24 April 2008
The Magic Word
... continuing the series of posts on the songs from the album...

















Song number ten is "The Magic Word".

In the past some of my friends have asked me "Why don't you write a song about me?" LOL. It's not out of the question because a few of my songs are specifically about people. But not so much focusing on a person, as about the situation he or she is in; and how that affected me. Ultimately, I can only write for myself. All art is subjective, I reckon, even when it's constructed with an illusion of objectivity or comes with instructions that tell the reader: It's your interpretation of this bunch of nonsense that reveals the story behind it. To me, nothing is free of subjectivity. The person who writes and the person who reads, and everyone who comes in between -- they all colour the experience in their own way.

"The Magic Word" I wrote sometime in 2005, about a guy I fell in love with. But I didn't really want to write lyrics that were too direct... ha ha ha... that seems to be a predictable trait with my songwriting... because my feelings were kinda ambivalent. I didn't know him that well, we were only together for a short time, and then we were apart. I was kinda sad that it didn't really go anywhere despite the intense connection we shared... LOL.

Anyway, he did ask the question. "Why don't you write a song about me?" or maybe it was more like "Would you ever write a song about me?" Being tactful, I answered, "Maybe." People can be quite sensitive.

It wasn't until much later... that the song came about, after a bit of time and distance...

I was back home in Kota Kinabalu, away from the hustle and bustle (and muscle) of the city, when I wrote it. I had come up with the chord progression earlier in KL, but didn't really had words for it. Names came up, seemingly out of nowhere. I guess it was a literal interpretation of writing a song that addressed a person, or in this case, a couple of people.

Anthony and Christopher were two poets I had a crush on in Australia. Ditto Joshua, though he wasn't a poet. And Daniel was the flame that inspired the song. LOL. I can't believe I'm writing this... anyway, originally the lyrics included women's names... but I had to focus the song in a personal way. And though there were other names that had more a personal meaning for me... I had to choose names with three syllables so they fit the vocal melody.

The chorus is, I guess, the part that clinched the song and gave it a somewhat broader meaning. It describes a loss of innocence, or a loss of something precious that had the power to transmute an experience into something else. And this was quite surprising. Because the song does change focus entirely when the chorus comes in. I wasn't expecting it when I wrote it. It wasn't really what I wanted to say, but it made it more meaningful in a way.

So, the names in the verses need not refer to lovers, or actual people, but memories, symbols of something else, what they stood for rather than who or what they are. It's the same approach as in "Tomas". I'm not sure what other people might interpret from the lyrics. Probably something vastly different. But that's OK. I like it when other people treat the songs like Rorschach tests... or texts... and find something completely different in them... that makes it more personal too for the listeners.

I don't perform the song live much because it's rather quiet and sad. It's the kind of song that, after you listen to it, you want to go somewhere quiet and pick over an old memory, wallow in some nostalgic cookie dough. Ha ha ha... but when it feels right, I like performing it. It's one of those songs that brings up a lot of muted emotions.

It's one of two songs on the album that was produced by Ariff Akhir, the other being "Flowers". These two songs were recorded in 2007, in one four-hour session, during which Ariff, his girlfriend Aida and I hung out at Ariff's apartment cum home studio in Bukit Antarabangsa, all with an easygoing vibe, talking and eating... I played him the two songs, Ariff wrote a basic beat track over which I played and sang, and he filled in the rest with impeccable arrangements. When he played me the mixes during another session, I was very happy with how the tracks turned out. We didn't change much at all... except fiddling with levels... that was about it. All in all, a successful collaboration.


*

The Magic Word

Anthony, where do we go from here
Your face is warm but my hands are freezing
Christopher, where do we go from here
Your voice is sad but you make me so happy

Once I knew a magic word that could
Change the world into a tiny worm
But then I learned so many words, I changed
My magic word it turned into a bird
Then flew away

Joshua, do you know what to do
Your eyes have died but I can still see you
Daniel, do you know what to do
You’re far away but you’re still deep inside me

Once I knew a magic word that could
Change the world into a tiny worm
But then I learned so many words, I changed
My magic word it turned into a bird
Then flew away

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