Monday, January 12, 2009

How I Wrote the Song: Everybody's Going Away

The latest in an occasional series

There was a week back in June when I helped a long-time friend load out what was left of his furniture that was still sitting in his ex's place. They'd split, and my friend couldn't find a job in Austin, so he planned to move back to Kentucky where at least he had family. He'd rented a truck that morning and we moved out a sofa, artwork and other bits and pieces. I said goodbye to him and drove off as the day grew warmer. Later that night, Michelle called him to say her goodbye. She was sad, but then we figured we'd see him again in the future. Or we told ourselves this, though neither of us seriously believes we'll be going to Kentucky. Will he come back to visit Austin? I don't know. It seems unlikely.

That same week I helped an intrepid French family we know store their remaining possessions in a rental facility near our neighborhood before they took off in a used RV to tour the world for three years. Some things they gave to me to store at home while they were away: large dark boxes to tuck away in the closet not to see the light of day until their return years hence.

As I drove to work I thought, "Everybody's going away," and immediately the idea for a song started forming. Michelle and I talked later and we agreed that quite a number of our closest friends had upped and left town in recent years, with still more planning to go. Everybody was going away! I told her I already had the chorus to a new song:

Everybody's going away
Though some of them say they'll be back some day
But I've seen people leave here before
And when they go they don't come back no more

It didn't take long to write the rest of song. The first two verses tell the brief stories above. The third is a litany of people we've known (not even close to half!) who've moved away from Austin, in all likelihood never to return. The last mentioned is our dear friend, Don, who, having fought off cancer seven times, opted to take a journey of a different kind. He succumbed to the disease on his own terms, peacefully in his bed. We miss him.

We miss all our friends who have left.

It's funny that while I can recall the moment the song began to come together in my head -- another one that formed as I drove along on Austin's highways -- I cannot remember how I wrote the music. I can vaguely recall strumming my acoustic guitar and the chords appearing in an acceptable order; or, rather, my hands shifting to form a progression of chords that made sense and fit the words. The chorus came first, of course. Then I made a conscious decision to keep the verses simple, and I guess that was that. I wrote the song in a matter of days.

A couple of minor notes: I hadn't expected to keep the "oh-oh-oh" part between choruses and verses, which appeared out of the blue as I sang an early demo of the song, but once I did it, it stuck. And, slyly, I put in a little play on words for the part about Don. I thought he'd get a kick out of it.

Everybody's going away
Though some of them say they'll be back some day
But I know we won't see them again
So raise a glass to all our absent friends

Listen to Everybody's Going Away on The Late Joys website.

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