Carousel: Awash in a world we don’t understand

Life, it seems to me, is a thing of degrees.
Consider, if you will, the following riddle.
You can pick any number you please
And you’ll see that it’s always in the middle.
Reality, you must agree, is subjective at best.
Remember the last time your meaning was miscontrued.
Despite your heated attempts to explain it to the rest
That grain may be destined to solitude.
So here we stand with our heads in our hands
Trying to find the end of a carousel.
We all pretend that we truly comprehend
Based upon some loose-drawn parallel.

This is one of several songs I wrote and recorded during my senior year at CMU. I had borrowed a collection of musical instruments and recording equipment from my friend Wayne Ackman who was overseas with the Navy. He had loaned me (in his absence) his TEAC Tascam 4-track recorder, his Fender bass, and a selection of wires, adaptors, and other assorted minutia. The key point is that I (for the first time really) got to practice playing a full size electric bass as long as I liked and in private. Consequently, the songs from this period rely heavily on their bass lines although my playing never did them justice.

This song started out as a few paradoxes (numerical infinity, circular arguments, cause and effect), but developed into something more complicated musically. The song begins with the sound of my roommate’s classical guitar (with strings 8 miles above the fretboard) bouncing against the metal arm of a living room chair (a nice mathematical decay function). The song also ends with the same sound played backwards. I recorded it onto a cassette as Track 1 and then flipped the cassette and dumped track 4 to a regular (2-track) cassette tape so I could add it as a sound effect later (it’s an old 4-track trick). This was supposed to reflect the cycle and flow of the lyrics so that the song ends exactly as it started (in retrospect, it sort of represents the Big Bang).

The 3-part harmonies that emerged from this session were my most complicated and challenging to date. I’m pleased (nearly 15 years after the fact) that the harmonies are as tight as they are and this song holds together so well.

The ‘grain’ referred to in the 2nd verse is a grain of truth (iota, quanta). The point being that (dah) even something that is true and obvious to one person can be completely unintelligible to another (hey, it sounded profound to me at the time). Lyrically, I don’t think I achieved what I was striving for, but the metaphors still make me smile.

The song was recorded in my apartment in Oakland (an urban neighborhood in Pittsburgh) in the Spring of 1986 on a TEAC Tascam 4-track. I played the guitars and the bass and sang all 3 harmonies.

Originally recorded in 4-track mono. Mixed to stereo cassette (2-track) in 1986

Re-engineered to digital from the stereo mixdown using Cool96 September 1999


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