Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The story behind the song: Desperate Mama

Desperate Mama began when I was asked to write a song in which I borrowed some of the lyrics from a conversation I overheard. After eavesdropping on all types of locations I heard one woman (with a Texas accent) say to her friend, “Well, as we say down in Texas, ‘Have a good day and don’t you kill anyone.’” After digesting the strangeness of that thought, I grabbed onto the gist as a suitable phrase for the song. In the meantime, I had been working on a tune already in which the chorus was “Desperate Mama, Desperate Mama, she don’t worry about a thing no more.” As often happens to me in the songwriting process, the lyrics of the chorus came to me first, before I had any sense of what I was writing about. It’s like picking up a novel and reading from a random page in the middle. Then I backup and decide where and how to begin the song, given what I know is happening later. I am fond of this song for several reasons. First, I like the country/bluegrass feel that it has. It’s a happy sounding chord progression, which belies the rather unhappy subject matter. Second, my favorite line in the song is “I never even learned his Christian name / But I heard him calling Jesus just the same.” A little sexual innuendo mixed with religious fervor never hurts. Third, if you pay close enough attention you will learn that over the course of the song, a decision has been made and acted upon, one which shifts the tense of the person doing the talking, permanently. And lastly, I love that Tim O’Brien plays and sings on the recording. Not only is it cool to play with a Grammy winner, but he adds the right type of plaintive qualities to the track. Then again, what’s not to love about a song that touches on pregnancy, abortion, and suicide?

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