PERSONAL MEMOIR: Songwriting and "Love Road"

PERSONAL MEMOIR: Songwriting and "Love Road"

A Story by Tony Z Sienzant
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An essay detailing how I became a songwriter and the genesis of my latest CD "Love Road."

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PERSONAL MEMOIR: Songwriting & “Love Road”

 

I’m a child of the 60’s.

And I was fortunate enough to be born fifth out of six siblings, so I had plenty of older brothers & sisters whose music filtered into my daily experience.

From my sisters, I heard Elvis, doo-wop music & The Four Seasons. Then a decade later, performers like Marvin Gaye, Janis Ian & Santana. Even my dad was on the correct side of the music curve: his two favorites were Johnny Cash & Hank Williams, both of whom could write a killer song. I still recall the Man In Black intoning in his low soft-gravel voice “Johnny Yumah.”

 

But the main influence on my musical education & my thinking in general, was my brother Hank, five years older than I, who brought into the household not only Marvel Comic books which I still collect to this day, but also all the great albums of the British Invasion & beyond. Every day, I’d hear a panoply of sounds coming from his turntable: The Beatles, Bob Dylan, Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Simon & Garfunkel, The Grass Roots, The Buckinghams, Tommy James & The Shondells, The Turtles, The Kinks, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Moody Blues, The Who, Jefferson Airplane, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Steppenwolf, The Band, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, David Bowie, Elton John, Led Zeppelin, ELP, Yes.

 

Oh, the list goes on & on.


So it is perfectly reasonable to think, with the musical revolution of that period & my being surrounded by the sophisticated pop songs of that era, that it was one of the above or a combination of those performers who inspired me to take up songwriting. Perfectly reasonable. But wrong.

Although those great songwriting acts influenced my thinking as to what a song can be, the defining & inspirational epiphany that seriously stoked my passion for making a musical statement with strong lyrical content was in 1971, when I sat stunned upon hearing John Lennon’s first solo album after The Beatles’ breakup.

 

John Lennon’s “Plastic Ono Band” album was the very first time that I recognized songwriting could be a vehicle for deep, incisive personal expression. Certainly, the use of personal experience may have inspired the writing of songs in decades past - simply as a starting point - but rarely, if ever, was it used ‘verbatim’ so to speak, to transform songwriting into a cathartic act of autobiography, using songwriting to reveal the reality of one’s innermost self, the good, the bad & the ugly.

 

After the needle lifted from the album, with the strains of “my mommy’s dead” still emanating with the crackling grooves of a 1920’s recording in my head, I was a changed person. It was as if some hidden knowledge was passed to me, some long-lost ancient wisdom on the power of song. I understood for the first time, how songwriting could stand as a courageous declaration of one’s independence from conventional thinking & social norms, as an affirmative gesture of one’s essential being with thoughts & feelings being the atomic raw material with which to create an explosive personal statement of one’s existential reality.

 

Of course, being twelve/thirteen years of age at the time, I did not formulate the revelation in those conceptual terms. Rather, I felt it in my bones, the power of the music & the wisdom of the lyric a two-punch blow to the body.


I had simply never heard any music, certainly not the music of popular song, sound so REAL.


Lennon drastically stripped down his sound to the basic elements of guitar, piano, bass & drums for his first album in stark contrast to the plush & often studio gimmickry sound of The Beatles albums. This was a conscious choice to proclaim his individuality as a person separate from the group, his reaction against what he felt was the Byzantine musical artifice of The Beatles under the influence of his once musical partner & songwriting companion, Paul McCartney.

But while Lennon’s stripped-down sound furthered his aim for a more immediate honest personal expression, there is still something to be said for the sophisticated & elaborate use of musical material, specifically in the use of the arrangement of sounds in striving for some sort of Nirvanic perfection unique to any specific song. Case in point: Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys used six months of studio time & four different studios to create his ‘pocket-symphony’ “Good Vibrations,” which nonetheless fit the standard 3 minute AM Radio fare.

 

One of the greatest properties of music is the fact that it can transport us magically into other realms simply through the power & sweep of its harmonized sounds. It can tap into memories buried deep in time & elicit emotions congruent to those felt long ago. It can open the ‘third eye’ of our minds & spark the imagination in ways the other arts cannot achieve.


As such, I have always been conscious of the studio choices available to me as a songwriter in terms of crafting a musical statement that may avail itself of the full palette of musical sounds, instruments, effects, sound effects & sounds from life, in order to advance the mood or intent of any song I may write. When done right - and this is a rare achievement - it is as if the song as it is sung to these particular combinations of musical elements could not be envisioned in any other way, as if the what, the why & the how of the song’s existence has been fused into a singular uncompromised whole.


In my most recent work “Love Road,” I feel I have for the first time used these choices to full effect.

 

 

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                        Lennon’s “Plastic Ono Band” is one benchmark by which I judge my work. Another would be Bob Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks” LP. This is his most personal & self-revealing album & is widely regarded as THE supreme musical statement of love lost, as he uses the dissolution of his marriage as a template that mirrors the disillusionment of 1960’s counter-cultural ideals.

 

If Lennon’s highly personal album put me on the path to songwriting, then Dylan’s “Blood On The Tracks” was the one that solidified for me the content of my songs.

 

When I was not making some kind of political/social statement in my songs, I was more often than not delving into the intricacies of my relationships. My second wife gave me plenty of fodder for this practice. Our meeting coincides with my early years in my stage persona as folky “Tony Z” & there is a good fifteen years of material in that regard.

Certainly there are other artists from this fertile 1960’s period who aspired to present a more naked & human approach to songwriting, especially when it came to writing about the complexities of a love relationship. The song poetry of Jackson Browne & Bruce Springsteen come to mind, in particular the Boss’s later brilliant song collection from the 1980’s “Tunnel Of Love.” Leonard Cohen’s love songs deserve a special place in this canon & it is only he who may be regarded as  reaching the pinnacle where Dylan & Lennon staked their flag with their two albums.

It has taken me 40 years to produce something of a similar caliber, whereby the “naked human” is revealed from different, divergent perspectives, in all disparate  states of mind & emotion, using the wreckage of emotional trauma as fertile ground to lay bare my “existential reality,” my being, the self, who I am now in lost love’s aftermath. But let me be clear: if Lennon/Dylan’s achievement is the Technicolor Dreamcoat of song albums, my contribution is but the frayed edge of that garment.

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                        My self-released CD “Love Road” maps the chronology of a broken heart. It represents a full two-year immersion in something that was all at once painful, mysterious, joyful - a confession & a penance - a labor of love, a laborious task, an albatross I needed to throw from my back.


First, six months of coming to terms with the loss, a jumble of shock with feelings of betrayal, grief, denial, anger, remorse, hope, bargaining, faith, self-blame, to finally some sort of healing & acceptance.

During that time, I journaled extensively, wrote poetry & song lyrics that went nowhere & others that formed the basis of these songs. Personally, I relied on two of my closest friends, with emails & nightly phone calls. This was a period of intense introspection & reflection, visits to a great counselor by the name of David Borsos who helped me use this time to better myself & my almost daily readings of the spiritual blog by Pastor Lois Wilson. From all of these sources, I discovered more about how good relationships work & I learned things about myself, all of which found itself expressed in various ways in the concepts & feelings in these songs.

It’s funny how some people you’ve known seemingly forever can be shrugged off without much concern, while the loss of someone else, who you’ve only known a relatively short time can have a much greater impact on your psyche. The reason is I suppose, it’s not how long you’ve known someone but how deeply attached to them you’ve felt. And after loss, there is always the “coming back to yourself.” Who you were before you had ever met this person.

So I took some proactive measures to fully engage in my health: I meditated at the Hindu Temple. I walked nature trails & jogged. I even read self-help books. I kept myself open to whatever the universe was saying to me, most of which cannot be expressed in a sentence, all the time ruminating upon my new reality.

 

After my six months of sorrow & healing, when my Ex refused my letters, I understood there was no going back. I looked ahead & the one way I knew how to do this in a way I could cope was to begin this recording project. “Love Road” was my personal mission, the Bible of my life for the next eighteen months.

 

In the beginning, I worked sporadically on the weekends for a few hours at a time, trying out different ideas. Initially, the concept was a double CD whose theme in general was to be “loss.”

See, six months after the breakup with my Ex, I had lost a very good friend to the opioid epidemic. This stirred up more thoughts & feelings that found their way into songs, heightened by the fact that she was a musician with a peerless voice & we had worked together in the past. In fact, right before the weekend of her death, we’d made arrangements for her to come over that following Monday or Tuesday to sing a part on “Real,” the song that ends my album. She was to sing the bridge section because I wrote it for a high vocal register.

Sadly, that never happened. Now whenever I hear that song, I cannot help but think of her. She had contributed vocals to a few of my songs from my 2015 release “Always Lost In Evergreen” & I had always assumed she would be available to do the same with this one. But life habitually throws us a changeup pitch in mid-swing, leaving us baffled, confused, while awkwardly attempting to adjust to its capricious whims.

As time progressed, I found it more conceivable to concentrate on the topic of the breakup itself & reduce the amount of material to fit onto one CD. And it just fit: at 80 minutes length, I realized that it can be considered a ‘double album’ anyway when one takes into account that an LP recording is typically about 20 minutes to a side.

 

In the thick of it, I was ‘living inside the project’ with little else occupying my mind. In the last four months, it was nearly a daily routine, until finally, the last six weeks was a daily preoccupation in tweaking the final mixes in post-production.


There is a psychic & emotional benefit to making music, especially so in the practice of songwriting: one not only gets to put down in writing one’s own individual thoughts & feelings - a valuable form of self-expression, a form even of psychological analysis chronicling one’s mental state - but then, one gets to verbalize & project into the world those passions & emotions & internal psychic energy physically through singing, singing one’s own words, whose release can only be therapeutic.

There’s a third level as well: as in any artform, your creation separates from your ‘self’ to become a structured meaningful object in its own right, something that seemingly can be endlessly perfected & tinkered with more objectively, a highly rewarding breeding ground for experimentation & discovery. I availed myself of this playground for eighteen months & the result is the newly-released CD “Love Road.”


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                        “Love Road” begins with an introductory piece called “Signals On The Airwaves” which really has nothing to do thematically with the rest of the album - or so I thought at the time of its creation. From the crackle, buzz & burp of radio signal sounds, the far-off strums of an acoustic guitar can be gleaned coming through the distortion.

 

To my mind, the introduction fits as a sonic metaphor for miscommunication, the attempt to dial into another’s wavelength, the search for ‘signals’ that may give an estranged listener/lover a clue at some sort of message. When a relationship is broken, direct communication is impossible. All one can do is send out into the universe waves of energy in the hope they might reach the lost loved one somehow & otherwise wait to ‘pick up a signal’ that something has changed.

The guitar leads into “Babe I’m Gonna Change Your Name,” which was written while in the first blush of newfound love. I recall how my ‘babe’ listened as I sat on her bed & played this song with slightly different words three years ago. How she glowed with joy !

The song shifts gear when it reaches the following verses. The homey acoustic setting of the refrain abruptly ends & suddenly we are in church, with choir-like singing & emphatic chords from an organ. It only hit me later that the sound obviously alludes to a wedding, the trappings of matrimony as blessed by a minister of God, which, if you haven’t guessed by the song’s title, is the song’s very meaning.

 

From such hopeful beginnings the album then tumbles through a succeeding series of emotions as the story is played out. “Blindsided” by the breakup, the car crash analogy becomes explicit in the bridge: “I was totaled by your crash & you walked off without a scratch.” With “Love Kicked Me To The Curb & Said I Did It,” contrary to what that title suggests, I fully claim the fault was mine with the words “I broke it, now I own it, no one to blame but I.”

 

Both songs are energized with ‘the band’ in full swing but it’s the latter that really moves with its bouncy bass & the high organ lines following the melody. These give the tune a whimsical, wistful quality that turns the lyric more toward detached sarcasm.

“Words On A Screen” expresses regret over the text argument we had that led to the breakup. “D A N G L E” meanwhile, is a strumming song I began writing while we were still together. I had played the beginning verses, all through to the second chorus for my Ex the very last time she was in my home. The remaining verse & chorus were written after the breakup, incorporating events & my state of mind at that time. Because of this, the lyrics take a bit of an unexpected turn that is not apparent at the outset. Still, six tracks into the album I find it notable that I am still singing her praises.

 

Ah, ever the naïve optimist.

 


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                        Over the last fifteen years, I’ve gotten much better at playing piano. I’ve never really put a piano song on an album, not trusting myself. But two here were made with that intention: “Words On A Screen” & “Til The End Of Our Lives.” Fleshed out with backing guitar, they provide a sort of respite with more introspective lyrics.

“Words On A Screen” went through about six different versions. In one, I laid down mostly everything digitally, using the Logic Pro software on my Mac. In another, it transformed into an electronic bonanza that incorporated a weirdly repeating ‘swooshing’ sound that was altered from some natural sound I had recorded. It’s interesting for me to listen to these trials now, all failures in that they weren’t conveying what I wanted. I decided to go back to my original ‘take’ on the song.

Since I wrote it sitting at my piano, that’s how I recorded the basic track. But from the previous trials, I had taken certain motifs that gave me an introductory section & a circular chordal part for the mid-section. So, all those versions before the final one, paid off. The song became more interesting. And when I added the delayed guitar lines over the piano, I felt I achieved some kind of sonic ‘magic’ that was in congruence with the textures of the other songs I had already made for the album.

The last addition on this tune was the harmonica overdub, which was not my first choice. My first choice was a horn of some sort. Maybe a French horn or even a bassoon playing in its higher register. But I remembered a song by The Band, wherein the harmonica was recorded & mixed in such a way that it sounded like a brass section playing in the background. It was years later after first hearing it when I realized that it was a plain old harmonica !

When I tried it out, it seemed to work. I didn’t play it as chords though, the way The Band used it for that ‘brassy’ texture it gave. Instead, I played it more in the manner of my former folk persona Tony Z: that is to say, improvised melodic lines in counterpoint to the original melody.


The other two piano songs were taken from an earlier release of music that were all piano instrumentals I had composed & played. Called “Yellow Music,” it was played at an art reception of my paintings back in 2016 in the exhibit “Who’s Afraid Of Yellow?” My gal loved these piano solos & would listen to them in her car. After the breakup, I often had this music playing in the background at my job. So I found myself singing lines to the melodies of two of these instrumentals until I had two entirely ‘new’ songs “The Fault In Our Stars” & “Now.”

While “The Fault In Our Stars” leaves open the possibility & the wish for reconciliation, it still plants some zingers on its target: “to be fearless you gotta be more than talk, somehow you gotta walk the walk.” (I met my Ex on a dating site. In her profile, she stated she was “fearless.”) In the context of the preceding lines, the lyric is ambiguous as to whom it applies & may be construed as being applicable to myself. Rather, it is a criticism of her lack of ‘fearlessness’ in weathering our differences. Faced with adversity, she folded.

Midway through the album, we come to “Faith (yeah I’m talking to myself again).” Essentially a pep talk addressed to myself to boost my spirits with a point of view that all is not yet lost, it surprised me how it turned out. With American Indian type drumming & a vocal that touches on desperation, it’s an insistent statement that never lets up until the very last verse. The image of “a wingless dove” provides an exacting metaphor & the song concludes with total acquiescence to just “leave her alone”

For all its lofty rhetoric - despite the unrealistic, idealized version of my Ex to which the song subscribes (“her body is a sacred nation …ruled by a pure heart of gold”) - the fact is that such idealization still leaves me powerless in the situation. The truth of this defeat is provided by the bombastic refrain: “feel it, you’re gonna have to feel it ‘til you don’t feel it no more.” That really is the only power one has. There is no shortcut, no way around it, the only way forward is to press through the pain.


Of the piano songs, “Now” is my favorite. It eschews all the ornamentation of other instruments, solely concentrating on voice & piano.

While this song immortalizes the moment of our parting in its beginning verses with a fatalistic acceptance, it then holds out one final hope that things can change. Nay, it’s more like a weighty gauntlet thrown down, “the time is come,” one last chance to make a decision, to set things right !

The melody lilts upwards in three succeeding lines, as if reaching for something, some hope, some way forward, some future together only to come tumbling back down to the depths of reality each time with lines like “if we do the math we need only subtract the love we gave to add us up to more.” The tune turns into a plea to my Ex with the belief “love conquers all” & even when “lovers fall, they fall with a wish” of togetherness.


“Now” has an overt sadness to it. Also, a wisdom that turns the mood melancholic, which is a bit different from outright depression. Its philosophical outlook is one of understanding the reality of the situation yet still holding out the prospect for reunification, by viewing our separation as a confirmation of undying love in the greater scheme of things “if we would only try.” Volition is a personal choice, it is never dictated by outside forces.

 

“Now” seems to be the fulcrum by which everything changes. From that point on, all the hope is drained. Only dealing with the wreckage of the relationship is transcribed from then on.

 


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                       The opening electric guitar riff of “So F*****g Far Out There !” contrasts starkly with the piano lines of the previous song. Laden with multiple electric guitars, the track has an anthemic feel.


I found the only way to do the track justice was to multiply the vocals as well, in various octave ranges. As such, it has a big, triumphant sound that is at odds with its somewhat confused narrator who understands that “the only way to love her is to leave the poor girl alone” & then ironically in the very next line concludes “so I’m going under cover, I’m driving on past her home” in apparent negation of his prior assessment.

 

The ‘on the edge’ mental state is given its due in the raucous proceedings, a way of demonstrating the ‘alienation’ & so-far-out-there-ness of the man in question. But for all his confusion, he still finds lucid points in defense of his actions in lines like “no fair to call it stalking when the moth is drawn to the flame.”

The run-on chorus which repeats “so f*****g far out there” numerous times builds & builds until it falls into an instrumental section that provides a release from the sonic mayhem. Although I did not create the section with this in mind, it now makes me think of an abduction via UFO, with someone literally being beamed aboard a hovering ship. If so, that’s really pretty f*****g far out there !

This track is followed by a gentle acoustic ballad. This three song sequence from the solo piano song, to the electric distortions of “So F*****g Far Out There !” to “Out Of My Life Now” is one of my favorites. The sequence not only displays a variety of musical styles, but encompasses a progression in lyrical thought from the wishful plea that the relationship can be salvaged to total acceptance of the reality of now.

“Out Of My Life Now” was a throw-away song. I wrote it one day & quickly recorded it early on in the proceedings as a live performance, singing & playing my guitar at once, like I used to do with all of my songs in my folk years period. It was basically a ‘demo’ that was recorded so I wouldn’t forget. Since it wasn’t as lyrically strong as some of the others, I didn’t think much of it. But I liked the feeling behind it. Surprisingly, when I pulled it out of obscurity from my laptop months later to work it up on my Mac, it became a little gem.

The interplay of the guitar figure with the banjo riff & the bass motif, gives it a more accessible feel. Then, the vocal harmonies & backing vocals of phrases interspersed with the upfront lyrics, really help liven up the tune. None of these were part of the song when I first envisioned it. The hum at the end of the song when the last chord rings out, was part of the original performance I laid down.

 

At the eleventh hour, when I was doing my final mixes, I noticed that after the second chorus, the sound falls out & becomes a bit thin. That kind of worked, as it made one pay more attention to the lyric. But it was a little bothersome. So I thought perhaps some simple organ chords would work well under the thin sound just to keep some kind of constant floor for the vocal.

But first, I tried some simple humming instead. I especially liked it when I added hums in harmony with the first ones. Then I recalled the hum at the end of the song on the original basic track. I went back in there & added harmony hums to that. It all worked ! It sounds like a track that was arranged & well-planned out in advance when it was anything but.

“Out Of My Life Now” is the song where I fully accept the breakup saying “everything will turn out how it’s supposed to be.” It occurs to me that when I sing the part “rest your heart now,” I could be singing those words to comfort myself. But the only line I really like is the one about how the tears “washed you away from me,” as it redeems the cliché of the preceding line’s “fell like rain.”

 


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With this album, it has become my habit to begin sequencing the songs earlier on in the process of recording. In the past, I waited until all the songs were completed or near to complete, before taking up that task. But like a novelist who already knows the ending of his book before he starts writing, I found that it was better to know where I am going also.

 

When I wrote “Real,” I knew a had a good song in the making. When I began plotting it out with tempo & chords on my computer, then dubbing in the first instruments, I felt I had something special in the overall sound, in particular how the bass line moved, accentuating a different note of the chord instead of just the root. It had a flavor I liked as well as slow-motion groove that fit the resigned mood of the verse lyrics.

But I never envisioned it as closing the album.

I thought it would be somewhere in the mix of songs in the middle or closer to the beginning. Because I felt it was one of my better ones, I wanted it earlier to keep “listener attention.” But when I began thinking of sequencing the songs, I couldn’t find a good place for it. Then, I stuck it on at the very end & suddenly it began to make perfect sense.

“Real” has a run-on ending of improvisatory playing on piano, bass & guitar, a very long outro. It also has an abrupt upward swing in volume at the very conclusion, after a long gradual fade. Perhaps most importantly, the song’s theme is one of being fully healed & not “even missing” my Ex at all. For all of these reasons, I saw that putting it last would make for a strong satisfying ending. Both sonically & thematically, it seemed to be created to conclude the myriad of perspectives in the journey of emotions through the other tunes.

The idea of the “strong-song-ending” for an album has got to be one of the many things that The Beatles pioneered. They employed the use of it most effectively on their “Sgt Pepper” album with “A Day In The Life,” a song considered by many to be the greatest piece of songwriting collaboration between Lennon & McCartney. Again both thematically as a ‘real slice of life’ in contrast to the ‘live concert’ aspect of the other songs on the album & sonically with the enormous orchestral buildup that reaches its coda in a lone E chord thundered out on piano which sustains for almost a full minute, it captured everyone’s attention as the penultimate conclusion for an album.

The ending of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” was noticed & remarked upon at the time of its release as being of significance in the annals of recorded albums. But The Beatles had employed the use of the “strong-song-ending” on their previous recording “Revolver” with the groundbreaking track “Tomorrow Never Knows.” You can even find it on their very first album with their energized closing rendition of “Twist & Shout.”

And it seems, they took note of their special innovation in the experience of album listening to use it one final time on their final album, when they knew it was their final one together, with the wonderful sentiment which perfectly summarized what their message was all about in the words “and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make” in a song simply titled “The End.”

Well, I knew my ending now. I needed only fill in a few songs to get there.

After the folky “Out Of My Life Now,” I wanted to get back immediately to the textural feel that is prevalent throughout the rest of the album with the dreamy resonance that delay effects provide, especially on electric guitar. There are a number of songs in which guitar delay is utilized, either as a prominent feature like in “Blindsided” or as backing behind the piano. So to that end, I turned to “Til The End Of Our Lives,” one of my more ambitious pieces of music in terms of chordal movement, development & the use of contrasting themes that somehow return effortlessly to the starting point for one last hurrah.

 

I should probably say at this point that I was well aware that a CD only holds 80 minutes of music. That may sound like a lot, but my songs sometimes tend to run long because I like to incorporate extended instrumental passages in addition to the verse/chorus/ bridge format.

So, there were some tunes that I purposely mapped out tempo-wise to come in at a certain mark, knowing how much time I had left to spare. Of these, were “Faith (yeah I’m talking to myself again),” “I Need To Be A Better Man,” “D A N G L E” & “Til The End Of Our Lives.” I know this is an unorthodox way of working but I saw all of the songs on the album as a “set” that could not be broken up & placed on another album. It was important to me that they be heard together.

There were actually at least two other songs I’d written & some fragments of songs that needed some fleshing out, that belonged with these but they weren’t as strong as the ones that made it. As I said before, this originally was to be a double CD, so I had plenty of time to spare. But having changed that decision, those few songs were put aside as not being essential to the experience I envisioned for the listener.

A time constraint can be a good thing: it forces one to edit out extraneous repetitions & to keep only what is essential. “D A N G L E” for example, starts right in with the vocal. There isn’t any musical introduction. And it’s always good form to keep a tune around three & a half minutes. This forced me to do that, making the longer songs stand out much more clearly. (Sidenote: you may be amazed at how many Beatle songs actually come in under three minutes running time, demonstrating that a good song can be awfully short.)

 

A few days ago, I listened to an early version of “Til The End Of Our Lives.” It was just the basic track of piano. I had totally forgotten that I originally played it at a slower tempo & that the middle instrumental section also included two times around on the verse chords without any vocal. Then I remembered that for the final CD version, I speeded up the take & edited out those instrumental verses. All of this was to the good.

 

“Til The End Of Our Lives” posits the question “don’t you love me still?” Meant as sarcasm, the point is driven home with the subsequent phrase “til the end of our lives.”

The iris image that simultaneously appears as a flaming fireball & likewise as the head-on view of a sunflower that adorns the inner sleeve of the CD jacket in a burnished golden hue seems to be the visual equivalent of the flowers that “all burned away” that is referenced in the middle of the song. I didn’t realize this until well after the song was completed.

In the same manner, I drew the fireball as a take-off on another image that is displayed on the booklet cover, that of a flaming anatomical heart wrapped in barbs. The circular fireball image, I came to realize, could be construed as the colored iris of an eye. And then again, as a sunflower head. The last association seems significant: my Ex created flower arrangements for weddings & banquets.

 

This song, which likens the breakup to a murder in the lines “when you made the kill,” comes to conclude by its final verse that both parties are to blame.

The issue of ‘blame’ is one of the essential themes of the CD. It appears in various forms throughout the other tunes, especially the last song, reminding my Ex that whenever you point a finger in blame, there are always three fingers pointing back at yourself. This too is given a prominent image on the backside of the interior booklet with the words “point your finger in blame & three point back just the same.”

 

The next song addresses ‘blame’ this way: “you say my ego broke up the trust ~ your ego broke up us.” When two people are so closely fused in a relationship, it’s difficult to untangle the strands for a coherent reading of who did what for why & who is to ‘blame’ for how things transpired.

“Serial Monogamist” is truly a vent on my part. It comes to its most extreme position in the verse that references “Scott,” one of her former boyfriends. Its seven & a half verses are an attempt to finally make some sort of sense, from my point of view, as to the emotional forces navigating beneath the various scenes the lyrics depict. If the first half of the album was me solely, falsely, accusing myself for the breakup & taking all the blame, then its counterpoint is distilled here in this one song.

Absent a chorus or a bridge, the song meanders through its thoughts in the manner of stream of consciousness & so recycles its chord pattern in a series of vignettes & emotional responses to what they portray. The repeating chordal structure, which always only brings us back to the start, seems to suggest the futility of arriving at some ‘breakthrough’ revelation that will provide some sort of answer.

This tune seemed to be missing something & it wasn’t until I put down the final track of Hammond organ that it sparked & came alive for me. In the same way that the organ seems to be goading Dylan’s vocal delivery in his classic song of betrayal “Idiot Wind” from “Blood On The Tracks,” so too the various organ fills shimmy & sway through these verses as if providing a resonant audio commentary on the lyrics’ variety of emotions.

Of all the songs on the album, this one comes closest to imitating the sort of sound & song form of my prior incarnation as folk performer “Tony Z.” I feel it stands apart from the others for its accusatory tone & its near total concentration on the lyric. Maybe that’s why the harmonica bursts in at the song’s climax, another reminder of Tony Z’s signature mercurial confrontational sound.

 


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“Love Road” is meant to be experienced as a musical journey: first, falling in love, then how two separate people form a union of common purpose, through the dissolution of that union, to honoring the autonomy & integrity of one’s separate self. As such, a few different themes thread through the lyrics of these songs.

The concept of loss may be the over-riding theme, but others include being authentic, showing vulnerability, the personal risk & fear associated with that, accepting & loving the other despite their faults, trust & blame. Managing all of these issues is the bedrock of a successful relationship.

And another, that is not explicitly dealt with: forgiveness. The closest I come to that is in the song “Out Of My Life Now” which takes a more conciliatory approach than the others.

Forgiveness is not only needed to weather a relationship through its rough spots but it is also at the heart of being able to fully put the past behind & move on from a broken one. I do have a song that deals directly with that & it’s titled “Forgiveness.” Strangely, it was written before I ever met my Ex, from the standpoint of advising a male friend who was having a difficult time moving on from his broken relationship, which like mine, broke quite suddenly & unexpectedly.

That song was meant to be on the second disc of the original double-disc concept.

As stated before, my intention was to split the “Love Road” concept into two parts. In the first, all of the issues mentioned four paragraphs back was to be explored through the first disc of songs. On the second disc, all the issues surrounding the aftermath of that process would be explored, including forgiveness, as well as finding new friends, a new path, maybe even a new love.

“Love Road” ends with “Real,” coming back to myself & feeling strong. The second disc was meant to lead on from there & that is where the issue of forgiving my Ex & forgiving myself, for how things transpired, how we ultimately failed each other, would have been explored, along with the entire rebirth of the self to face one’s uncertain, unknown future.

If you scan through all the song lyrics you will see the above themes in various guises. The word “fear” appears a few times, as well as the dichotomy of “real/fake.” The responses I’ve gotten thus far to the CD describe the writing as “raw.” I did not want to gloss over the emotions I had or to censor myself in regards to my psychological state. Rather, I wished to honestly transcribe my personal struggle in coming to terms with this loss.

 

I’ve said elsewhere that true love means accepting a person despite their faults. In

“I Need To Be A Better Man,” I address that head-on with its sarcastic lyric. I recall writing the words to this first, with just a vague idea of how the melody might go. It was written at work, after talking to a male colleague who works in Human Resources, about recent (non)developments in my broken relationship. When I sent him an email with the lyrics, he replied “don’t send this to her.”

If a listener is unsure of the sarcastic bent, they should recognize it in the words “I need to be a better person, upgrade to a newer version, download a self from Microsoft.” The middle section of the song is highly critical of my Ex’s character, wherein she may say things she doesn’t mean just to keep the peace, telling one simply what one wants to hear.

 

By the end of the song, the tables are turned when I conclude that nothing is so wrong with me that I do not deserve the love of a woman. In fact, I declare “I need to love a better woman, one fearless for what’s coming.” Ah, there’s the concept of “fear” again; if fear is the onerous human foible that taints the possibility of expressing one’s love, then fearlessness is the corrective.

And furthermore, what would it mean to make great claims of one’s fearlessness (my Ex told me that she was drawn to my profile on a dating site because I said I was fearless - and since she was too, she was attracted to that - a perfect match in her mind) when in actuality, one not only falls apart at the sign of trouble but then makes the intellectual predetermination that not even one’s courage to take on that trouble & triumph over it is a probable outcome?


Well, making the claim & not following through on it, can only mean one thing: one is being inherently dishonest, to others as well as to oneself.

This dishonesty over fear dovetails with the concept of being authentic. When one lies to oneself in such a manner, then one does not really know themselves, their true emotions, their true character. They are out of touch with their day-to-day interiority. A fractured self begets this contradiction between the face one shows & one’s face as it truly is.

And this idea leads to yet another theme in these songs: trust. If someone is not being the ‘real’ person they truly are, how can one trust anything they might say or do? So, these seemingly separate issues of fear, inauthenticity & trust are really are all separate sides of one piece.


With this song, I exonerate myself & showcase the particular failings of my Ex that caused the relationship to suddenly, so quickly sour.

I worked on the sound of this song a long time. The first two versions were demonstrative strums on the guitar, backed by the bass for emphasis, both playing in-between where the lyric fell. It sounded too heavy-handed as a recording, losing the special bluesy quality I seemed to have heard when I first wrote it. Instead, it sounded ordinary. I willingly jettisoned the ‘bluesy’ sound for something that felt more surprising & alive to me.


To remedy the situation, I used the same tempo-framework that I originally laid out on my Logic Pro program but deleted all the chords on guitar, erased the bass & drum track. For a lighter touch, I substituted the ukulele for guitar.

The song was in the key of D. But since I used the exact same fingering on ukulele  as I did on the guitar, it raised the song by a fifth, putting it in the key of G, because ukuleles are tuned a fifth higher than guitars. One of the strange things is, some tracks that were played to the original recording in the key of D were saved for this new mix of instruments in the key of G. I think they must have worked because the D scale & the G scale only diverge by a single note.

As I worked further on the song, the ukulele part more or less fell away & the music became more of a call & response between the guitar line & the bass figure. Once I hit that, it felt more natural & in keeping with the sound of the other songs on the album.

 

Another chance happening added to the feel: there was a rustling of paper on the vocal track before I began singing. I was singing while holding the lyric page behind the microphone at the time. At first, I made sure the unwanted rustling sound was silenced. But after entirely finishing the song & beginning its mixing stage, I checked the silenced rustling again & saw how, just by chance circumstance, it exactly fit rhythmically with the other components of the song.

So I copied & repeated it elsewhere, as a different sort of percussion accompaniment. I used it at the beginning & then after the bridge for the last verse. I feel it is often little things like that which makes a track sonically ‘special.’


                                    *                      *                      *                      *

 

What can be said of “Real,” the concluding song?

When I had finished writing it, I felt it was one of the truly strong handful of songs that were the cornerstones of the album. It took its place alongside ones such as “Blindsided,” “Love Kicked Me To The Curb & Said I Did It” & “So F*****g Far Out There !” But unlike those songs, “Real” was not as high-energy & possessed a more introspective & resigned quality about it, something approaching what might be called a ‘wise acceptance.’

Apart from “Love Kicked Me To The Curb & Said I Did It,” which was written when my Ex & I were still keeping in touch occasionally after the breakup via text messages, the remaining troika of songs all originated during the height of a two month songwriting period, after six months surviving my hellish grief. And it was them that instilled in me the motivation to begin recording.

Put another way: if not for these three songs, whose pointed emotions encapsulated in their specificity what I felt were some inspirational universal truths, the album would not have happened at all. I was sufficiently excited about what was expressed in them to focus my attention & eager anticipation to the indeterminate prospect of beginning the creative process of recording.

They also helped me to channel any lingering negativity surrounding the breakup into the positivity of creating something new & meaningful.

 

It should be said that life itself is just such a continual process, as I see it, of disintegration & then renewal of the self, reintegrating from chaos back to order. The psychoanalytic literature on this seems to be quite definitive: the constant that runs through this dissolution & reintegration is the life-consciousness of one’s being. For lack of a better term, it is the ‘soul’ of one’s ever-evolving self.

This concept is embodied at the very end of the song with the gong hit. The sound of the reverberating gong as it begins to fade is prolonged, fading back in from different stereo perspectives & intensities. The effect is one of seemingly constant renewal & rejuvenation - life after death - how being itself survives through its own transformations.

 

In fact, that metaphorical premise is demonstrated throughout the song. The positive, hopeful lyrics such as “to heal my heart & mind,” “it’s a job to stay human,” “to be so empty yet feel so full,” all give credence to the power of personal transformation.

 

In summation, the lasting message of the entire body of songs, as we journey from first to last, is that we all have the profound capacity to resurrect ourselves from the ashes of destruction, to triumph over whatever adversity, to fully embody a more worthwhile, lasting & meaningful existential reality.

To embody this ongoing process of Creation, it is most probable that is why we exist at all.





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© 2019 Tony Z Sienzant


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Added on May 24, 2019
Last Updated on May 24, 2019