Every Song Tells A Story: My Own Private Babylon
This song is about an aging rock star, sung from his point of view. He’s an amalgam of sorts. I guess you could say he’s based on a few characters, both real and fictional.
One of those would definitely be WASP’s Chris Holmes. I am by no means a big fan of WASP but Holmes was famously interviewed for the documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, during which he floated on a raft in a pool (fully clothed) guzzling three different bottles of vodka (and also pouring it over his head). He referred to himself as a “full-blown alcoholic” and even a “piece of crap”. He said he’d probably be dead in a few years and didn’t seem to care. This was all in front of his mother, mind you, who sat poolside trying to maintain her composure.
I guess there’s also a little Joe Walsh in this song. His big hit “Life’s Been Good” also covers the same subject matter. I think I tried to capture a little of his humor in my song. He has a line that goes, “I’m making records, my fans they can’t wait. They write me letters, tell me I’m great.” I have a similar line about devoted fans that keep me so rich, I haven’t done a thing in years. Of course, the “me” is the character and not really me. Wouldn’t that be nice.
There’s definitely some (older) Elvis Presley in the song. The list goes on. You can take any pompous rock and roll star and adapt them as you see fit, I suppose.
Structurally, the song is a musical transcription of an interview, I suppose. The aging rocker has allowed a journalist into his home. The rocker is quite friendly but clearly not sober, even directing his assistants (Hey, Pierre – don’t put that there…) while showing the reporter around his mansion.
He’s had enough success that he doesn’t really need to work anymore, but he’s completely bored and depressed. He’s hardly ever in the news except for the rare gossip column where he makes a drunken fool of himself. In fact, he’s really happy to have this interview, which is probably the first one he’s had in years. People aren’t interested in him anymore, which is why he’s depressed and suicidal – yet still partying it up like a madman.
The unfortunate truth is he’s waiting around to die. He drinks way too much, does every drug put in his face, has totally let himself go and yet, he’s still here. He can’t seem to figure out why. I know it’s grim but hey, I just write them as they come to me.
There’s some commentary about the music scene itself in the lyrics. Popular music has a way of changing quickly and ferociously leaving many who cannot adapt behind. I always envisioned the song’s protagonist to be one of these people. He’s perhaps the aged rocker who is not quite as relevant as he once was, trying to deal with the new music scene. Underneath it all, though, he’s quite depressed and even suicidal. The line about trying to check out before the real hurting starts refers to this.
I had a lot of fun writing this one because I was writing it as a character, much like acting in a play. Once I became the character, the words just poured out and what you hear in the song is what was written that same day, pretty much unchanged. The melody made itself known as I was writing the lyrics so when it came time to record, there wasn’t much left to compose.
While the song is a bit dreary under the covers, it was actually written to be a bit humorous and tongue-in-cheek on the surface. It’s a satirical look at celebrity and what goes along with it, nothing more.
This was a quick one to record. I already had the song in my head when I sat down to play the drum track so all I had to do was throw in the fun stuff like accents and stops, some of which were simply made up right there on the spot. I like to do that, actually. It’s fun trying to record around and on top of a drum track once it’s done.
The small riff that is repeated in this song was composed while recording the bass track. Sometimes, when I record bass directly after the drums, I do a lot of composing via bass. The rhythm section completes the foundation and sets the tone for everything else recorded afterward. The little riff just happened by accident here and decided to stick around for the duration.
The bridge was also composed at this time. While recording the drum track, I knew I wanted a bridge of some kind for the song but didn’t know what to play in that space. I wondered what would happen if I just played a slower part there instead. In the end, that’s what I did but I didn’t know what would be there musically, only that there would be a slower part in the bridge. There wouldn’t be any lead vocal either, I decided. So, while playing the bass track, I went from C to E twice and then from G to A twice. It sounded weird to me at first but it grew on me.
There are both acoustic and electric guitars on the track. The acoustic was added to fill out the sound a little but also to provide a different tone than the usual electric noise. You can hear it pretty well in the bridge. These were all quick takes and fun to play.
Rounding out the sound are some keyboards. You’ll hear mostly organ sounds but there are a few cool things going on in the bridge. It’s mostly stock stuff but fairly effective.
I admit that I had a lot of fun with the backing vocals. I had a few people tell me I need to do more with backing tracks so I tried to hunker down and put some really good “Ahhhhs” in there. I was very happy with the way they came out after a couple of hours screaming in my living room.
The lead vocal was a breeze for me. It felt more like talking than singing and I think the result really worked. The cocky rock star thing comes off and I think people can recognize the character and the message, whether they just have a laugh at his expense or see some of the issues underneath.
I always get comments about the little ad-libs at the end. I’m not sure where they came from. They were spontaneously yelled out while recording. You can interpret them any way you like. Are they they ramblings of a drunken, aging rock star who forgot he was giving an interview and thought he was actually on a stage? Maybe he feels he always IS on a stage? Is he the last of his kind? You make the call. Good night, New Jersey.
Take it in – Have a swim
I’ll watch your face with a polite grin
I confess – It’s a mess
Take off your gloves I’ll never pass that test
Still alive – flying high
Trying to burn out but not fade away
Hey Pierre – Don’t put that there
I might fall down and bust my derriere
Don’t know how I get through the day
I’m tired, I’m hungover, and you’re in my way
Don’t try to save this ship I’m on
I’m just living in style in my own private Babylon
It’s a simple thing – I’m the king
I don’t throw parties, people bring them to me
What the hell? What’s that smell?
Something’s dead in the roach motel
I got five master bedrooms
I got three heated pools
I got my own bowling alley
I got a helicopter on the roof
I got fans so devoted
I can make them spray tears
They’re keeping me so rich
I haven’t done a thing in years
Talent is irrelevant
It’s all about how you look
There’s no need for me to read
Because I wrote the book
I bet you don’t think
I see this hole in my heart
I’m just trying to check out
Before the hurting starts