Alternative MedicineYou can download a PDF of the guitar tab or musical score.
You can download a recording of the song in mp3 here.
BackgroundAlternative Medicine had a relatively brief period of development, though it had to break out of a few weeks of writer's block to reach its completed form.
In early March, 2008, I fiddled around and came up with a cute melodic figure that seemed to owe a nod to Stephen Foster's Beautiful Dreamer. I did two quick sketch recordings (take 1, take 2) on March 9th under the working title of "Keith Partridge", as I was also imagining it with a horn figure heard in a Partridge Family song called "Brown Eyes".
The two sketches show the early evolution, with the second including a finger-picked arpeggiated bit which was to remain the backbone of the song and also a hummed suggestion of the horn part I was thinking of adding. However, the melody does not really flow in a distinctive way. More thought was required, and clearly more parts would have to be added to have anything close to a full song. The lyrics started out, "I used to think...", as the melody really seemed to want this sound. The words supplying it, however, needed further inspiration. As soon as these first sketches were done, I hit upon an idea.
I decided that it would be far more interesting to have this song be about some encounter between a guy and a psychiatrist. When next I got productive with this, the melodic figure was suddenly really powerful, and a very powerful suggestion of angst and taboo in a verse that now read, "I ask my shrink if I can come over for awhile to have a drink. We wouldn't have to talk or even think about last night when we were indiscreet." Wow. What would come with this, I had no idea, but I knew I already had a great 45 second song I'd be proud to trot out in any venue. Its working title was now I Ask My Shrink as I recorded it on April 17th.
I finally got my mind in a state where I was ready to make some choices about this song. "I Ask My Shrink" had demonstrated a rather unimaginative but sufficient chordal counterstatement to the jazzy verse, and if the prose could come up to speed, I now had a song. But I had to carve something in stone, and this was a bittersweet issue for me. I wanted to keep it demure and abstract, ala "Norwegian Wood", but it was easier to get specific and titillate the ear.
Songwriter's DilemmaI have several songs which paint me as a comedic songwriter. I love them, but sometimes worry that it is difficult to roll out a serious or sad song after such songs. If I could leave the nature of the misbehavior between the doctor and patient, I'd engage the imagination of the listener better. The specifics would be their own task to fill in, much as I felt I'd managed with the family collapse illustrated in "Excused".
Some ideas I had in this direction would be that perhaps to suggest that the patient had misconstrued some remark or action, and that the whole idea of a sexual angle was a product of his fancy. Or perhaps there had been a trigger that launched his thinking... I'd started to create a basis for this by his discovery that the couch had a convertible bed folded within. This was a great line and nice idea, I thought; it had a strong meter that could be made to fit the melody, and one could also envision that pragmatism might prompt someone to attempt to press a home office into service as a guest room, never thinking of the associations it might conjure by its presence in the therapeutic environment. It is, after all, furniture -- a passive prop on the stage of life.
I tinkered with small choices such as whether the first line should say "when we were indiscreet", or if this should be "I" or "she". Also, did the doctor mention that the couch was a fold-out bed, or did the patient merely discover this by inspection? That choice would really color the song. And, if I was not to paint a specific narrative picture here, how would I establish it at all?
I copped out. I came up with a playful nod to the Beatles' song "Eight Days a Week". And, I then decided to have the bridge part occur twice and introduce the idea that the patient had accidentally been supplied some erectile dysfunction medication instead of the intended antidepressant. Placing an instrumental verse between this revelation and the choices which result would give the listeners a chance to enjoy the joke before the punchline came swooping in.
I wrestled briefly with an effort to have the Beatles joke match the melody of their song, but the rhythm of their hit single and my own song were just fundamentally different. I decided to give the audience credit that they would pick up the allusion with neither the melody nor the lyric perfectly matching the song being referenced in this way.
I also decided at the last to avoid naming any drugs, but to simply allow the term "happy pill" to suggest antidepressants and the color of the tablets and my own reputation as a songwriter to permit people to understand the drugs actually taken.
I made two recordings of a near-final version of the song on April 24th. I videotaped the first take (below) and doubletracked with a second guitar. I did a second recording the same day, aiming to even out the tempo and the dynamics of the guitar solo, but at the cost of losing the power I enjoyed in the first take when the second guitar comes charging in. And, true to form, the lyrics don't match my "best" final thinking.
I think this became a killer tune, but I have mild regret that it could not be the abstract version I wanted it to be.
LyricsThe lyrics wound up like so:
I ask my shrink if I can come over for a while to have a drink.
We wouldn't have to talk or even think about last night when we were indiscreet.
It hurt my head the moment that I noticed that her couch had a fold-out bed.
I didn't think it odd until she said that I should stay to talk about my meds.
There'd been a problem with my prescription (these things happen)
And my little blue happy pills were actually meant to treat some other affliction.
I could have sued her for malpractice (it was an open course)
But why be a little prick when I'm sitting here stuck with a giant cactus?
We didn't speak; we simply worked things out right on the couch and turned the cheek.
She wasn't any slouch so I said, "Ooh I need your love, babe -- 50 minutes a week."
Performance and evolutionI performed this for the first time on April 27th, 2008 at Tommy Doyle's Open Mike. It did not go well. However, it eventually developed into one of my best live numbers.
Here is a public performance from November 3rd, 2008.