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April 8, 2014
A 10 inch single is coming out for record store day on April 19th. It features two versions of Extravagance, the one you know and the original version. Here’s the story of how that came about.
The music, as always, came first. A descending strum on the bass starting at the 12th fret. A, A maj7, G, Gmaj7. This riff had started in a faster format, just before the band split up. Whilst messing about on the bass a couple of years ago it came back to me. I slowed it down. Added a chorus: same format starting on E at fret 7. Then a middle 8 of Am into Am6, Am7, and ending on a D7 of sorts which neatly takes the cycle back to A. Easy. Transfered onto piano and played some arpeggios. Transposed up an octave onto guitar. Add a hundred instruments courtesy of Swales, including sitar and stylophone, and there it is. Now what am I going to sing about?
Luisa Casati was on my list of people to write songs about. Extreme wealth, extreme profligacy, extreme vanity, and recorded for posterity by contemporary artists. That’ll do. The original lyric took this as a starting point, and then went on to explore modern concerns. Namely sex. The ease of gay sex, despite the iceberg of HIV. The ease of falling in love over a pint, for a night, maybe only fifteen minutes. Utter extravagance in my experience. But still we need love, celibacy not being a realistic option. Love, sex, monogamy, queers: what a mess! So I wrote this:
Louisa leashes up the cheetahs
Takes them for a diamond stroll
Adds more kohl to her eyelids
Paints her birds a shade of violet
Winds a snake around her neck
Toasts the wax effigy of herself
Plans a wild electric party
To display her gilded body
She fell to debt in sordid London
Scavenged crow feathers for her hair
Once you’ve been exotic
Its hard to be forgotten
Bury me with my Pekinese
Naked under cloaks of leopard skin and panther
In death no under achievement, in death no loss of detail
Age cannot wither her
Nor stale her variety
It matters though she’s dead
She must have extravagance
Take me to the Pyramids, he said,
Feed me nectarines and honey
Treat me Greek, make we weak
Fly me down to Mozambique
Buy me shiny machines, a tudor house
An estate of deer, my own moon and my own star
And all I need to repay?
Is to kiss your hoary whiskered face
I took Ryan down to the Scala
Where we talked lager until dawn
I’m keen as mustard, says he, I’m warm as custard, he lied
I’m fluent in vodka, says me, and I slur gin easily
And I felt we were hot for sin
But back in his blank white room
We stared at the rubies shining in our hearts
And all I could think was what a waste, is my heart really
Worth this extravagance?
I need love like I need lungs to breath
It’s not a luxury like icing sugar, brooches, diadems
Not an expensive extra item
On the poor neglected menu of life
Stuck low under fridge freezers and fries
I need it night and day
A terrible reckless crave
I took Frederick out to the forest
Where he chopped wood and I baked chocolate cake
We were happy finally
So happy finally
Till the wolves/crows called out to him
Talked of the mess of flesh he’d left in the city
He dribbled and he ran
To satisfy a whim
To kiss him seemed folly, to stay the night a mistake
To promise a week, a month, a lifetime!
So now you can see where Folly came from. But the tune bothered us. Was it too fast? Could I sing it slower? No. So the only way to change the speed was to change the tune, and so the scansion was gone. My challenge then was to write a new tune, and then fit new words to it. Very hard, as the old tune had been in my head for months. I know some pop writers work by getting multiple tunes for their chords, but that’s as they go along, quick editing. I’d only done this once before, with Drive That Fast which I’d originally called Sedition. The lyric hadn’t gone down well so I wrote a new one. But the tune stayed pretty much the same.
When at last a new tune did come, on a morning dog walk before work, I taped it on my phone. Modern conveniences. Back in the studio I dumdedummed along with the music and the tune settled. Then I needed the words. Damn, I couldn’t make them fit in a pleasing way. I wrote the first verse, based on Luisa, and got stuck. It became clear I needed to stick with this single theme, and on I went. The variations I had previously worked on were discarded. Editing can be harsh. And so the LP version came:
Who dares walk her cheetahs on the dark canals of Venice..
It probably is better. But I’m so glad the original version is being heard. I still think it works, and I was never convinced about the speed of the vocal being wrong. Too high for me perhaps. I like both versions, but the original I think is wittier, smarter, and truer. This demo version has a different bass line too – my original strummed hard bass chords rather than the flanged final one. But again I prefer the original: hard, urgent. You can hear my nails getting bruised, which is really what it’s all about.