This is the year-long story of writing a new song in APC land. It’s also about our friend Margaret. Because we are committed to being collaborative, our writing process is slower than other more decisive bands. However, it normally doesn’t last a year. In the case of the Margaret song, we were stuck. It was hard to communicate a vision or a feeling. We tried a few different paths. Ultimately, we were victorious because we collaborated with an external force: Margaret Fancypants (last name changed to protect the innocent).
First, a little about Margaret
I (Teresa) have known Margaret since college. I lived with her and Bjorn when I first moved to Seattle. She comes to most of our shows. She has long red hair, creates beautiful quilts out of old shirts and dresses, adores words and uses them wisely and creatively, works as a librarian, and is currently in pastry chef school. We used to get together weekly to watch Buffy the Vampire Slayer. When that series ended, we had a weekly documentary night. One day she walked home instead of taking the bus. A year later she walked across England. She deserves some time in the spotlight.
A year ago, I hummed a tune into my phone on an elevator. I had a vision for how it should sound. I wrote some lyrics about straight men and tried to jam on it with the band. To make a long story short, it never worked. Playing the tune differently, with distortion, without distortion, figuring out the underlying chords… it. just. didn’t. work. At that point, I was sick of singing a song about straight men. Although we love straight men, the exact subject matter made me vomit in my mouth.
I didn’t want to lose the tune, and I wanted to have fun playing the song. Having written plenty of songs about myself and my own perspective, I reached out for inspiration. I emailed Margaret a list of 18 questions and asked her to answer five of them. She answered seven. I’ve starred the ones she answered in the list below.
- What charities or organizations have you donated to? Why did you choose that one?
- Which relative in your extended family are you most similar to? What do you have in common? If he/she were asked the same question, would they say you are most similar to them?
- *What is a recurring dream you have? What do you think it means?
- Describe an encounter with a stranger while you were travelling. Do you still talk to that person? How often? What do you talk about?
- *If you could give advice to your past self, what would it be? What age would you be?
- What will you do when you retire?
- When did you realize you were a grown up?
- Describe your ideal party. (# people, setting, food/drink, type of clothing, conversation, activities)
- *If you had to re-live one moment over and over again, what would it be? (brain candy question)
- What is the most creative thing you have ever done? Who else was involved? When was it? What inspired you to do it?
- Describe your favorite food or meal.
- *What words do others use when describing you?
- *What is your favorite zoo animal? Why do you like it?
- *Where/when do you feel most normal?
- What is the last adventure you went on?
- *What is a tradition you like to practice every year? Who made up the tradition?
- What is your least favorite word? Why?
- Whom do you despise? Why?
I won’t put all of them here, but I will include the relevant responses.
Verse 1: The recurring dream
Once every couple years (and it’s been a while since I had one) I dream that I go into my bedroom closet and there’s a ton of clothing in there that I don’t recognize, or had forgotten about. And there’s a lot of overlap- five of the same shirt in slightly different colors, or the same dress in three or four different sizes. Things I’ve never worn or couldn’t possibly wear, plus lots of stuff that I could if I had enough time. And I stand there flipping through the racks examining it all, trying to figure out what on earth to wear. It’s probably something about feeling overwhelmed in the face of the endless possibilities that life offers every day.
Verse 2: The annual tradition
OO! OO! Is this question just for me? Do you already know what I’m’na say? I bet you can guess. It has something to do with a certain crazy dead guy. Yes, that’s right! John Belushi!
Every year in the middle of September I like to watch The Blues Brothers (aka “The perfect American movie”) with my buddy Bjorn and sing along to the music. He and I made up that tradition together. I’m thinking that this year we should embellish the tradition by making three orange whips and drinking them during the climactic scene where Cab Calloway dances around the stage in a white tuxedo while yodeling. Well, okay, it’s not exactly yodeling, but how else to describe it? The man had a singular and bizarre talent.
Bridge: When she feels normal
What a fascinating question. I put it to a friend and he and I had a great conversation about different definitions of the word “normal” and the various ways one might answer. Does normal mean “statistically common”? “Healthy”? “Comfortable”? “Typical”? Does it describe a sense of belonging to a social group, or not belonging to social group? Both? Does it necessarily have a social component at all? (I could imagine someone saying, for example, that she feels most normal when meditating alone.) Anyway, in my case, ringing handbells satisfies several of the aforementioned criteria for “normal” so I’ll pick that. It’s something where I share a near-universal human activity (making and enjoying music) with people who are both of a demographic-majority social group for my country, and the culture in which I was raised (namely white protestants). And even if I don’t have a lot in common with those specific people in other ways, in that circumstance I’m “normal” for people who like ringing. And I’ve been doing it for much of my life, so it’s normal and comfortable for me on a personal level, and, I daresay, healthful. 🙂
After I received Margaret’s responses, I interviewed the band. “What do you think of when you think of Margaret?” Here are the responses:
Food, ice cream (She brought homemade ice cream to our practice once.), and cake. Loyalty, enthusiasm. Mittens. She has some really great mittens that we talked about for a long time. She’s so fucking cute. Brightens the mood of anything. She comes to all our shows. She likes us for real. Warm and whatever is the opposite of stand-offish. You don’t have to know her for very long to be comfortable with her. She’s very authentic to herself. She makes tasty treats but also not following the norms of anything. She never just makes chocolate chip cookies. They are chocolate chip pumpernickel pomegranate. With ingredients I would never think of. Very theatrical, but she’s not playing a role. Laughs a lot. Sometimes giggles.
I struggled with the lyrics for the chorus. When the song is about an idea, a chorus is an opportunity to epitomize the message. Distilling down a person to one idea, especially someone I know so well, is damn near impossible.
When I was in San Francisco, I went to Humphry Slocombe for ice cream. Using Facebook check-in, I reported that I had Secret Breakfast (whiskey and cornflakes), Fluffernutter, and Salt & Pepper. Margaret replied, “My envy can only be expressed through a dance of rage.” There you have it. Margaret’s appreciation for the English language, her sense of humor, and her love for creative flavors was encapsulated in one phrase. Incidentally, it is a quote from the Marzipan Pig, a story and movie narrated by Tim Curry.
This is where it got tricky. One thing we do as a band is sometimes listen to other bands’ songs in order to force ourselves out of our norms. I tried to find bands with a frenetic energy. Margaret often has a rapid-fire articulate speech pattern that is both humorous and engaging. While I wouldn’t describe Margaret as frenetic, that’s how I wanted the song to feel. I played a little Sicko and Marnie Stern for the band. I could imagine Margaret happily head-banging to both bands. And then it was born.
A pink shirt. A red one.
And a purple and a yellow and I cannot decide
And a new dress
In more than one size.
And maybe this is similar to my life where lots of pretty, shiny things dance and play
And all the possibilities might just overwhelm every day.
The gears are turning (x3). You’re breaking all the rules.
(By the way, this is in reference to the turning gears in her brain, as well as the blender that she so masterfully uses. Cream and sugar all the way.)
I express my envy through a dance of rage.
A movie. September.
And we sit and sing along with glasses raised.
A sharp white tuxedo
And he dances and he yodels across the stage.
And maybe yodel isn’t the word but he has talent that is singular and bizarre
And when we give a toast, we’re honoring one dead crazy star
(Criteria for normal)
It makes us happy to hear you laughing at our rock shows and
We like the way your mittens go so well with your cute clothes and
If you want to make us goodies, we will be your guinea pigs
Pumpernickel, pomegranate, dill and buckwheat and fresh figs
We will be yours!
Here is the video of the song’s debut. You can see Margaret at the beginning and end of it. Hugs and love to Margaret from APC.