Happy Halloween! This song could typically be found at the very end of my coffee house sets, and would’ve been the show closer if I always hadn’t felt that leaving audiences on such a disturbingly discordant note was more than a little inappropriate for the setting. Easily my most vocally dynamic song to date, it tells the tale of a endlessly repeating tragic scene that haunts the singer at night. Unable to escape, he finds his very sanity at a breaking point as he begs for release from his unfortunate fate.
Year Composed: 2017
About the Song
Popular media commonly depicts ghosts as being sentient and intelligent, able to move about at will and interact with their surroundings with the same sense of purposeful intent enjoyed by the living – albeit with some added limitations or conditions. They might not be able to pick up solid objects as easily as they once did, for example, or carry on a spoken conversation, but they can typically make their presence or wishes known in less direct ways. It is this ability to act and react that drives a story, after all – choice and conflict are essential ingredients, regardless of the specific role that a ghostly character might be playing. That need for conflict created a fundamental roadblock when I began writing this song, but it ultimately taught me some critical lessons about the differences between short fiction and a song lyric as well as the value of shifting one’s perspective and being willing to let go of things that simply aren’t working, no matter how much you might want to keep them around.
For those of you who might not be so familiar with this term, a recurring haunting is one in which the same set of events are repeated at a specific interval – the same time each day, the same day each year, etc. My initial concept for “Sleepless” centered around an antique clock that triggered a time slip, where at a certain moment each night, the room in which the clock was located would revert back to the way it looked long ago and past events would replay for those who were present. It was very much a horror mystery, where the focus was on slowly revealing the cause and possible resolution for this haunting piece by piece, with the singer/protagonist making discoveries and figuring things out along the way.
Standard-length song lyrics do not tend to lend themselves well to advanced story development or extended exposition. Trying to effectively convey a complex story – albeit one that involves the gradual piecing together of gathered evidence – in the span of an average 3-5 minute song is…well, let’s go with extraordinarily, monumentally challenging. As an author, it’s entirely possible to spend multiple pages detailing a setting, or describing exactly what a character might be feeling or thinking while witnessing a paranormal occurrence. As a songwriter, I find that the task is more about distilling things down to extract the core meanings or essences of each element and then conveying them in the most efficiently unique way possible, given the inherent limitations of time and space in each verse or chorus. I find that this is the case even with the extended song lengths encountered so often in progressive rock. Sure, you might have nine or thirteen minutes in which to tell a particular story, but there is still a need to be efficient, lest the story become too diluted or incongruous.
Another thing I discovered is that perspective matters – a lot. Originally, this song was gong to be written in the past tense, with the events of the story having already been experienced by the singer. At one point, I got so frustrated with my constant struggling to make any kind of progress with the lyric that I basically threw everything I had been working on aside and asked myself why I was trying to write this song to begin with. What was I really trying to do or say here? What if the singer was experiencing these events in real-time? I thought. Hmmm….that would certainly turn up the emotional volume a notch. And what if the focus wasn’t on the clock, or the time slip or on solving a mystery, but simply on the fact that the singer cannot escape this experience, no matter how desperately he wants to, no matter how many times he has been forced to witness this terrible, tragic scene, no matter how utterly powerless he feels and how much he fears it will literally drive him insane. Bingo. Game, set, and match.
Without that turning point, I am entirely certain that this song would have joined the ranks of my other unfinished musical works. While some – particularly those who so innocently stopped by one of the coffee houses in which I happened to be playing with the expectation that they might enjoy a cup of mocha while relaxing to yet another comfortably generic rendition of “Brown Eyed Girl” – might contend otherwise, I think that would have been a tragedy in its own right, as I still consider it to be one of the most raw, emotionally dynamic, and disturbingly immediate things I have ever written.