Saturday, January 16, 2010


In my previous post--
I wrote about the 'why' of this song...

Now, I'm gonna write about the musical 'wherefore' of it.

This song...
is by the absolute genius, Randy Newman.
I can't really say even, why I connect so thoroughly and deeply to this man's work, but I do.
And if i had to choose one composer's songs to sing for the rest of my life, it would be Randy Newman.

I was first introduced to Randy Newman subconsciously as I fell in love with the movie scores of RAGTIME and AVALON.

However, I was first introduced to Randy Newman consciously as a freshman in college when the Junior Class did a 'black box' Randy Newman review in the 'studio theatre'.

Now, besides the fact that that particular class housed some of the most phenomenal vocal talent, like EVER.
On this PLANET.
I'm talking Ty Taylor, Billy Porter, Natalie Belcon, Tami Tappan, Jack Plotnick...just to name afew of these amazing people.
The whole thing was done in vignettes, which was perfect, since every Randy Newman song really is an all-encompassing journey.

Newman (similarly to Sondheim), is first and foremost a story teller.
His songs have a purpose.
They take you somewhere.
They're like mini three-act plays.
You start a point A, make a discovery at point B, C and sometimes D-
and always end up at the end either back at point A with a new insight...
or at point F-Z...
because you've earned the right to be there.
because of him, you've travelled a very far way in only a short amount of time.

His music always fits the story, and the words, and the music is always STILL music.
Or rather, I should say 'tune-ful'.
There's always an actual TUNE in there.

That i think, is the ultimacy of his brilliance-
he makes you feel like someone's just 'talking' to you...
but it's always very clearly a TUNE.

while i could go on and on about how Randy Newman is the shizzlet....
this post is about the song that he WROTE.

This song is from the movie TOY STORY II.
And it's sung by a doll.
About her relationship with the girl who's loved her and then subsequently outgrown her, and then loved her again.

To be perfectly frank, even though I love this song more than freshly baked chocolate chip cookies...
everyone friggin' records this song.

Everyone. again, I'm in the same position of having to ask myself,

"What's going to make my rendition of this song different or unique enough to WARRANT yet another recording of this song."

it's a special song to me because it means 'grandma'-
the average person listening to it isn't going to know about, let alone probably give two shits about why this song means 'grandma' to me.

All they're going to care about is whether it sucks, or not.
Whether they've 'heard it before', or not.
Whether it touches them, or not.

There is almost a glut of recordings of this song...
some of them buh-rilliant-

btw, run do not walk to buy the recording of Tami Tappan Damiano singing this on her solo album "Hot Notes" at:

aaaaaannnnnndddddd then there are just some God AWFUL renditions of this song out there.
which is...
all that needs to be said about that.

optimistically hoping that, should i record this song, it won't suck...
I have to ask myself....
what about my rendition will make it worth recording.

And honestly...
I can't answer that.
And that's fucking weird for me because usually I've got an answer for everything.

All I can say is, that that 'voice' inside me-
which at this point i can't even tell is me or my grandma anymore-
keeps telling me to record it.

I decide to listen to the 30 second clips on Itunes to really get an idea of what's already 'out there' with this song.
Maybe if i hear what I am not...
I will know then, what i am with this song.

With the renditions that I love, the singers put the lyric ahead of the music. Which is to say, they tell the story of this song above all, and just let the music itself 'play out' naturally.

With the renditions that I absolutely fucking hate more than if I were stuck in a crate with 983827634 poisonous snakes in the holding tank of an aircraft flying from nyc toaustralia...
is when the singer has obviously decided it's a 'pretty tune' and ya know, what story? There's a story?

As the shitty renditions only serve to infuriate me-
because yes, i do get protective of certain songs as if they were my children...
as i am a single woman in her 30s living alone WITHOUT cats, thank you very much...
i decide to focus on the orchestrations of the renditions I dig.

Obviously, strings.
Many strings.
As strings are warm, lush, soulful and rich.

Sadly, strings....
i do not readily have.
Not that I can't add it to the list for jessica and elisa to play but...
like a 5 year old I have a tendency with song in particular to say,

"no, let meeeeeeeee...i can DO IT...bymySEEEELLLFFFF.".

but i give that part of me a 'time-out' and proceed to orchestrate it for two cellos and a violin.
I like the heft that the two cellos (instead of one) will give it.
in theory anyway.
And the violin adds the sweetness.

I work on this arrangement for...
3 hours.
maybe 4?

I use the strings patches in garageband just so i can get an idea of...
how it's going to sound.

not crazy about it.
which is weird, cause i loved the strings in the two versions I really dug on itunes.

the strings totally worked with their renditions.
why not mine?

I decide to do a random wild piano/vocal take.

I listen back.

It's so funny when you listen to yourself sing from the outside.
It's never what you think it's gonna sound like.
So incredibly weird, that.

It still sounds....fussy.
The piano part...
and i'm playing exactly what's written in the music.
Exactly what the other singers had...
but for some reason, when I sing it sounds...

Again, I'm totally miffed.

The other singers didn't sound 'fussy'.
The strings sounded like a perfect fit.

I try a new approach.

I try to not figure it out.

Fuck figuring it out.
Who's got time for that shit?


I do another wild piano/vocal track and pare down the piano part even more.


i do another...
pare it down even more.


again, and again.

I literally pare it down until I'm almost just playing base chords underneath.

I'm shocked that I prefer this as...
some of the moving lines in the piano part are so unbelievably gorgeous...
i can't believe i'm not missing them.

but i don't.

and that's when i realize...
that's the reason I should record it.

because as far as I can tell...
it's never been recorded this "bare bones".

This is the way I need to do it.


If I was a NORMAL person...
with a normal set up...
and a normal accompanist...
i could lay this thing down in less 5 minutes in one take.

However, since I am all on my own over here...
how the FUCK am i going to....
time the piano to the vocal-
or the vocal to the piano.

if i play it as sparsely as i WANT to...
there's no rhyme or rhythm really in EITHER the vocal or the piano line.
it's not like i can record one-
and then accompany the other.

I realize that i have no choice but to record the whole thing-
completely acappella.
and hope to Christ i stay on pitch.

leave a mock piano intro-
grab the pitch...
and then......'go'....i guess.


I go into the bathroom...
cut out the accompaniment right after the piano intro and then...
just sing it.
piano free.
string free.


i do one take...
which i honestly really dig and hope that I've remained on pitch-
beause i have no way of knowing that until i try to accompany myself on the piano later.

i do another just for good measure.

i bring the computer back out to the piano...
accompany myself, like i would any other singer...

track #11.

literally, the shot in the dark.



As you all know by now, my grandmother has been a huge influence on this album.

She is my guardian angel...
and I have never felt her more strongly than when I was working on this whole thing.

And so...
besides The Parting Glass, I really wanted to do another song that 'represented' her in some way. And, while this song might not reflect on our relationship in the most 'unicorns and rainbows' kind of absolutely encapsulates (at least the end of) our relationship in an extremely honest way.

Ya see, Timmy....

My grandmother and I have always had a very special bond.
I don't know why this is.
There are many reasons I suppose.

The main one being that my grandmother was psychic.
And not in the every-irish-family-has-a-fucking-psychic kinda way.
I mean, my brother would suprisingly go into the hospital for something at 10:00am and at 10:02am she's on the phone, greeting my mother with,

"What's wrong with Michael!??"

And they say that psychic power, while in all of us-
seems to 'skip a generation'.
And maybe, grandma and I bonded from literally, the moment i was born-
on a level that only dogs can hear...who knows.

I was born with my left eye crossed inward.

And the first thing my grandmother said when she saw me was not,

'Oh what a beautiful baby'
'Does she have all ten toes?'


The first thing my grandmother said (with a new england accent of course) was,

"Aya. She's gawt the eye that looks within."

as apparently being cross-eyed is an old celtic sign of psychic ability, since you are able to look out and in at the same time.

Ergo, ever since birth really, grandma and I have been tight.

That is until.....
she started to lose her marbles.

it started when I was in high school, and unfortunately my dad was also losing his marbles at the same time. Since dad was a more immediate crazy-drain, in addition to the raging hormones and life and death angst that every teenager deals with-
I kinda used up all my 'dealing with insanity' energy on Dad and had none left really to give to grandma.

So, I stopped talking to her on the phone when she'd call-
granted, those conversations were more and more becoming about how 'they' were coming to get her-
and not the more enjoyable Hallmark grandma/grand daughter talk of...
or baking-
or bunnies-
or whatever.

We also stopped visiting her on holidays.
It was just too hard a prospect to leave one crazy house-
only to drive seven hours to go to another one.

Finally, I stopped sending her birthday and christmas cards altogether.

And so we grew apart.

And as I was a teenager, I'm sure i was less than graceful as to how far apart I actually put us. Honestly, it's all a blur but again, Dad's crazy was front and center...and her crazy was a whole bunch of states away in Massachusetts.

I was a sophomore in college when I heard that my grandmother had died.

And I'd had the most intensely vivid dream two nights before (which was when she'd first had the stroke and gone into a coma). It was so incredibly vivid that I'd written it down, which was not something I was in the habit of doing.

in the dream...

I was in an extremely crowded town square-
like, Tokyo crowded.
Ahead of me, standing out of reach at the opening of a church-
was a black man dressed all in black.

But i knew this man was good.
goodness, even.
Which struck me as odd as he was for some reason wearing the 'bad guy' couture line from a Billy Idol video.

behind me, I felt the crowd pushing me further towards an albino man dressed all in white.

And i knew this man was bad.

I reached out for the 'good black man' to help save me from the 'bad white man' I was being forced to by the crowd.

I felt myself forcibly backed up against the bad white man-
again, I looked to my good black man but he was gone.

I felt the bad white man grab something around my throat.
A necklace?
That's strange, i don't really wear jewelry, let alone necklaces.

Reflexively, I grab the necklace from the front-
and to prevent the bad white man from choking me with it, I rip it off with my hand from the front.

I look in my hand and on the necklace is....a bird?
Ok, this is really whacked out now because not only do i not wear necklaces, i fucking hate birds.
Hate 'em.
They freak me out.
Squawky, bitchy things.

i turn around to confront the bad white man, and there is the good black man in his place.
he smiles at me, a really warm smile-
and then I wake up.

When I write the dream out i actually sketch the bird...
and while i knew somewhere, it was an 'obvious' bird-
my general hatred for the entire species still left me confounded as to what type of bird it was.


My mom, brother and I all meet in Fall River, where my grandma lived with her second husband- an absolute brute of a man- to discuss a memorial, etc with the rest of the family.

Suffice it to say, it was a frustrating, infuriating and heartbreaking series of events over those three days in Fall River that left my mother in particular rather broken and guilt ridden.

I was desperate to do something to ease her mind.

I spewed out every single piece of New Age garbage combined with contemporary Christian bullshit I could at her...

"She's in a better place."
"She's not mad at us for not being there for her in the end."
"We'll light a candle for her and tell her how much we love her."
"She understands now."
"She's at peace now."
"She no longer thinks they're 'coming to get her' now."
"I'm sure she forgives us. She must."

and most importantly...
"She'll send us a sign that everything's ok. I know she will."

Because as hard as it was for me to be dealing with a crazy father and a crazy grandmother-
my mother had been dealing with a crazy husband and a crazy mother at the same time.

So if we're gonna talk about how hard it was for somebody, that whole dynamic?
My mom wins.
Hands down.

On our way out of town, it was of course, a massive thundering rainstorm.
We were all physically and emotionally exhausted....
and now, couldn't see two inches beyond the windshield.


We passed a sign that said,
and my brother-
being an absolute FREAK about the Titanic (way before it was even remotely cool to be)-
begged us to stop.

It was fucking pissing down buckets-
already 3:45pm and we had a 7 hour drive ahead of us.
Clearly, we weren't going to....

"Sure.", my Mom says.
Without consulting the rest of the car.

And as if on cue....
the rain stopped.
Like God just went up to the big ole faucet up there in heaven and shut it off.

and when we turned the corner towards the museum, a car pulled out leaving a parking space right in front of the exhibit door.

Admittedly, while I was amazed by all these things-
I was still 19 or 20 years old and was not allowed, by the youngsters guide to being a bitch to reveal it to anyone.

We went into the exhibit and i skulked, and moped, and pissed about...
just hoping the fact that the place was supposed to close in fifteen minutes would be enough for me to get away with such ridiculous behavior and not get too severely reprimanded for it.

as it happened, the owner had 'nothing better to do' so he kept the exhibit open for another hour as my mother and brother lllllliiinnnggggggeeeerrrreeeddddddd over everything.

Again, somewhere I appreciated how fantastic this was for my brother, who was obviously- dealing with a loss as great as mine...
but would never dare show it.
I could and would do everything in my power to make my mom happy right now, but my brother? Who I absolutely love with all my heart?

a quick glance once again through my handy dandy 'youngsters guide to being a bitch clearly states that as a sibling,

"he can suck it."

mom and mike are ready to leave and just as i think we're out the door...
my mom goes to the fucking GIFT COUNTER.


I'm literally out the front door when I hear my mom yell after me,

"Do you want anything?"

"No, ma. I just want to get on the road, please."

"Are you sure?"

"Oh Jesus Christ.....YES, i'm SURE!"

"What about this?"

I stomp back to the gift counter, eyes rolling, arms flailing..
when I see what she has in her hand.

It's a necklace.

With a bird on it.

A seagull.

It is...
down to the chain...
the EXACT NECKLACE i'd dreamt about.

I have never done a more swift emotional 180 in my LIFE.

"Ma!!!! Why did you pick this necklace?"

"Well....i.....don't really don't....know..."


Now, everyone is just completely shocked.
Two seconds ago i was central casting's wet dream for THE BREAKFAST CLUB and now I'm a shoo-in for UP WITH PEOPLE.

I run out to the car-
rip open my bag-
pull out my notebook-
run back into the store-
flip to the page-
find the drawing of the bird-
and put the necklace on top of it.

it's as if I'd traced it.
it fits perfectly.

all of a sudden...
these words are spewing out of me.
I'm explaining the dream...
and how there's good and bad in everyone-
and even when you feel like it's got you by the throat....
the guilt can choke you worse than the action...
you can set yourself free...
like a bird...
like grandma is.

After a couple of seconds...
i'm assuming after the shock of seeing me actually smile and speak multi-syllabically for the first time on months...
my mom began to cry.

but it was 'good' crying.
you know?

it was good.

And as i watched my mom actually believe what I was saying....
somewhere i thought, I wish...i could believe what I'm much as she is.

Because that's one of the craziest parts of the whole thing.

The whole diatribe that I spewed out to my mom?
About good and bad and freedom...
didn't come from me.

At least it didn't seem like it-
it came from grandma.

i hadn't put any of that shit together-
about the black man being good and the white man being bad-
but they're all the same guy really-
and things aren't what they seemed..

i mean, come on.
I was 20 years old.
I was barely making sense of the most recent 90210 episode.
so somewhere, grandma was speaking through me...
and I was still a spectator.

as NUTS as that sounds....
and yes, I'm aware it sounds nuts.
which actually means...that i'm most likely not certifiably crazy...
stay with me.
cause there's more.

I went back to school...
still conflicted and wracked with guilt.

I saw my grandmother everywhere.

I saw her in the opera I went to on campus where a young girl who couldn't have been more than 21 years old somehow looked exactly like my 65 yr old grandmother onstage- granted forgiveness to another young singer who looked exactly like me.

i saw her in TV commercials-
where wayward children are given a slight scolding but always forgiven by their loving mother who looks just like my grandmother did in her engagement photos.

I saw her on the street-
soothing a small child who's obviously misbehaved...

i heard her voice-
saying forgiving things....

and yet...

i refused to believe it was her because...




And Lord knows, I'd had plenty of crazy in my life and I was absolutely NOT going to get on that train. It's too hard on everybody ELSE.

A week later, I was making some extra cash by playing cocktail hour piano at a local Marriott. On a break, I was just walking around and stretching my legs when I saw there was a random 'psychic fair' in the building.

I figured, it would be an entertaining time-killer so I started to walk around.

It was your basic psychic fair crap-
crystals, tarot cards, 'fortune-tellers', new age books....
so after about ten minutes, I started to head back to the bar for my next set.

That was when a woman literally grabbed me.

And then she said it.
What every new yorker who's ever walked down 9th avenue on a summer night has heard,

"Come here. I have something to TELL you."

ya huh.
sure you do.

I said,

"Lady, I'm a college student just trying to get by. I've got no money so..."

"No no no no no no.....this is for free. I have to tell you something."

"Ok then..."

"Your grandmother just died."



"She wants me to tell you something...."



"She's been trying to talk to you for weeks......"

oh god. i don't want to hear it. she's going to tell me how horrible i am. what an awful grand daughter- no, HUMAN BEING i was for not sticking it out with her through the crazy. For being too weak to handle two of them at the same time.

For being.......cruel.

Because...I was.

I was cruel, because i had no skills to be any other way.

But regardless, I was cruel. was a very very hard lesson learned.

I said impatiently,


"Well, this is weird a psychic....i usually have to point out the signs from the beyond...and explain those signs....but you. You see the signs and you even understand the signs....your grandmother is telling you to BELIEVE those signs. That is the messaage. "Believe"."
and she reached for the seagull necklace around my neck....


How does this relate to this Randy Newman song?

it's about someone who has been loved by someone...
and it was beautiful...
and then...
that person changed...
they 'went away'...
but then...
in the end-
they came back.

which it is with my grandma and me.

She loved me-
she 'went away'-
and then she came back.

that's what love does.

It always comes back.
because, it never really goes anywhere.
it just...
changes form.

My grandma was sane-
then she was insane-
she died...
and is 'sane' again.

I was loving-
then I was cruel-
i asked forgiveness...
and was able to be loving once again.

But neither of us ever stopped loving the other.


And we never will.