Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Songwriting Spank Material - "I Need You"

I remember about ten years ago when cable internet and DSL became available to more households the internet saw an influx in file sharing, and they did it with a service called KaZaa. Yes, KaZaa. Remember this one? This was after Napster and before Limewire and the introduction of torrents. There was a seedy underbelly to the internet where people shared all kinds of files with each other - mp3, movies, porn, document files, computer programs. If it could be ripped or sent over wires you could share it, and I was in the midst of it. It was in this seedy underbelly that I found the artist I want to talk about tonight. I was searching for Bob Dylan mp3 files. My hope was that I could find some rare bootlegs that only a few people had access too. In those days (I think it's weird that I'm using that term to describe file sharing as if I were trying to describe rotary phones to someone whose never seen one) the search parameters weren't that good. You pretty much typed in the artist and waded through the result. I remember during all my Dylan searches seeing this one file pop up over and over again - "Chelsea Hotel/Don't Think Twice It's Alright Cover." I had just discovered Leonard Cohen and thought to myself, "Did Dylan do a show where he covered "Chelsea Hotel No. 2" by Leonard Cohen?" I downloaded it only to find out it wasn't Dylan. It was someone who sounded like Dylan singing a song they'd written called "Chelsea Hotel" and then going into a cover of "Don't Think Twice It's Alright." Later I would find out the artist's name - Dan Bern.

Who the hell is Dan Bern? This is a question you're no doubt asking. Trust me. I asked myself that same question when I discovered that very first song file. The truth is he is amazing. In fact, I have been saying for the past ten years that he is the best songwriter you've probably never heard of, and I still stand by that assessment. As it turns out, has been around for awhile. His first album - Dan Bern - came out in 1997, and he currently has 16 albums and EP's to his credit. His first album and another album - Fleeting Days - are two of my favorite albums of all time, and it is a song from Fleeting Days that I wish to showcase here today. Dan Bern is a songwriter who wears the comedy and tragedy mask. He can sing a song that can make you laugh like "Lightning Jazz" and then he can turn right around and floor you with a song like "God Said No" and absolutely floor you. He has a lot of great songs to choose from, but the one I want to talk about is a simple little tune from Fleeting Days called "I Need You."

There is a term fiction writers throw around a lot called "in medias res" which means "in the middle of things." The idea for writers is that a good story should put the reader in the middle of the action from the beginning. Build up will just bore and confuse a reader. From a songwriting standpoint, this little song by Dan Bern probably does this better than any song I've ever heard. The first few lines of the song put us in the moment and mood that he is trying to convey - "Walking around the happiest place in the world, but all I do wonder is if your hair's still curled. South of Brownsville Texas, South of Miami Beach, all it means to me is that you're further out of reach. Everywhere, sand and sun, blue sky water too. I need you." Instantly we know the problem. He's somewhere away from someone he cares about and it's making him miserable, and the rest of the song builds on the theme. It's actually very clever and brilliant. I also like this song because it is a "someone song." It's a "someone song" for Dan Bern, and it's a "someone song" for me. Around the time I discovered this song I had a relationship with someone and got hurt. This is a song that definitely delivers me back to that time and stirs in me a wide array of emotions. Most people run from songs like this, but I think of it more like I'm looking through old pictures and reflecting on my journey toward today. Some lines of note include the one I quoted earlier and also: "The last plane out of Saigon did not know that it was," and the penultimate line, "Sometimes you get lost and find something new." Such a great song that I wish I'd written.

Here is Dan Bern with "I Need You."

1 comment:

FushigiFox said...

really enjoying the look of your blog! wishing I could spruce my blog up more but not that creative. Looking forward to more posts! Thanks for sharing all that you do in your life. -fushigifox