Here is the predicament: I’ve forgotten one of my own songs.
I wrote a tune in 1993 which was inspired by a line that Greta Garbo spoke in the movie Camille. Garbo didn’t simply talk, she uttered syllables. Being that I’m a huge Garbo fan, this utterance carried a certain amount of weight with me, so I wrote a song around it. I played it several times for friends. Everyone loved it, even I thought that it was one of my better tunes. I don’t remember the last time I played it, but back then, I was taping sporadically and I never took the time to record even a rough cut of the tune. Time passed, new songs were penned and the tune slowly left my repertoire.
I came across the lyrics in one of my old spiral notebooks the other evening. “Hey,” I thought, “I need to polish this one up and record it!” I got up from my chair and retrieved my acoustic. The chords were not written above the corresponding words, as is usually my practice, but no problem. My songwriter and my inner musician works on auto-pilot. It will come. I don’t forget anything.
Famous last words.
I have developed a certain approach to writing songs throughout the years. Or, perhaps I should say the songs have developed a way of writing me. It’s a weird process wherein the only rule is ‘nothing ever happens the same way twice’. But generally, it all starts after I hear a comment made on the radio or overhear someone talking at the grocery store, something like that. At other times, something will simply come out of my own mouth and I’ll hear it as if someone else said it. Whatever, this begins a ritualistic practice of running to my desk and grabbing my pen and pad and writing down what ever I hear. Then, usually something else comes out, right behind it. It’s like mental defecation from there on. I’m usually not even aware of my surroundings when I’m in the middle of writing or recording. I’m not thinking, rather I’m hearing. Writing becomes a ‘call and answer’ session in which one line is inevitably answered by another. Before I know it, I’m signing my name to the piece whilst ‘waking up’.
Recalling a song works much the same way. You know how if someone even mentions the song ‘My Girl’ you can just automatically hear it – I’ve got sunshine… on a cloudy day. The tempo, the pitch, everything is neatly canned in our brains waiting to be opened and enjoyed at the slightest provocation.
But suddenly, there I was, staring at this song.. and nothing was coming out. I looked at the guitar neck. I fumbled around on the fingerboard. ‘It’s right here, I know it is.’ I’m thinking hard by this point, beginning to panic. ‘Come on dude. You couldn’t have forgotten this tune!!’ Nothing is happening. I can vaguely hear me singing the first line, but the key is indefinable. I fiddle around for thirty minutes until finally I’m playing some old shirttail shuffle, carried wherever the Muse takes me. I wake up. Again. Oh, yeah, the song. The stream of consciousness playing has done nothing to break the log jam in my head.
There is no moral to the story. The old notebook sits there on my desk. And there, looking as if it were only written yesterday, is the song. Staring blankly at me it beckons to be revived and caressed, just like Garbo’s character Marguerite as she lay dying in the last scene of the film Camille. And just like Armand, I am powerless.
Johnny Nowhere is a songwriter hailing from the nether regions of the Galaxy who wonders if anyone ever reads these fortune cookies.