Monthly Archives: October 2010
(Listen to the song “Sunny Day in November” HERE)
When I write lyrics and/or music, most often the right words seem to just “show up,” as if they’re being channelled from some other place. When that happens, I let it flow as best I can and capture as much as possible, be it with pen, computer, guitar or even just humming (or singing) an idea or two into a handheld analog recorder. The great majority of times, I leave that process with the infrastructure of a full song, including lyrics and melody. There will be re-writes and arrangement tinkering, but quite often I’ll have the whole thing come to me all in one shot. “Bagley Avenue,” “Song for Sean,” “Kevin’s Prayer,” “Awake But Not Alive” and “Everything’s Just Fine” from my No Schedule Man CD are good examples. They all just appeared to me out of the blue and are pretty much the same songs now as the day I first wrote them.
Rarely, I’ll find a song come together in bits and pieces over a period of time. Rarer still is a song surviving that process and holding its weight without coming off sounding contrived or as if I were trying to write it.
“Sunny Day in November” is such a tune. And this is the story of how it went from its initial inspiration to a complete recorded song on the No Schedule Man CD.
To set the initial scene, I’ll first re-print the passage I wrote about the song that appears in CD liner notes:
In the fall of 2008, London was hit by a snowstorm prior to Hallowe’en. The leaves had not yet fallen, and the weight of the snow took down many trees; an unsightly and unfortunate blow to the “forest” city. Little more than a week later, I found myself at Victoria Park in downtown London on a brilliant, sunny day. Holiday decorations had already been erected in the park, while evidence of the earlier storm was obvious by way of sheered branches on many of the colourful trees. Decked out in a shirt and tie, I ate lunch in the sun that November day; witness to a strange and brilliant collision of circumstances that I knew would turn into a song.
It was an odd feeling that day. I experienced an intense feeling of not wanting to leave that particular moment. I can’t recall many other times in my life like it. I clearly remember thinking, “this has to be a song.” I even “tried” thinking of some lyric lines, to no avail. I was almost disappointed in myself that I could be in an environment so rich with visual poetry and yet still not have any song lyrics come to mind.
So I did all I could. I soaked in as much as I could and then went back to my car and wrote down all the observations I could muster. I jotted as many recollections as I could.
For weeks, nothing happened with it, though I refused to let go of the idea of the song. Then one day I was noodling around with my acoustic guitar and some pre-programmed drum tracks when I started playing a jangly little guitar line that was (and is) nothing more than a C major chord with a little bit of finger play on the D string. I liked how it sounded and felt almost right away that I’d found the musical melody for the song.
But still no words.
More weeks passed and I kept going back to that guitar line until I had the whole song mapped out with only a couple of place-holding lyric lines. One of those early phrases I would sing was “Sunny Day in November” which I liked because of the number of syllables and the natural rhythm they had to go along with the music. The trouble was I knew I’d then have to come up with another multi-syllable phrase ending with something that sounded like “ember” in order to mirror the original phrase.
I was stuck on that for a while. I first hoped that I’d come up with something I liked better than the phrase that ultimately turned out to be the title of the song. I fought myself about that for some time. I didn’t want to draw parallels to the Lighthouse hit “Sunny Days” and I also thought it was a bit of a clunky turn of phrase. And yet I still liked it.
So I waited for the rest of the song to come.
Ultimately, it was one word that opened the lyrical floodgates: surrender. Granted, if you want to get into a rhyming war, “ender” and “ember” are indeed different. But the thought of surrender intrigued me greatly and added another more meaningful level (for me) to the idea of the song.
The feeling of that November day in Victoria Park came back to me quite vividly. I thought of the warmth, the colour, the light, and how they all seemed to be coming together in one last defiant stance against the colourless cold of the oncoming winter.
I thought: here is a light that won’t surrender to the darkness, no matter how unlikely the odds.
After that, I knew I had my song. I was off to the races, and wrote out the rest of the lyrics in a matter of minutes.
Many artists do not believe in interpreting their own work. Or they do not feel that they should. Fair enough. But for me, it’s a big part of the fun. So I’m going to do it right now with the lyrics to the song. First, I’ll put the song lyrics in italics and then my thoughts on the lines, for anyone that cares to know (and if you don’t care to know … why exactly are you still reading?).
Here we go:
“Sunny Day In November”
All the ghosts have left the stage
Hallowe’en, and all the capitalistic retail-driven madness that surrounds it, has come and gone. It’s a momentary lull before the next hysteria – the Christmas rush – sets in.
Curtain call, now’s the time if you’ve got anything to say
After you’ve seen a really great show, you’ll get one last chance to show your appreciation for the performers when they come out for a curtain call. Or you can “call” a band back out for an encore. But if you like what you saw, you better applaud and soak in every last moment, because the show’s almost over. In the context of this song, you could say that the “show” was summer, and the implied freedom, light and vibrancy that goes with it. Time to give your one last round of applause before the house lights go up.
Summer’s touch slips away
Re-affirming the line before, and insinuating that something comforting has just eluded your grasp as you get set to go into a darker, colder circumstance
But for one more day, this one last day
Here’s your encore, kids. Soak it in. Lyrically, I’m not thrilled about repeating the word “day” so quickly, especially when that word is in the title of the song (and thereby coming up in the chorus). I even thought about cutting out the last part (“this one last day”) and letting the music carry the song into the chorus. Ultimately I decided that “one more” and “one last” were two very different things and it was worth making the point. In other words, you can have one more, but if it’s your last, you’ll think about it and maybe savour it a little longer.
So for all those days when the rain comes down we’ll dream of a Sunny Day in November
I struggled with this line and I’m still not sure how much I like it. I wanted to say “snow” more than “rain” but I didn’t like how it sounded. Also, I thought about it for a while and decided that rain is just as depressing – if not moreso – than snow. It’s debateable, but you can bundle up for a snowfall and feel warm and cozy almost right away after your return home. But if you’re out in a cold, rainy day, you’re going to feel soaked through and chilled to the skin and it’ll take you a while to recover. Much more depressing, I feel.
All the days are coming now, we’ll dream of a sun that won’t surrender
Winter is dreary. Daylight is in short supply. The season plays out in a series of mid tones without much colour (other than pre-manufactured holiday lights). At this point, the singer is acknowledging those late January/early February days that are still far too short and far too cold and yet still seem too far away from a return to the sun’s warmth and sustained embrace.
Shadows lurk, colours fade. Life will spin around us just the same
This line, to me, is ominous and unforgiving. It says that even as your lights are going out and things are almost at an end for you, the cruel reality is that the world will keep on turning without you. I think all of us feel this tug when we pass one of life’s mile markers. Maybe that’s why so many people are so stoic when they finally reach their end: they’ve come to grips with the inevitable truth that impermanence is a fundamental fact of life.
Does this sunny day in November shine in vain?
Now here’s a line that probably means a lot more to me than anyone else. This one phrase, in my opinion, asks a very important question in a metaphorical way. On the surface, it’s saying, “Hey, November! What’re you doing? Winter’s coming no matter why you do, dig? So why bother?” But to me, the line prompts other questions of a similar nature. For instance: when you know you’re going to lose and yet you still give every effort anyway, is your effort in vain? And is what we perceive as “losing” really a loss? Volumes have been written about those two questions alone.
A chorus grand, a season sings
Back to the good stuff now to start the second verse. To me, a “chorus” is a group of voices coming together to make a beautiful sound. The voices in the setting I was in that day were the colours, the vibrancy, the people out and about visiting, picnicking, jogging, playing guitar, bicycling. It was a chorus of soul that, to me, made the autumn sing in a way I don’t know that I’ve ever experienced. It was grand. Really a special thing to be a part of.
In sharp relief to all the monotone the coming winter brings
Everything I just described was all the more sweet knowing way lay ahead. For instance, when you have so much vibrancy in June for instance, you maybe take it a little bit for granted because you expect at least two or three months of the same thing to follow. Also, you don’t get the colour of the trees and the juxtaposition of being on Christmas’ doorstep when summer starts. I guess you could say the awareness of good fortune was heightened that day, perhaps because the spectre of impermanence loomed closer at hand.
The numbing chill, the early dark
I’m setting up the next line here. Numb, chill, dark: these are hard words. Scary even. But I’m saying that, like it or not, this is what’s coming.
Being held at bay, this one last day
So here’s your hero. This last glorious day is holding off those dark things I just mentioned, bestowing upon you a feeling of safety and fulfillment at least for the time being.
Which brings us back to the chorus and the whole point of the song: is there a point to shining in the face of certain defeat? Does this sunny day in November shine in vain?
Something else I’m very proud of with this song is the sonic quality of it. I really must tip my had to my great-good pal Kevin Gorman, who co-produced this track and layered his piano with the Hammond organ that gives me goose bumps when I hear it.
Recalling that idea of a light that won’t surrender to the darkness, no matter how unlikely the odds, I sometimes get emotional when I hear the passage in the solo when KG slides up the keys of the Hammond organ in a triumphant glissando that lands in a solid chord structure and continues on. That, to me, is an example of the music sounding how the song is supposed to feel. I don’t mind admitting to you that when the mood is right, if I am listening to that song at top volume, I want to put my fist in the air at that point in the song. I love it. I hope one day to be able to perform it with a full band with Kevin on the Hammond Organ, the full drum kit pounding home the defiance of that one day that I treasured so much and knew would turn into a song.
Which it did, eventually.
And now that you know the story behind “Sunny Day in November,” I’m offering it to you to download for FREE until the beginning of December. Just click HERE to download your copy and feel free to let me know what you think. All feedback is welcome.
Oh, and by the way: that question? Does this sunny day in November shine in vain?
Shining is never in vain.
Listen to “Sunny Day in November” by CLICKING HERE.