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Women are From Venus, Men are From Stupid
By Michael Askounes - 01/05/2004 - 03:15 AM EST

Hello, It’s Me

Well, howdy everyone! It’s the “new kid on the block” and I’m supposed to kick this off with an introductory paragraph or two about who I am and why I’m writing this column. If you hate these introduction-type things, here’s the gist. I’m a songwriting hack with more disposable income then talent, and the reason I’m writing this column is because it’s strokes my ego when someone publishes my work. If you want more info on me, read on…

My name is… well… it’s right up there underneath the title of the column. I’m a 35 year old male (sorry girls… he’s married!) living in Frederick, MD. I have three kids, one “in the oven”, a couple of cats, a dog, three guitars, a bass that I can’t play, a drum set that I can’t play, a piano that I’m only marginally good at, a voice that makes milk curdle, and some mixing equipment that just sits on my desk sticking its tongue out at me because other than knowing how to plug it into the wall I have no clue how to use it.

Musically, I’m a HUGE fan of progressive rock like Yes, Genesis, Flower Kings, etc. I’ve been playing guitar on and off (mostly off) for around 15 years now, and I learned playing along with records from bands like Rush and The Beatles. I was actually in a bar band for a year, and enjoyed the fruits of our labor to the tune of a combined $12.74, which allowed the band to have a pitcher of beer at the end of the year. In my spare time I raise hairless Chihuahuas, and am on a one-man mission to discover a 10th planet.

So… like… let’s get on with the first edition of (drumroll please…), the Newbie’s Nook! The place where you can come to get the advice and opinions of someone who knows much less than you do about songwriting, music, and lyrics.

Welcome to the Nook… Turn off your mind, relax, and float downstream….

Women are from Venus, Men are from Stupid

I ask you this… is there anything that will get a husband more “stupid points” from his wife then buying a drum set? And do you think the fact that said husband had spent a total of 5 or 6 minutes lifetime playing the drums prior to this purchase made things any smoother? Well, I know the answer of that question first hand, because I am that husband.

While in the midst of setting up my brand new Roland V-Club drum set, I received a look from my wife that can only be understood by a) husbands who have bought drums sets, and b) husbands who have bought motorcycles. The “look of love” it was not - ‘twas perhaps the nastiest glare I’d ever received from a woman for a transgression that didn’t involve strippers.

But as most of you folks probably know, once the muse of music rears its ugly (and expensive) head, there’s not a whole lot one can do. I found that after years of lying dormant in my head, there was music that just needed to come out and play. And there was no amount of money I wouldn’t spend on electronic equipment that I had no idea how to operate in order to feed that music.

So I spend my nights in bookstores writing lyrics and charting out music, and I spend my weekends trying to arrange all the music that swarms around my soul. My days are spent cursing the fact that I never took any lessons as a boy, and my dreams are spent living in worlds where passion means more than talent or hair styles. And where 35 isn’t too old to be a rock star…

Pop Goes the Songwriter

The first topic I’d like to touch upon here in “Da Nook” (that’s street lingo for “The Nook”), is “convention”. No, not the kind of convention with Shriners and booze and door prizes and fez hats with tassels. I mean convention defined as a preconceived notion on how a song should be laid out musically or lyrically.

Since I’ve begun listening to folks in the online songwriting community, I’ve heard a lot of acronyms like ABAB, ABBA (70’s flashback!), ABAC, ABACAB (Phil Collins, call your office), and even other things like AHAB, AH-HA (80’s flashback!), and HOBO. Apparently, these are structures for your ten-a-penny pop songs that so many of us are subjected to on the radio. These acronyms represent the way you’re supposed to write a song.

However, my problem is this. While other folks were listening to bands that wrote 3 or 4-minute “verse/chorus/verse” standards, I was listening to progressive acts such as King Crimson, Spock’s Beard, and Yes rip off 10 or 15 minute pieces of music. While the radio was playing songs written about a wide range of subjects such as girls loving boys, boys loving girls, and occasionally girls loving girls; I was listening to lyrics about philosophy, politics, literature and… erm… the occasional fairy.

The type of music I listen to is often dumped upon, with critics saying that it is pretentious (maybe true) or that if a song goes for more than 5 minutes it’s just repeating itself (tell that to Beethoven). But I strongly disagree. To me, there is something romantic about pushing the envelope, and not being tied down by convention. And as far as repetition goes… there is nothing more repetitious than pop radio today - it’s one verse/chorus/verse song after another… all about similar subjects… all sung by similar voices. Voices that you can only hear when the curse words aren’t being bleeped out.

Now I’m not bashing pop music at all… folks like The Beatles, Matthew Sweet, and Neil Finn have always been favorites of mine. The ability to write a beautiful hook, and say something meaningful within a 3 or 4 minute time limit is just as impressive to me as writing a 60 minute symphony. But I’d be even more impressed if some established acts stopped using a timer when they wrote songs, and just let their music take them where it needs to go, rather than forcing the music into some pre-determined shape or length.

And that is where we, as the indie songwriters can come in…

We are not held down by record contracts that place pressure on churning out hit after hit. We are not being styled by marketers who are just trying to package us to the “kids”. We are most likely not just doing it for the money and fame. I believe the great majority of us aren’t doing it for any of these reasons.

I believe most of us are doing it just for the beauty of the art itself. We write words that are touching to ourselves, and music that moves our own souls. While we do long for outside acceptance of our work, in the end if it sounds good to us than we’ve done our job. We’ve been true to the music, and respectful to the Muse.

We just write songs that we ourselves want to hear.

And, if it takes 20 minutes, 17 key changes, a couple of time signature shifts, and a verse about dragons… then so be it. ;)

See you next time… send me an email at otteaux@musesmail.com - I’d love to hear from y’all!

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