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Songwriting

A thousand years ago, when I was in high school, I took a songwriting course at Carnegie Hall. I wrote a love song that, in retrospect is painfully cliched. In college, I had a friend with a guitar, and we wrote some love songs that were not completely terrible. I can still sing parts of them– the cassette tapes we recorded are around here somewhere—I still need to convert a lot of old formats into new, which is a super-ranty post for another day.

Over the past ten years, I’ve been romantically involved with a singer-songwriter, and I’ve helped her out on a few tunes. I’ve realized I’m quite good at building tension and climax in lyrics as well as prose, though I have no gift for writing original music whatsoever.

A few months ago I was watching this cat, Maximus Seabiscuit, scratching his neck with his hind leg, something I’ve seen him do twenty times a day for the past six years. But this time, I said to Camille, “He’s scratching like its catching.” We just started singing and Camille gave it a melody. Then I got a pad of paper and wrote lyrics about a woman warning her friend that she should go to the doctor ‘cause her man is cheating on her and he’s got an STD. Turns out she knows this because he gave it to her as well.

Camille and her band Empire Beats developed the song, writing the parts for each instrument, changing and adding lyrics, bringing it fully into being-ness. From what the Internet tells me, I’m the first person to use “Scratchin’ Like It’s Catchin’” as a title for something, and that gives me a little tingle.

In the past, I wrote skits that were performed live at a night club, and I love watching my words and ideas interpreted and transformed. I consider myself primarily a short story writer and a novelist, but there really is something marvelous about watching people digging it. Writing is a lonely art, it’s undeniable. I’ve been thinking about doing  a graphic novel—realized that might be a fantastic experience, with the right artist, of course.

Empire Beats played “Scratchin’ Like It’s Catchin’” at Trash Bar in Brooklyn earlier this week, and I took some passable footage. I really dig the way it sounds, and the audience seemed to agree.

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