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“A Hole in Everything” – Co-Writing Session

April 14, 2013

That’s a working title for a new song with lyrics by me and Jen.

Co-writing continues to be an enjoyable (if sometimes weird) experience for me. This time it was with Jen, and we finished a song I’ve been working on for almost two years. I had a first verse, and then every time I tried to write a second verse, I just couldn’t come up with anything good.

So I played Jen the first verse (and chorus). It was a pretty bare bones character sketch of two people with very different personalities.

I know you were the kind
to be always one branch higher
Anything to be at the top of the tree
And I was the tongue-tied boy
Rooted and grounded and bored
Maybe a broken arm was all I need

Somewhat ironically, it was Jen who pushed for it to be more of a story, so we talked about what kind of relationship between the characters was implied by what was already written, and then something really fun occurred to us: we made it a duet, which is not something we’ve done ever. This opened up an entirely new way to explore the song, because now instead of one person talking about himself and someone else, it was two people talking about the other person.

Male character:
I know you were the kind
to be always one branch higher
Anything to be at the top of the tree

Female character:
When I finished my climb
I knew I was a flier
My heart wanted much more than you and me

Second verse:

Female character:
Always biting your tongue
You played helpless and quiet
Clinging to restraints you were chained to the ground

Male character:
I was the tongue-tied boy
Rooted and grounded and bored
Maybe a broken arm was all I need

I’m quite pleased with what came out. “Miscommunication” is good fodder for stories. Jen commented that the net result is that there’s a disconnect between them, some breakdown in compatibility and their basic ability to even understand each other to work past it. There’s also an interesting psychological bit with the way the narrators construct their sentences: his lines start have “I” as the subject even when talking about the other person; hers use “I” to talk about herself and “you” to talk about the other person.

Jen is better than I am at actually saying what “she” (or her narrator) means, and also seems to have a much easier time being completely open and honest about her own personal experience, so it’s a good foil to my tendency to be oblique sometimes to the point of obscurity. Her willingness to throw every idea out there really helped put me at ease for the session. Mostly I was relegated to rewording things slightly to maintain the rhyme scheme and rhythm, but lyrically it’s a true collaboration now.

The song has a chorus, and we did some fun vocal things with the harmonies, but I’ll save talking about those for when we have a recording of some sort.


3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 14, 2013 11:21 pm

    Thanks for writing this blog, Jon! I enjoyed reading it–both as a recap of yesterday’s process and as a way of seeing the process through your eyes. I’m still very new to co-writing, and thus was a bit nervous. But I thought you did a great job of gently pushing things forward, helping me to “tease out” my ideas while balancing them out perfectly with your own. Having had no initial intentions/expectations, I was very happily surprised with the results. Go us! 😀

  2. pattunes permalink
    April 15, 2013 11:22 am

    Very interesting little piece and song. Writing seems more a personal learning experience to me than an outward expression. I wonder if that’s universal. I mean that it’s a way of piecing random thoughts and exploring my perception or at least making some sense of experiences like thinking out loud. But I have a question here for the English major: I know that sometimes bad English is conversational and plays better in literature or songs than overly correct construction, but sometimes it’s also the result of forcing rhythm (not wanting to end a line with a downbeat perhaps?) . That last line for instance: IMHO, you might want to change “was” to “is” or “need” to “needed”. No one seems to cross tenses in the same predicate conversationally, in my experience anyway. It just sounds off to me.


  1. Song Sources: “Be What You Like” | Midway Fair

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