A few days ago I posted a video of my original song, “The Sound of One Heart,” on Youtube. The video once again features Pete Jacobs on guitar and was recorded live in one take; no clever editing, lip syncing, or pitch correction (hence my audible struggles to sing and shaker at the same time). I’m very proud of this performance and the composition – it’s one of my favorite pieces I’ve ever written. If you haven’t seen it yet, you can watch below:
When I preform this live, I always tell the story behind it because it’s SO ridiculous. Most of what I write doesn’t have nearly so interesting a tale, but this song… If you haven’t been to one of my shows or seen a round I played in, I’ll share it with you now. (If you’ve had to hear this story before, tough.) The following is entirely true:
When I was a senior in college back in Boston I had a huge crush on a friend of mine. I had a half-hearted relationship with an on-again-off-again boyfriend, but I was really into this other guy. When the friend invited me to a concert he was playing a couple days before Thanksgiving, for some reason my brain interpreted that as “he totally has the hots for you,” so I dumped the poor guy I had been stringing along (don’t judge me; I was younger and I understand now that this was a selfish, douche-y thing to do) and took two buses to the concert which was being hosted in the unfinished basement of a really poorly maintained Elks Club in Cambridge.
My roommate was supposed to come with me, but she flaked. This was fine, however, because I was about to find True Love. I got there and bought a rusted can of PBR from a cooler carefully hidden under a box so the cops wouldn’t know they were selling alcohol out of their basement with no license, should any walk by. I was politely asked to say I brought it myself if any police showed up; the Elks Club guy was very concerned about the cops which led me to believe he may have had a previous run-in with the law regarding rusted PBR cans. I found my friend and watched a couple of the opening bands with him, heart all a-flutter. Then he waved over a pretty brunette and introduced me to his new girlfriend.
I bought another rusted PBR. Tetanus be damned.
That wonderful stroke of instant karma was probably well deserved, as devastating as it was. I was suddenly a lot less cool with my roommate ditching. My internal dialogue went from “no problem” to a string of cartoonish expletives. It was fine, everything was fine. I drank my tetanus beer and took some calming breaths and tried to keep the color out of my face while not being awkward hanging out with my crush’s new girlfriend (who’s roommates had, coincidentally, not ditched her). I watched his band play while trying not to make direct eye contact with his date. I was fine, it was fine, I was going to make it through.
Then I got a text from the friend who was supposed to drive me home the next day for Thanksgiving. “Can you take a phone call?” she asked. I stepped into the quiet[er] bathroom and gave her a call. Her mother had had an accident, breaking her neck, and she was already driving to Connecticut to be with her in the hospital, so she couldn’t drive me home tomorrow. This was my best friend who’s family I know well, so I completely understood and told her to drive safely and take care of her mom for me. I was, however, suddenly faced with buying a $120 train ticket. More slow deep breaths. The night officially sucked but at least now I had a good excuse to leave.
I told my friend (and his new goddamn girlfriend – the only two people I knew at the event) that I needed to head home and buy a train ticket. Home for me was about 2 miles away and it was late November in Boston, but I set out on foot, figuring that I would wait at a bus stop in a less shady area. Part way to my bus stop of choice my phone rang again. This time it was my little cousin, who was a freshman at the same school as me and he was very upset. His roommate had been busted for dealing weed out of their dorm room and my straight-edge cousin was now on housing probation for not narking on his older, drug-dealer dorm-mate (although he had asked him to do his business elsewhere a couple times previously). Apparently, our college was unfamiliar with the old folk-saying “snitches get stitches” and were penalizing him for not receiving the aforementioned stitches.
“What do I do?” he asked.
It was officially the worst night ever. At that point, I decided to stomp the rest of the way home through the freezing, autumn night instead of waiting for the bus. I pledged to my cousin that I would be at the housing hearing if he wanted me there and offered to either vouch for his honor or physically fight the RD, whatever seemed more effective at the time (surprisingly, he didn’t ask me to come). By the time he was calm enough to get off the phone I was nearly home. My pure, unbridled rage had managed to stave off the cold. In fact, I was nearly in a furious sweat when I reached my neighborhood package store and bought a six pack. I finished the entire thing (if you ever been drinking with me, you know two beers is usually my limit before I’m drunk), fell asleep to some angry dreams, and started writing this song the next day.
It took over a year to finish. I brought it to every writing teacher I could think of, reworked it from bottom to top a couple dozen times, and left it alone for months just to pick it up for a couple days here and there. It wasn’t until I started working it on guitar instead of piano and had truly fallen in love with someone else (obviously, that fateful night was worth it, because I have someone AMAZING now) that I had enough distance to finish the song. I added the fictional narrative of two people who had already dated meeting again; their same-but-opposite experience felt very powerful to me, something that could touch a lot of listeners. But those first two lines were drawn directly from my experience that night: “She averts her eyes / ’cause seeing them together is like staring at the sun.” It took a little more reworking to get the same-but-opposite thing really happening in the pre-choruses, but it was worth the effort. Here’s the lyric back-to-back:
Her hearts a bruise / And their laughter is a ringing in her ear / Nightmare come true / The radio’s blasting, but the only thing she hears…
He’s smiling too / With a pretty girl whispering in his ear / A dream come true / The radio’s blasting but the only thing he hears…
It wound up being a fun lyric to work on and helped make me see the whole experience in a better light. Sometimes, adding that layer of distance and fiction to a real-life situation I’m writing about helps me process what I’ve gone through. It’s one of the reasons I’m so lucky I can write – it’s truly a gift to have that added vehicle for understanding the world and my experiences in it. Plus, retelling the events that led up to creation of the song helped me realize what a crazy, sit-com situation it was and has really helped me laugh at it.
As for the recording, it started with me throwing guitar picks around the room in frustration. Going into it, I was determined to play all the instruments myself and film it at the same time. This did not go well. Take after take after take failed to live up to my expectations and, as I began to realize that I would not be able to do it myself, I got really angsty. I’ve been working on my guitar skills like it’s my job (because it is) but I still struggle, and it can be very disheartening to have it thrown into stark relief the way trying to play to a click does. Luckily Pete – who was filling the role of cameraman, engineer, and producer – saved the day by offering to jump in and play.
And it wound up being as simple as that. One take with the camera running all the way through. No overdubs or fussing. Yeah ,there’s a shadow over my face but it was such a great, natural take. We just played – no headphones, just the sound of the room – and it sounded just like I had envisioned but couldn’t bring to life on my own. I live for those moments where I have a musical experience with another person like that. It’s one of the reasons I keep doing it.
I hope you enjoyed listening, watching, and reading the inside scoop on the entire thing as much as I enjoyed creating it all! Look forward to more inside scoops like this and general content coming soon.
Peace and love.