Excused

You can download a PDF of the guitar tab or musical score.
You can hear the song as multi-track acoustic, singer/songwriter open-mike style or as power pop.

An abandoned dinner for twoBackground

This song sprang out of nowhere in early January 2008.  I had recently caved in and started playing guitar more in the singer/songwriter style, using a capo and playing without a pick (I still steadfastly refuse to play in alternate tunings, however!).  I had written my first song based in this mode, "You and Me", a month previously and was doodling about with the guitar.

On January 5th, I played with the capo on the 2nd fret and plucked a pattern of a very G-like C chord form, an awkward bass note, back to the previous chord, and then touching down to a G.  Overall, it resembled a C->D->C->G progression, except the corniness of such a pattern was very much washed down.  It would not have had much promise at all, but I immediately hummed out some variation of the notes that were eventually to become the "chorus", a plaintive and unexpected pattern that emphasized the D chord that was so subliminal in the underlying pattern.  It was beautiful yet bittersweet and it was undeniably child-like, without the usual exhuberance people associate with children's songs.  

I made a quick instrumental sketch recording of that thinking on January 5th, which wound up similar to the "Bogart" recordings that ultimately became "Bit of String" in that they contained much of what the final composition would have, but the overall song wasn't coming through.  In this case, the verse was missing.  A second sketch recording made on January 6th showed progress but also some drift.  Something intended to be the verse is in there, centered on a G chord, but it's totally wrong;  it carries a positive emotional signal.  On the other hand, the Bm7 to A to Am part ("I won't act up...") is starting to take shape.

Some time after these early recordings, I settled on the verse melody and somehow came up with what I feel is the most distinctive musical aspect of the song:  the dramatic passage which underlies "She's made her plate a graveyard of legumes".  It rises skips through 15 semitones from a low E to a high A, passing through an accidental on the way.  None of my efforts to sing this line capture what I feel is its full import.  I hope to find someone who can nail it.

This same line takes shape over E#m -> G -> B#m -> B#7 -> C chord forms (usually now capoed up 1 or 2 full steps), and demonstrates one of my favorite tricks of following a minor chord by the major chord -- the opposite of the usual.  I was inspired to this in general principle by XTC's "Earn Enough for Us", though my effect is different.  But a second reason is that tickling a third is good drama, and I refuse to be yet another songwriter flatting the third; it's nearly as cliched as endless 4th suspensions.  The same stunt is used in passing in "Bit of String" and "Just a Friend".

Lyrics

The lyrics wound up as

Mac and cheese by candlelight has failed to set the mood.
She's made her plate a graveyard of legumes.
And she sits there, brandishing her spoon.

Plans to share a DVD are suddenly in jeopardy;
would Dora dare explore these empty rooms?
And she sits there, sizing up a fading bruise.
And she sits there, staring down to address her shoes:
Why can't Mommy live with us?
I won't act up or make a fuss, like I used to do.
I'm not hungry; can I be excused?

The song doesn't need an explanation, but the forensic path it took is affirming to record, as there is a lot in here that I'm proud of.

I had made several adjustments in getting the words to the form shown above.  The first line used to end with the word "tonight", as this matches the second verse and completes a rhyme, but I thought the lack of a pause before the second line was disconcerting and I preferred the heavy thud as the melody plunges down to a low E.  

The "graveyard" of legumes was sometimes a "playground" and sometimes a "racetrack", but those words conveyed a positive energy on the part of the dinner companion.  Similarly, she initially "balanced" her spoon.  Though "brandish" has too aggressive a connotation to it (if the dictionary is to be believed), I liked its sound and pictured her using it half-heartedly as a baton, which I felt could be called brandishing.  Poetic license, I guess?

I like the reference to how forbidding "these empty rooms" are, presumably because the mother has vacated the premises and taken half the possessions with her, and that even the dauntless heroine of the DVD may lack the mettle to brave the resultant emotional void.  I have some minor misgivings about "the fading bruise", but maybe it is just a bruise.  Kids do get bruised, but I also like giving the listener enough to think about when he or she imagines what has brought the family to this point.

I like the "sizing up" versus the "staring down", and that the passage that occurs only once in the first verse is here produced twice to create a dramatic tension.  Something is going to happen; the veneer is going to peel and the truth is going to come spilling out of one of its most traditional founts -- a child's mouth.

And, of course, the denouement that the dissatisfied diner is a child longing for a lost harmony and not a romantic partner. More vitally, while she does not understand the facts of the estrangement any better than the listener does, she instinctively does what children often do:  she blames herself. And finally, in asking to be excused from the table, she is also asking to be forgiven for her imagined misdeeds.

Though the "twist" that the dinner guest is but a child is telegraphed by the dinner menu, the fidgeting... indeed, in just about every line, I figure this isn't "The Sixth Sense" but a song with only 10 lines.  The premise is not novel, anyhow, being brilliantly explored by Chuck Berry in "Memphis, Tennessee".  I can only hope that some people will miss the meaning for 2 verses, as they will get the fullest meaning from the song.

Performance and Finishing

I performed this  on January 14th, 2008 at the Lizard Lounge Open Mike Challenge with Vinnie Taormina playing the second guitar part.