Americaphiles

The Story Of My Fucking Life

Seven

Posted by ilbebe on December 15, 2008

7. It took me a long goddamn time to realize that plagiarism wasn’t theft. Of course, everyone with an asshole is entitled to their own opinion, and I went back and forth on the issue for many years. I finally sided with the camp that considers plagiarism to be tribute when I wrote a song in January 2005 that I later titled ‘Half It Ain’t Me’. The song had two sections; the first was an original composition of my own and the second was a loose interpretation of It Ain’t Me Babe by Bob Dylan. I’d seen Dylan live for the first time on October 17, 2004, and had been really stunned by how little it sounded like anything I’d expected. The songs I recognized sounded nothing like the original studio recordings, even the melodies had been changed, and Dylan only played piano the whole night. AND his band rocked. Hard.

Anyhow, he played It Ain’t Me Babe towards the end of the main set, and the way he reinvented it was massively inspirational to me. A week after that concert, I broke up with the girlfriend I had been with for about five weeks, and it really shook me. Within two weeks, I had quit my job, almost died in Las Vegas, almost been arrested in Sacramento, and was desperately figuring out how soon I could leave Arcata and move back in with my mother. I spent a lot of time on the road in the next few months, and shortly after the new year, I was driving on I-5 near Medford, OR, on my way from Seattle to Sacramento, and a song fragment I’d had knocking around came back to me. Thus I wrote the first part, and by the time I’d arrived in the capital city, I’d had the idea to join it up with the Dylan song. The song addressed the girl I’d broken up with in October, a girl I hadn’t spoken to in a month at that time, and in fact have still never spoken to or heard from again. I wanted to tell her I was sorry, and when I ran out of words of my own, I felt no shame in borrowing someone else’s. It seemed the perfect ellipsis.

After that triumph, it was months before I wrote another new song. I focused mainly on perfecting four covers during the lonely months I lived alone at my father’s apartment in Alameda, and then a basement sublet on a hill near the freeway in Oakland. The covers were two Elliott Smith songs and two Bob Dylan songs. I watched The Last Waltz almost every night and drank wine and cried until I passed out. One day I had the notion to learn The Night They Drove Old Dixie down, and I found the chords on a website. I sat in the front room of the house, a massive room with acoustics that made it sound like the great hall of a Norse king, and played it with everything I had, and I felt reborn. A few weeks later a few webs of thought I’d had regarding living in Oakland crystallized through the lens of the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina and the devastation of New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast. The chords I strung together to back up the thoughts came directly from The Band, they were simply reorganized. The song ultimately became Ghost of a Good Time, and if I had to pick a singular defining moment in forgiving myself for all my transgressions against friends and enemies during my time in Arcata, it was when I first sang the chorus to that song I’d written, a chorus which simply spoke:

Let go.

Of the anger you have known.

Let go.

There was no way to let go of it all at once, but I started, and sometimes all you can do is try. I don’t believe you must always finish what you’ve begun, because some things have no finishing point. I will be done with this tome when I feel I have said enough, and for now, I am done with this chapter. I will revisit it again, as I hope you will in times of distress or joy. I’m off to smell some roses I met yesterday.

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