It took me two sessions with Jan to complete a first demo of the song I was writing for Dennis: Song for X. It was my deal with François that I would write a song for his boyfriend who cruelly missed original material, as an exchange for the ticket to Paris.
I had sketched a draft of the song before coming to Paris, a rhythm pattern, a bass line and some synth tracks. The opening lines were based on Facebook posts from Dennis' page, which would often start with "There are days when....". I used them as a hook. Jan provided his skilled and soulful singing as well as some guitars, and I played the keyboards. It was a challenge for me. Dennis' taste and musical style is the opposite of mine: mostly mainstream pop and especially musicals! Like many Filipinos, his is a very powerful and beautiful voice, and like many Filipinos, he also likes to joyfully show off vocally, although he may seem shy and modest in comparison. Writing a song for him however did not mean I had to give up my own musical style. The task was to find a tuneful melodic line without falling prey to vocal clichés.
Jan and I played a very funny game to help me pen the lyrics. He had a box of cards on each of which a word or a phrase would be written. When in a writer's block mode, he would pull out a card and that would be the direction to follow. Apparently, that box of cards was done by Brian Eno...
My method is similar: when facing a blank page, I take any book, open a page at random and with eyes closed, I point at a word which will be a line from where to start.
Jan and I had actually never worked together musically. Strange for two best friends who are also musicians. Perhaps we were guarding our territories. Lately, Jan has gone through a process of self questioning. He realised he wanted to drop the show-offy and witty mask in order to show a more fragile and sensitive side of him.
"I don't want to be seen as the entertainer wherever I go. I want to write slow and sorrowful songs!" he told me as he was driving me to Paris from the airport.
"Hey, sad and melancholy is my trademark!!!" I joked.
"Then I'll join in!!!"
Jan played his new songs to me. Indeed, I loved what I heard. I pushed him to not overdo anything, whether vocally or musically, thus exposing himself bare. He liked the idea and took note.
Song for X was finished in time. I was supposed to meet Dennis earlier for dinner but I pretexted work - which was actually true, and promised to meet him for a late night drink. I was to leave Paris in two days, so the time was now!
I also wanted to complete the song in spite of the differences Dennis and I have had the past weeks. All this drama between he, Isaac and I really shook me and I did feel betrayed by both of them, although I'm fully aware that from another point of view, it's another story... Writing music or being creative in any other field washes me from all the worries, pains and emotional conflicts I may have. Nothing matters and I'm totally focused on my work, a pattern I have developed since my childhood. This haven may be a good protection but I have to realise that I have been emotionally very unstable lately. The little voice crying for more love and recognition is now crying louder, and that disturbs me, as I distance myself from friends and lovers.
I met Dennis near the Pompidou Center. We found a quiet little café nearby. Dennis suspected nothing. I first gave him a postcard that I had Pierre & Gilles sign especially for him. Then I drew out the lyrics sheet and had him read it. Dennis remained silent the whole time.
I finally played him the demo song with Jan's vocals.
Dennis was speechless but he was beaming. Words are useless in those moments.
Song for X
Song for X