#36 Old songs like weeds: A record report
I have a fundamental problem with Time. The breakdown is showing up everywhere, including the new record.
A small, independent artist who foots her own bill for studio time, stretches the recording process across paychecks. Time moves. Life changes. When the songs are finally recorded and mixed and mastered and offered, they’re old. You might not notice, but she does.
I look at the collection of songs I’ve planned for this record -- thirteen of them -- and it feels like a wedding: A hodge-podge of people flown in from a patchwork of time periods and lifetimes to eat cake and drink too much.
I don’t remember very much about my actual wedding. If I didn’t have a child and a shared custody arrangement that required almost daily contact with the man who is now my ex-husband, I’m not sure I would recognize him. I would have a hard time believing I was ever married at all. I don’t mean that disrespectfully. It’s just the way time and distance wash colors.
When I look at those old wedding photos, I don’t know the woman wearing my mother’s old dress. Her friend, Wendy, did her makeup, because she (the bride) is chronically ungifted in the area of grooming. She is not wearing her glasses. She is smiling, but her mind is turning and so is her stomach. She knows this is the wrong step. She is standing in her parents’ church surrounded by beliefs she is not entirely sure are her own. And she is doing exactly what she guessed she should. Pleasing.
Her favorite flowers, wild and yellow in her hand, are the same as mine – daisies – but aside from that, she’s a character in a book I stopped reading a long time ago.
My point here is: Time.
The record. Of the thirteen songs planned, four of them feel exceptionally old. They were written 3-4 years ago, during a time in my life that is now nothing but a collection of surreal watercolor paintings in a back room. The lighting is dim, and I squint with curiosity at vaguely familiar images, uncertain of their function, except that a room looks empty without them.
I think I know the woman in these images, but I’m not sure. I search for clues. What was she worth? What was she to anyone? What in God’s name was she doing? If you asked me to explain her, I wouldn’t be able to any more so than I could explain the woman down the street who always, inexplicably, wants to hug my dog when she sees us walking. “Maybe she had a brain injury,” I told someone once.
And so these songs… written by a woman I’m not entirely sure I know anymore… do I cut them from the record? Or do I give them space in the new collection and let them mark time? I can tell you that I don’t feel anything when I play them live. Live, and when no one is paying attention, they’re just notes and syllables strung together.
A friend – another musician -- once told me that his goal when covering a song is to play it with the same emotion he felt when he first heard it. I thought that was wise. Do I apply the same wisdom to playing my old songs? Every time I play a show, am I to pull up the same emotions I felt when I wrote the song, no matter which lifetime it came from? That’s a lot of revisiting. How does anyone ever let go of anything when they have to re-embody it so frequently?
I now live around the corner from the house I rented after I moved out of my parents’ house…after I left my marriage. I wrote 4 of the 13 songs in that house. I walked past it this morning. I drive past it almost every day. I examine the soffits above the front porch for signs of raccoons. I ask my son, who is 7, if he remembers living there. He says he does, but I’m not sure that’s real-life true or just dreams-and-pictures true.
When a for sale sign popped up in the yard, I scoured the Zillow listing, noted the changes in paint and flooring, light fixtures and window treatments. It was an imperfect house, full of mice and bats and raccoons (Current mindset recognizes the actual and foretelling perfection of this.). But it was refuge when I needed it. It was a safe place for pieces to land after I’d pulled the hand grenade pin. Kaya Dog lived her last days there. She had seizures on the front sidewalk and left blood on the kitchen floor on her last day. It’s a house worth remembering, and I think I’d have to lose every single one of my marbles to forget it.
My ex-husband likes a nice lawn. When we were married, Creeping Charlie took over the backyard, and we butted heads about how to fix it. He wanted to hire a lawn service to spray the yard. I wanted to let it be. I like the rich green, the cobalt blooms, the smell. We compromised on a company that used a non-toxic, eco-friendly mixture of natural weed deterrents. It smelled like oatmeal and was minimally effective. The Charlie crept.
I decided the answer to Creeping Charlie was likely the same answer to everything: Stop fighting. Just plant what you want and then nurture it until it outgrows what you don’t want. It takes…
In an afternoon, I dug up a third of the backyard – the third with the most creeping Charlie. My ex-husband was annoyed, but he’d learned to go with my whims by this point. I edged the fresh plots with brick and planted more plants – the ones I wanted.
I left – everything – not long after (without mulching), and my ex-husband pulled up the bricks and the plants and turned it all back to grass. Five years later, he is still in the house, and the backyard is almost entirely creeping Charlie. So much for that.
Still, I’m talking about Time and what to do with all of its moving parts.
My son helped me in the yard this week, pulling weeds from the front flower beds. I taught him how to yank them from the roots. He treated it like battle. To him, the weeds were inherently bad and to be defeated. I told him what an organic farmer in a wide-brimmed straw hat once told me while standing in the middle of a strawberry patch: A weed is just a plant growing where you don’t want it. If a rose grew in the middle of a cornfield, it would be a weed.
When I think about cutting out old songs, I think of that backyard full of creeping Charlie. I think of the old rental house full of wild roommates, the house that caught me when I fell. I think of purslane nosing up through the cracks of the driveway of my current home. I think of a rose in a cornfield. History doesn’t go anywhere.
You can cover the past with concrete, but the roots grow under and the weeds stretch up. They want sun. Concrete fools no one. Eventually, something gives.
You can kill it with poison, but the poison kills everything around it until nothing can ever grow again. The neighborhood turns into square after square of kelly-green turf and undrinkable water; and who wants to live there? I don't.
The past insists, and I’m inclined to treat it like dandelions and let it. This is how a garden grows. And a record, too.
A few shots from the studio (featuring: Logan Christian - recording engineer/producer; Renee Potts Flanagan - drums; Steph Graham - bass; Amanda Drish Adolf - violin; and Me.):