Scrapbook #9: Repetition


My birthday is coming up, and the week around it is all flooded with music. I’ve already spent one evening watching Marie Chouinard’s bizarre and amazing modern dance interpretation of Orpheus and Eurydice – all half naked, gyrating bodies and music composed more of singular sounds than songs – wails and bells and distorted lyre strums (thank you, Caro, for the ticket!). I’ll spend another night watching Anton Kuerti play songs on the piano (thank you, Andrew!) , and then another with the Pixies making their way through Surfer Rosa (thank you um, me!).

So I’m thinking about music and about getting older.

The other day I went searching for some songs I thought I’d lost on an old hard drive, but found other mp3s instead, these little, teeny tiny songs I wrote at the height of a time where I felt most serious about making music, not just listening to it, around 2001/2002. Listening to these songs was a like meeting an old friend I used to know well, but lost touch with for awhile.

The One That Got Away.mp3
(Click to listen in another window)

These songs are so strange to me! And embarrassing! I apologize for the painful hissiness of them, like they were recorded in a room with a tin roof on the rainiest day of the year. This was before the ease of digital recording, recorded on two-track cassette player and then painstakingly wired to a computer. Lo-fi still felt kind of charming back then.

All Those Years.mp3
(Click to listen in another window)

I wanted to write songs like Lee Hazlewood, full of heartbreak and regret and swagger, but these songs are nothing like Lee Hazlewood. I never really had the stamina or music vocabulary for songwriting, either – these barely scratch the 2 minute mark.

I Only Stay.mp3
(Click to listen in another window)

But I’m grateful to that younger version of myself who had the arrogance and the ego to commit these half-formed songs to tape. It’s a nice reminder from my 22 year old self to my (almost, practically) 32 year old self to do these kinds of things, even if they’re a little raw and out of tune. Also useful: my 30-something self plagiarized the lyrics from one of the songs in the novel I’m working on.

I remember learning how to play the guitar when I was 16, before I took any lessons or knew how to form chords, just sitting with a nylon stringed classical guitar and plucking out songs I knew note by note. The same songs, the same notes, repeated. And then I learned chords and soon my parents got a dial up connection and I would print out pages and pages of guitar tablature, punch holes in them and keep them in a fat green binder. All these songs I could play, a new kind of freedom.

There is something about playing music that feels, for me, like the most tangible expression of learning, like I can feel my brain processing, chugging along while I do it. I think this is one of the reasons why I’ve never been a brilliant musician – it’s too clunkily attached to my physical self; I can’t really noodle around or god forbid, jam. (Unless you need someone to play G and C chords over and over? Then I’m your girl.) Writing, on the other hand, is more mysterious. It comes from somewhere I don’t understand. For me music is comforting because it’s nice to know that dogged repetition is how I go from not being able to do something to being able to do it.

Junk shop in Vermont

I try to apply that principle to writing: repetition works. (I try to think this when I psych myself up about jogging too, but I’m still not there yet, probably because I can sit at home in my PJ’s to play the guitar, but have to get dressed, wear running shoes, go out into the world, etc. if I want to run. Laziness sometimes trumps other pleasures, and the older I get the more I’m okay with that.) But still, the act of doing the same thing over and over makes that thing, whatever it is, easier, and I also know that the more I remind myself of that, the more I’m likely to believe it.

15 thoughts on “Scrapbook #9: Repetition

  1. Thank you for sharing these! I love your songs. Did you know that I’ve had a version of you singing “Deeper Than Beauty” on every computer/iPod I’ve owned since you posted it somewhere online back in 2002? 2003? Also, I think of you every time I hear/play Hayden’s “Between Us To Hold.”


  2. “For me music is comforting because it’s nice to know that dogged repetition is how I go from not being able to do something to being able to do it.”

    Lovely words, Ms. Teri. You should write more about music. There’s something powerful there. I think one of the reasons I’ve had music on my mind lately is something you mentioned to the Humber group; I think you asked what people listen to when they write, if anything, or what certain music inspires… something. Whatever it was, it got me thinking about the way I use/enjoy/include music in my own life. And why.

    Then there’s that whole generational thing. Vinyl and tape and CDs and mp3′s…. and I’m lost after that. (Actually I’m already lost at mp3; you saw the photo on my post, yes?)

    I love how music affects people differently. But not everyone is able to connect/write it as well as you do… more please. :)

    • thank you, carin! there has indeed been a disconnect in music due to the whole progression from tangible thing (tape/CD/record) to MP3, and it’s definitely affected how i listen to music too. anyway, i’m sure i’ll write more about this topic in the future…

  3. ohmygoodness i feel like i maybe knew abt these maybe but i’ve never heard abt them and i love them and they make me feel like i’m in blurry summery movie abt love. LOVE YR SONGS. yr voice. yr writing. yr heart and face. xo

  4. Oh, Teri, I didn’t realize these were the songs you were talking about this afternoon! You know, I remember the year you recorded these songs and gave us these CDs with a beautiful lino-printed green cover and I seriously listed to your songs so much that year and I LOVED them. They made me want to cry, but in a good way. Aw, younger selves! I remember when I used to play and be serious about music too, and when I thought I was going to be a musician (but I hated performing, and was never very going at improving, either)…it seems like so long ago now! xo

    • Aww, thank you, Les! That’s right, I forgot about the printed covers I did for the CD’s… eek! I’ve also always known you to play instruments, but it’s funny, I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to hear you play. I think we’re all a little shy about it!

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