Saturday, December 23, 2006


We made it through the darkest of days... and with flying colors. Now it's all downhill from here... And then uphill, and then downhill, and then uphill... And then downhill. And then uphill.

I didn't realize Thursday was the winter solstice until Friday, but it made sense in retrospect. A lot of my writing lately has been about that moment just before the dawn, the time when it's darkest and there seems to be no hope for things getting better... and how you have to take that moment, feel its weight, and turn it on its head. And push through until (inevitably) it does get lighter, and things get better.

So... on Thursday I awoke when it was still dark and headed over to the gym. My goal for the winter is to try to maintain the shape I was in after the half-marathon in October... which I finished in under two hours at a pace of just a hair under nine minutes a mile.

Despite the abject pain I was in for several days following the race, I have visions of doing the full marathon next October. I'm hoping to do three five mile runs on the treadmill a week over the winter, which is challenging because I hate the treadmill. I hate running inside. Ugh. But so far, I've been pretty consistent with it, adding on a good weights regimen to boot. I digress.

After a decent workout, I headed home, cleaned up, and popped by Doc's to pick up some posters he made for our big show at Metro next month. Burn Rome Burn has been on a bit of a hiatus due to Barret and Aoife traveling a bunch the last part of the year, so I've taken the opportunity to cobble together a group of songs that aren't Burn Rome Burn songs... mostly quiet acoustic tunes and stuff that doesn't really fit the BRB sound.

Some older tunes, like Travesty in Blue, Look Alive, and December Static, and a bunch of songs written in the last 5 months, like When You Left, I Won't Turn My Back on Love, and Come Home. I've started working with Jay (who plays with the kick ass band Buddy Nuisance and also works as a producer/engineer around town) on getting these tunes down in some form with the goal of having a full-length record together early in 2007...

We've started working in an attic that overlooks the highway out on Irving Park... I laid down acoustic versions of the tunes, and Jay has started bringing people in to record various parts. So Thursday, I headed over to the studio space and... what happened was one of those moments that just makes you remember why you struggle to create and make music.

Jay and Darren (drummer for Buddy Nuisance) had spent last week laying down drums for the tunes that need drums and then turned their attention to fleshing out the song Look Alive, which is a bit older tune that Burn Rome Burn had taken a cut at, but not really been able to dial in.

Bearing in mind that the last time I heard the song it was just acoustic guitar and (poor) scratch vocals along with a click track (a computerized metronome)... what I heard coming out of the speakers on Thursday morning blew my mind. Darren had dialed in a drumbeat that was straight off of The Police's Spirits in a Material World. Jay had laid down a pulsating, McCartney-esque bass line. And finally, the two of them had collaborated on a wild keyboard hook using a Korg synthesizer, which swooped and darted throughout the song.

Jay had said that we didn't need to keep the Korg synthesizer and we could recreate the hooks on a more organic sounding organ or piano, but the sound immediately took me to one of my favorite Flaming Lips' songs, "Do You Realize?" I suggested that we borrow (i.e., steal) from the Lips, and I try laying down a couple different simple acoustic guitar strumming parts to push the song along and fill in the middle of the sound spectrum, and maybe we would keep the Korg sound after all.

Working quickly, we soon had the parts written, and I knocked out two parts in two takes. Feeling emboldened by how kick ass it sounded, we decided to go for the vocals, and I managed to get a great take in about 30 minutes, which was easily a record time for me. After recording some multiple vocals for layering and a couple of harmonies, Jay did a rough mix and we sat back and listened... And I can't express the feeling I got listening to what we had just put together.

It's simply the most positive, uplifting music I've ever been a part of... all wide-eyed hope, all triumph over tragedy, all pushing through the dark to get to the dawn, the winter to get to the spring.

We listened to it a few times, and each time I felt more and more moved... again, I can't really put it into words. Although I guess I just tried.

I cut the vocals staring out the attic window at the highway, looking at the grey trucks and dirty cars crawl northwest and southeast, all the while singing about hope, about faith, about grabbing onto what's ahead and using it to pull yourself through the dark, rather than letting what's in the past pull you back from the light. And that's the feeling I got listening to this rough mix.

The rest of the day was a blur, but I managed to knock out a lot of holiday shopping and then teach for 4 hours. As I drove home from Deerfield, I again listened to our day's work on the CD Jay burned for me.

As I barreled towards the city, I remembered a day back about 3 years ago, when I was barreling down that very same highway in my old mustard Volvo (may she rest in peace) on a bright Sunday, and the very song we tried to emulate, Do You Realize?, came on the radio.

I remembered how I smiled then. And on Thursday, in the solstice dark, I smiled that same smile.

And I thought that, instead of calling this collection of songs "When You Left," I might be tempted to call it "Look Alive!" And look forward, rather than backward.

And look to the summer solstice.

And Look Alive.

Look alive The lights are shining In your eyes And the way is clear For you to see That love can cure this Misery And wipe away you tears But it all comes down To you But it all comes down To you Look alive And count the days since Summer died Spring is almost here And certainly The rains will come and Quietly Wash away our fears But it all comes down To you But it all comes down To you 


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