Feb 14, 2017
I’m Not Blacking Out, I’m Breaking Through
By Scott Taylor
#3: ‘Strait Jacket for Two’
By Scott Taylor
#3: ‘Strait Jacket for Two’
Hey folks! Seeing as this truly is the winter of our discontent I figured, let’s put the spot on a song that doesn’t much help in making things better! Also, it’s Valentine’s Day. I don’t have a Valentine, but in the spirit of all the what have you, I’ll share some reflections on a dysfunctional love song I wrote a ways back. This installment of ‘I’m Not Blacking Out, I’m Breaking Through’ takes a gander at my sardonic ditty ‘Strait Jacket for Two’. This emotionally unstable little gem of a would-be waltz can be found nestled deep in the heart of The Hard Way’s sophomore release Tell Me When You Can’t Breathe (2010).
All that is not I have and have not forgot
In my teens I developed a habit of carrying around a notepad in my back pocket. I scrawled all over the place on anything I could find, bumblingly attempting to capture the blazing thoughts rapidly firing from my head. Sometimes the thoughts were interesting.
People say the darndest things and so often don’t realize it. My little brother alone has provided me many invaluable quips that have worked their way into various lyrics and song titles of mine over the years. The original title of this song, ‘Jack Daniels and a Shotgun’, is one such example. One day he blurted out the phrase in response to my query as to what our Dad’s 50th birthday plans were. I won’t go into detail on that, suffice it to say it was funny. You had to be there; twisted humor between brothers. Anyhoo, it went into my notebook.
Other fragments scattered nearby on this same page and the one across from it included “I called the spirits but they cancelled” (a bizarre utterance proclaimed by the six year old daughter of a friend of mine’s girlfriend at the time; a phrase which frankly I still do not understand) and “strait jacket for two”. Sometimes I’ve opened up to a page and found totally unintentionally complimentary bits or phrases opposite a page from one another. You can’t plan that kind of random stuff. There it is staring you in the face and it just clicks, makes perfect sense. I like when a song tells me how it’s supposed to go. When a song points the way, it’s not a bad idea to listen.
Are you going to go down with me?
This one sprang from a gigantic explosion of creativity and existential exploration for me. I had recently acquired a cassette 4 track recorder and had holed myself up in my basement experimenting. Winter 1998-99 was a fertile time when I was also really pushing myself lyrically more toward free form prose, stream of consciousness writing. I began dream journaling and writing for a half hour every day first thing when I awoke. My heart and mind started processing a lot of weird stuff. Just shy of my 23rd birthday, I was feeling old. Adulthood was nigh, but I wasn’t sure about the whole growing up thing. To say I was conflicted would be an understatement. When it came to music, I wanted the whole world to hear what I was doing, yet didn’t give a damn. I was also very much in love with one of the great loves of my life, yet not sure I was truly capable of or worth loving.
Songs are snapshots to me. Memories have the power to comfort, haunt or seduce us whether we want them to or not. Sometimes I feel lost outside of space and time, as if my life is lived in a nonlinear way. I’m not sure how to accurately describe it, let’s just say I honestly question reality. This concept of ‘snapshot songwriting’ weaves the flickers of distant memories into focus via the blinding light of present confusion. ‘Strait Jacket for Two’ is a snapshot of me unable to believe somebody could love me as much as I loved Alecia, but she did. This freaked me out. It’s hard wanting someone, but not wanting to hurt them with your sadness.
Kindergarten daffodils continue to grow
True love when you’re young is bittersweet business. You think the good times will always stay that way. I had a tough time feeling like I deserved happiness which led to a prophetic, self-fulfilling cycle of detachment and loss. I wanted to love and to share but I didn’t quite fully know how. Who does when they’re 22, right?
My depression was a pretty heavy weight though. The side of me who used to “tinfoil all the windows” as a teenager to block out the sunlight (I said it was due to migraines which sometimes was the case, but mostly it was just because I was super depressed) was at odds with another part of me desperately aching to reach out, to grow, connect.
Elsewhere on the same page containing the “tinfoil…” line was a remark in regards to some daffodil bulbs my grandmother had bought from me for a school fundraiser in kindergarten. At the time this song was composed I was amazed to find that those flowers were perennially blooming nearly 20 years on! How did those flowers know how to do that and keep coming back? This tinfoil/daffodil juxtaposition appealed to me and became a sort of anchor for the blossoming song. You can close yourself off from the world, but life goes on.
If you were me and I was you would I do like you want me to?
For all my musings I was having a heck of a time matching words with music for this song. I loved the melody and sought a wry/sincere lyric. It was the “strait jacket for two” line that really kicked things into gear. To me it seemed humorous that love is kind of unavoidably co-dependent. This image was too irresistible to pass up. It was a way to make a joke, yet be sincere by saying, “Hey, I love you. I hope I don’t wind up driving you away, because I’m too crazy!” (Side note: I secretly fantasized about offering the song to Elliott Smith, whom I was immensely inspired by and obsessed with and who I figured could do the song WAY better than me!)
Make it stop so I can start
So it came to pass I managed to finally bang this song out…the night I first performed it before an audience! I had another new song ready I was going to try out in my set that night, but it was this one I really wanted to do. I put my mind to it that afternoon and the random notebook passages and music gelled, finally. When the right words find the right music, it’s a beautiful thing. I distinctly recall feeling this was an outstanding leap forward for me as a songwriter. It was maybe the 2nd or 3rd time I’d experienced that. Thankfully, it was not the last.
Shortly after writing “Strait Jacket for Two” (which incidentally I changed from “Jack Daniels and a Shotgun” because I thought it was a less violent title with a wink of levity and because I had the silly notion that should this song ever become popular I wouldn’t want a certain sour mash distillery in Lynchburg, TN suing my ass!) I took a stab at recording it. This was my first time playing all instruments myself on a multi-track recording outside of my basement (guitars, bass, drums, vocals) and I knocked it all out in an afternoon at the Evergreen State College. I was the guinea pig for a student in the recording program, which several years later I myself would be enrolled in. (Later on that evening after tracking at Evergreen, my friend and I randomly met Elliott Smith at the Spar café in Olympia! He was in town to play the ‘Yo-Yo a Go-Go’ festival which was sold out and we couldn’t get into, which totally sucked. But, we got to buy him a beer and he liked my Cheap Trick t-shirt. It was one of several fortunate instances whereupon I got to meet one of my musical heroes. R.I.P. Elliott)
When it came time to make The Hard Way’s second album, I definitely wanted this song to be there for the ages. Tell Me When You Can’t Breathe was my first official credit as producer and we had a lot of fun making that album at home. By this time I was enrolled in the audio recording program at Evergreen and the progress toward crafting that record embodied a personal learning curve. We were just starting to really dig into our potential and, to me anyway, this song hinted at the possibility of great musical things to come.
Also, Elizabeth really liked this song, I think she understood it. I'm sorry. I should have been a better partner in our relationship. I love you and wish you happiness always.
This one goes out to all the lovers out there and to the lonely hearts, too. You deserve love.
Tin foil is for warming up old pizza (or for fashioning a special hat so no one can read your thoughts).