Cookies, Part One: The lyric (and melody)

Okay. So now that I’ve had my little break, I thought this might be a good opportunity to reflect on the songwriting process at the beginning of writing a song! Wouldn’t that be great, to actually see, in multimedia format, how a song is built from the ground up? I knew you would find it exciting. A word of warning, though, this presentation will have many facets to it, graphics, tool tips, and musical snippets in various formats. For example, in this post you will find links to little mp3 recordings of the melodies being discussed. All of this serves the purpose of illustrating and reflecting on the artistic process that goes into handcrafting a song. That’s, after all, the purpose of this blog. It’s why you’re here, and why I’m here. Why, if I weren’t giving you some bit of knowledge in return for your time reading this, your hard effort burning out your retinas and endangering your reputation at work, someone might think this was just narcissistic rambling, a cheap bit of self-indulgence. Well, they would be mistaken. So, dear friends, for your entertainment and consideration, I offer you a glimpse of insight into one person’s songwriting process.

Tonight we’re going to start on a song which is tentatively titled I’m Cookies For You. The tools we’ll be using are The Complete Rhyming Dictionary, published by Dell, edited by Clement Wood and revised by Ronald Bogus, along with the Oxford American Dictionary/Thesaurus widget that came with my Macintosh.

Work on the song actually began months ago. But it continued earnest this afternoon, when, at the late hour of two o’clock, I was lying in bed in a state of blissful half-sleep. There, in the black recesses of my mind, came swimming the melody for the introduction of the tune, which has been running through my brain for ages now. You may recall from a much earlier post that I came up with this melody and lyric all at once and recorded it into my cassette tape song idea catalog. The lyric ran:

I don’t want to use an old cliché
But my words are somehow getting in the way
la la la la la la la la
la la la la la la la
you’ll forgive this rather base public display…

The “la la’s” here, by the way, are place markers for heretofore unwritten lyrics. Well, I’ve always hated this lyric. It’s living proof that one’s first idea isn’t necessarily the strongest. I hate the second line, for example, because it is, in fact, a cliché. You need more than two hands to count the number of songs that use the words “words get in the way”. Plus, it says nothing. There is no story. There are no characters or settings for the listener to grab onto. But, for lack of anything better, I kept it, knowing that it would someday be crossed out when inspiration hit. Well, lying there this afternoon, inspiration fell on me like a grand piano. The melody for the introduction snaked around and around in my head while I lay there, and all the while an image came persistent and clear across my closed eyelids. Two foppish men in powdered wigs were standing around in a sweets shop. They were dressed in pastel colored frock coats with high collars, lace spilling from their sleeves and pockets. In front of them surrounding the counter were glass cases of cookies and cakes, pastries and truffles, and all the delicious things you might find in an eighteenth century sweets shop. It was a scene that the Retro Police might come and arrest me for, so I tried at first to shut it out of my mind. But it kept coming back. Finally, I went with it. A new lyric came also, in the form of spoken lines by one of the two dandies. They ran:

“I don’t want to use an old cliché”
Said Duke la la to the Prince of la la-lay
“But we’re standing in a candy shop:
A dandy and a randy fop,
And I’ve something sweet I really need to say,

And that is as far as my imagination took me. I like those lyrics so far. The story could be about an Edwardian man confessing his forbidden love to another Edwardian man. So now to fill in the “la la” parts. For the second line, all I need are the names of the Duke and Prince. Well, I can make up anything I want, really, with the sole requirement that the Prince’s name has to end in an “ay” sound in order to conform to the rhyme scheme, which is that of a limerick: a, a, b, b, a. So how about the Duke of Malta to the Prince of Bray? Where the heck is Bray? No, that doesn’t work. I like the Duke of Malta because I heard that in another song once. So I need a one-word, one-syllable place name that has the “ay” sound in it. To the rhyming dictionary! Scanning the many rhyming words with “ay” I see there are many geographical names, many of them French. That’s promising, because the French language seems to be a recurring theme in the IHML so far. The word protégé jumps out at me. What if it’s a duke and his servant, or young charge or something. That’s pretty homoerotic. Okay, so the line could read:

said Duke la la to his strapping protégé

I like that. It’s funny. Kind of Edward Gorey-ish. So what’s the duke’s name? It has to have two syllables. It can be anything really. It would be nice if it had an “a” as in “apple” sound, so as to rhyme with “strapping”, thereby making an internal rhyme. Back to the rhyming dictionary!

Well, I can’t find any proper nouns that rhyme with “strapping”, but I do see the word “chaplain” in my rhyming dictionary. Seeing that, the image in my mind changes. Now, instead of two eighteenth century dandies, I see a chaplain and an altar boy. That’s really homoerotic, and it’s a little taboo. I like the idea that a priest, overcome by temptation, has ducked into a sweet shop with this young man on the sly and is about to commit two of the ultimate transgressions: gluttony and lust. Oo. This is nice because now the story can take place further in the future. It’s more credibly nineteenth century. So how about:

“I don’t want to use an old cliché,”
said the chaplain to his strapping protégé
“But standing in this candy shop,
before a la of lemon drops
I’ve something sweet I really need to say!"

Hmm. This still needs work. Bear with me and we'll polish it up later.