Today’s song has a lot of sources. It all started seeing my friend Vinnie Linares direct “Albatross” back in January just as this “53 Songs” project was taking shape. I was reminded both that I love Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” and that there’s a benefit in taking older works of art and reimagining them.
Then, my friend Colin Meloy* asked ChatGPT to write him a song in the style of his band, the Decemberists. The results were mediocre, but Meloy recorded it anyway (listen at https://boingboing.net/2023/02/15/the.... So, in the same vein, I asked ChatGPT to write a sea shanty that retold the story of the Rime of Ancient Mariner. I actually had to ask it twice, as the first version stopped halfway through the story! I combined the two shanties, finessed the lyrics a bit, and then sat down with my bespoke ukulele (a gift from luthier Peter Sgouros) to write a tune. By the time I got around to recording the song for this week’s release, it had morphed in my head to something more cinematic, so the ukulele was dropped in favor of a string section, but phase 2 of this project is going to have a lot more acoustic music, so stay tuned for that ukes appearance.
All of that is a long way of introducing “The Sea Shanty of the Ancient Mariner.” Watch the lyric video on YouTube here or link to www.kimosongs.com where you can access all your favorite streaming services.
* not my actual friend, but I feel like we would be friends if Colin would just give it half a chance.
The only certain things in life (or so they say) are death and taxes. I started writing a song about taxes, but that didn't pan out*, so I decided to write about death instead. The title comes from Macbeth: "And all our yesterdays have lighted fools The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle. Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, And then is heard no more."
The refrain is from the Gospel of St. Matthew (and, more directly, from a hymn), which notes that we know not the hour that Jesus will return ("Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh" Matthew 22:44). That idea has been repurposed here to be generally about not knowing the hour (or place) that death will appear. Fun!
* I think the taxes song will eventually see the light of day; it's just not quite ready for primetime.
Jane Austen -- author of such notable novels as "Pride and Prejudice," "Emma," "Persuasion," and "Sense and Sensibility" -- was also a poet. A kind of silly poet. The lyrics to this song are drawn from a poem she wrote of the same title, which was probably composed in the 1790s as a scold to her friend Mister Best, who would not take their mutual friend Martha Lloyd for a spa treatment. We don't know who Mr. Best was, but he was obviously concerned about his health. The "Richard's pills" mentioned in the song are likely a reference to the patent elixirs of Richard Stoughton, the second person to ever receive a patent for medicine in England. (The original poem has more verses that I left out due to time considerations. You're welcome.)
If there's going to be an overarching theme to this year of music, it's going to be an exploration of the way artificial intelligence seeps into every aspect of our modern lives. I wanted to write a song in the style of Meredith Monk or Steve Reich and I wanted to write a song about how hard it seems to be for AI to understand artistic vision. So, I asked an AI program to write me a poem about a robot trying to write a poem. It was better than I expected it would be (I'm posting it below), but still not great. But then I thought, "Wouldn't this sound better in Italian? Everything sounds more poetic in Italian." So I had Google translate the poem and then I had a computer voice read it as I recorded the music. This is a little weirder than some of the stuff you may be used to hearing from me -- it's a signpost of things to come.
In 1943, Woody Guthrie--one of the greatest folk songwriters of all time--doodled a list of 33 New Year's resolutions, which includes such gems as "Wash Teeth if Any," "Change Socks," and "Stay Glad." (You can read the entire list at https://cdn8.openculture.com/2014/01/...) A few years ago, I used "Stay Glad" as a prompt for a song, and I thought that in would be keeping with nature of this current project to mine the list for other possible song titles. So, I had my computer pick a random number between 1 and 33. It chose #13, "Read Lots Good Books." We'll revisit the list later in the project. Enjoy!
Welcome to "53 Songs in 53 Weeks"! To celebrate turning 53, I'm going to write, record, and release a new song every week for next 53 weeks.
Stylistically, this going to be all over the map. Some will be in the same folk/rock vein that you're used to with my music, but many will not. Some will be quite avantgarde and experimental, as I am, in the end, as much a fan of John Cage as I am of John Cale. Some will be fragments, some will be instrumentals, some will be polished, others won't be polished at all. The goal here is to never let the perfect be the enemy of the good, but to just let the ideas that careen around in my head come out in musical form and present themselves to the world.
The whole shebang will culminate on Feb 22, 2024, with a concert at ProArts on Maui, so if you are kind of person who saves the date a year in advance, please do so!
Then, I'll take the best 10-12 tracks, remix or re-record them, and produce an album.
So -- speaking of John Cale -- first up is a song called "Halfway." I was thinking of Cale when I wrote it, but by the time I recorded it, the mood had somehow turned into Depeche Mode channeling Leonard Cohen. (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)
I hope you enjoy!