Flirting with Disaster

Lorraine throws her hatThis is a shot from a photo session I did with Mikel Healey for my  new album, Flirting with Disaster.  Michael Ticcino, the artist who created the cover and booklets for my last two releases, is working with me on this one too. Michael specializes in photo-surreal composites, which means that Mikel shoots me in front of white paper and then Michael can place me in the woods, the desert, space, or wherever he likes.

We rented a wind machine for this shoot. The plan was to put me in some kind of wild outdoor setting. We wound up not using any of the wind shots, though. We call this the “stereopticon phenomenon,” something you go to a little trouble/expense to incorporate and then it doesn’t work out. For Tales of the Unusual, Michael and I thought it would be sort of cool and non sequitur for me to be holding a stereopticon (I love them, as mentioned in my Misplacement post), but wound up not using any of those shots. The device, which I bought on eBay, is now in my garage. Unfortunately, it was warped and the double-photo cards that came with it never leapt into 3-D as they’re supposed to. The other idea was to have an animal in the shot, and that did pan out, but it was Sterling and he worked for biscuits.

The most important thing about any album, obviously, is the music. For the last three, I’ve created a document in Google Drive with my plan for the project, then I keep updating it and changing it. I knew that I wanted to keep working with my collaborators, of course: Eddie Arkin, Russell Ferrante, Shelly Berg, and the wonderful addition of Dave Grusin, who came into our musical world for Attachments, to the delight of all. I think about subjects for the theme, which in this case is more purely romantic than any of my other projects; grooves I like; a time frame. Because the last release day for albums one wants to submit for Grammy consideration is September 30th, and submissions are in August, that’s the period many artists think of as the release year. My albums all consist of original material and there was no way I could whip one together in time for a 2014 “street date,” so it will be, God willing, the first half of next year.

I have four songs recorded so far, entitled “Flirting with Disaster,” “Disastrous Consequences,” “It Feels Like Snow” and “Off-Center.” These, and the two I’m recording in June, were written with Russell and with Eddie. It feels like a natural progression from what we’ve all being co-creating these last few years, and I hope you’ll like it!

 

 

Writing, This and That

notebook-pageI’ve talked about about writing in quite a few interviews now, both writing lyrics on my own and collaborating with my esteemed co-writers. B_B_KingThis post is about some of my own particular writing habits at home, little problems I come across or things I obsess about. Okay, that was one. I could have said “about which I obsess” but it sounded pedantic to me. It was my father, Leonard Feather, who first told me Winston Churchill’s quote: “The rule which forbids ending a sentence with a preposition is the kinds of nonsense up with which I will not put.” My dad, btw, made more of a living as a songwriter than he ever did as a journalist. His blues tunes were recorded by B.B. King, Aretha Franklin and a host of others.

Schedule

I don’t have one.

Physical  vs Virtual

Thanks a lot, Sterling.

Thanks a lot, Sterling.

If I have an idea for a song, I usually just start a Word document. Sometimes, though, I like to sit in a comfy chair with a spiral notebook and a Pentel Rolling Writer (medium point). It creeps me out when the notebook has too few blank pages left and I get a new one, though of course I use the blank pages for something or other rather than wasting paper. I prefer a physical thesaurus or rhyming dictionary, though Visual Thesaurus is kinda cool. I’m fond of my paperback thesaurus, the front cover partially eaten by one of our dogs. The rhyming dictionary I use now is The New Comprehensive American Rhyming Dictionary. It has a lot of slang, and phrases one might not think of. A search for a rhyme for “braver,” yields “little shaver,” rant and raver,” and “hemidemisemiquaver.”

Dueling Style Guides

When to use a hyphen, whether to capitalize after a colon, how to use ellipses … Please drop me a note if I did the ellipses thing wrong there, because I justThe Chicago Manual of Style can’t bear to look it up one more time. The rules are not always definitive, and sometimes the most-used style guides (see how I hyphenated “most-used?” There’s a rule about that) are at odds with each other. My new album is called Flirting with Disaster. Do you think the “with” should be capitalized? The Associated Press says to capitalize all words longer than three letters. Chicago style says five or more for prepositions. I’m going with Chicago, because I like the way the titles looks abbreviated with a small W, FwD. I often refer to Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips when I’m confused.

Matters About Which a Songwriter Might Be Concerned

I saw a great quote I can’t remember exactly, but it was something like “Being a writer is like having your browser and 150 different tabs open.” There are so many things to think about when you’re writing lyrics, but I don’t “think about” them per se, they’re just always floating around. Some of these are:

“Is that the way people use that expression?” For example, I wanted to say “amble on” or maybe “amble onward” in a lyric. I haven’t heard anyone say “amble” out loud in some time if ever, but “amble on” did get 55,110 hits, “amble onward” 844. 844 is not good, when you consider that  “party on,” for example, yields around three billion—as if it were some freakish anomaly that “amble onward”  was ever used at all, possibly not by anyone whose first language was English.

“Is this an original title?”  If you search on BMI, you will often see that 10-12-1000 songwriters have already had your clever title idea, though it’s certainly possible no one has ever heard the songs you find listed. You have to factor in cues, also. A cue is a piece of music for a film or TV show, and it will have a number and a title, no matter how short. I always keep in mind that the Eagles and the Emotions both had hit songs called “Best of My Love” out at the same time.

“How many times have I used that adjective in the course of my writing life?”

“Was that line too sarcastic/humorous for this song?’ An example of this is “I Hope I Never Leave This Place,” written with Eddie Arkin for Attachments. The first verse originally went

I can’t recall a winter

So long or so severe.

A tree came through my trailer,

Narrowly missing my ear.

I’d heard someone describe a winter storm on our island, during which a tree came through her trailer and almost clipped her ear. This did not fit with the rest of the lyrics, though, which were dreamy and contemplative, so I changed those two lines to

The snow piled ’round my cabin,

Taking me hours to clear.


When writing, I also mull over whether the song has a good “payoff” at the end. That might be in the form of a surprise, or a restatement of something I said earlier. “The Veil,” also written for Attachments—this one with one of my other ongoing co-writers, Shelly Berg—centered around a kind-hearted gesture my mother made when we were eating at The Good Earth in Studio City in the late ’90s. The song moves around in time, and leads up to the description of this compassionate act in the last two lines. Sometimes, though, a song just trails off at the end … like this post …

veil_end-1

P.S. Yes, I know there’s a typo 🙂

Misplacement

Glasses soon to disappear into the great unknown

Glasses soon to disappear into the great unknown

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had trouble holding onto things. It started with my tendency to divest myself of glasses, coats, hats and countless items of little-girl jewelry when I was a child in New York City.

As a teen and a young woman, I picked up various nicknames that mocked me for this well-known failing, including “Lorraine Featherbrain” and of course “The Absent-Minded Professor.” My best friend during my 20s, Cliff, once told me that his boyfriend sometimes referred to me as “Deranged Feather,” but I think that was about something else. During that period (18-28) I changed apartments 10 times, and was on the road for a couple of years total, so I think I should be forgiven for losing more possessions than usual. The ones I felt the worst about were a fuchsia-colored suede maxi coat with snaps—it really did fit me to a T—and an antique stereopticon with many accompanying cards, given to me by one of the dressers in Jesus Christ, Superstar.

Half Moon Bay Nursery

In the Bay Area

I’ve had extraordinarily good luck when it comes to having important stuff returned to me. I’ve dropped keys in a huge parking lot and retrieved them in short order because someone turned them in to the front counter at Kinko’s. Once, when I was loading up my car with plants at a nursery near our house in NorCal, I left my wallet on the roof of my car. That night, I got a call from a guy who had seen my wallet and credit cards splattered all over Highway 92. He pulled over, ran out and picked everything up, and returned it to me with not one thing missing.  I brought him a gift basket, I forget of what.

I haven’t lost wallet, keys or phone in recent years, though I often think I’ve lost my keys. Once I called my husband Tony to tell him I was in the Marriott parking lot next to my rental car, and was about to miss my plane because my car keys were nowhere to be found in purse, backpack or hotel room.

Uh-oh

Uh-oh

“You probably threw them in your suitcase when you were packing,” said Tony. “Open it up and shake out your clothes.” Yep. I have, however,  parted ways with several pairs of JVC noise-canceling headphones since moving to the San Juans in 2007 and making so many all-day trips to LA. I never get the Bose headphones because they’re expensive and deserve the respect of a lifetime commitment. But … maybe if I bought those I’d magically develop the ability to hold onto them forever, do you think? Tip: Most airports carry Skull Candy earbuds, just in case one leaves a set dangling out of one’s purse until the inevitable happens.

I wrote a song for my album The Body Remembers—and reprised it in acoustic form on Language—called “Where Are My Keys?” Tony Morales and Terry Sampson provided the music. Cheryl Bentyne has sung it live.