Let’s talk about the new songs…
One of the more exciting aspects in relaunching this website is how I unexpectedly had so many newly-written and recorded original compositions ready to go. While I’d been trying to make my most recent book of short stories available for everyone to download for at least the past two years, there had been no notion of adding to the already-large amount of songs offered up in website #1. But suddenly, during the early days of Covid isolation, I began writing music again.
We’ll eventually have 32 new songs on michaelaba.com. 18 of them are available right now.
All but three of these songs were written in completely unique fashion, which is the story I’d like to tell here. (And, once again, I have my brother Tom to thank for how I stumbled onto this left-hand-turn.)
Back in early 2018, when I was in the midst of finishing my previous batch of songs, I had confided how so many little ideas and melodies had slipped away through the years. Increasingly, these little bursts of music seem to come at the least convenient moments, and the motivation to actually sit down and write something down has dimmed as I got older. Not too many people are listening to these things to being with, so why should I sacrifice time and effort to add to a collection of songs that are never heard? In more recent years anyway, more often than not I’d allow this initial inspiration to come and go like a forgotten dream.
The only thing that bothered me about my new approach, really, was a slight suspicion that these unexpected snippets of original music were actually gifts sent from the heavens. Maybe these little nuggets shouldn’t be so carelessly discarded, I’d occasionally muse. Much like dreams, really.
So my brother Tom said, well - there is this iPhone program called “Music Memos” that will record anything you want and even give a helpful clue as to what chord is being played. He suggested the next time a little moment comes and I don’t feel like writing a complete song, I could simply place the iPhone in front of the piano or guitar and hum whatever melody I happened to be receiving.
That very night, in fact, a “snippet” of music came that likely would have otherwise slipped away. I challenged myself to test out this “Music Memos” app for the first time. The finished version of the resulting song - “When I See You Again” from the “Maybe it’s the Moon” collection - sounds almost exactly like the improvised doodling I’d originally recorded. The lyrics were written later and seemed to fit perfectly. And it has remained one of my favorite songs to play.
I wrote the song “Rise” in the traditional way, a few weeks after “Maybe it’s the Moon” was finished. I wrote “Met a Girl From Sweden” the night of the 2018 mid-term elections, after watching the results at a local bar and being amazed that the only person nearly as enthusiastic about the event as me was from that particular foreign country. But then, well… I started getting lazy. I couldn’t summon the energy to write a song from top to bottom.
But instead of allowing ensuing bursts of inspiration to simply slip away, I made a point of recording these brief (although not always) “snippets”.
In March of 2021, the NYC bar employing yours truly was forced to close due to the pandemic. Suddenly I, along with the rest of the world, had way more free time than usual. I tried to use my time wisely. I took long walks and bike rides, watched old, classic movies, and even attempted to improve my pathetic grasp of world geography as well as my own lifelong-poor skill in the area of penmanship. There was no excuse for not trying to get better at something!
A couple of months later, an afternoon of banging on the piano produced the makings of another original song. I was tempted to allow this unexpected burst of creativity to be captured as a brief little “snippet” yet again. But then…
Well, come on, Michael! There’s no excuse, with all this free time. Get the whole thing done, like you used to do!
The song “Thought I Had You” was soon written in its entirety, finished before the night was over.
I was pleased with the result.
So the next step seemed obvious. Maybe it was time to work on all the by-now-forgotten snippets that had accumulated since late 2018. But to my dismay - and possibly horror - I’d accrued so many of them! And upon first-listen, almost nothing sounded in any way familiar.
It was as if someone else was the true composer of this strange assortment of would-be songs.
I accepted the self-imposed challenge of mining through these recordings to see if there might be worthy compositions lurking. The plan was to start at the beginning and focus on no more than two at a time. I encouraged myself to be willing to discard anything that didn’t offer sufficient potential.
I didn’t discard a single entry.
Composing songs this way made writing lyrics more challenging than usual. Many of these “snippets” seemed to contain a strong melody, which meant there were a precise amount of syllables to be inserted into a certain line. Lots of times, in my estimation, there were phrases I’d be singing that needed to fit into whatever the finished version would be, whether they appeared to make sense or not. And more often than not, I’d find myself wondering, “What IS this song? What is it trying to say?” Not “What am I trying to say?”
I can’t really explain it. I felt compelled to discover what the underlying meaning was, sometimes based on chords and a sprinkling of melody alone.
I never once said, “OK - let’s write about “Covid-19!” Maybe it’s because the original snippets came before the pandemic hit, but the topic never came up. None of these songs, for reasons I can’t quite explain, seemed to be about the coronavirus.
Anyway, half of the songs were recorded before I took another crazy left-hand turn and accepted my brothers’ (Tom and Jeff’s) suggestion to get michaelaba.com back up and running. And now I’m back on the island of Martha’s Vineyard. The last batch of songs will hopefully be recorded after I return to my NYC piano, sometime in late October.
“Thank You For Your Letter” contains the first fifteen songs of this period.
They’ve all been sorted in chronological order, so listening to the 30-second “snippets” on the website from top to bottom is much the same experience as if one had access to my “Music Memos”, where the musical ideas were originally captured. But of course I hope many of you will be moved to look for this record at Apple Music, or Amazon music, or Spotify, or whatever your favorite streaming service may be. Complete recordings of everything - including original demos of decades ago - are all now available for anyone to hear.
The second half of these sessions will be housed in a collection called “Waiting for the Next Surprise”. The first three songs can be heard on michaelaba.com right now. And I can’t wait to get back to recording the remaining compositions as soon as I return to the Upper West Side.
I’m not sure if this is the way I’ll continue to write songs in the future. As usual, I can’t even be sure if I’ll be lucky enough to continue to write songs. But I’m more than pleased with the way this recent batch came out.
I’m hoping some of you will be inspired to check out at least a few of these brand new songs for yourselves!