grist for the mills

Today we are recording "Grist For The Mill" and "Wanted Man." These are the two numbers from the show that use only non-Equity performers, so we know we're allowed to record them. We might actually be allowed to record Equity folks too under this new Transition Contract that we're on... it's just that we don't know for sure. So in the meantime, we figured it would be good to have a couple songs as promotional demos.

I especially like the way the two songs are about as far apart from each other as we could get within the scope of this bluegrass show. "Wanted Man" is a number that the three guys in the band perform as girls; it's a lively uptempo tongue-twister of a song... silly, clever, fun. And then there's "Grist."

It's probably only a week ago that I wrote this thing. Time has become a strange thing for me these days. I think I'm in some kind of Matrix-style Bullet-time where everything is coming at me really fast and yet I can stop and pluck the bullets out of mid-air... I have all the time in the world. Everything will happen; the show will get written; I am supremely confident.

Anyway, getting back to "Grist," it's the other side of the coin. Instead of the three boys in the band, it features our lone female band member, our fiddler extraordinaire, Melody Berger. (She doesn't fiddle so much on this song though, 'cuz she sings it.) And tempo-wise it's about the draggiest thing we have in the show... in quite a wonderful way, because a lot of bluegrass is so jaunty. This one is down and dirty, about the tempo and feel of that song "Fever."

And the tone of it is 180 degrees from "Wanted Man" too. It's dark, cyncial, tough. It's a bunch of flavors that I don't normally traffic in... but I love it! In the show, the song serves as a kind of commentary on the Widow Hazel -- who is tough and cynical, and above all, an opportunist. And that's what the expression "grist for the mill" is all about. Or so Wikipedia tells me.

I'm one of those lyricists who mostly like to pick titles based on phrases that are already an established expression. I'll know that I've graduated to the next level if I ever start coining phrases of my own, like "Everything's Coming Up Roses"... I don't think that was something people said before the song was written.

Anyway, I'd jotted down "grist for the mill" a long time ago as a phrase I like, and one that might pertain, since people in Appalachia milled their grain to make the whiskey, etc. At some point I decided that the character Widow Hazel *was* the local miller. And then a while later I decided this would be her theme song. Only she doesn't sing it. It is sung about her while she's busy being in a scene... a scene in which she's twisting circumstances to her advantage. Cara says it's all very Brechtian, the way the song works.

Having the band at rehearsals, by the way, is the most fun ever. I think I'd like to do every show that way from now on.

*ADDENDUM: Okay, we recorded "Grist" tonight. It's great, but we didn't record it at the draggy tempo advertised above. We decided for demo purposes to err on the side of a bit brighter. For the show, Cara still wants it slow and heavy and German!

Musings Past