Some swearing…actually, more than some…
Recap – a few years back, while in Toronto for a song writing contest, my cousin Steve Casey and I decided to check out The Songwriters Association of Canada’s “Date with a Tape,” a music critiquing and testicle squashing exercise that has, in the past, left many an ego battered, bruised and writhing on the floor. We decided to enter two songs (against the rules, but oh, were we rebels…) – one under Steve’s name and one under mine. One of the lyrics in the song entered under my name (“Alison”) contained the line “an anger of ardence” – something that Steve had made up because it sang better than “anger so ardent.” Although I didn’t write the lyric, if chosen, I would be the one who would have to explain the apparent neologism. After watching the judges crush the hopes and dreams of the multitude of hapless songwriters surrounding us, I cringed in horror as I realized that “Alison” was heading towards the sacrificial altar and would no doubt be carved up like a Christmas turkey…
The break was now over. “Alison” was being loaded into the tape player. The pink lyric sheet was placed in front of the judges.
“Alison” and her “anger of ardence” were now staring up at them.
I quickly scanned the room looking for an escape.
I was trapped. I turned to Steve.
“Hey I got an idea. How about you say that you’re me when they ask whose song it is?”
He grinned. He either said “relax, it’ll be fine” or “no goddamn way” – I’m not sure which – just as they hit “play” on the tape player.
Everything was funeral home hushed as the brooding strains of “Alison” filled the room.
I will admit that I was pleasantly surprised at how smooth “anger of ardence” sounded. Smooth as a 21 year old shot of Oban scotch.
It was a perfectly fine lyric. Wish I thought of it.
I took a quick look around – no strange looks from the audience; no bizarre reactions from the judges.
Ardence…yep, it’s a good word…fuck yeah…
So far, so good.
At the end of the chorus, they stopped the tape. For a few moments no one spoke.
I could hear my heartbeat in my ears.
Jesus, somebody say something…
At last one of the judges, Ian Thomas (an excellent Canadian singer/songwriter that Steve and I both admired for years) spoke.
“All right – whose song is this?”
The inquiry, although pleasant, still sounded like a teacher demanding to know who just farted during study period. I waited in vain to see if someone else was going to take ownership of the song thereby letting me of the hook.
No takers. Gutless fuckers…
I awkwardly put up my hand and with all the energy of a narcoleptic, I eventually stood up.
Ian smiled – I was immediately reminded of the grinning guy in William Castle’s “Mr. Sardonicus.”
“So this is yours, huh?” he asked. He kinda nodded a bit, then said, “Good verse…pre chorus leads to the chorus nicely…really like the chorus too.” He then stared at me with a crooked grin. “Yeah, that’s how you write a song. Nice job.”
Did I just hear that correctly? Nice job?
It was like I had just deflected a punt to my ‘nads. I nudged Steve and noticed he was beaming.
The next judge (I think he was from EMI Canada…not so sure after all this time) nodded as well. “Yeah, it’s pretty good. I like it too. You know what you’re doing, I’ve got nothing to add.”
Holy shit – just dodged another boot to the balls. Two for two…could we make the sweep?
Next up was the Sony dude.
He waited before he spoke, as if he was gathering his thoughts.
I’m pretty sure he was just yanking me. What a dick …
After what seemed to me to be about half an hour (but was probably closer to five seconds) he said, “You know, I have to agree. I like the verse and the chorus is really catchy.”
After a short paused he added, “The vocal might be a little overwrought, though.”
I exchanged a quick glance with Steve. He sure didn’t seem to be very impressed with that particular assessment. I snickered slightly.
The Sony guy continued. “Good tune, man. Congratulations.”
Even if there wasn’t, I like to believe that there was a polite smattering of applause for the lucky guy who dodged a bullet.
I was feeling pretty chuffed. Fuck yeah…
As I started to take my seat, the guy from Sony suddenly said, “oh – one more thing…”
I stopped moving. Not sure if I should continue to sit or to stand back up I decided to hang there in mid hunch. I looked like I had scoliosis.
“By the way,” Sony dude said. “What’s ardence?”
And there it was – the inevitable, thoroughly expected hoof to the testes.
It was as if I had just scaled the wall at Alcatraz and was about five feet from the boat on the shore when I was suddenly caught in the spotlight.
Son of a bitch…!
I rarely smile so my lame attempt at a grin undoubtedly was more psychotic serial killer than ingratiating.
“Um…ardence?” I began.
Jesus, is it normal for someone to suddenly sweat that fast and that much?
The Sony dude continued his interrogation in his dry, inquisitive tone. “Yeah, ardence. What is that anyway? What does that mean?”
I winced. Now even greater globs of perspiration began to set up camp on my forehead. I glimpsed at Steve. If a countenance could be completely devoid of compassion, I was now looking at the prime example. In fact, I’m pretty sure I could see a trace of a smugness that said “don’t look at me – you’re on your own, buddy…overwrought vocal, my ass…”
Serves me right for snickering…
I turned back to the Sony dude. “Yeah, ardence. Um, it’s like, uh…ardour,” I mumbled.
Instead of just stopping there and leaving everyone with the idea I was a complete dolt, I decided to continue speaking, cementing the impression.
“I thought that, uh, ‘ardent’ was too harsh a word, so I, uh, thought I’d soften it, and use ‘ardence’ instead – you know, the soft ‘s’ sound is, uh, more pleasing to the…uh, palate…”
What the fuck was that drivel? Palate? Palate? What the fuck…?
Goodbye clear thinking…it’s been nice knowing ya…
The only thing that would have made that speech even more ridiculous would be if I was wearing a beanie with a propeller on it.
By the look on his face, I’m fairly certain that at this point he was starting to wonder if I had any hand in writing the lyrics at all and was no doubt wondering if English was even my first language.
“Uh huh…so it’s like passion?” he asked.
“Yeah,” I said, my head bouncing around like a goddamned bobblehead. “Like passion. Exactly.”
“Hmm,” intoned Sony dude. “Okay, but is it even a word?”
My brain, which earlier had apparently decided that discretion was the better part of valour and fucked off at the beginning of the conversation, suddenly reappeared and whirred into overdrive.
Welcome back, brain. Great to see ya…you’re up!
“It…could be a word,” I eventually muttered.
As those inadequate syllables dribbled out, I so wanted to give my brain a fuckin’ wedgie.
The Sony guy leaned forward. “So it’s not a real word then.” He smirked. “You made it up. You basically just made up a word to make it work.”
Hanging my head, I sighed. I thrust out my wrists, moistened palms facing the ceiling as if I was about to be handcuffed and taken away for the fraud I appeared to be.
“Yeah, you got me,” I confessed.
The Sony dude then folded his arms and sat back in his chair like Henry the Eighth after condemning Anne Boleyn’s head to roll.
“Cool,” he laughed. “That’s the whole essence of rock and roll, man.”
Ever had flop sweat? I’d heard about it and always thought it was hyperbole. It’s not. My armpits could have drenched an Amazon rainforest.
I nodded weakly and took my seat.
Man, I’m never doing this shit again.
I’d like to say that after that experience, “Alison” went on to be a smash hit, but alas, it wasn’t so. Soon after that Steve and I kinda drifted away from song writing. I eventually moved on to a fresh hell – writing novels – but every now and then I think about song writing and one day having a hit song. Maybe I’ll get back into it – but only if my balls can take it.