Thursday, June 7, 2012

To The Devil: "it was a pleasure to burn" production diary

Professional obligations have eclipsed my musical predilections for the past week, so I have been remiss in posting the piecemeal progress I've made towards completing it was a pleasure to burn. Nonetheless, progress there has been, and below you may find the evidence thereof.

"To The Devil" is one of my unprompted compositions, which means she arrived without call from either a Song Fight! or SpinTunes challenge, nor even during FAWM.

i spoke to the devil but he had nothing to say
cuz i had beat him down, beat him all damn day
Beelzebub came a knockin', came up right to my door
tried to whisper sweet nothin's so i put him on the floor

i spoke to the devil
i spoke with my fist
i spoke to the devil
now he's on my list

course there is what Freddy said about the black abyss
can you win that staring game and make Satan miss?
if this is that hubris thing, then just let me be
if i can make my way there blind, his blood will set me free

i spoke to the devil
i spoke to the devil
you want no truck with me

though it winds like a serpent, i can walk the path
sow the seeds of destruction, pick the grapes of wrath
i spoke to the devil but was only talkin' aloud
i am my own hemlock i weave my own shroud

i spoke to the devil
bluffed the father of lies
i spoke to the devil, boy
you better let me pass on by

i spoke to the devil
i spoke to the devil and lived
you want no truck with me

This song actually comes from a pretty dark place, so I have trouble talking about it. Let's start with structure and my trademark references.

"To the Devil" is a pretty straight-up rock song. I knew this right from the get go, and so it's lathered in dynamics, bombast and a simple chord progression. In its initial iteration, the whole vocal delivery was rather monotone. I was trying to play it cool, underlying an assured delivery with lyrics soaked in doubt and not a little self-loathing. I wanted there to be a tension between the raucous triumph of the music and the dark introspection of the words: fragile aggression.

I'm very happy with the dynamics of this song, the way it ebbs and flows, but for the new take, I knew that it need more of that. So, I redid the percussion track entirely. (Hooray for EzDrummer!) and put more energy into the chorus. The call/response in that section was a last-minute editing decision; I'm on the fence and it may not survive (entirely) the last edit before I consider the album complete.

References to literature and philosophy abound. Overall, I was thinking of Charlie Daniel's "The Devil Went Down the Georgia" as well as anti-heroes that figure in so much of Johnny's Cash's work.

"Freddy" and his "black abyss" is a nod to one Nietzsche's more famous quotes:
Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you. (Beyond Good and Evil.)
The second half of verse two is actually a very oblique reference to Oedipus at Colonus, the third and final part of Sophocles' Theban Plays, in which the now-blinded king ruminates upon his dire fate. It's a pessimistic work, even for a tragedy. And no mention of "hemlock" could miss evoking the fate of Socrates, who was condemned to death for basically being a skeptic and "corrupting the youth" of Athens with rational thought, of all things.

The "grapes of wrath," here has nothing to do with the Steinbeck novel, but rather his source: The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Which is, in turn, a reference to Revelations 14: 19-20. I'm just part of a long chain of borrowing.

Personally, I'll manage to say that writing this song was kind of cathartic. It's hyperbolic, of course: my life is pretty good, but I had settled into a kind of mid-winter glum and channeled my shadow into a song that might make Kurt Cobain go "Dude, you have issues."

More music has been made since I've fallen quiet. Come back soon (like, tomorrow) and I'll tell you about more dark shadows that I've summoned.

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