June 27, 2008 at 12:51 pm (Uncategorized) (, , )

The inevitable question–which comes first? Words/egg or music/chicken? In my case it is almost always the egg. There have been so many occasions when my friends have casually laid out some seemingly profound (or maybe just catchy) turn of phrase while sitting outside at some restaurant in the summer or stuck in traffic somewhere between here and Philly. My friend, Scott, perhaps struck by a nice stretch of weather and sitting amongst relaxed diners enjoying cold drinks outside in West Chester, remarked, “This could be anywhere.”

There’s always a phrase or two that hangs in the air during any good conversation — this one seemed significant for some reason. I was struck by the whole delivery. It was a line that wasn’t part of some larger ongoing conversation; it was delivered at a lull and after what I thought was a studied survey of the surroundings. A moment when you’re able to see the town you’ve lived in for years in some sort of different light. The comment felt good. It wasn’t necessarily a statement on the sameness of small town America, though that’s certainly true of this place. It was something about the word “could” — “This could be anywhere” — that made it attractive to me. It was more about the possibility of the day and the setting. You might imagine it to be somewhere else if that’s what you wanted. Or not. The song I wrote, “Anonymous” ended up being about how sometimes it’s nice or preferable to be anonymous, without any clear definition.

In any case, it’s this kind of phrase that makes me want to write a song. So as many people do, when moments like this come up, I reach for a pen and something to write on–usually my hand, despite the number of fine notebooks I own. (Never on the palm because sweat might remove it–just left of the space between my thumb and forefinger on the back of my left hand works nicely.) I’m sure texting it to yourself is a good option; I just haven’t gotten into that yet. I suppose people carry notebooks with them, but I find that a bit rude and a conversation killer. I like treating it like it’s a reminder to pick up milk (though, I’ve actually never done that; I think I’m a little lactose intolerant). Still I’ll admit, I think it gets on people’s nerves sometimes. People don’t really want their winning lines transcribed by some guy. My friend Dave had a great line (don’t know if it would really work in a song)– delivered after I had written a number of things down on a particular night: [paraphrasing–damn, should have written it down] –“I feel like Ben is playing some game by himself but no one knows the rules or who’s winning.” Some nights it does seem like a scorecard. Often it makes no sense the next morning. Like songs, these phrases sometimes depend on the setting, all the “verses” that came before it, the time of night.

So the other night, out on Marc and Krista’s porch, the conversation turned to insects and whether or not we kill them and under what circumstances. Personally, I have no qualms about squashing the occasional bug–not senselessly mind you, but when they are crawling somewhere they shouldn’t (subjective, I know). I’ve learned not to kill spiders; I understand the role they play in controlling the population of other insects and so I’ve shooed a few through a door or window. After living in NYC and Boston, I have no problems killing cockroaches–mostly because I know if they could, they’d do it to me. While we are without cockroaches here, we do get frequent “baddies” — that’s what Jess calls them. She does not like them to put it mildly. It’s one of the few moments I get to act chivalrous and protect my wife from harm. 

Where is this going? Anyway, Rosalie, also sitting on the deck and no doubt due to her vegetarian beliefs, wants no part of the senseless killing of insects. I admit to a bad habit of prodding vegetarians from time to time with stupid questions like, “Why don’t you have a problem killing lettuce? It’s alive? What, because it doesn’t have eyes? Because it’s not pretty?” She was nice enough to ignore me. But after considering Rosalie’s world — my warped interpretation of it — one where nothing ever dies and everything gets to live — I said, “Your world must be so crowded.”

And so before you knew it I was looking for a pen. Could be a good line in a dialogue type song. Maybe it’s just a title: “Crowded World”. Maybe it’s about how people never clear out all that builds up around them. I’m often attracted to accusatory or confrontational lines. Lots of pop songs try to call people out or indict. 

To Rosalie’s credit, her reply to my “crowded world” line was, “Yes, but it’s happy place.” [Let’s hope Bobby McFerrin wasn’t walking by.]



  1. JDizzle said,

    You know what? Apparently Baddies are like spiders, they eat other bugs. I wouldn’t mind them so much if they weren’t so darn fast! I guess that’s the benefit of having 15 legs.

    Man, there are so many literary moments of genius that happen in our lives but are lost by the sobering of the next morning. I hope you plan to log them all here!

  2. Jim said,

    Great effing idea, Ben. I’ll eat this with a fork and steak knife.

    Let’s talk bugs. In our new home, we’ve discovered that giant mosquitos and giant horse flies can be murdered at will. Actually, I see myself as kind of the Rambo to their…erm….Rambo enemies. I agree on spiders but if they’re cornering one of my children or look particularly nasty, they’re goners. Sorry, fellas (all spiders are male. I made that up.).

    Fireflies though – love ’em. I’d let them live in my house permanently if given the option. They also have a badass name. I mean, they’re called “Fireflies.”

    If you’re interested, I’ve begun working on a music blog with a mate of mine. See here:

  3. kartek said,

    My treaty with the bugs and spiders is that if they come into my home, it’s an act of war….and death will be imminent unless you are a ladybug, then I will kindly escort you back outside. If you are a wispy tiny spider that just hangs out in the corner, I’ll let you slide…but do not stray from said corner. When I’m outside, the bugs and spiders are more than welcome to return the favor…and they do. Mostly it’s the ticks and mosquitoes in the front lines of the offense.

    Have you thought about getting a tiny recorder. That way you can talk into it like Agent Cooper from Twin Peaks. Takes up less room and has other uses.

  4. Dr Zibbs said,

    When I come across a bug, I usually spray paint a portion of them, then drive about 30 miles to release them. If i see them again, that’s when I kill them (just because gas prices are so high and all).

  5. Dominic said,

    Glad you’re doing this, Songsmith. Looks great!

  6. Smoochies said,

    Just seeing a picture of that baddie gives me the chills.

  7. Steve said,

    One thing I find interesting about these examples is that you’ve emphasized the way the phrases seem to be carefully considered: Scott makes a “studied survey” of his surroundings before speaking, while you spend a moment pondering what Rosalie is arguing before you good-naturedly take her to task. It’s almost as if — consciously or not — you’re kind of showing spontaneity the back of your hand, which is odd since, in the simplest of terms, this post is about how songs can spring from spontaneous situations. I wonder if this is part of the way you’re laying these anecdotes out — the occasion that prompts a song-worthy utterance can itself contain more than enough “spontaneousness” to give rise to something poetic, but in order to have the readers of your blog understand why these particular phrases struck you, you have to invest them with a certain weight of consideration in your prose. Or, and this I find kind of more compelling to think about, is that consideredness an inherent part of what makes these phrases so attractive to you? After all, what you’re suggesting is that the phrase “this could be anywhere,” by virtue of its meaning more than the simple idea those four words, at their base, convey, actually contains an entire song that you can tease out with additional words and ideas and music. I’m just curious — is this something you’ve thought much about? Is the germ of a song better if it comes from a carefully worked-out place? Or is it just that the story of where that germ came from is better in that case?

    This blog’s a great idea, man. I look forward to reading more!

  8. Rosalie said,

    It just seems to me that everything living thing has a purpose. Why is it accepted to “F” that up? How pissed do you get when, let’s say you order a bagel, lox, and cream cheese sandwich and they don’t have the lox AND you have to actually put together yourself? How about when they don’t even provide a knife for you cream cheese? These people have just taxed your groove? Don’t you think it’s kinda taxing to the flow of the earth and its life if you just squash an insect or crawly thing for no reason, when it probably was on it’s own mission? My world is happier and everything comes back to you in some other way. I hope you all don’t come back as a cockroach or Baddy.

    Keep up the stream of consciousness…it is fascinating and enlightening.

  9. Songsmith said,

    It’s nice to see that we’ve all given this bug issue some thought. I’m definitely down with fireflies, Jim, but let’s face it — it’s just because they’re beautiful and they, like, light up and stuff and we can’t expect the same of all insects. I like Dr. Zibbs’ idea the best but it sounds like a lot of work. Kartek: anything I can do to be more like Agent Cooper is a good idea. Maybe I should write words up on a blackboard and throw rocks to come up with song ideas. I guess Steve agrees with you, Jess. Maybe I should give more credit to our friends and their brilliance — perhaps spotaneity is overrated. Smoochies: if I see a baddie while we housesit your place, I’ll “get rid of it”. Dom: you are.

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