Track 1 - 500 lbs in a Room of One's Own

Track 1 – 500 lbs in a Room of One's Own

500 lbs is one of the earliest songs I wrote. You wouldn't know it from this recording, but it started as an imitation of 90's post-hardcore, specifically the band Braid. I had been playing this guitar part perhaps for years, trying different words with it. I still remember bits of those. I rejected those attempts because I was trying too hard to say something directly to the listener. Very pedantic. I knew that is not how (good) songs worked, but I couldn't come up with anything else for a long time.

Finally, I settled on something that bears many of the features of many how I still write songs today. The title, of course, is a play on the title of the famous Virginia Woolf piece which, to this day, I have not read, but felt an arrogant freedom to reference because of my Liberal Arts education. Another song (Bitter/Better) is more explicitly about this idea, but I love tiny changes in language that completely change meaning. So, 'pounds' (GBP) becomes 'pounds' (lbs) and 'and' becomes 'in'. This kind of wordplay also happens in the song, when verse one returns, slightly altered, as verse three. Such a clever boy am I!

From the punny title I get an idea for a joke, more or less. What if there was an oppressive, totalitarian state which brutally enforced health standards on all citizens? What if, specifically, you were unhealthily over weight (500 lbs) and you were imprisoned (in a Room of One's Own) and and controlled until you met the state's health standards? Now I have an idea for a song! This is another recurring theme in my songwriting: totalitarian dystopias. Go figure. The “everything moves in circles” business, for all its frequent repetitions, actually has nothing to do with the theme of the song. It does sort of refer to the form of the song and the return of the altered first verse, but really it was more of a “newspeak” ripoff idea, that this dystopia chose circles as one of its symbolic anchors.

This kind of humor in songwriting can be a emotional shield. I certainly was using it that way, especially this early in my writing. If the song is a joke, then I am not exposing myself directly to the potential rejection or criticism of the listener. Whew! This is very helpful to a coward like me. However, I also found that having a literal topic can gain me the freedom to explore the more important content of the song. 'Show, don't tell', and all the normal Creative Writing 101 stuff. One interesting feature of this song, which I only realize as I write this, is that the speaker in the song is the 'attendant' (read: jailer), while the main character is the prisoner. The only way we learn about the prisoner is through what the attendant says.

In my mind, this song is my first 'hit'. I played this at open mics in my college town and people seemed to really enjoy it. I think one reason people liked it is that the melody is slightly high in my vocal range, so I could really belt it out. This gives the vocal line a somewhat mournful, strident feel. I recorded it fast (on “5 Songs/5 Dollars”) and performed it fast week after week. This got boring to me. So, I slowed it down and changed the guitar part significantly to what you hear on this album. I started doing funny things like singing some “Stairway to Heaven” lyrics in the bridge section, etc. Thankfully, I got over that.

As I listen to this song, I still like it. It is no “Like a Rolling Stone”, but I am proud of it. It is humorous and somehow emotionally resonant. It is very interesting that such an early song is such a typical example of how I continue to write songs.