The Ten-Minute Test
A strange title for a song, I’ll admit. It does have an explanation.
This song arrived much later. I had been living in downtown Barrie when a musician friend of mine, Roy Hickling, invited me to a local songwriting group, The Barrie and District Association of Singer-Songwriters.
BaD/ASS. Of course.
They were. Still are.
We would gather on the first Thursday of the month. Some of us brought songs we had written or were in the process of writing. We’d perform them, distribute the lyrics, and listen to commentary by anyone present. It was non-judgmental, genial, and perceptive.
Much food and drink was consumed. Ribaldry and hilarity ensued.
On occasion, the organizer would give us a writing exercise. On one particular evening, he said:
“OK. You have a pen and paper. You also have ten minutes to live. Write in 3...2...1...go”
And off we went.
Some amazing stuff came out of that session. I wrote the major part of the song that night, and added another verse and the chorus after. And the title.
So how did I come up with that crazy tune?
I am partial to jazz and popular standards between the 1930’s and late 1950’s. I had a copy of the “Real Book of Jazz”, consisting of melody and chord sequences, as well as lyrics. One of them intrigued me, Irving Berlin’s Let’s Face the Music and Dance [link] The initial sequence of chords puzzled me for a while. I didn’t have a piano, so trying to figure out on the guitar chords that a keyboard player would easily interpret was a bit of a challenge.
Then asked myself, in all those changes, which line is moving in such a way that it attracts my attention? I figure it’s a good question to ask in any kind of life situation. Listen to the thing that moves.
So I did. And it was the line that moved in half steps. And I found it worked as a bass and as a treble. I chose bass and there were my guitar chords. Keeping one fingering and moving the bass line one fret at a time. Chromatics are us! And I decided to keep the flavour of that in the chorus as well.
Change it from four beats to three to keep with the rhythm of the words I wrote.
Ten minutes to live? I thought an attitude of gratefulness with a tinge of naughtiness would best be the way I’d begin. I had a Leonard Cohen taste in my brain as I was writing, knowing that at the end of the ten minutes, I’d be dead. So the first line, “Thank you, my love, your body was light” seemed apropos.
And then family, and the one whose mortgage I was paying to keep a roof over my head, and of course my friends, whose supply of medicinals and companionship never was in doubt. A not-so-good-natured jibe at my erstwhile and abandoned religious pastimes within the evangelical fold. And memories.
So it travels, into the last chorus, “I’ll be gone, but you’ll do just fine.” There are some weirdly apt percussion and sound effects throughout. A ten minute test in a four-minute song.
As you can tell in the recording, Ray Dillard and Don Bray had some fun with this. We all did. It's on the first album, Small Things Shining Bright. Wait till the very end for the studio talk.
It’s dark. It’s funny.
I like it. Hope you do, too.