(Note February 19, 2012: I can’t remember why I pulled this off the site after I posted it back in August. But now I want to share this because, along with the post that includes the studio recording of “Change,” it really demonstrates the arc of the creative and collaborative process. The one thing we don’t capture until the studio session is the contribution of Carolina, who adds such a rich layer to the whole thing. We also lost Jeramie, who was the first hip-hop artist to join us. His phone went dead and I never heard from him after meeting twice. An undergraduate at SU, Kenny, wrote the final hip-hop lyrics, and performed in our first show. He then left and then, finally, Earle showed up, who is still with us now. He didn’t change Kenny’s lyrics, but his flow is the right one for the song.)
What I’ve not yet written about at all is the sheer joy I’ve been experiencing through the early, creative collaboration that’s been happening this summer –primarily between myself, Tim Eatman, and Danan Tsan. Tim is a colleague from Imagining America, where I work at Syracuse U. He grew up learning to play piano in the Baptist Church where he worshiped in Harlem. I told him about the DFR and discovered that he had been longing to bring music back into his life — one that is happily filled with family and a professional passion… but filled nonetheless!
Danan is a woman who my wife met through a Holistic Mom’s group in Syracuse. Like Tim and myself, Danan is a spouse and a parent of two kids. And like us, she is elbowing and pushing her way back toward her own artistic and expressive identity. Actually, Danan is much further along than Tim and me. She’s a working actress and singer, albeit part-time. She writes and sings ska and jazz, sings opera and musical theater, plays guitar… A very talented and generous person. When I first got the idea for the DFR, back in February, I hadn’t yet met Danan but I also didn’t know any other performing artists in Syracuse. She was the very first person I wrote to about the project, and she immediately agreed to jump on board. And even though it would be almost 5 months until we finally met — with Tim — on my back porch, it has been a very fruitful and easy collaboration.
Since that first July 4 weekend meeting, Danan, Tim, and I have only met a total of four times, including yesterday (8/26/11). Our work together actually began with me alone, in my basement after the family was soundly asleep. I took out my Mac, opened Garage Band, and tried to sing what was in my head. (I don’t play an instrument.) The first song I recorded “Move A Little” was recorded over the course of a week and saw me attempting, like, a 6 or 7 part harmonic wall of sound. Anyway, I shyly shared my files with Danan and Tim through an online file sharing program, and the two of them tried to transform my croaking into something resembling music.
The song I’m sharing here, “Change,” is what we’ve been working on most intensely and what we plan to share at our organizational meetings next week. I originally had an idea to write a “Man in the Mirror” type pop-gospel song that would end the performance. Through it, I wanted to inspire the audience by challenging the kind of standard refrain, “change is gonna’ come,” or “if we just have faith, it will all be ok.” These are typically written as messages of hope. I wanted to challenge the idea that we need to keep waiting, that “something better’s just around the bend” and that if we just keep our “hope” and “faith,” it would all work out in the end. I wanted to say, “No. Look around! Look what’s happening. Look at our neighborhoods. Look at the gap between rich and poor. We can’t wait to effect the changes that need to happen in this society and in this world. Change is now! Change has to be now…”
So one day, when Aimee and the kids had left early for a planned weekend out of town, I rushed home from lunch, after having been up until one or two in the morning the night before trying to work on “Move.” I was feeling rough, and my voice was kaputz, but I was leaving town and felt I needed to get Tim some music before I left. (There are three songs int he show. Danan agreed to work on the opening, ”Price of Freedom.” A kind of ska thing. And Tim said he would take “Change.” (“Move,” the most complicated of the three, finally went to a Craigslist respondent, who agreed to arrange and notate it from listening to my Garage Band tracks. I’ve only connected with him by phone and email and hope to meet him one of these days…)
So what follows is, I suppose, a midstream progress report. From my Garage Band “demo,” to one of our early cracks at it, to yesterday’s rehearsal.
1. Here’s is the first stab by yours truly, my mortification mitigated only by the fact that I know that, including me, I think there are exactly… one person reading this:
So that sucked. Whatever. What I knew — and continue to be reminded — that I had to do with this project if was going to succeed was totally swallow my ego. The only thing that matters is the project and the message. If, to keep the process moving I have to throw my shiznit out there, half-baked, at the risk of looking foolish, so be it. If I have to share lyrics that I know aren’t there yet and are going to come off corny, so be it. Everything is in service to the project.
I also learned a long time ago that if in my collaborative work I am willing to throw it out there, if I am willing to laugh at myself and look silly, that it gives permission for others to throw it out there and to feel confident to explore and experiment. It’s the only way to move forward.
2. The next rehearsal was at Danan’s. In the true spirit of community-based workflow, all three of us had our kids with us (minus my infant) so it was a bit chaotic. Danan was out of commission for a good part of the morning dealing with one of her children, who was understandably overwhelmed with two new adults and three new kids in her space. At any rate, you can hear the great musicality Tim brings to the table:
Change 1 at Danans w Kids
3. The next rehearsal was at Tim’s. Besides being about the two maturest and poised young ladies I’ve ever met, Tim’s girls are teens so no need to “deal” as Danan and I often have to do when our kids are in the mix. On the other hand, Tim has a yelpy little ratdog, who likes to sing, too… Also joining us here is Jeramie, a student at Onondaga Community College, and a Syracuse native introduced to me through one of his professors. Jeramie has experienced more than a fair share of obstacles and hard knocks in his young life, but he finds in music and art a salvation for himself. He joined us on August 5, and we gave him a crash course in what we were trying to accomplish with this democracy project. I was aware that this kind of performance art was probably completely foreign to him, but he gamely stuck through a lot of talk and a lot of me, Danan, and Tim figuring out the song structure. Finally, at about the 4:30 mark on this recording, I finally hear in what Tim’s playing the place where the hip-hop verse comes in. Though you won’t be able to make out the lyrics here, Jeramie just jumps up on cue and starts improvising something. It was really amazing, taking the whole energy in the room up a notch. When Danan and I heard Tim start to transitioning back to the chorus, it was like we were both just licking our chops waiting to nail that first “change” back in. And we did, to the point of overwhelming the poor iPad’s microphone (the only thing we’ve been using to record, which is why everything sounds so blown out). For me, that stretch from where Jeramie enters, through to the end of the song, continues to be the most exciting moment of the project to date. It was just that click click of everything coming together in such a beautiful way that just made me feel humbled to have so many great people coming aboard this thing… Here it is:
Change 2 at Tims w Dog
4. Three days later (August 8), Tim went to South Africa on business and we didn’t get together again to work on “Change” until yesterday, August 26. I spent the intervening weeks just dealing administratively, trying to figure out how to get people to sing with us and play with us so that we’d have performers. On the night of the 25th, I finally sat down, a bit terrified, realizing that I really had to write the actual lyrics for the song before seeing everyone. I had been procrastinating because while I knew what I wanted to say, I didn’t know how to say. But I stayed up all night — much like I’m doing right now — to get the job done. Nothing like a little sleep deprivation to get the old creative juices flowing.
Jeramie’s phone had been disconnected and I lost him for a few days. He called Friday afternoon but too late to rehearse. So while this version is structurally much closer to where think we’re headed, for me it lacks the punch of the previous just because I think that hip-hop chorus is so powerful and, lyrically, is the flat-out refusal to accept the “change is gonna come” message. Rather, it says, we’re going out to go make that change (yes, I know, Man in the Mirror). The lyrics are below the link — although some of them are different from what you’ll hear. I realized in the rehearsal a few things I didn’t like so much. What I loved was finally getting Danan a space for a (too short) solo. The register is probably a tad low for her, but she has a sweet voice that sounds great here. And both she and Tim are great at ripping off terrific harmonies — something for which I always have tremendous awe and jealousy!
The next time we’ll sing it is in public for the people I hope will show up next week for the information/recruitment meetings…
Change 3 at Tims no rapper
August 26 2011
Change. Change is gonna come.
It will soon be here. But it’s a long road.
Change. Chase away your fear.
Change is oh so near. Keep your hope and faith.
I seem to keep on rambling on but they took my self direction
Where will you go?
The messages they’re beamin’ at me feed my disaffection.
Frustration is killin’ me. I need to be free.
Then the people stop (full stop). And they cool my brow while they say….
This feeling we’ve got to be free is in need of no correction
No no no
And you reveal your truth in your strenuous objections
So you need to stop right there. You need to become aware.
I said you need to stop (full rest), ‘cause it’s time that we had our say…
Change is gonna come…
Change is now!
Change will soon be here…
Change is here!
Chase away your fear…
Fear of fear!
Keep your hope and faith…
…We will keep hope and faith
We will keep our hope and faith
We will keep our hope and faith
Cannot wait for….
Only waits for us
Though it may sound fatuous
Be the change you want
Flip the script you’ve honed
Trip to the unknown
See what you make
Dream the world you wish to see.
Be the citizens you seek.
You are free.
Keep your hope and faith!
Closing Stomp (Exit Procession):
I’m walking with my hope and faith
I’m moving with my hope and faith
Uplifting with my hope and faith
Make a difference with my hope and faith
Connecting with my hope and faith
Loving people with my hope and faith
Step up with your hope and faith
Participate with my hope and faith
Nurture with my hope and faith
Etc. etc. etc.