother’s Day, one about missing being in a band, one about my life and my kid (none of these are on the record btw). I wrote one for an NPR “write-a-song-in-a-day” contest (Radio Wave, which did end up on the record). Then, the unthinkable (in my mind) thing happened. My marriage collapsed. What sprung from this was a brand new set of songs, and as such, the idea behind this blog entry.

The Ghost In My Machine

Initially written as a very hopeful “We can work it out” kind of song, by the time it all shook out, I couldn’t perform the song without it feeling insincere based on the theme. It was getting cut from the record; I had decided it didn’t fit with the theme of the album (which in general, has more of a “post-trauma, healing and moving on” vibe). There was no redemption to be found in the lyrics, and they were no longer relevant to me. Had I recorded the album in real time, it would have been there; 3 years later, it didn’t make sense any longer.

When I began to tell people it had been cut, there was a sadness from almost every single one. The song was lovely, for sure, but I couldn’t muster what it needed to sing about those things, knowing what I knew then. Then I decided to try the one thing I HATE to do to my lyrics: to edit them and rewrite them to make them more relevant to the moment. But in the end, I really loved the results, and recorded them and it was back on the record. It ended up actually being more of a straight story about what the things that led to the record, without the venom that some of the other songs had.

Turned Away, 122, Breaking Point

So then here I am, I have these three songs, written around the same time as The Ghost In My Machine, that are in the same boat. I love the melody, the guitar parts, the songs themselves, but the lyrics are too “pointed.” They are from a snapshot in time that I’d rather not relive over and over (singing these and playing these is not the cathartic experience so many folks talk about – many times for me it’s just thrusting myself back into those horrific times). But I’m torn between my desire for everyone to hear these songs and my opposition to rewriting them.

But I learned something when doing The Ghost In My Machine – and quite simply, it’s that NONE OF THAT MATTERS. The song is the song. The emotion it evokes from me will be different than what it will bring from others (if anything at all). I can write 40 different sets of lyrics, and in the end, all that matters is:

  1. Is it a good song?
  2. Did I accurately convey how I feel?
  3. Do you connect with it?
  4. See 1, 2, and 3 again and again

In the end, I’ve decided that all three of these songs will be on the next record. In what state, I can’t really say. But odds are good I’ll keep some lyrics, get rid of others, and be OK with all of that. Or maybe still be an anxiety-filled wreck about it, but at least know that the song is real, it’s good, and accurate.

Most of all I hope that when I play them, I’m able to express exactly what they all mean to me. Steady as she goes…

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