Play That Song Again: Not Fade Away

Posted in Blogs, Music

February 22, 2017

I always wait until we’re out of time
Speak my mind
Right before you go

So don’t hang up, there’s just one last thing
I’m imagining
You’ve got to know

The above is from a new song called “Postscript,” and what I’m trying to get at is the urgency of the last moment, the magical thing that happens as a song fades out, the emotion right before you say goodbye to someone, or the waiting until the discussion is almost over to get to the point.

Like most things musical, The Beatles are the best examples of this. I remember being a kid and absolutely cranking up the volume between the songs of the “Let It Be” album — they left in a lot of studio noise, count-offs, and false starts to capture that “live in the studio” feel, I guess. (Or maybe just to show the creative process — at that point in The Beatles career, it was mostly a bummer, and no one liked each other very much.) The false start on “I Dig a Pony” is great, and someone shouting, “Hold it,” right as the first notes come crashing down makes the real start of the song even more dramatic.

I also love the drum fills on “Drive My Car” during the fade out; the “Beep-beep, yeah” background vocals lock in as the song ends, and I want to say, “Wait, keep playing—this is really grooving now! Don’t stop!” Same with “Ticket to Ride;” the double-stop guitar fills between the “She don’t care” fade-out are the coolest things in the whole song.

It seems to me that The Beatles are having fun here, and we get a glimpse into real musicians playing together and goofing off a bit — the fact that you’re not supposed to hear these unvarnished moments make it even more interesting — you don’t get to be part of the club unless you’re really paying attention.

Two other songs that immediately come to mind are from the much-beloved ‘80s group the Greg Kihn Band and the roots-rockers Wilco. On Kihn’s “Another Lonely Saturday Night,” the fade-out is amazing — all the juice is cut off, and he sings the chorus with the unmistakable sound of an unplugged Fender Stratocaster, strumming along, still grooving on the melody of the song, even though it sounds like everyone else has left the building. Wilco’s “California Stars” fades with the acoustic guitar and piano playing back and forth after the other instruments drop out — it sounds like a bunch of guys in the garage, messing about while somebody leaves to make a beer run. These are great moments; it feels like you’re there in the room as the song is created.

On Dire Straits “Industrial Disease,” the story of a runaway pandemic (which is really just a dig at industrialization and governments’ complicity) is shown with some dark humor. At the end, as the panic, rhetoric, and finger-pointing fade out, if you listen really close between the cymbal crashes, you can hear Mark Knopfler say, “Whoa, I’m sick.” You can almost hear the smile on his face as he says it, laughing as he imagines the crazy dystopian world he’s created.

So where does that leave us with “Postscript,” the song at the beginning of this essay? I guess these moments are just examples of people letting their guard down, the not getting to the good stuff until you’re almost out of time. The looming deadline, the cut-off at the end of a song, the speaking what’s really on your mind at the end of a conversation are all too important to miss. Like a lot of people, I feel that all the events of 2016 gave me that kind of focus; these days, I try not to wait until it’s too late to say something important or to cut loose and have some fun. So, don’t mind me if I shush you as the song is fading out — I’m just trying to pay attention while it’s getting good.

Erik Christensen teaches English at Oak Harbor High School, writes songs and poetry, and roots for whoever is playing against the New York Yankees.

The Erik Christensen Band plays at the Penn Cove Brewery Taproom on Feb. 24 from 7 to 9 p.m., Blooms Winery on Feb. 26 from 3 to 5 p.m., and the Penn Cove Musselfest March 4 from 2:30 to 5 p.m.


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