Trying a new approach

After my first Songs in Progress session hosted by the Arizona Songwriters Association, I decided that I was going to start writing the music first for my next song. I also wanted to learn a new chord.

That evening I checked out my guitar chord book to see which one was doable (I still avoid B and F and any other complicated ones) and liked the sound of the C. I started strumming that chord, along with others I knew that sounded good with it and the line “I never knew what you believed in” came to me.

Pairing that line with a recent news story that was on my mind, the song practically wrote itself and by later that night, I had the basics of a new song: “Evening News.” The next few weeks I reworked some lyrics and musical parts and purposefully wrote a bridge. I had never written songs to fit a certain structure before and I spent most of the time trying to craft a bridge.

The song is written from the perspective of a person who knows somebody who commits a horrific crime (such as a terrorist attack or mass shooting) that was shockingly unexpected. (The classic “He was such a quiet neighbor, kept to himself mainly. I never would have thought…” I wrote this right after the June 2016 shooting in an Orlando dance club.)

I never knew what you believed in
I hoped and assumed it was for the good
You surprised all of us with your headlines
Doing what we never thought you would

I thought what it must be like for people who knew the attacker and how surprised they would be to find out their neighbor, co-worker, acquaintance, friend, family member, etc. committed such a horrific act. No matter what positive feelings they had for this person, it’s likely that his final act would erase all the good that came before.

When I heard your name
When I saw your picture on the evening news
Nothing will ever be the same
Life is measured by the roads you choose

At first there is likely a sense of denial because of the shock of somebody you know – or thought you knew – being accused of something alters your sense of reality. An example of this is when I heard about what OJ Simpson was accused of doing. His public persona (at least to me, a non-sports fan) was as a funny actor jumping over suitcases in an airport so when I first heard he was accused of murdering his wife, I thought there must have been some kind of misunderstanding. Same with Bill Cosby after growing up watching “The Cosby Show.”

At first I didn’t believe the rumors
Certain there must be some kind of mistake
But the evidence stacked against you
And you weren’t around to claim your fate

This was my bridge, although you may not be able to tell because I use the same strumming as I do in the rest of the song:

Looking back I never found a clue
Of a hidden life lived by you
Made me doubt everything I knew
Tore my trust of what I thought was true

Instead of going to the chorus after the bridge, which I have since learned is the standard structure, I go into a third verse. I wanted to wrap up the story by moving far into the future, as somebody thinking back on it. The narrator still is unsure why their friend/acquaintance/family member did what they did but they’ve moved on.

Many years later your memory lingers
Still wondering what went on in your mind
Done passing blame and pointing fingers
Seems the punishment fit the crime

I received good feedback on the song at the next songwriting workshop. Somebody said he liked the rhythm and when I said I envisioned it being used in a TV or movie, some agreed that imagery would fit.

One person said that the story wasn’t entirely clear and said the line “you weren’t around to claim your fate” was confusing. To me, it was clear – it meant because the person was killed and the “punishment fit the crime” line refers to the fact that he was killed. But of course it was clear to me, as I had the whole back story of the actual event in my head.

They also suggested I make the title more descriptive, changing it from “Evening News” to “Saw Your Picture on the Evening News” or “Your Picture on the Evening News,” but I still think of it as “Evening News.”

I really like this song but agree it could benefit from some revisions to make the story clearer. I could probably lose the third verse, too, although I remember being pretty pleased with the rhymes “lingers/fingers” and “mind/crime.”

Did writing the music before or with the lyrics/melody make a difference from writing the lyrics and melody first and writing the music afterward? I think it does because it gave it a whole different sound than my past songs.

Did it change the way I write songs? Not really, as I still tend to write the lyrics and melody first and the music afterward, but it was a good learning experience to try a different approach.

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