Friday, April 27, 2012

The. End. (When You Left redux)

Listen to When You Left

So it's come to this.

Today I'm writing about When You Left, the last song on Look Alive.

Which means I'm all caught up on old Paper Arrows material.

I was hoping that by the time I finished revisiting our older recordings, we'd have some new recordings to share... but it hasn't worked out that way and our next record won't be out until summer/fall.

About the new record: it's getting there.  We (and the record label) have picked a single to push out in advance of the full EP, and the main hold up has been my two month-plus battle with sinus problems, which has rendered me largely voiceless... not a good situation when about 75% of what is still needed to finish the record is vocal-related.  So it's been frustrating.  But I think I have the problems solved and we'll soon be on our way to finishing what is shaping up into something I'm very excited for people to hear.

The title of the new EP will most likely be taken from a lyric in a song on Look Alive.  Which seems a bit odd, but in a way, we're starting over with this new recording.  The first three albums tell a complete story (Loss, Recovery, Redemption) and in ways thematic (what comes after redemption?) and practical (new record label) we're at another beginning of sorts.

Blah blah blah.

Maybe I'm going on about the new recording because I don't have a ton to say about When You Left?

It is the quietest and shortest song I've ever written and recorded.

Look Alive was originally called When You Left, because, you know, I needed to gild the loss lilly.

I actually remember very, very clearly writing this one.  It was the last song written for the project, and we had already begun tracking most of the other songs.

The first Friday in November of 2006, as was my custom on the first Friday of most months, I went to the Baker & McKenzie Happy Hour on the 39th floor of the Prudential Building.  The lobby area on the 39th floor features a beautiful unobstructed view south over Grant Park.  Truly fantastic.  If you look southeast across the lake on clear days you can see Indiana and Michigan.  Until the 50's or 60's, this was the tallest building in the city and highest vantage point, and even now it's an amazing place to view Chicago.  And even better after all the work in Grant Park over the last decade.

I digress.

The first Friday in November of 2006.  At our First Friday Happy Hours, I generally had a good crew of people with whom to drink and celebrate making it to another month.  Other paralegals, my co-workers in the Immigration Group.  We had fun.  We drank.  We hung out until the free alcohol had been consumed.  Sometimes we sought out more alcohol.

This particular Friday, I remember standing apart from the merriment and just... looking out the windows.  Looking at our beautiful city.  Watching the light from the west grow weaker.  Watching the  crowds of people shuffle up and down Michigan Avenue.  Seeing the lake go from bright blue to wine dark.

And maybe for the first time in what was then four months of separation from my ex-wife, I allowed myself to be sad.  I allowed myself the reality that I was alone, that she was not coming home.  I also allowed myself the understanding that it was she who left me.  She who decided not to stay and try.  Or that she had already tried enough.  But nonetheless, she who had gone.

And I remember getting home from First Friday to my house, our house, empty of life save a dog and a cat.  And sitting in my living room and just... playing.  Playing the guitar, holding it to me chest, to my heart, feeling the body fill with sound and then empty into the room.  Sitting in the dark of my living room, alone, playing the guitar, thinking about looking out the window on the 39th floor of the Prudential Building, watching the night grow.

And a simple fingerpicked melody came out.

And I didn't even write any words.

I just played it over and over and over and listened to it bounce off the darkness.

The next day, Saturday, I got to Village Music to teach a little early.  I sat in my little room and played my simple fingerpicked melody from the night before, and words started coming out... started coming out perfectly.  Saying exactly what I had been feeling the night before.

And I scribbled them down, exactly how they came to me.

And I had When You Left, the last song of Look Alive.

A couple weeks later, we recorded it in one take in the attic.

My voice cracks on the last line and is swallowed by the ambient noise of the room, the cars on the highway in the background, and the almost imperceptible sound of me shifting slightly in my chair.

Vulnerable, spare, honest.






Looked across
The water blue
And saw a sea of tears
As darkness fell
I thought of you
And when you left

Couldn't tell
Where the city ended
And where the night began
The buildings sang
Their silent song
Like when you left

I can't believe you're gone


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