“Monkey” Live at Rose Street

Tell me this hasn’t happened to you: You break up with someone –maybe you’re the breaker, maybe you’re the “breakee”–, and you think you’re getting along just fine, when one day you notice that…you can’t stop thinking about them. More than that, daydreaming has turned into to brooding has turned into obsessing has turned into nightmare.

I think of “Monkey” as my version of a Stephen King story (or maybe another writer I discovered within the past year, Etgar Keret), where a metaphor has so much emotional energy invested in it that it becomes willed into physical incarnation. And then what ya gonna do, just will it back out of your life? Oh, no. Not so easy.

Monkey

If I had a dime for every time
I had nightmares about our breakup,
Rich as a Kennedy, still even then I’d be
Far too frightened to wake up

What am I going through? Who am I talking to
Here in this haunted house all alone?
Is that what I seem to see swinging ahead of me,
making me shake-a right to my bones?

What was that sound?
I can’t turn around. . .

   ‘Cause there’s a monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   On my back
   Monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   In my lap
   Monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   On my head
   Monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   In my bed

Started out really small, wasn’t too much at all
Tame little ape with your face
Hanging out happily, growing up rapidly,
Making a mess out of my space

What did I want to see? Who did I want to be
After I told you that we were through?
Testing a theory that nothing mysterious
Ever could happen apart from you

But it never ends. . .
It’s your revenge. . .

   ‘Cause there’s a monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   On my back
   Monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   In my lap
   Monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   On my head
   Monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   In my bed

      You crept up so unexpectedly,
      Disaffectedly, to me
      You knew your blue eyes would ever be
      Like a jungle scene in me

   (Monkey, yeah)

Need some sanity, need humanity
No telling where I’ll find it
With hidden material, gibbon ethereal
Dragging its knuckles behind it

Trash truck whining and sunbeam shining are
Finally waking me from this dream
Over at last, but I’m feeling a draft, and I
Tug at the blanket and start to scream

Lying beside. . .
Black fur and blue eyes. . .

   And there’s a monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   On my back
   Monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   In my lap
   Monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   On my head
   Monkey, monkey, monkey, monkey
   In my bed

© Copyright 1999-2012 Nate Orshan

“Monkey” was recorded on Friday, July 6, at the Rose Street Artists’ Cooperative and Gallery Coffeehouse. The camera’s mic did a heroic job capturing the tune, but between the noise of the multiple fans, the laughter of multiple children (completely unrelated to my song…uh…right?), and the soft-LOUD-soft dynamics of the song’s multiple verses…well, the guitar gets a little buried in the mix. I hope the song shines through regardless.

“Moon Over Mater Christi” Live at Rose Street

It was an evening in late September in 1996 when I got the call that a friend had passed away. I knew she had tremendous health issues, and she was supposed to be recovering from recent transplant surgery, but the news still came as a shock.

After I hung up, I left my upper Loomis Street apartment and walked two blocks up the hill to the playground at Mater Christi school, which at that time had a gigantic play fort on which many college-age folks liked to hang out in the wee hours. I shuffled about the empty playground, sobbing, overcome by the injustice of losing such a vivacious friend, an architect with a deep love of art and a now-widowed husband. Squinting at the night sky, I felt this burning in my chest to pick a fight with God.

“Moon Over Mater Christi” is one of those songs that took a long time to write. As happens frequently with me, the refrain came easily, but the verses needed a lot of work.

I made the task harder on myself by choosing to omit any references to death. It’s not that I have a thing against the word. Honestly, it’s just a complete conceit of mine. If you want to write an elegy, the easy and natural thing to do is to mention death and dying in the lyrics; it’s another matter to do it but avoid those words and their common euphemisms. At any rate, it was something I wanted to try, and I hope the emotion isn’t hindered as a result. (I also proposed to my then-girlfriend, Kit, via a song that doesn’t have references to love or marriage. That’s a post for another day.)

I dedicated the performance to Josh Glass, a phenomenal Burlington musician who had just lost his brother the day before. Once more, here’s hoping he and his family can heal.

Moon Over Mater Christi

   There’s a moon
   Over the schoolyard tonight
   Over the stone Virgin’s sight
   Free from terrestrial ties
   Moon over Mater Christi must rise

Summer afternoon
And how you sparkled at your party
I was transfixed by such magnificence

Every rendered room
–Closer to masterpiece than fashion–
Had you on the advent of
Amazing truth

   And there’s a moon
   Over the schoolyard tonight
   Over the stone Virgin’s sight
   Free from terrestrial ties
   Moon over Mater Christi must rise

Like a silken suit
That’s how he fit: The man you married
The mirror’s image to your radiance

And if I needed proof
Perfection and beauty truly happen,
Seeing you both laughing was
The best I knew

   And there’s a moon
   Over the schoolyard tonight
   Over the stone Virgin’s sight
   Free from terrestrial ties
   Moon over Mater Christi must rise

When I heard the news,
Blinded by rage, I stumbled nightward,
As if a child had met with the bully’s boot

It’s a bully who
Tore out the flower from the garden
Unlike an artist, His work is never through

   And you,
   Cut like an April bloom
   Lessons were lost in this school
   But even a swing set can cry
   Moon over Mater Christi must rise

© Copyright 2000-2012 Nate Orshan

“Moon Over Mater Christi” was recorded on Friday, July 6, at the Rose Street Artists’ Cooperative and Gallery Coffeehouse. That white noise threatening to drown out the song is the fans set up to deal with the heat of an early July evening.

“Let’s Go Miro”: Promoting Burlington’s Future Mayor

I would like to honor today, Kit O’Connor’s and my 13th wedding anniversary, by letting you know that none of this music would ever see the light of day if it weren’t for Kit’s vast reservoirs of patience and support. Everybody should be so lucky as to have someone like Kit by their side.

It’s been over half a year now that I came out with “Let’s Go Miro”, my song promoting Miro Weinberger’s candidacy for Mayor of Burlington, Vermont (USA):

I did it partly as a challenge to myself. I had recently come out with a goofy hip-hop video promoting an adult onesie as the consummate clubbing couture, and, having also recently supported candidate Miro Weinberger during an unusually tumultuous Democratic caucus that included a run-off vote a month after the initial vote, I felt that I was in a good position to do something that I assumed few other Burlingtonians were planning to: cough up a catchy song for my guy.

The easy part was the chorus. It was one of those classic, “comes to you while you’re in the shower” ideas, and the refrain just presented itself to me shortly after the winning caucus. After hurriedly drying off and getting dressed, I raced out into our truck, took out my phone, and recorded the following (which, since I never posted it before this week, you’re hearing it here for the first time ever):

In a sense, much of the hard work was done at this point. This is propaganda, a pop song that’s supposed to rally people around a political candidate. The most important thing is to have a singalong chorus, and I knew right away that I’d met that objective.*

The rest was harder. At that point in December, I didn’t feel there was quite enough meaty content on Mr. Weinberger’s web site from which to furnish a song. In fact, having seen him address the Democratic caucus, I thought he came off as an awkward speaker, so I didn’t want to try to set expectations for him giving rousing speeches. (Note: He got steadily better as time went on and now is a polished pro behind a mic.)

However, I knew I could get in a few points:

  • He’s a native Vermonter, which might make some inroads among voters who might otherwise like his opponent**, long-time Burlingtonian, City Council member, and all-around good guy Kurt Wright.
  • Though never having run for office –a HUGE liability, especially in a city that seems to like its Mayors to have City Council experience–, he’d worked in the offices of two Senators, so that absolutely had to make it in there.
  • He had a plan for Burlington…though the specifics of it weren’t immediately clear to me. No matter: The man had a plan!***
  • Having worked for Habitat for Humanity and, later, included affordable housing in the mix of his real estate development, he qualified as a legitimate affordable-housing candidate.
  • He had extensive negotiation experience that would be brought to bear with our creditors.

Luckily for me, a song like this doesn’t have to go too in depth into any of these points, so I was able to refer or even allude to these things in the verses which, in a sense, were just there as placeholders between the catchy choruses.

And then…the verse melody.

As you can tell from the first demo, I intended to have a mostly single-note verse that would, in theory, make the chorus seem even more exciting because of the contrast between the two. After recording the singing a few times, I had to face the fact that the verses were just plain flat and unexciting. I’d succeeded in establishing that contrast, all right, but to the detriment of the song itself. What’s more, I wasn’t liking my singing voice on the song. Again, it was just too flat-sounding.

Running out of time, and out of sheer desperation, I reverted to my touchstone: John Lennon. I’ve been a Beatles fan since before I was born (just ask my mom), and my singing style is heavily, heavily influenced by Lennon (e.g., listen to the chorus of last week’s song, “Stay in Your Spaceship”). If I couldn’t sing this song…maybe John Lennon should give it a go.

So I tried it again, threw away the verse melody, and just let John do whatever he wanted. The result: It yielded a more nasal vocal, but damn if John didn’t come up with a more exciting verse melody and response vocal (the “What you say, you say, you say you sayin’?” part in the chorus). Is it acting? Maybe. Did it work? Well, after I published the video (for which there’s a whole other story, maybe a future post), I emailed as many local and political outlets I knew, and that led to…

  • A blog post in Seven Days.
  • A post in The Vermont Daily Briefing, the long-time blog of Vermont State Senator/novelist/UVM English professor/politics writer Philip Baruth.
  • The opportunity to perform the song for a Miro for Mayor fundraiser (video).
  • A generous and well-produced piece by WPTZ’s Bridget Shanahan:

And, honor of honors, joining ace singers and dancers The Mirocialites for a final performance of the song…after the results were in at Mayor-elect Weinberger’s victory party!

It was an enormous amount of fun producing and promoting the song, and I hope it serves as an example that artists can have a impact on political campaigns. As for influencing actual governance after election day’s over, that’s another story…or song.

Maybe that should be my next little civics experiment?

Bonus #1: Bridget Shanahan’s teaser to her WPTZ piece with me playing guitar live.
Bonus #2: Video of The Mirocialites practicing “Let’s Go Miro” in their secret, ultra-high-tech studio.

Let’s Go Miro

A Green Mountain boy through and through
Worked for two US Senators and knew just what to do
Got his Master’s and he came back home
He’s got a plan to dig us out so take a look and help me shout it

Oh, oh, oh, let’s go Miro!
(What you say, you say, you say you sayin’?)
Oh, oh, oh, let’s go Miro!
(I’m votin’ for Miro, and I ain’t playin’)

He’s got mad negotiation skills
Gonna get with our creditors and sort out all our bills
Makin’ sure your taxes won’t go to waste
He loves our city, just like you, so come on down and help him do it

Oh, oh, oh, let’s go Miro!
(What you say, you say, you say you sayin’?)
Oh, oh, oh, let’s go Miro!
(I’m votin’ for Miro, and I ain’t playin’)

We’ve put up with trouble, don’t wanna defend it
We got in a muddle, it’s time that we end it
The Queen City’s ready for a brand-new day
Won’t you come and help him? Your Fresh Start is on the way

A genuine affordable housing champ
And he cares about food stamps and wheelchair ramps
He’s wicked humble with a giant heart
There’s way too much for just one song, go see MiroForMayor.com

Oh, oh, oh, let’s go Miro!
(What you say, you say, you say you sayin’?))
Oh, oh, oh, let’s go Miro!
(I’m votin’ for Miro, that’s where I’m stayin’)

© Copyright 2012 Nate Orshan

* Though I regret mispronouncing my candidate’s name. As Thread Magazine informs us, “Miro” is pronounced “muh-ROW”, as in “The Island of Doctor Moreau”. My songwriter’s ear wanted it to be “mee-ROW”, and you could argue that it sounds better in a singing context, but facts is facts. If I could do it over, it’d be “muh-ROW” throughout. Apologies to Mayor Dubs!

** A third candidate, Wanda Hines, joined the race in January, long after I’d written the song. I’ve known Wanda for decades and have tons of respect for her, but, honestly, I thought –and was proven correct– that her campaign was ill-conceived and quixotic from the get-go.

*** Not to be confused with the original “Man With A Plan”, Vermont icon and senior-farmer-turned-actor-turned-actual-candidate Fred Tuttle.