Throwing it away

We called our band Honkeyphonic because we were five white kids standing in sharp contrast to the black music that we wanted to make.  We wanted to evoke a time where "honky" was still a relevant term.  The misspelling was just a typo from a promotional flyer that stuck.

Our love of black music from the 70s filtered through our urban liberal arts whiteness to produce what we called "neo-funk fusion", a mix of The Meters, Jethro Tull, Bootsie Collins, and Radiohead, all coated with the tongue-in-cheek escape clauses of Frank Zappa.

Zack, our fearless leader, had heard some song, on an Air album or on the Royal Tanenbaums soundtrack, some fast indie pop romp in 13/3 time.  He played it for me as we drove to our "studio" in the basement of the Student Union.  He said it had given him an idea for a new song, but something more approachable for hacks like us, a jazz waltz with a harpsichord underneath.

It probably took us three or four hours to write the tune and components of the song that eventually became "Cardshark", and then another week of rehearsing to agree on the structure.  The lyrics happened outside of my view via secret collaborations between Zack and our singer Aaron, and they came into the fold a few days later and they were great.  It was to be our first semi-serious narrative song with a moving, soaring vocal line over a bouncing bass and a synth harpsichord part that jangled like sleigh bells.

Maybe the problem was that we misplaced it in the setlist, didn't allow enough space after our funky trance breakdown song for the energy in the room to taper off.  But when we kicked into that waltz the room just stopped.  People went from dancing to politely swaying in place a little bit.  Because how do you dance in place to 3/4 jazz-pop?

Dancing in a crowd of undergraduates necessarily involves some linear combination of up and down movements.  In other words, an even number of beats between downbeats.Now technically, from an algebraic point of view, every two bars of up-and-down does land you on a downbeat.  But in between you feel like an idiot, bouncing on the wrong pulse.

If we were smart, we would have done something like recast the song in 6/4 instead of 3, thus informing the bodies of our audience how to move.  But we had yet to realize that, in college in America, all bands are dance bands, and the music must acknowledge this expecation.

Honkeyphonic never played "Cardshark" again, and none of us ever brought it up.  The song was never recorded and no record of its lyrics or melody survives.

Experiences like this are very common in creative pastimes.  Art does not obey the second law of thermodynamics.  The emotional and creative energies that were consumed in the making of "Cardshark", and the thousands of other works abandoned forever that day around the world, those energies are lost forever.  Not because it was a bad song or that we were unworthy of it, but because of some undefined and unexpected series of variables that made us not want to feed and clothe it anymore.  So we abandoned it.

This is not a tragedy.  This is the process.

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