Thursday, January 26, 2012

music no one else can hear: history of a song

It started back in high school with a stray comment from a friend. Melinda was listening to my Walkman (I believe it was a tape I had made of Dave Edmunds’s album, D. E. 7th. She paused at one point and said she’d better stop dancing to music no one else can hear. That phrase, “music no one can hear” struck me as a great song title. Then, as now, my songwriting usually started with a phrase that I thought was catchy. That night I wrote a song with that title. I thought it was great. I know it was crap. I can’t remember any of the words (except the title), and I don’t want to. That was in 1982 or 1983.

Fast forward to 1988. I was a grad student at the University of Michigan, dating Anne. I spent the summer in New York. Missing her, I picked up my guitar and tried to write a song. By this time I knew that the song I had originally written was garbage, and decided to recycle the title. I had been listening to a lot of Air Supply, and wrote a verse to the tune of their song, "All Out of Love," which begins:
I'm lying alone
With my head on the phone
Thinking of you 'til it hurts.
I know you hurt too
But what else can we do,
Tormented and torn apart?
For those unfamiliar, here's the video:

My verse went:
I'm lying in bed
With you in my head
Wondering where you are now.
Tell me, can it be?
Are you thinking of me
Even though I'm not around?
A chorus followed. Here the melody departed from the Air Supply song. It went:
Your song is with me wherever I am
Even when you're not here.
And all around me there's music,
Music no one else can hear.
More verses followed, but I was never as pleased with them as I was with that first verse or the chorus. I don’t remember them though I wish I did.

A few years later, a work buddy, Matthew, invited me over to his house to work on some songwriting. He and his wife were, like me, amateur songwriters with day jobs. We spent New Year’s Eve 1992 hanging out, talking music, and working on some songs. One of the things we did was revisit the song I wrote in 1988. We created a chorus by combining the first verse and chorus, with a few minor word changes (e.g., we removed the words “tell me” from the third line). We wrote a couple of verses and a bridge that together turned it into a story song about a broken marriage. We also completely reworked the melody. So I entered 1993 with a new song, and promptly did nothing with it.

About ten years later, married and with one child, I went camping with my family and a couple – Scott and Miriam -- we were friendly with. I should point out here that Scott is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist and singer, and a PhD in musicology. He and I both brought guitars on that camping trip and spent a lot of time playing songs for each other. He enjoyed “Music No One Else Can Hear,” and so we played it over and over again until he knew it inside and out, frontwards, backwards, and in Texas. Ultimately, he and his brothers wanted to record it on an album they were doing.

That was great news for me, except for the fact that I had never registered the copyright. If it was going to be out in the world on a CD, even if by three unknown brothers selling it on CDBaby, I really wanted to have the copyright registered. This was complicated by the fact that Matthew and I had fallen out of touch and he had moved. In order to register the copyright in both of our names I needed his information. I also wanted to get his blessing before registering it and letting Scott and his brothers record it. Ultimately, I found Matthew and got his information and blessing. He had an, at best, vague recollection of writing the song with me, and seemed amused by this unexpected turn of events.

So, “Music No One Else Can Hear” was the first (of three, to date) copyrights I registered. The Milner Brothers recorded it on their album, Haven’t Lost a Thing, which was enough for me to get into ASCAP. I really should get around to registering the song within ASCAP. Just in case, on some off chance, a radio station in Montana (home to Scott and his brothers) plays the song, I'll get my half a penny of royalties. Scott still plays the song during his shows sometimes. Following is a video of him performing it at a fundraiser in Missoula (be warned, the video is dark and of poor quality):

Scott is singing and playing guitar, accompanied by Edie Smith (vocals) and William Haffey (clarinet). The arrangement differs greatly from the album version which features guitars and a bass as the only instruments. The clarinet makes it sound almost klezmer, even though I think of it as a country song.

Oh, and another musician friend has expressed interest in recording his own version. I’m not holding my breath, but I am crossing my fingers.

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