Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Story of "Thanks Anyway"

"Thanks Anyway": Listen Free and See Lyrics

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I was on Facebook yesterday afternoon, as I often am (I handle social media for a number of my marketing clients in real life, which means I'm usually on Facebook and Twitter for actual non-screwing-around reasons), and my friend and fellow artist/performer Suzen Juel (aka Juel Resistence) posted a question about what makes a venue in Second Life good. After a couple of responses, my pal (and fellow musician) Dann Russo mentioned that he'd been getting into telling the stories behind his original music, and that people enjoyed it.

Well, I agree with Dann. Some artists absolutely refuse to offer explanations for their music, preferring the work to speak for itself, and I'm cool with that too. A few of my idols like Neil Young and Bob Dylan fall into this category. However, I've always had a fascination with the origins of specific songs, and have personally enjoyed hearing those kind of stories time and time again from artists who I respect.

In my case, the songs don't always have a very specific origin, or perhaps in some cases, I'm not comfortable discussing how the song came into being, for a variety of reasons. However, some of my tunes have very, very specific points of origin, and I thought that today, I'd share one here for you blog readers. After that long preamble, here's the full story of my tune "Thanks Anyway", which I've never completely explained before now.

Kat's Power
In 2007, I was doing a lot of songwriting. Like, a whole lot. Of the 11 songs on my debut album, I wrote eight of them over the course of that year. One of those songs was "Thanks Anyway". Everyone has their own approach to songwriting, but for me, 95% of them have me composing a piece of music, and then writing lyrics afterwards that align with the mood of the music and the rhythms of the song.

So, I was actually working on those lyrics that very day, and not getting very far on them, when my girlfriend Kat called up, sounding very distressed -- an unusual mood for such a calm and generally optimistic lady. At that time, she was living in Washington, and I was down here in the Los Angeles area. Kat had spent a few months working full time in Second Life as the co-owner of a company doing serious builds, mostly for corporate clients. Unfortunately, as many of us can attest, only a fraction of a percent of people can make a real living with SL income, and Kat eventually found herself in a situation where she was forced to return to the more mundane workforce. She took a job at Microsoft (she's got a strong tech background, if you hadn't figured that out by now), and had just gotten started there when...

"My power is out," she said, sounding none too happy about it, on her cell phone on the way to work.

"Why? What happened," I asked her.

"I was late paying the bill," she said, obviously sad about her finances having bottomed out momentarily. "Now I'm going into work and I can't deal with it, so I'll have to throw away everything in the fridge when I get home, and-"

"I'll take care of it," I said. Hey, what are boyfriends for, if not keeping the lights on? Kat really wasn't happy about that either; she's a very independent lady, and the last thing she wanted was charity, even from me. However, she acquiesced, and I was happy to deal with the issue on her behalf.

You Kept Me Hanging On The Line
It sounded easy enough. I got the name of her power company where she was living (in Tacoma, WA at the time), and got the account information from her. All that remained was getting them paid, which is usually a pretty simple process. I called them up.

"Tacoma Public Utilities, how may I help you?"

"Hi, I'd like to pay a power bill."

"Great, let me transfer you."

Thus began the first of several times I was to wait on hold that day. After a few minutes, someone picked up.

"Tacoma Public Utilities, how may I help you?"

"Hi, I was calling to make a payment for power service."

"Oh. Did you call this number directly?"

"Um... no, I got transferred here from the main number."

"Oh... okay, hold please."

I held.

"Tacoma Public Utilities, how may I help you?"

"Hi, is this the billing department?"

"Yes, can I help you?"

"Yes, I'd like to pay a power bill please."

"Okay. What's the account number?"

I read it off to him, and heard him clicking keys in the background. Then, things got weird.

"Who am I speaking to?"


"Are you the holder of the account, sir? I have it listed as- "

"No, I'm paying this for a friend."

"Okay, I'm not sure we can do that."


"I think we need to get the payment directly from the holder of the account."

I slapped my forehead. "That can't be right," I said. "You can accept payment from anyone."

"Let me get my manager. Hold please."

I'm So Sorry That I Waste Your Time
I went through this complete process again with another person. You'd think that they'd be a little more anxious to accept payment of a past-due bill, but seemed much more concerned with the money's point of origin than its payment. But upon telling my tale a second time, the managerial-like being agreed that the payment's source was irrelevant, and went to go ring up my credit card for the amount needed to turn Kat's power on again.

click click, click click click click... click...

"Uh oh," he said.

"Uh oh?" I asked.

"The system is giving me problems. Can you hang on for a bit?"

"I, uh... yeah, I guess." Well, hang I did. About 15 minutes later, he got back on and nicely apologized for the inconvenience. But then I got the news: their in-house payment system had just gone down, and I was to be transferred to their outside payment service. I'll spare you the rest of the hellacious experience; I was transferred another three times, and at one point realized I'd invested over 90 minutes into an experience that should have taken no more than ten minutes tops.

My Hand Still On The Phone
Back to the start: as I mentioned, I'd been working on lyrics for this new tune at the moment Kat first called, so during the longer periods of being on hold, I'd turn on the speaker phone and pick up my guitar and pen, continuing what I'd been doing. As a songwriter, you really can't choose the times nor the vehicles of inspiration. It's like waiting at a bus station with no schedule, and being aware that you might get picked up by a Volkswagen, or a tricycle, or a Lear jet... or not at all. But this time, the very act of waiting on hold planted a theme in my head.

I ended up getting Kat's power turned back on, and maybe 15 minutes after that, had a nearly complete song. It seemed to be about a person who was perplexed about the end of a relationship, as many of us have been at points in our lives. Perhaps this was inspired by Kat's realization that her juice was unplugged; I'm not sure. But I do know for a fact that the lines of the song that relate to being on the telephone ("I tried to call you one night...", "You left me hanging on the line...", "This song about our disconnection..." and so on) were directly taken from the mundane act of being on hold with a utility company.

The only thing I was missing was the bridge, and that came serendipitously as well. My good friend Jace had gone through a divorce, and Jace tends to obsessively dwell on certain aspects of life that may never really be quantifiably analyzed. He'd written an email to me, saying that occasionally he wondered if his marriage had managed to get past its stumbling point if things would have worked out for the long term, and then answered himself in that they probably would have gone south regardless. BOOM. I quoted him nearly word for word in the bridge of the song; it was perfect in context.

It Really Gets Me Thinking
People seem to like "Thanks Anyway", and I'm glad people like it. I started performing it right away, and during the second recording session for my album, I recorded the song on June 28, 2008 (on the same day as "You're Like a Cloud"). Like most recording artists, I listen to the song today and can pick out 20 things I think I could have done better, but it is what it is, and I've long since moved on to new tunes for new sessions in the future. But all in all, it's a poppy little song that arose from nowhere, as most of them seemingly do, and I'm happy to have it in my bag of tricks.

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