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Song Sources: Now We’re Gone

December 1, 2019

This is part of an ongoing series about our recordings. To read more in this series, click on the category “Song Sources: Stories behind the recordings.”

This song has a few origins: An online friend from the Madbean DIY pedals forum, an NPR story, and the Britcom Coupling. I usually just tell people it’s about my friend to avoid the last one. Not because Coupling isn’t one of the best shows that ever aired, mind you …

This is the nadir, emotionally, for Monsters. There are other sad songs on the album, but none as heavy as this one.

Lyrics

An online friend broke up with his girlfriend several years ago, but they were on the lease together for the apartment and neither could afford to move out. He was an oil worker and work was sporadic. Weeks in he was willing to do almost anything if it meant he could get the money to stop having the constant reminder of a bad breakup in the next room.

Around the time my friend was going through that, I heard a story on NPR, with somewhat similar living arrangements, where two people (a gay couple, actually, which is one reason I chose the androgynous name of “Sam” for the significant other in this song, even though the character ended up being a woman) who had grown apart had to live their outward lives as if nothing had changed. For the couple in the NPR story, I believe they were visiting a sick family member or friend in the hospital, but at the time it struck me as funny that the Giggle Loop episode of Coupling could happen in real life even without a psychotic member of the couple who refused to accept that they had broken up.

In the song, Sam’s uncle in the song voluntarily ends his life rather than live with the deterioration of a stroke. Aunt Lynn, though, tries to come to terms with it at the funeral — that for him there was a breaking point where holding it together was just worse. At the end of the song, I suggest that the couple may reevalate their feelings for each other. The narrator is trying to convince themselves that they should just go to the bedroom and talk to Sam, but there’s a voice in the back of his mind (the bridge lyrics repeating under the chorus at the end) trying to tell him that it’s over and time to move on before they hurt each other more.

Sam’s gone to sleep, I can still hear her breathe
when the lights go out when the lights go out
And I don’t have the money to move out on my own
So I sleep on the couch and she sleeps alone

When her Uncle Charlie passed we drove upstate
We pretend that we’re fine, pretend that we’re fine
Aunt Lynn served the coffee, and held her cross
Said he wasn’t the best, but she loved him like the best

Chorus
Now we’re gone
It’s too much to hold on
Now we’re gone
Once we were here and now we’re gone

She said in his last few weeks a stroke made him worse
She said he drank a lot, said he drank too much
She asked if there could be some worth in suicide
Once you’ve done what you’ve done and there’s nothing left inside

Bridge
We didn’t talk much then on the long drive away
I waited till we parked to ask if she’s okay
until she climbed the stairs to ask if she’s okay
till she closed the bedroom door to ask if she’s okay
Something has died here, something has died
We buried it slowly when it was alive
I marked the place in my mind where we left it behind
But now it’s gone

Music

Not much to say about the music: I wanted to leave a lot of space to focus on the lyrics. The chords are extremely simple, built around E and C#m7, and the melody is heavily modal, with the repeated lyrical lines also repeated in the guitar and vocal melodies. The guitar frequently doubles the vocal line, and the short guitar solo is almost a quote of the verse melody. The drum part is comparably sparse.

I was listening to a lot of classic soul at the time I wrote this, and it’s really not a big leap from old soul to folk music at all, especially because soul and country music share a lot of guitar licks.

Recording

This was the touchstone for what was going to be (and still might become) the next Midway Fair album: Lonely, soul-tinged, clean guitar, and a glimmer of hope at the end. My goal with the arrangement and production was to make the song sound as if it’s inside the narrator’s head. The lead vocal is doubled (with another take), and only the double has reverb on it. The dry take puts the lyrics up front but allows me to fairly drench the double in a longer and louder reverb than I would be able to otherwise.

The rest of the production was focused around maintaining the lonely sound of the arrangement; the guitars aren’t aggressive (even the heavily distorted guitar in the bridge has been muted by some aggressive equalizing), and the except for a pretty hot snare, the drums are pretty restrained.

The primary electric guitar is the red tele through the Sakura 5W and the El Capistan for delay. The bass is the usual Epiphone viola bass, but this was the first recording I made after getting the pickups rewound by John Benson. The acoustic is my Tennessee played with a pick. There’s also a guitar overdub in the choruses played on a blue sparkle Danelectro with lipstick pickups that I had just repaired and rewired for my father-in-law. The distorted guitar in the bridge is my Epiphone 50th Anniversary Sheraton.

The vocals were done through one of my Junco FET47 builds I had at the time, through a DIY Germanium preamp. The backing vocals, for some reason, were done on a ribbon mic, but maybe I was trying to make them sound a little muted. The acoustic is recorded mid-side with the RE20 for the center and the ELA251 for the figure 8 mic. The guitar amp was a DIY ribbon for the close mic and the 251 for the distance mic, but only the red tele uses both. (The Sheraton is just the ribbon, and the blue sparkle is just the 251). The bass might be direct (I didn’t make any notes), and the drums are of course programmed.

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