Anyway, there's a line in the last chorus that I want to tweak:
Pile on the weightThe problem is "weight." It sounds good, but it's not quite what I'm going for. "Weight" conveys angst, burden. The thing my character piles on is more like the emotional equivalent of manure, unpleasant and absurd at the same time. "Manure" is pretty good, actually, but too many syllables. Hmm. What means the same thing but only has one ...
'til I'm down on my knees
(Insert moment of realization here.)
* * *
Walking down the corridors of Elm Place Middle School, I had an epiphany. I needed to learn how to swear.
Ever since kindergarten, I'd occupied the lowest rung on the social ladder. I was the kid it was OK to be mean to. I was the kid you couldn't be nice to even if you wanted to, because then everybody else would be mean to you too.
The most frustrating part was, when the abuse came, I couldn't do much but take it. Witty comebacks weren't my strong suit. If I'd known how to hold my own in a verbal duel, really hurt my tormenters, they probably would have left me alone in the first place.
Swearing would solve that problem. Anytime somebody started in on me, I could just curse at them. The strategy wasn't as good as improvising clever, cutting remarks, but it was better than nothing.
So I incorporated a few four-letter words into my vocabulary and let loose. And the results were amazing.
Don't get me wrong. My fellow seventh-graders didn't slink away with their tails between their legs. I was still their easiest prey. Regardless, it felt pretty good to have something to say when they singled me out. Even if "suck shit" (my stock phrase) wasn't particularly clever, it conveyed what I considered useful information:
- I am a badass.
- Your pathetic taunts don't bother me in the least, because I am a badass.
- Also: suck shit.
* * *
Swearing didn't come naturally when I began my campaign. I was a total goody-two-shoes, very obedient, and hadn't indulged in the habit since I was four and my mother forbade me from repeating some of the more interesting words I'd picked up from older kids in the neighborhood. To say the S-word or the F-word at all, much less in front of other people, I had to push past a deep-seated sense of taboo.
But I kept at it. I conditioned myself to swear without internally flinching. And I made an unexpected discovery:
Curse words are fucking awesome.
Seriously. How had I gotten by without them before? They were like salt on scrambled eggs. They made everything better. And more emphatic. Now when I bitched about something, people would know I really fuckin' meant it.
As cool as it was to swear at my enemies, it was way cooler to swear alongside my friends. (Other kids could safely be my friends as long as they were in a different grade or went to a different school.) We were slick and tough and grownup, slipping profanity into as many utterances as we could while acting as nonchalant about it as possible.
One friend, Lisa, opined that people shouldn't make such a big deal about swearing. Words were just words. There was no logical reason that a select few should be placed in a different category than the rest. I agreed with her in principle, but not in practice. If "fuck" had no more power to shock than "darn," what would be the point of saying it? We had to collectively pretend it had magical offensive properties or it didn't work.
* * *
Walking down the corridors of Highland Park High School, I came to a realization. The whole swearing thing was kind of played.
My original reason for learning to do it had evaporated. High school kids were nicer. Most of them left me to my own devices. And while four-letter words were still great fun in their own right, they were also victims of their own success. What good were they for emphasis if I used them in every other sentence?
With a little sadness, I decided to dial it down. Keep it clean most of the time. That way, when I dropped the occasional F-bomb, people would know I was serious.
* * *
Here's the funny thing. Although I grew to love profanity in everyday life, I never cared for it in music.
My first exposure to explicit lyrics came courtesy of Billy Joel's The Nylon Curtain. Specifically from one of my favorite songs on the album, Laura:
Here I amEven though the album debuted in what was probably the early stages of my pottymouth phase, that caught me off guard. It's one thing for me to say "fucking" and entirely another for Billy Joel to sing it.
Feeling like a fucking fool
Do I react the way exactly
She intends me to?
I understood why he wrote it that way, mind you. His narrator didn't feel like a freaking fool or a flipping fool or even a goddamn fool. The word he wanted was "fucking," and he wasn't about to weaken his point by sanitizing it. On reflection, I respected the choice.
And yet, I knew that if it had been me writing that song, I would have chosen something else.
The problem is, no matter how well a particular swear word works in terms of semantics and phonetics and rhythm, it tends not to flow seamlessly with the rest of the lyrics. A swear word calls attention to itself. That's its entire purpose. Drop one into your song, and instead of being carried along by the story, suddenly your listener is thinking, "Ooh, the F-word."
* * *
I suppose I should consider myself lucky that it took 66 songs before I encountered the "best word is a bad word" dilemma as a songwriter. But I still need to resolve it, so ...
Pile on the ______"Shit" really is perfect in terms of meaning and singability, but for all the reasons above, I'm just not going there.
'til I'm down on my knees
"Crap" would fill in the blank, but it lacks something. It sounds too much like what I really want to say is "shit," but I'm censoring myself. Even if that's true, it's not what I want listeners to notice.
Looks like we're back to "weight." It's not absolutely, precisely what I want, but it doesn't stand out or sound wrong either. Sometimes you have to settle for good enough. In this case, doing so will make for a more balanced song as a whole.
The song, by the way, is almost finished. When we have an arrangement together and we have time to record it, I'll post it up here.
You'll like it. It's the shit.
* * *
Editor's note: I hope I haven't offended anybody with this piece. I try to keep this little blog family friendly most of the time, but the words are what they are, and I hate that asterisk bullsh*t. If you are not offended by such things and have ever wondered why certain words have the power to offend, read Why We Curse by psychologist Steven Pinker. Turns out Lisa and I were both wrong.