Track 3 - Bitter/Better (in the tradition of carpe diem)

When I was getting my English degree, I learned about 'carpe diem' poems. As I recall, the requirements for being a 'carpe diem' poem are the following:

  1. A love poem in the voice of the woo-er addressed to a reluctant woo-ee
  2. The woo-er must be persuading the woo-ed
  3. The woo-er must make lavish, unfulfillable promises
  4. The woo-er must also present the threat of death, in a looming, existential way or otherwise.

As I learned this I thought, “Oh, OK.  This is every pop love song ever.” If I were teaching this topic, I would use Billy Joel's “Only the Good Die Young” as an example, because it might as well have been written specifically for classroom use.

This idea bounced around my head for a while, until it met up with another idea I often have: “Well, I could do that.” At the time I was looking for ways to avoid writing full-on love songs of the 'ooh baby baby' type. This genre, with its specific requirements, seemed like a perfect candidate. I can write a love song without encountering my own emotions at all. Yahoo!

I was walking down an alley in my hometown one day, and a sentence appeared in my mind. (My songs frequently originate this way.) It was: “If you move into one of the apartments above a dirty restaurant downtown, I'm gonna peal bricks out of the pavement and throw them at your window, throw them at your window.” I liked the rhythm of this sentence. The image was also funny, kind of over the top. The sort of reaction a character in a John Hughes film might have.

I also noticed that if you changed a few, small words the meaning of the sentence changed completely. So, if I changed “you” to “we”, and “at your” to “out our” it is no longer a mad/sad destructive reaction, but a joyous/playful destructive reaction. Similarly John Hughes-y, to my mind. Even the title of the song is about this. If you change one letter in “bitter” you get the word “better”. Clever me.

So, I had all ideas I needed for the song, and I knew the requirements I had to hit for the form. The rest was fill in the blank, more or less.

The structure I used for this song is strange. Three choruses, two verses, and two bridge type things, and they are ordered a little like a rondo or something: ABCABCA. Not your standard pop song structure, I guess. In this recording, I whistled “El pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” during the first bridge section. At the time I was really into a set of piano variations on this tune by Frederic Rzewski. This piece is fantastic, and I recommend it. It is also over an hour long, whereas my song is only a little over three minutes. So, if you don't have time to listen to the Rzewski, listen to my song.

Years after this recording, I played and even recorded this with my band, so the song has some staying power for me. Take a listen. You might like it too!