My First Album: The Reader of Books

On a whim, I decided to take the some of the songs that I write for fun and put them together on a CD. So I thought I’d throw together a blog post to tell you a little about where the songs came from.

The Reader of Books
The Reader of Books

First, the title of the album. The Reader of Books. If you’ve seen my video blog at all, I talk a lot about how I love Matilda by Roald Dahl. It’s my favorite book of all time. Matilda was my first ever superhero, and she’s a reader. Validation, anyone? When you open up the book, the first chapter is called The Reader of Books.  Originally I wanted to write a song about the end of term reports the narrator discusses (and maybe I still will), but I couldn’t find a chorus or a melody for it.

Actually, that’s not true. I did find a chorus and melody, and that ended up morphing into what is now “Personal Ad,” a funny (I think) and (mostly) true song about what I’d say if I did one of those dating videos.  I enjoy writing music that tests my powers of articulation (which, now that I think about it may be more of a band word than a singing word, but oh well). As such, I found the lyrics to this song to be fun.  Finding the instrumentation, however, was a challenge. Since this is the kind of “behind the scenes” into the putting together of this collection, I didn’t actually find the right sound for this song until the day it was published.

“Overpowering: A Zombie Love Song” was written for my students. A while ago, I wrote about a project called Tribute Band, which asked students to create a fictional band, album, and songs for whatever book they were reading. Because I didn’t have any examples of the project, I did one myself, providing examples of all the permutations of the assignment. At the time, I was reading Zombies vs. Unicorns edited by Holly Black and Justine Larbalastier and found using this book (because no one else had read it and therefore could not copy my ideas, because they do) to be appropriate. Below you’ll find the second draft of the song, back when it was still in its infancy (and when I only had one tall bookshelf).

Between the Pages” was the result of a challenge to write a song that included as many book titles as possible. I like a good challenge, and I won’t tell you how many titles actually made it into the song (I did a video about it so I suppose you could just look at that). The chorus was inspired by a quote from Margaret Atwood (which also inspired the name of the topic-based vlogs I do periodically).

We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces in the edges of print. It gave us more freedom. We lived in the gaps between the stories.

I’d been looking for songs to play on my ukulele on YouTube, and came across someone who did a let’s play on “Miss You” by Blink 182. So while “Miss You” and “Between the Pages” sound very different, they’re actually based on the same set of chords. Or rather, “Between the Pages” is set to the chord progression from “Miss You.”

I’m not as vocal a fan of Gayle Forman as I am of Matilda or John Green. But that doesn’t mean I’m any less of a fan. If I Stay and Where She Went are two titles on the short list of books that inspire me as a musician. “All the World’s a Stage” is a combination of ideas from Forman’s Just One Day and Benjamin Alire Saenz‘s Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe. To a certain extent, I identify with the protagonists in both of those novels.  But the real impetus for this song was the friend of Just One Day’s protagonist (whose name I can’t remember right now, and I lent my copy to a friend so I can’t look it up) who said something along the lines of “you are who you pretend to be.” And that line became the first line of the chorus. I started with that, and a 12 bar blues (because I was originally going two write jazz — I don’t know why I go into these projects with any kind of plan. It always changes). The rest of the song fell in place from there.

The final song on my first EP (I’m still tripping about this) is “Evangelical Zeal” inspired by another quote, this time from John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

Sometimes you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.

I was thinking about what I’d say to Leonard Peacock from Matthew Quick‘s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock, who struggles with the idea of hope. This song, because I sometimes feel I am more articulate through books than any other medium, was the end result.

The chord progression is stolen, quite lovingly, from Idina Menzel’s version of “No Day But Today.” After I heard her version on an episode of So You Think You Can Dance, I knew I had to do something with it. One of the things I love about music is how you can take the same four chords (this is something some music afficionados lament) and create a number of different sounds.  I’ll even go so far as to admit that most of my songs use the same four or five chords. They fit nicely into my vocal range and I can play them on my guitar.

You can find the full playlist in its entirety on my music page, or over on my bandcamp page.

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