THE SONG-DREAMING QUEEN of WOKEVILLE

 

kween

(This is a re-post and re-write from a post about a story that hadn’t fully played out when I first posted it)

 

As I scramble to wrap up a three-year-long recording project (the best studio recordings I’ve ever gotten; the production isn’t slick but it’s savagely inventive and the sonics are nice and chewy) before the year is done, I’m having to hire musicians to come in on eight bars here, and four bars there, to plug a handful of holes in the arrangements. My production rule is that every four bars in a song has to have at least one interesting moment;  in parallel to that: always have at least two melodies developing across a section, as well as more than one rhythm, for the same reason that a novel’s narrative needs at least two (if not three)  simultaneous plot arcs… this keeps the reader/audience awake,  guessing and engaged. Not to mention the importance of determining “foreground” and “background” in a decisive way (in an audioscape, reverb, EQ and delay help with that kind of spacial modelling;  in a text, discreetly constant call-backs can effect the same IRL sense of a “behind the scenes” Reality in your artifact: you don’t want everything squashed into the same plane and arranged in a dull sequence of single-file inevitability…. there are twenty long years of learning in those quick tips). The permutational complexity! The witnessing brain needs it! Anyway…

 

I put an ad in a music weekly for a female vocalist… I need one line in a chorus sung and the singer’s tone needs to be just so. I had a semi-famous (nationally)  singer lined up to ride a train into town and do the twenty minutes of work for expenses only (very nice)  but when my recording schedule backed up,  and I had to delay the session date,  she was forced to beg off because of her touring schedule. A week after placing the advert for a replacement singer, I got a  cryptic message and a link to a soundfile of a woman vocalizing, in an abstract sort of way, within some Performance Artist’s self-parodying installation. The vocal I heard wasn’t strong (narrow range, no breath) but the tone was already quite close to the tone I’m looking for,  for that particular line in that chorus, so I sent her a link to a professionally produced and mastered  example, to which she responded:

 

Hi Steven,
I hope all is well. That’s funny. I immediately hear a topline- hook over this track. That’s quite simple, powerful.
Can you give me a paragraph or two about the project and where you’re headed?
Better yet- you can leave me a voice message on WhatsApp if that’s easier: +1 XXX  XXXX
All the best,
Drusilla [not her actual name]
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If you don’t know, to “topline” is to add a vocal melody to someone else’s backing track, which was a peculiar offer, in this case, since what I’d sent her, as an example,  was a completed song.  In a subsequent message she said “I’m a dancer at heart and my personal music projects- as I imagine them will always have a pulse in them. I am Haitian  of indigenous descent, and rather new to ‘singing’.”  My ad never mentioned anything about looking for a dancer, and it struck me that someone who is self-confessedly “rather new to ‘singing'” (note the scare quotes she put around “singing”) would have to have a pretty big ego to offer to re-write, unsolicited, a song written by the person to whom she was submitting herself, to be judged,  as a “‘singer.'” An ego of possibly delusional proportions, no…?
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To make a long story short,  we exchanged emails for several rounds and I was, indeed,  quite interested in the possibility of collaborating, on a side-project,  with an apparently intelligent expat (Haitian) woman in her 40s, with not-super-strong vocal skills (Googling her I saw that she isn’t “hot” or even just sort of attractive, either  but I didn’t care) … I thought perhaps combined Life Experience might lead to the creation of some interesting ART: I always see the possibility of a kind of NEW WAVE MOVEMENT OF AGE but perhaps it’s just a mirage, my lazy co-Elders… perhaps it’s just a mirage… but it soon transpired that what she really wanted was….
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First and foremost, we have to meet in person. 
 
I have to vibe out if we could work together – at all – or not. Your enthusiasm is awesome. And your music is awesome. I can imagine featuring on some tracks. 
 
I’m honestly very eager to tell you anything you want to hear, but I will not do that. I am way too focused, opinionated and ambitious. My intuition is telling me that you are the same.
 
I am guided by standards that I won’t compromise on, that have to do with lyrics, how women are depicted. I also want to be very very careful about the legacy I am carrying as a black woman in the entertainment business. I am interested in creating a new role-model.  Something ground breaking. I shared my vision with you, so that you knew where I am coming from.
 
I am in a position where I am looking for a co-writer/producer with the goal of getting bigger hands involved in my career and am just missing the music. If you are open or interested in allowing co-writes on some of your tracks then we should sit down. If you have anything to share that falls into this category, I would love to hear it. I’m looking for 5-6 tracks
.
“Bigger hands”? Her “career in music”?  She’s in her 40s, an unseasoned vocalist, doesn’t own any musical equipment, can’t write her own music… the sky, apparently, is the limit BUT what are these crazy, New Kind of  People, out there,  on?  The ’90s cliché  punchline to that rhetorical question (“crack”) is too obvious.
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Erm, is this what happens when Konsumer Kulture blows the digital smoke of cynically hyperbolic Iago-flattery up the arses of millions of heartbreakingly-average people for a generation or two (or three)? So many rhetorical questions! Anyway: fuck it. I can sing the line myself…
.
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PART TWO

The next day she sent an email apologizing for being difficult. She dropped the names of Famous Types who are “expecting” material from her. Googling her in detail, it seemed that, as an organizer of events in the club world,  her friend-of-a-friend connections were, at least, plausible. The Novelist in me was thinking: in any case, perhaps I’ll get a story out of this? What could it hurt, really? She wanted to meet “in person” to “check ur vibe” in a new-ish Hipster cafe.  I agreed to meet on Friday and I named a time and she emailed to change the time twice, in the subsequent days before our meeting, but after her second attempt to shift the appointment either earlier or later,  I wrote:
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My sched is like a jigsaw puzzle with all the pieces fitting neatly (or forced)  into place,  by the end of each week.  The thing is that we earn absolutely all of our money from performing and/or creating music (no mean feat), so it’s a little like running a restaurant in which there are no slow periods;  orchestrated chaos is the rule. Friday morning, I have to zoom back home after getting Daughter to school, edit Wife’s material from the pr video we should shoot on Wed, make Daughter’s lunch, telephonically schmooze a synth player I’ve hired for a new track,  receive a WeTransfer file (I’m hoping) from a guy who’s mastering some of my album tracks in Italy: yipes! The problem being that Friday is often the day that stuff gets postponed until…  but an hour on Friday, chatting in a cafe, should be good enough for a Vibe Check!  Or, if you prefer, we can postpone until early next week…!
.
She responded:
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On Tuesday, November 19, 2019, 9:55:54 AM GMT+1, Drusilla@gmail.com wrote:  
Hey Steven, 
Thank you. I get it.
Let’s stick with noon. I’ll probably bring my lunch to eat if that’s ok with you?
I’ll have an hour before I have to hop on the phone :-)
All the best,
DL
.
I recoiled from the screen. She was planning on bringing her own lunch to the cafe? Not embarrassing at all. The only way to top that was for her to show up in her bathrobe and bedroom slippers.
.
The day came and I crossed town to meet this person chanting, under my breath, the mantras “get it over with,”  and, “it’s only for an hour,” and reflecting on the interesting fact that after years of dealing with self-righteously irrational, anti-factual and entitled (neo) liberals, alt-righters and woke-types online… here I was about to extend this normally virtual problem into a meatspace experience. For how many years have I been free of such IRL messes? I’d used the Internet so well, for so long, as a buffer and filter that I’d managed to maintain a nearly bullshit-free existence, in the real world, that I had begun to take for granted. Most bullshit in my actual life is of a fleeting nature: bad customer service, rude fucks on the u-bahn, that rare minority of psychopathic and/or N*zi grocery store cashiers (in fact, at least a dozen of the people who work in the half-dozen stores we frequent, every week, ‘know me’ and wave cheerfully when I see them and are quite pleasant). I had set myself up to meet with what I considered to be a variation on the blustering Internet Troll theme (she could have sprung directly from the comment threads at The Millions c. 2016).
.
I was five minutes early to the appointment, she was five minutes late. She did not (praise Gawdz) have any evidence of a picnic lunch, with her, to unpack in the Hipster cafe. I was as friendly and charming as possible… and she was, too. Much to my surprise.
.
She was chatty in an interesting way, had a few stories to tell, was polite… surprisingly okay, the meeting. She had been organizing various events in different cities and in this capacity had made some friends of friends who were connected to this or that record label. Now, being in her early forties and not in any way even “cute,” she was not any record label’s idea of a find (labels prefer “hot” 16-year-olds to start with and the more steeply you fall away from that category, the less thrilled with you they tend to be). If any of her supposed contacts were really interested, they’d already be trying to bind her to them contractually; when suits say “feel free to send us something” what they mean is “we invite you to miraculously prove that you aren’t really of zero interest to us”. Trying to score a “record deal” for her was a lost cause, in my opinion, but there are so many ways to present yourself, as a performer, these days that limiting your ambitions to a make-or-break “record deal” fantasy is both old fashioned and unnecessarily self-destructive. A major record label is essentially just a crooked bank that offers a high-interest loan of your own money; why clamor to sign? (Well: they have legacy glamour, enormous PR budgets and global distribution: if you’re a mildly talented teen hottie, it makes economic sense). I could utterly imagine writing songs for Drusilla and I could utterly imagine her performing these songs with a very bare-bones combo and I could imagine that with unusual enough material, and a charmingly bare-bones presentation, she could build a show here, in Berlin, and get critical attention… after which, a label or two (in this age of Trendy Wokeness) might actually come sniffing. Her striking not-Hotness could work in her favor with any audience tired of the oozing, soft-core porn of everything that is Pop. Her voice is interesting, my songs are interesting: why not?
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I said this to her (minus the Realpolitik talk about looks and age, of course)  and she took all this in and I sketched out the scenario. As ever, I was thinking: THIS COULD BE ART.  I became more interested in this project as we talked through it.
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If I could get her to the point that she could hear compositions instead of productions (few can), I could send her the rough recordings of all the not-bad (and good) songs I haven’t had time to produce… there are enough of those for at least two sets of a live show. I had enough time available to get involved if I could send her raw demos and she could learn the material, and work out basic arrangements, on her own. After which I could help her recruit musicians. By the end of the meeting (we went thirty minutes later than the hour I’d planned) I was feeling that feeling that all Art-obsessed types get when they detect the glimmer of a possibility of a valid project dawning. When I got home I told my Wife: “Well I guess she isn’t crazy; she made some sense. Maybe… !”
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Two hours later I received an email from Drusilla:
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Hi Steven,
Lol. This was a download prior to meeting you. Sometimes I have this ability to dream complete songs in my sleep.
Note the title!!
I hear the bass line clearly behind it.
I hope you’re feeling it!
I think a good way to sketch would be mp3 and private SoundCloud links.
We can go back and forth that way before our next meeting.
All the best,
DL
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(“Download”?) The title of the attached mp3 was “PRINCE HIT”. I listened to it. As the recording began I realized that it was an i-phone recording. After a few seconds of ambient (outdoors) noise, Drusilla hummed two chromatically descending notes and then a third note a few steps down. She did this twice. Then she “duh-duh duh buh-buh-buh’d” an atonal “bassline”. That was it. 15 seconds. She considered that not only a “song” but a “Prince Hit” type of song?  But it wasn’t even a fully developed intro to any actual thing you might remotely call a song; it wasn’t even a jingle or a ringtone. It was total-beginner nonsense.
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Kids do this all the time; a “hot” 16-year-old who sends an email like that (“Prince Hit! Can you feel it?”)  to a prospective songwriter/ producer will be humored because almost any song can easily be composed from such a rudimentary starting point, and the co-writing (or principle writing) credit the “Hot” 16-year-old then gets, off the back of her/his ghostwriter’s work, is a political matter and just business. What the labels want is malleable youth and pretty faces: they’ll do all the rest. The more exploitably clueless the “hot” 16-year-old, from the label’s point of view, the better. I worked, briefly, c. 2004, with a really cool Scottish rhythm guitarist (his sister was a “Bond Girl”)  who bragged that he had “hundreds” of songs. But all he had was a bunch of (obvious) chord sequences. No harm done. He ditched the guitar and went into Real Estate.
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Well, to skip the grisly details of the next thirty emails I was forced to exchange, Mansplainingly,  with Drusilla,  in the long hours after I failed to “get” her “Prince Hit”: I wish her luck. Although as a song-dreaming genius and Queen, of course, what use would she have for luck?
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3 Comments

    1. Chuckle. Finish bluffing your way through college, after accumulating a handful (no pun intended) of alcohol-fueled sexual encounters with unattractive victims (at best), stagger towards a shitty job under crushing (and crushingly pointless) debt, haunt the filthy and violent streets of the city you’ll never be able to afford to enjoy, for a few years… and get back to me! I have all the money I’ll ever need and no boss, my Wife is much younger than I am and beautiful, she very sweetly fucks me whenever I want, we walk around this very cool city holding hands, we both earn our money creatively: statistics (and the instant IQ test of your comment) indicate that you’re devastatingly unlikely to ever (ever) have any of that. Your IP address suggests you wrote your scintillatingly illiterate critique from a device on the campus of NYU… if true, that’s tragically funny in and of itself, no? Or maybe you’re no longer a student, but a janitor/ TA? Which would be even funnier. Not that I expect you to get the joke… you are the joke. Or, I mean (to put it in your mother tongue): “U r da joak.”

      Hugs,

      S

      Like

      1. (forgot to mention Daughter is a genius… and very funny. We’re about to run out the door as I ride with her to school and she knocked on my “office” door holding a cup of small change, like a beggar on the U-Bahn… I gave her her lunch money!)

        Like

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