Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Jaded Ibis Has a Different Idea

No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear

In case you haven’t seen, from last year:

From the Forbes introduction to the interview:

“Moving text from paper to screen: there’s the bulk of technology’s effect on mainstream literature so far. If a 21st Century equivalent of the Lost Generation’s Paris exists — a hotpoint where the novel is undergoing radical transformation to reflect its time — it seems to be lost in its own right. Maybe it doesn’t exist on a map, or maybe a site map.

Or maybe it’s Seattle, where Jaded Ibis Productions is developing novels that founder Debra Diblasi calls an “evolution” – hypertext, soundtracks, fake advertisements, crossword puzzles as commentary, editions that cost anywhere from $10 to thousands of dollars. But it was a collaboration between Jaded Ibis and indy music producer Chris Richards that really got me wondering what was going on.

In this wide-ranging email interview, Di Blasi and Richards explain the mashup novel, what’s gone wrong with mainstream publishers and record producers and why the wealthy aren’t carrying their aesthetic weight anymore.”

And now that it's 2012, you can see for yourself what they’re doing:

One of the things that intrigues me is that they ask musicians make songs to go along with their books.

In a time many people are saying is empty of new ideas, this is certainly a new idea.

So, since it appears I’m not writing poetry these days, Debra let me do a song for one of their books. It was a lot of fun.

No One Told Me I Was Going to Disappear

And then, because I was interested in doing another, I did one just for fun from Your Father on the Train of Ghosts. Don’t tell G.C., whatever you do.

Your Father’s on the Train of Ghosts

Tricky work. I had to hit PLAY with my pinky so I wouldn't drop the pick.

I like this idea of books of poetry becoming these other things. Videos. Songs. Visual art. We should do a panel on it at AWP next year.


At 3/21/2012 12:49 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I really like that first track. Are you playing all of the instruments? Are some digital?

Myself, I've never been able to translate poetry to song and vice versa. I always feel like they have different goals (have you ever noticed how flat many lyrics feel with the music removed? or watched the grace of the phrasing on the page get contorted to a measure?).

At 3/21/2012 1:08 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I really like how the new recording software lets you combine midi and audio tracks. So yes, I play the guitars (Two electrics and an acoustic on this one) and program the rest.

The drums, I assemble from various WAV file loops that are from a live player, though, so they have a better sound than midi, I think. I never like what I come up with when I program drums.

It's true. A band like Radiohead is a great example. The songs are usually pretty excellent, but the lyrics by themselves are often much less so.

At 3/22/2012 6:47 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

How do you tend to write lyrics, John? Before, during, or after the music? All three? Many songs I like approximate a basic prosody I can work with. P. Floyd's "Cymbaline," for example, is basically a ballad stanza; B. S.'s "Behind the Wall of Sleep" is basically a trochaic chant like double double toil & trouble. I can just write a poem with that design and then mess with singing it to some chord progression until it sounds good to me. Or I can play something like "I Shall Be Free" and make up my own dumb lyrics as I go along. Do you do things like that? I haven't seen any posts about how you write lyrics.

At 3/22/2012 11:11 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Hey, thanks for asking. I’ve never been much for posting my own work or talking much about how I write on this blog. But, for whatever reason, something broke in me this winter. I just woke up one day with absolutely no desire to write a poem. Maybe it had something to do with getting sick or something to do with going to my 15th or so AWP . . . . This is kind of the way I felt when G.C. and I started writing poems back and forth a few years ago. I just need something new, I guess.

But that’s not really about your question. So, as a regular answer. I write lyrics about the way I do most things, which is, I just kind of wing it. The fantasy of songwriting I have stuck in my mind is the one of Lennon and McCartney sitting at a piano together writing a song, coming up with everything at the same time.

On the other hand, I’m amazed by Jay Farrar (and many others) who can take existing text from someone else and make it into a song that sounds natural. I can’t do that. At least not well. Maybe that’s why I want to makes songs from books right now. Yesterday and today I did one for/from Heather Christle’s What Is Amazing. It’s a good book, and I really like the title. So I just kind of placed it there over the piano and decided to fumble around in Em and make up things. None of the lyrics of the song come directly from the book, but they wander through the landscape a bit.

Not really an answer, but it’s a Thursday, you know?

At 3/22/2012 11:18 AM, Blogger underbelly said...

When I was in a band I didn't sing, but tried writing songs a few times. I though of myself a smartypants literary guy in a dumber-than-paint garage band. It shouldn't have been a challenge.

But it became immediately clear I was writing for an instrument I didn't understand. A human singer has qualities I'm not used to considering. Like, they have to breathe. Who knew? Our singer didn't much like singing my songs.


At 3/22/2012 12:03 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

You're supposed to sacrifice for your art, I hear. But breathing is a pretty big sacrifice.

At 3/22/2012 4:02 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

"The fantasy of songwriting I have stuck in my mind is the one of Lennon and McCartney sitting at a piano together writing a song, coming up with everything at the same time."

Yeah, and Lennon and McCartney are fascinating when they talk about songwriting. One of my favorite coffee table books is The Beatles' Illustrated Lyrics, edited by Alan Aldridge. Each page juxtaposes lyrics with very imaginative, very colorful illustrations--I mean wacko Peter Maxx-like stuff--and quotations from the Beatles about how the songs happened.

"[Because]is about me and Yoko in the early days. Yoko was playing some Beethoven chords and I said play them backwards. It's really Moonlight Sonata backwards."-John

"I was just thinking of nice words like Sergeant Pepper and Lonely Hearts Club, and they came together for no reason..."-Paul

"John has this old poster that says right at the top, 'Pablo Fanques Fair presents the Hendersons For the Benefit of Mr Kite' and it has all the bits that sound strange: 'The Hendersons'-you couldn't make that up."-Paul

"I often sit at the piano, working at songs, with the telly on low in the background...[T]he words on the telly come through. That's when I heard Good Morning, Good was a Corn Flakes advertisement."-John

I think this book is a better intro to writing poetry--or to making art in general--than many intros I've seen.

At 3/23/2012 7:50 AM, Blogger underbelly said...

Interesting, David. A friend of mine was once flat out dismissive of McCartney, and as an example mentioned Sir Paul's having used "scrambled eggs" as the working working lyric in "yesterday." I never understood the criticism. Is a song / idea / anything supposed to emerge fully formed, as from the head of Zeuss?

Over the years my prejudices have shifted in the opposite direction. I like it when artist's start out without knowing where they're going. I like it when they're surprised by what they find.

Rather than wishing that Paul had figured out Yesterday in advance, I might have encouraged him to keep going with scrambled eggs.


At 3/23/2012 8:14 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

That's pretty faulty criticism right there, judging the final product by some prior stage of work-in-progress.

Using nonsense stand-in phrases like scrambled eggs is pretty common. I remember reading about Mudhoney's "If I Think" and they had the whole song written, but were using a phrase like "goat cheese" in the chorus. One day, while standing in line to get ice cream, Steve Turner, trying to decide what flavor to get, uttered the phrase "If I Think."

At 3/23/2012 8:54 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

David! A poetry tie-in! Excellent. I agree, that would be a better poetry intro than most (all?) I've seen. A lot still needs to be written about the influence of rock songwriters on the generation(s) of writers who have followed them.

And, Paul, I'll go WAY out on a limb and say that if McCartney HAD come up with "Yesterday" before writing the music, then he would have gotten too big with it, and messed the whole thing up. He tends to go too big when he's thinking he's making a statement. I'm not a fan of most things he's done since 1970. I did like "Junior's Farm," though. And "Band on the Run."

At 3/23/2012 9:01 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...


Absolutely. I wish that songwriters were interviewed in the way that writers are often interviewed, as if they were artists. Most things I hear from songwriters is low-level gossip and entertainment stuff. The most difficult thing I've heard of with using glossolalia to write is that once you get the one phrase, matching the phrasing is difficult, especially if it's a verse and you have to "match" it several times. In formal poetry one doesn't have to match as precisely as one does to match a musical line. If one is interested in matching musical lines, that is.

Stop Making Sense, as David Byrne had it twenty-something years ago. And then he went on to make a lot of sense with it.

At 3/23/2012 11:47 AM, Blogger David Grove said...

Scrambled eggs
And a demitasse of coffee dregs
When I wake I'm wobbly on my pegs
So I must eat
Some scrambled eggs

At 3/23/2012 3:41 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Hayden Carruth, for instance, would have stayed with the scrambled eggs. Maybe that's the difference between poetry and song lyrics.

At 3/24/2012 1:50 PM, Blogger underbelly said...

"I'll go WAY out on a limb and say that if McCartney HAD come up with "Yesterday" before writing the music, then he would have gotten too big with it, and messed the whole thing up"

John, I don't think you're out on a limb. McCartney's blind spots are as big as his genius. It's been a cliche for a long time, but he really did seem to depend on Lenon's yang to keep his yin from getting ugly. And vice versa.

At 3/24/2012 4:31 PM, Blogger David Grove said...

Martin Amis is right: Paul is to John as Donovan is to Dylan.


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