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.]


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