Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How to rewrite Snowbird and other Canadian Classics

and yes I know it is a Ptarmigan and not a snowbird but it was all I had a picture of

Okay, in the spirit of open source coding, which is all the rage with programmers these days, and which I mention to show that I am multi-dimensional and not just a sex symbol/cowboy poet/CSIS undercover operative type, yes, in that spirit I offer the following lesson: How to re-write a song.

The first thing is to listen to the song for the phrasing, or meter of the song. If you aint got the meter you aint got nothing. Simply substituting syllable for syllable won’t do it – you need to make sure your new words make sense when substituted in the original meter.

Next is to watch out for internal rhymes, or double barreled rhymes which are as important as the end rhymes. An internal rhyme would be like Snowbird’s “If I could, you know that I would fly away with you”. A double barreled rhyme would be rhyming “highway” with “my way”

Now that you have a feel for how the original was composed you need to choose your subject matter. I like to use musical irony – that is to juxtapose inappropriate material to the tune. If a tune is light and airy, write about something dark and dreary. If a tune is deep and philosophical write about something whimsical.

I also like to keep a few of the lines as close to the original as possible so it anchors the listener’s perception of the new song with that of the original.

As an example I took Anne Murray’s light and bouncing “Snowbird” and rewrote the tune about running over the neighbour’s cat.

The original goes:

Beneath this snowy mantle cold and clean
The unborn grass lies waiting for its coat to turn to green
The snowbird sings the song he always sings
And speaks to me of flowers that will bloom again in spring

When I was young my heart was young then, too
Anything that it would tell me, that's the thing that I would do
But now I feel such emptiness within
For the thing that I want most in life's the thing that I can't win

While mine goes:

Beneath my  left rear tire, cold and dead
The neighbour's tabby pussy cat lies with a broken head
No more will we awaken when he sings
I’ll hide him in the snowdrift  and leave him there til spring

When I was young I had a kitty too
Anything that I would tell it was the thing it wouldn’t do
I  have so much resentment deep within
If  you use just wits against a cat you know you never win

Now if they give us Snowbird to rewrite in the finals we will all be ready

Smudge was a great cat - and no I did not run him over


  1. Hi Frank, is this missing a word?

    The neighbours cat lies with a broken head


    Enjoying your posts.

  2. It's actually missing 2 words, and four syllables - should read neighbour's tabby pussy cat so the syllable count is 14 on each lines - I missed that when I retyped from my word document to my blog post - thanks for catching that! I'll re-post in red so other readers will know what we are talking about.

  3. Or if I used your words it would also work as "... with a broke and flat and mangled head" Much more visceral and probably get a better laugh. If I get to use it it Winnipeg I will give you credit.

  4. I'd say you should go back and re-post in the same colour as everything else. It looks kind of funny now. (What the *heck* is he trying to suggest with *that*??)

  5. Ok - you're right - looks better as one colour.

  6. Yah. Most people will come to it before ever viewing the comments.

    I'll be humming that song while walking my dog for the next month. THANKS.

  7. OK and one more thing, and not to be disrespectful.
    I also think you should replace "neighbours" with "us" on line 3.

  8. Well, hey there! Frank. You had reddish hair and freckles last time I saw you:)
    I dug out my copies of our "Inklings" creation from Grade Nine!! Cheers and salutations to memories of Mr.Fieber's(sp) Creative Writing Nine class of BJSS.
    I hope you have copies because it looks like great writing and it is where a lot of us started our obsession with writing on all scraps of paper...walls and what have you.
    I was on my way up Island from Victoria(visiting there) when I heard your contest entry on CBC and loved it. If you're scratching your head, (or beard)you might not remember me from Grade Nine.
    I was then Ruth-Ann Harvey.
    Many lifetimes ago and probably reincarnated several times..in this incarnation I also live in the desert down in Oliver.
    I have read and enjoyed your sharp wit and am thrilled that you plunged straight into the CBC river of energy. They are lucky to have you.
    I hope you take the rest of this foray by flashflood and storms with rainbows.
    Thrilled that many of us that wandered through the 1970's experience of Kamloops are first still "alive" and sort of well..even if we're "wrinkled". Remember when we walked out for Vietnam and remember when we walked out over Amchitka? (You wrote a great poem inspired by that.)
    peace and stuff

  9. Hi Ruth-Ann:
    So nice of you to get in touch. I had written Glenn awhile back to thank him for being such a great teacher. He really made a person feel good about their writing.
    I will have to dig up my Inklings, I loved that publication!
    As you can see, I have lost a lot of my red hair, and what is left is white - although a splash of red persists on my 'stache but you have to get the light just right! :)
    I'll see if I can remember the words to my version of "Jamaica Farewell" and post them at some point.
    Hope life has been good to you and that "all is well in Oliver" - sounds like a poem or movie title to me.
    peace out!

  10. Hey Frank
    So cool that you are in the "Big Smoke"!
    No mosquitoes there right now!
    That is an awesome university in the Loops
    and they would be lucky to have you.
    Why is it that some people don't accept a gift on the first proffering?
    I have continued to write and I have lived everywhere from Boston Bar to Willy's Puddle and the Sunshine cost and so forth. Our house is currently listed and we are trying to relocate near Victoria where one of my daughters is in her 3/4 year of a BA.
    The oldest is trying to go to her Masters in Britain in the fall.
    My youngest is homeschooled by me.
    My son passed away in 2000 as he was born with cancer and lived a magnificent life for thirteen years.
    My husband has two sons and two grandsons (mine now too).
    His name is Danial Neil (Dan)and he was just published by Borealis Press in Ottawa. His book is "Flight of the Dragonfly". You can google it on Borealis Press.com (Danial Neil is on Twitter as well).
    I am currently working on a YA novel and recently was shortlisted for the Surrey International Writer's Conference 2009 Poetry Contest.
    Your blog is the best one I have ever seen! The postings/blog/comments and videos/photographs are stellar.
    I spent all morning laughing and celebrating your sharp wit and clear insights.
    I am going to continue to check on your journey through the CBC 'cause I know that you are going to be on North by North West one of these early mornings that I stagger out to listen to Sheryl MacKay!
    The world needs your levity!
    Ride on

  11. Ruth-Ann
    So good to catch up, and so sad to hear about the loss of your son. I can not imagine the loss.
    I will check Dan's book out today.
    Another school pal of mine/ours just got published: Gerry Shea. Gerry and I have been buddies since grade four and it was very cool to see him realize his dream of being published. He was also a very successful chiropractor, businessman, etc. etc.
    I too have a couple of books on the go but have a hard time putting up with the terribly long process to get published.
    I was on Sheryl McKay's program one Saturday morning, but for my Cowboy CD - My very talented friend Loyd put a number of my poems to music and we produced what I thought was a pretty good album. Check it out at: http://r3.ca/06gh (or Google Loyd Bishop and the Birch Island String Band)
    Do you blog? Or where can I read your writing?
    Must get a program off for the City.
    Peace and flowers from the 70's

  12. Hi there:)
    So I was reading my own comment to you and I see the Freudian slip from Sunshine "Coast" to "Cost"....and it did "cost"..but I digress.
    Dan's name however is spelled Danial with an "a" not the more common "e", the story goes that his Grandma (from) Scotland spelled it wrong....however, I think it rocks
    like the Isle of the Scots themselves.
    I hoard my writing in journals that are partially crammed with my scratchings and I store the work in all manner of strange places...Word files..swearing that I will assemble the aforesaid in one profound spot eventually. I am newly arrived only as an observer in the "Blogoshere" as I tend to go away and up into these pallid hills for contact with the real world of sunflowers, scarlet gilia,California bighorn and mulies galor.
    Although this other construct that we live in has it's perks...I like to "walk" with the millipedes and amble with the breeze that blows eternally in the valley. It is a softer sound framed by whispering ponderosa and aspen rather than the strip of Hwy 97 with the howling Dodge Rams trying to be "first" in some kind of deadly race.
    Dan and I have a rant about that scenario.
    Did you go to Norkam after BJSS and where after graduation?
    What a lovely young lady your daughter is.
    There is a picture of Dan and I are on the Hester Creek winery website if you scan through the event part of their stuff (I think). We were at a book signing there. Those ladies are our buddies and Hester Creek is just a couple of minutes from our house.
    green tea beckons


Please feel free to leave a comment. Ever since old Rebel rolled on me and I've been strapped to this old hospital bed I've enjoyed whatever posts come my way.