Tuesday, March 9, 2010

My Way

What makes an artist?

I'm sure there are as many answers to that question as there are people to answer it. To me, one key thing about being an artist is stubbornness - being willing and able to stick to your guns when you are the only one convinced that you are on the right track. Take Thelonious Monk. Certainly no one else would have thought the notes and funky, angular rhythms he chose were the "right" ones, yet when you listen to Monk, they seem to be the only right notes and rhythms in the universe.

And so I begin my "new" year with two songs entitled "My Way". Today's "My Way" was the old chestnut made famous by Sinatra; yesterday, I learned "My Way" by the Texas band Los Lonely Boys.

Los Lonely Boys: 3 chords total, bluesy rock jam
Sinatra: many more than 3 chords, in a pretty standard jazz/pop progression
Los Lonely Boys: in-your-face lyrics of a youngish person determined to live his life the way he sees fit
Sinatra: philosophical lyrics of a man nearing the end of his life and reflecting on having lived it as he saw fit, through all its ups and downs
Los Lonely Boys: three brothers' Texican rock band; no famous covers that I know of
Sinatra: This song was made famous by Sinatra, but the original song is a French song called "Comme D'Habitude" by Claude Francois, Jacques Revaux and Gilles Thibaut. Paul Anka wrote English lyrics that have nothing to do with the original French lyrics. It has been covered a zillion times. I was familiar with the Gipsy Kings' version, "A Mi Manera" before I knew that "My Way" existed. Those Spanish lyrics don't have much to do with Anka's version or the original French.

Speaking of "my way", I tried playing around with both of these songs, to see if I could find a different take on them. A way that is mine, ahem. Los Lonely Boys' song was pretty easy to play with - I think I came up with a sort of mellow version that was pretty fun (which makes the lyric seem like fair warning rather than in-your-face ...suits me fine, thank you very much).

The uber-famous "My Way" (I tire of calling it Sinatra's, since he didn't write it, and was one of hundreds who performed it, even if his version is the best known...) was harder to change. It's not that I am so familiar with it that I just can't think of it any other way. I've actually logged a lot more time listening to Los Lonely Boys' "Way", because it's one of my favorite songs. No - it's that "My Way" is one giant dotted rhythm the whole way through. The emphasis falls on words that are on the 1st and 4th beats of the measure for the majority of the song. So it's hard, without drastically changing the rhythm of the melody, to make it sound like anything other than a stately French overture.

It's a shame Edith Piaf died before this song was written. She would have killllllled it! The English lyrics are actually a bit reminiscent of her signature song "Non, je ne regrette rien": "I'm about to die. I regret nothing. Nope. Nothing.", is what both songs seem to say. Hmmm... I smell a medley...

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