If you don't feel like reading the story, but are curious to hear the song, please scroll WAY down to the end of this entry, and there will be a link for you.
The Who & Why & What
Some very dear friends were going to move away. This wasn't the kind of move where the prospect of never seeing them for the rest of my life was a possibility (although in the midst of a pandemic now, who knows), but this move was far enough away that visits would be few and far between. So, as one does, I was considering a gift. Here's the problem... gift giving is hard for me, more so in a situation where distance is involved. Food/drink gifts, while delicious, don't last very long. I don't have the wherewithal to come up with practical household gifts, and besides, they were already settled in a home, they were just going to a different home and ostensibly bringing their stuff with them. Not being able to turn my brain off at night is a nearly quotidian issue for me, and many nights the question of what kind of gift to give was the source of my insomnia. What could I - a generally useless and insignificant being - possibly give someone without it being hackneyed or trite? Hey, I write songs. How about a bespoke song? That's unique and that's sincere, which means the proper sentiment gets across no matter how awful it ends up being. Ok, problem solved, now to work...
I knew the destination of the move. That being the case, I did more reading about the location than I'd like to admit, looking for extra details that I might be able to shoehorn into a song. Relevant lyrics from the song:
Say hello to the Badlands
Prairie dogs and Minuteman
Needles in the Black Hills
Porcupines with their quills
Say hello to the Big Bird
I'm not going to spell the place out to you, I'm going to depend on your profound knowledge of geography and history - or conversely, your Google skills - to tell you The Where.
Brainstorming sessions. Writing text. Editing text into lyrics.
Deciding on a mood. Well, it's somewhat melancholy, but hey, they're not dying - at least not any faster than the rest of us are - and we very well might cross paths again. Ok then, minor key for the verse, then have a pre-chorus that modulates from minor to major, then major key in the chorus in order to give that optimistic and hopeful feeling. Settled. Pick the chords. No, not that one. Yes, that one. Ok. Chords.... find a melody. Agonize over the piano at finding a melody. Have a look at those lyrics. Oh, that's not good enough, and that won't work with the melody. Edit the lyrics again. Gently massage the lyrics and the melody until they are able to combine.
Back to the lyrics. How do I say "I love you and I will miss you" without explicitly saying those words? We're writing songs here, need to be artistic and just a tiny bit oblique. Ok, well, the general purpose of the song is as a goodbye present, how about making that the theme? Enter my interest in etymology. (If you think that word should contain an "n", well, that really bugs me.) The word "Goodbye" literally means "God be with you"... over the centuries English has shortened that four word farewell into one seven letter word. Ok now I have my chorus hook.
Goodbye means God be with you
God be with you as you go
Goodbye is temporary
Just until the next hello
There is more than one When.
The first... well, there was a moving day. I wanted to have the song finished, recorded, and gifted by moving day. I finished the song probably a week before the departure, as far as the final first draft.... then spent time messing around with the arrangement or the lyrics, not liking the edits, revising back to the original idea, pruning here and there again... yeah, it's a process. By no means am I an engineer, but I recorded the song at home the way I do all of my demos... I even threw on some vocal harmonies. I bounced it to mp3, and emailed it to my friends on the day they left. Mission accomplished.
The other When.
I was putting songs together to take to Patrick Himes at Reel Love Recording Company in February 2019, in preparation for tracking on my second solo album. "Goodbye", well, I didn't hate it. It kept growing on me. I thought it had potential given the right instrumentation and production. I brought it with me, along with a bunch of other songs on pre-production day. It survived the initial cut down... and as tracking started on a few songs and an album began to take shape, I ended up thinking that this one absolutely HAD to be on it.
There were obstacles. I wrote this song on piano, but I do not have the piano chops to do it justice. Patrick plays piano - because Patrick plays everything - but he had done that previously on "Convalesce" (from Defacing the Moon), was already playing acoustic guitar and pump organ on this one, and I wanted the chance to work with another talented musician who I admire. I decided to ask Nathan Peters. You might know him from such bands as Vinyl Dies, Lioness, TV Queens, and the legendary Captain Of Industry. Nathan so kindly said yes, and between the chord chart and my very very low quality home recording, was able to figure out what the song needed from the piano part.
Ah, the bass part. Well, I wrote the song on piano, and was unable to come up with an accompanying bass part that I thought was good enough. I reached out to Eric Cassidy for ideas. He had a great idea, and was kind enough to record a video of himself playing the idea slowly enough that I could learn it. One problem, it involved a quick note change that required holding a chord shape for the change... this type of thing is baby easy for guitarists - and for bass players that are much more talented than me - but I don't often play chords, and when I do, I certainly don't slide around from chord to chord. Great idea, how to execute cleanly? It turns out that I couldn't execute it cleanly. Every time I would play it, I'd either mess up the chord shape on the slide, or make too much fret noise, or not have all of the notes held well enough so that one of them wouldn't sound muddy. Here's where the studio magic comes in... I played the root note of the chords, then we used overdubs for the harmony notes. I'm not ashamed to admit it, I'm just not good enough to do it another way, it is what it is. We got the sound we needed to get.
The vocals. Take after take after take. When flat, try again. When sharp, try again. My verse harmonies worked out ok. Patrick had a fantastic idea for an additional harmony in the verse that I hadn't considered... after he sang it for me a few times so I could get it, I went and recorded that as well. What we have now are really nice harmonies in the verse with three parts, and all of the parts are me.
(I feel I should mention and thank community drummer Brian Hoeflich here, but make clear that there was no obstacle whatsoever as far as his part is concerned. He did - as per usual - excellent work.)
"Goodbye" is track 3 on Anxious Inventions & Fictions. (If you have the Deluxe Version on CD, it is track 11.) I am proud of it. I said what I needed to say, which is the main point of writing songs. The recording sounds clean, and makes me seem like a much more talented musician than I actually am. Sure, I didn't actually HAVE to professionally record this song... but I thought the song was good enough to deserve it, and the folks I gifted it to deserve to hear it at its full potential instead of only the horrible version I did at home.