87. Finest Worksong

The first day all four of us actually got together to begin working on new material wasn’t until several days later. At three o’clock in the afternoon we gathered in the basement with my stack of cassettes and scribbled lyrics. I don’t know why I was surprised to find Ziggy there with a notebook. He’d written occasional lyrics or choruses before, whenever Bart or I got stuck or when a song really needed something else. In my own stack I had the note he’d left me in New York, one verse of “Windfall” complete in it. What did I expect? I don’t know.

That first day was rough going. Something was changing and shifting right out from under my feet, I felt, and no one was on firm ground anymore. Even Bart and I were clashing rather than meshing, even when we had the chord progression set out. By dinner time Chris pointed out that maybe the three of us ought to work some things out first, and then bring him back in when we were really ready to go full volume. He went and got Vietnamese take out from the place down the street and after we had eaten, me and Bart and Ziggy sat on the matted, thick orange rug in the basement and tossed things back and forth. We put a couple of sketches onto cassette tape with Christian’s boom box and called it quits around midnight. I wasn’t sleepy, but I went to bed anyway, tired and sapped of energy.

In the morning I sat down by myself with a steel string guitar and the tape and filled in the structure of two songs. Bart came over for lunch, and drank half a six pack of Yoo Hoo while I taught him those two all the way through with electric guitar and bass. Ziggy showed up around four–I heard a car pull up but I didn’t see who dropped him off–and we started working on the first of the two, an A minor thing that began ballady and ended somewhat more intense.

Ziggy listened through it once and made some notes in his book. “What happens if you play it more fuzzy?”

“What do you mean?”

He squinted his eyes and made a buzzsaw sound effect. “More like that.”

“I can try it.” I cranked the distortion and played through the first verse.

Ziggy was nodding, his hair bobbing in his eyes where he hadn’t bothered to style it out of the way. “Now what if I sang a verse like this.” He rattled off two quick lines:

Call me crazy, call me insane
But there’s more to life than playing your games

“But if we mix my voice up real close, so I sing soft, but it’s loud, on top.”

“Ooo,” Bart said. “I like that.”

Bart and I looked at each other. I shrugged. “I think it’d sound kind of cool. But we won’t know until we really start producing the tracks…”

“I’ll remember,” Ziggy said, and made a note. “Let’s try and figure out this chorus, though–you guys are doing something funky and I can’t quite fit words to it.”

We played the whole thing through several times in a row, while Ziggy sang without a microphone stuff that only he could hear. Bart and I kept going around while he scribbled to himself and after a while we began to forget he was there. We chased each other through that progression, spiraling in toward each other tighter and tighter until one of us would break away and add another riff on top.

Ziggy had to wave his arms at us to get us to stop. “I think I got it now.” I plugged a microphone in for him and pointed the monitor toward us. “Let’s go from the beginning.”

He sang straight through to the chorus without looking at his lyric sheet and then glanced down to sing:

I won’t live your way of life
I won’t give your way a chance
On my knees in broken glass
I have no sight, I have no past.

When we hit the repeat of the chorus he just stuck with “I won’t live your way of life” over and over, and Bart and I kept repeating it until finally Bart stopped playing and shouted, “Okay, alright, fade out.”

He was nodding but he said, “‘I won’t live your way of life?’ Does that make grammatical sense?”

I shrugged. Ziggy said “I dunno. It fits, though, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah, it fits.” I picked through the melody on my top strings. “So what are we going to call it?”

“Broken Glass,” Bart said, but we both knew he was joking.

“Way of Life,” Ziggy said. And that seemed to fit.

We ordered in a pizza and by eight or so we were ready to have Christian come and try the tune. By ten we were all a little sick of it, though, and the bridge seemed to be mutating toward something else.

I taught everybody what we had for that second tune, and then midnight rolled around and we had to knock off or our neighbors would call our landlord. Ziggy called someone for a ride home, and took off while Bart and I sat on the back porch watching our breath fog and finishing off the last two Yoo Hoos.

“So,” he said to me, “What the fuck is that song about anyway?”


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