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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

236. "When I Grow Up" by Garbage


Oh, I forgot to mention that there is one manner in which I intend to preserve randomness in the Lightning Round: the cover images. I'm basically doing a google image search on the song title and selecting the first image that (A) does not relate to the actual song in question, and (B) is big enough to look okay in a square on the blog. In this case, well, I guess the Pussycat Dolls did a song with the same title as this one. Live and learn. Learn dumb shit, but still.

In any case, I created this arrangement of this song a long time ago, and I can't quite remember why. It was very early in my singing days. To be clear on that, I started playing guitar and performing in bands around the time I was 16, and I have always sung backup, but almost never sang lead. Various people at various times basically told me my voice sucked, and what I heard when I put a half-ass effort into trying it seemed to confirm that. There's also the fact that the person to whom I was basically married for 12 years, probably the 12 years of my life when I was most likely to amount to anything in rock and roll, was awfully adamant about my inability to sing, which was a bit of a barrier.

There was a period after my last ill-advised band ran aground in the mid-'90s (due, ironically, to the same person's spectacular failings as a rock and roll singer and frontperson) when I didn't do much with music at all, but at some point I made a halting start at being able to play and sing at the same time (for the duration of a song, that is, not the here-and-there of harmony singing, which was never that tough for me). I don't remember the specifics, but it came in two stages, and it was during the first one that I had the idea to take this song and recast it as boisterous folk-revival arrangement somewhat akin to (once again) The Kingston Trio's version of "When the Saints Go Marching In" (which I think may have been borrowed from the Weavers anyway) and probably a few other such "clever" recastings. There would follow a period when I went into a recording collaboration that put me off singing again, and then Miranda was born, inspiring me to start singing and playing for her. I'm much clearer on the tunes I learned then, because I played them for her over and over again; some of them have cropped up on 39-40 already ("What Goes On", and in a few amendments to my assigned songs, most recently the entirety of "Bye Bye Pride" tacked onto the tail of "Needle-in-a-Haystack Girls"). That would've been 2001, and was also the commencement of a period of songwriting and just-for-the-hell-of-it demo recording which led directly to the formation of Skates & Rays-- in the attempt to recruit Derek, the drummer from that last bad band, into the recording project, I gave him a disc of the demos and suggested working on those instead, insisting that I sing them, and so I learned at rather an advanced age to do the kind of stuff I do now. There's way more to that story, some of it incredibly anguished, but I gotta go bash out another dozen or so of these tunes, so, like, bye.

Personnel: Rex


  1. i've always thought (not unlike gusteau's motto: anyone can cook) that anyone can sing or dance. i've taken my share of the toxic and abusive criticism you describe (on both counts). certainly, in a landscape where zimmermans and vliets can achieve acclaim and even success, such criticism doesn't hold water; and yet, the words can hurt us and hold us back, regardless of how we attempt to rationalize them away. i, for one, am glad that didn't cut your tongue out. you truly have turned the tables!

  2. The thing about singing is that some people can do it well (or fairly so) right away, while other people, they got to work. But practice can really improve one's singing, particularly if you get good advice on what to do (and not to do) from someone who knows what they're talking about. The most discouraging thing for me when I started recording my own stuff was how lousy my first-take vocals sounded to me. Part of that was that I hadn't sung much for a while, and part was I'd never listened much to my own recorded vocals - but a lot was just learning how to avoid certain things and improve them.

  3. The deal with the surprise about how your recorded voice-- which is really the one everybody else has heard emitting from your mouth for your whole life-- really does stump people, but if you're recording (as I have recently) a bunch of 8-year-olds who are experiencing that for the first time. throwing just a little reverb on their voices, or anything that makes it sound a little more like the vocals on a record, really helps. This is related to how many people buy a shitty guitar and shittier amp and try to learn to play and give up because it sounds like shit, when actually it would sound like shit if anyone played it... and even that can be helped by having someone with experience set your knobs for you, no euphemism intended.

    But for me the great freeing factor, aside from the shocking support of my S&R bandmates, was just damn doing it lots and trying stupid stuff to find out what types of things I could do and moreover what kind of singing personality I could develop from song to song (and like a lot of people I developed four or five of them, which I can deploy depending on the tone or range of any given song). Of course I write most of my own material, so that became pretty easy after a while. One intended challege of 39-40 was to take away my comfort zone of picking my own material, to see how I responded to stuff I wouldn't necessarily think to sing on my own, and maybe develop a few new tricks. And I have. With most songs I've done, I could write at least a few paragraphs about the things I tried (not always successfully) and why, and what small influences led me to sing certain lines certain ways, but I really have tried, for the sake of my sanity and that of others, to keep the "writing" component of the blog to a pithy (by my standards) minimum. I did consider journaling the whole thing as the basis for a memoir of sorts, but it would have been way more work than it already is (which can be a fair bit) and nobody would much care... that might've been different if I'd reached a wider audience, but I didn't, so I don't feel too bad about cutting myself that wee bit of slack.