steffan may

FYF song meanings

SPOILER ALERT!!!

WARNING: Reading the comments below may ruin your opinion of this music.

Below are some comments from the author about some of the songs on “Forget Yer Face.”  As a music lover, I have always been drawn to music first and lyrics second.  For me, without interesting music, clever or insightful lyrics still fall short.  In my opinion, good lyrics are often vague enough to leave some interpretation up to the listener.  Ultimately, the listener’s interpretation is even more important than the author’s intent.  I think a lot of songwriters would agree with this.  Most of us have come up with our own deep meaning for a song, rich in insightful metaphors, only to find out later that the author wrote it about the most mundane of topics.  This can be a big let-down.  I have found that if you find out the authors intent behind lyrics when you first hear a song, it robs you of the ability to come up with your own interpretation.  Having said that, I strongly encourage everyone to listen to the songs and read the lyrics (assuming you give a rat’s a$# about any of this) before reading further as not to spoil your view of these tunes before you even have a chance to form your own opinion.  Proceed with caution, you have been warned.

 

2. The Tune Unfamiliar

At its heart, this song is a tribute to two of the greatest music cities in the USA; Asheville, NC and Austin, TX.  These locations are NOT the home of the music industry where the majority of popular garbage, I mean music, is recorded, mass produced, and vomited out like a bad meal from Taco Bell onto a public who is forced to choke it down. Rather these places are where musicians play for the love of creating live music, either on the street corner or in one of the remaining clubs that still brings in bands to play live music. 

Along with "I Knew," "The Tune Unfamiliar" is the other song on FYF that is shamelessly autobiographical. 

The song's format is used to describe the process of a musician who takes something he hears and loves, and turns it into something that is his own.  The first verse features acoustic instruments and pays tribute to Asheville, NC, a town where bluegrass is alive and well.  The solo portion alternates between acoustic sections and sections that introduce electric guitars.  The second verse, that represents Austin, TX, features electric guitars and a rhythm track that strays from the more traditional rhythm track featured in the first verse.

Verse one uses traditional bluegrass imagery to describe a town that embraces and embodies the spirit of bluegrass.  Verse two talks about my personal experience of moving to Austin, assembling a band, and playing original live music.  Like many other songwriters/musicians, I tried to use the traditional sounds of country and bluegrass and blend them with other influences to create something unique.  Austin is to musicians as LA is to actors.  Everyone plays guitar, everyone has a band, and everyone is a music fanatic.  "Find you a drummer" refers to the challenge of finding a rhythm section in a town saturated with guitar players.  "Yesterday's bar" refers to the transformation of live music clubs being converted one by one to venues for DJs spinning techno pop that takes up less space than a band and is more appealing to college kids.  Despite population growth and other changes, Asheville and Austin remain two of the most vibrant towns for live music in America that are truly unique and miraculous places.

The title "The Tune Unfamiliar" refers to the experience that all music lovers have had when they heard that type of music or band that they came to love for the first time.  It's hard to know why certain types of music resonate in the deepest parts of our psyches, almost as if it was hardwired into our DNA (and maybe it is).  I remember hearing live bluegrass music at a point in my life when the musical center in my brain had matured enough to appreciate it.  It was a surreal experience.  ("the tune unfamiliar that you've always known.")

The vernacular used in this song is inspired by the language used by traditional bluegrassers like Ralph Stanley.  Not grammatically correct, but true to those who wrote the songs and to the people for whom it was intended.

Whew!  More than you ever cared to know about a 4 minute song!

 

3. Dichotomy

While most of this album explores the idea of seemingly ordinary events/actions that can have extraordinary repercussions, this song explores truly extraordinary events in human history.  Traditional bluegrass and country sounds (including the call and response style used by The Louvin Brothers, Johnny Cash, and Ralph Stanley amongst others) provide the musical inspiration.  Thematically, gospel (explored by the same artists listed above) forms the foundation.  The events surrounding the life of Jesus are used as a dramatic example of the power of humanity to do both extraordinary good and unspeakable evil.  While the crucifixion of Christ and the martyrdom of early Christians are extreme examples, it is the same dual nature that exists in all of us who possess free will.

 

5. NTLTT

This song continues the country music tradition of truck driving songs.  We all have our favorite, mine is Gene (not Gram) Parsons' version of "Willin'."  The alternate title of NTLTT, "Meditations of the Transcendental Trucker," speaks to the main theme explored in the mind of the protagonist.  His thoughts wander from the here and now to more metaphysical questions as he speeds across the landscape.  Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.  Will his earthly task impede his meditation?  Will his meditation impede his earthly task with deadly results?  Whatever the case, make sure you "don't slow down."

 

6. E. Rose

Written by a great friend and great musician, Jerry Ater.  Jerry resides in Austin, TX and plays in a band called "Tito and the Man."

http://www.myspace.com/titoandtheman

Haunting lyrics and creative, catchy chord changes drew me in to this one and compelled me to arrange my own version.  I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

 

9. Before Long

"Before Long" is a stream of consciousness, extremely long run-on sentence in which the protagonist explores his mind.  His thoughts meander from the nature of self and consciousness to his own personal actions.  Like in "One Chance," "Before Long" examines the idea that seemingly ordinary events and actions can have extraordinary repercussions.  The protagonist tries to convince himself that he can't (instead of won't) and that his moral shortcomings are to be blamed on something other than himself.  The honest part of his conscience tells another tale, namely that like all other creatures with free will, he has "radical freedom," and that leaves only himself to blame for his own ineptitude.  As he struggles between the baggage that holds him back and a vision of unlimited potential, he is reminded that his earthly existence is quite finite.  He only has so much time to figure it out, and while he does, his victories and failures continue to stack up.  Will he be "braver than he's thinkin" or will he let his moral apathy "do him in while he thinks he's sleeping?"

 

10. One chance (It’s Yer Turn)

A superficial listen might lead to thinking that this is a cynical take on the human condition which is brief, meaningless, painful, and without consequence to anyone. A closer examination might reveal the exact opposite.  Like several other songs on FYF, "One Chance" explores the idea that seemingly meaningless acts can have a profound effects.  Many are familiar with the concept of the butterfly effect.  A butterfly flapping its wings in China can affect the weather in North America, making predicting things like the weather, with an infinite number of variables, essentially impossible.  The concept explored here is similar, but focuses on how human actions affect other humans and other human actions.  Many have had the experience of someone telling us about something we did that may have little or no recollection of and seemed meaningless at the time, but to the other person, had a profound impact on their life.  Before you get too proud, realize that this works for both good and bad actions.

The good news: we all have a lot more impact than we ever thought on the lives of others.  Not just with those whom we have close relationships, but also with those that we may have only had brief interactions with.


The bad news: to quote Stan Lee, "With great power comes great responsibility." 

Life is short, and there is no time to waste.  We often are so caught up in planning for the future that we forget that the here and now is blowing by us,  like the scenery out the window on the interstate.  There are no timeouts and the clock is ticking.  What will you do with the finite numbers of days, hours, and seconds that you have been given? 

...you only get one chance, and it's yer turn now...

 

11. Onward and Upward

The protagonist in this song is a ghost.  His life was cut short at an untimely age, done in by the ones he trusted most.  Under such unseemly circumstances, he has trouble leaving the earthly plane.  He obsessively follows around the people who used to know him, until they all die, and he is truly forgotten.  While the first part of the song speaks to an inability to move forward past unfair circumstances, the second half is much different.  The change in music from somber to upbeat mirrors the protagonists realization that sh*# happens, and we all have to keep going forward.  Onward and Upward.

 

15. Wear it like a hat

The music in this song is inspired by a traditional country sound; part Bakersfield, part Sun Studios/Sam Phillips. 

Thematically it draws inspiration from two sources:

1. The murder ballad, popularized by traditional country and bluegrass music.  Ralph Stanley and Johnny Cash may have done this genre better than anyone else.  Long before gangsta rap, the murder ballad delved into a dark world of often senseless and brutal violence.  It neither glorified the act nor vilified the perpetrator, and told compelling stories of moral failures with often devastating consequences to all parties involved.  Akin to the Greek tragedy, these tales compel the listener to avoid the same mistakes that precipitated the singers' demise.

2. The heavy metal tradition of songs about losing your mind.  From Ozzy Ozborne to Metallica to many others (my all-time favorite is Alice Cooper's "The Ballad of Dwight Fry"), no one explores psychiatric collapse like metal.

The twist in "Wear It" is that the violence in this modified murder ballad exists only in the mind of the protagonist, who is trying his best to hold on to his sanity and silence the twisted voices in his head.  While his intentions are noble, there is an ominous force at work just under the surface.  The listener is left to wonder which side will win out in this epic clash between good and evil raging in his psyche.

 

18. Red Bird (Lookin For a Sign)

Written for the late, great Eileen "Leenie" Lee who talked the talk AND walked the walk.  This song was written and recorded in about 2 days at the end of Leenie's earthly existence, and most of the parts you hear are the first take.  Some songs are inspired and write themselves.  Red Bird is certainly an example of this for me.

It's amazing how much our own outlook plays into our perception of reality in both good and bad ways.  Red Bird talks about the good; look for the remarkable and you'll find it everywhere.  "Do Them In" examines the negative side of the same concept. 

It is a natural part of aging that we go from children who marvel at the incredible mysteries of the natural world, to adults who see these miracles as ordinary.  I think this is a device that has allowed humans to function in our everyday lives.  It's hard to get a task like gathering food accomplished, when you are getting bugged out by every flower or animal you see.  Unfortunately, this process makes us forget that we are indeed surrounded by the miraculous.  Spiritual leaders though time have served the role of reminding us that our lives and world we live in are anything but ordinary.

There is a back story behind the red bird, but I will leave that for Leenie's family and friends.  I am grateful and blessed to have known such a remarkable person like Leenie.  Red Bird is a reminder to me to look for the extraordinary every day, and when I do, I always find it.