Friday, January 8, 2010

Across the Universe

And the Doubts are back. I knew it wouldn't be long. They live with me, the Doubts, and they almost never go on vacation, and when they do, they don't stay away for long. They will make you crazy, but the worst thing about them is that they actually sound rational and sane if you let them talk to you.

"Why are you doing this? Are you really so narcissistic as to believe that anyone would want to read about what goes through your head when you learn a song? Do you even want anyone to read this tripe? What kind of musician are you, anyway, that you have to give yourself this so-called "challenge" to learn stuff you should know? You better hope no one working in your industry reads this - you were actually thinking of announcing it? Nah, better off if you don't even post it..."

The Doubts are very talkative.

I'm shining this light on them, hoping they'll shrivel up and die. If they don't die, maybe I'll at least be able to see who's making all that noise. I've been trying to figure out what I can cut from my schedule so I can stop feeling so overwhelmed. It occurs to me that if the Doubt, You-Suck, and Maniacal Control-Freak families would just move out, I might have time for what's important - and still get almost enough sleep sometimes.

By the way, it's not like I feel lonely or sorry for myself, having squatters like the Doubts. They're like roaches - everyone has 'em, and they'd probably survive a nuclear attack. And yet look at the price of real estate in roach-infested Manhattan.

So, oh yeah, music. Here are the songs I've worked on so far:
Here Comes the Sun
Eleanor Rigby
Hey Jude
Ticket to Ride
Across the Universe

I was going to switch to Stevie Wonder today, but I think I'll stick with the Beatles for a while. It's nice to get in a little deeper, get really familiar with the musical language of a particular artist or, in this case, group of artists.

Like how with the Beatles, they often have what I think of as an extra bar at the transition of the sections - eg - "Hey Jude", the verse is 8 bars long, then there's this random 9th bar, a sort of full bar pick-up into the next section. And when "Something" modulates to A, there's a full bar of A major before the next lyric. It's like he's saying "Ready? We're in a new key now. Ok, go!" "Hey Jude" is Lennon/McCartney and "Something" is George Harrison, so it wasn't just an individual tic.

I guess I notice this because most of the popular songs I've actually taken time to study are 32-bar AABA jazz standards. Is it because the Beatles didn't start as dance music that their songs have various phrase lengths? (Not that you want to rely on dancers to put things in 4-bar phrases.) But that's not something you think about til you write it down. Sometimes I have something in my head for years before I write it down, and by that point I'm always surprised at how it looks, and at how I think about it a little differently from that point forward.

Aside from crowding the Doubts out of their abode with this project, I'm having fun discovering new music (new to me - like a used car). How else would I have found Bobby McFerrin's and Dave Matthews Band's versions of "Blackbird"? That's one of my favorite songs - a couple of my good friends in college used to sit on their front porch and play & sing it together. On 9/11, I went to their house and wondered what the hell had happened to the world. They played and sang, and it mattered maybe just a tiny bit less that the world would ever after be divided into pre- and post- 9/11.

I am so totally out of time with this entry. Must go tackle the to-do list. But it seemed really important not to let the Doubts win tonight.


  1. Try not to let the doubts get to you. I won't tell you to not have them, as we all have them, just tell you to not let them win. You're brilliant Kat, and you'll be fine. I'm thinking the first little while of doing this will be difficult, but I'll be reading with you the whole way, even on the days you forget your lunch!

    As to the interesting random extra bars, it very well could be a Pommey thing. Take The Smiths/Morrissey, for example. Happens all the time. (And, they have some really cool tunes... been learning a few of them on bass and guitar.. sound simple, but are actually a bit tricky!) As you've said in an earlier post... different cultures music is different. So even though it is "Western" pop, it's British pop, not US..... just a thought. Who knows, maybe the Irish stuff (U2, Cranberries) will be different again in it's own little way....


  2. Have you heard Aretha Franklin's version of Eleanor Rigby? It's awesome!