Song: Alone Again

This is from a series of posts about songs from my album, Broken Open.

Writing

The second track on Broken Open is Alone Again

We were living together for five years and I thought everything was going pretty well.  Sure, we had some “issues” but nothing we couldn”t work out, right?  I agreed to couples therapy so we could deal with these issues head-on.  We’d go together sometimes and separately other times.

Therapy was really working for me.  I was opening up in ways I had never done before and and starting to really get in touch with a lot of childhood suffering that I’d internalized mostly related to my father’s alcoholism.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t going so well for her and she decided to stop going.  A few weeks later, I come home to a note on the dining room table…

She said, “I’m leaving – for real”
Yeah, that’s what she said to me
In the note she left for me
And then the room began to reel
And I lost touch with reality
And nothing was the same for me from then

It was bad.  Oddly enough, I started writing this song about a year before this happened.  I came up with the chorus and the bridge section, although the words were a little different: “Could I survive this alone?” and I remember thinking, “Hmm. This sounds like a breakup song.  What’s up with that?” Maybe part of me knew the relationship was doomed, but consciously I was not expecting it to ever end.  I really did think that it would be forever.

Now I’m alone again
Now I’m alone again

My first reaction was utter despair interwoven with intense bouts of self-hate. There were times, early on in the process – especially when we were together – if I could stay in the moment without thinking about the past or the future, that I could feel incredibly peaceful and even happy.  It was strangely euphoric.  I think this tragic experience woke me up in a way that I hadn’t been in many years. Inevitably though, I would start tripping out about the past or the future and the grief would become almost unbearable. I felt completely at a loss because all my plans for the future were now gone, and I realized just how much I defined myself by that relationship.  I didn’t have a clue who I was or what I was doing outside of it.

Everything seems so unreal now
Nothing’s like it was before
She’s locked the door and I can’t find the key
I never knew that I could feel
So apart from what I used to be
Without her I’m just not sure who I am

I watched my mind play these games over and over again: trying to figure out what went wrong and how I could have not seen this coming.  Endlessly my mind would play these loops over and over as if there was actually a way I could think my way out of this disaster.

Every time I feel the pain
It’s getting harder to stay sane
I feel the walls are closing in
I wish that I could start again

I felt like my whole life had ground to a halt. The “us” that I knew and loved was over and it took me so long to let go of it.  In my mind, our life together and all it’s sweetness was so very vivid and I was still totally in love with that memory.  In contrast, it was hard for me to even remember what it was like to be alone and to feel like it was okay to be single.

And it’s getting harder not to be in love
Every morning I wake up without you near to me
And the clock stopped ticking and the paper didn’t come
The second you left me here

Things got a lot worse after this disaster before they got better (my father got cancer and died about 6 months later).  Looking back I can see how this breakup and it’s aftermath led directly to the changes that were hinted at in the first track and I think of it now as the best thing that ever happened to me.  No joke.

Recording

This was one of the first songs I recorded for this album and I started in the usual way, by recording myself singing with acoustic guitar (Guild D52 NT Dreadnaught) along to a click track. One was of evaluating a song is to see how well it holds up with just a simple guitar or piano accompaniment. If it doesn’t sound good like that, then maybe the song itself (chords and melody) needs a little more work.

I was still getting used to recording digitally (since my previous album was recorded on tape) and I was new to Protools when I began working on this song so progress was pretty slow at first. Mixing this song was more challenging than some of the later ones because as time went on I was able to lay down better sounding tracks to begin with so there was less to ‘fix in the mix’, so to speak.

I used a Line 6 POD amplifier simulator box for the rhythm electric guitars which were played on my strat with a Marshall Plexi setting on the POD. They came out okay but I eventually upgraded to a VOX tonelab amplifier simulator which sounded much better. After using that for a while, I noticed that I was always gravitating towards a few amps: Marshall, Fender and Vox. I eventually gave up on the amp simulators and just bought three small low wattage tube amps: a 18 watt Marshall Plexi Clone (think Jimi Hendrix), a Vox AC15 (think early Beatles) and a Fender Deluxe Reverb (think late Beatles).

I like the flexibility of being able to use different mics and different mic placement to get different sounds which is something I can’t do with a simulation. I also like the subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) feedback that happens when the sound of the amp interacts with the strings of the guitar. When it’s just right the sound really gels into something alive and organic and it’s something that will never happen if you are recording with an amp simulator through headphones.

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