Talent Show 12 Jun 2011 06:01 pm by David !

Talent Show Performance: Zachary Bernstein

It’s been a few weeks now since the Machine of Death Half-Birthday Party and Talent Show, the date we announced that there would be a Volume 2 at all. That fact — that this book will be coming out, hell or high water — seems incontrovertible now, but it’s interesting to think back to a day not so long ago when it was still only a notion, a subject of debate for Ryan, Matt and me: “Is this a good idea?”

We’re still a month away from the submission deadline, but I feel confident in saying: yes. Yes, it is a good idea to encourage people to create, to participate in something, to try something and to complete something. If we have no greater ethos than simply that, that’s fine.

I can’t speak for Ryan or Matt, but in the last eight months I’ve realized that the thing I want to do more than any other is to encourage people to get off their butt and try things. Our enemy, as creative people, is not ignorance. We know how to do things — we’re experts! It’s inactivity.

So as far as that’s concerned, the Talent Show was an incredible validation. People made stuff. People came. People performed. And everyone seemed to enjoy it! We packed the house, and I know I personally left with an incredible buzz of energy. It was amazing to see a bunch of half-cocked ideas come together, be made manifest, and work. So: thank you. Thanks for watching, being a part of it, or even just reading about it now. And if you missed it the first time around, I’d like to share a little of the night with you here.

Zachary Bernstein performs music as The Bicycats. Originally from New York, he now lives in Los Angeles, and joined us at the talent show to play his original song “When We Found Out On Our Own.” Here’s what Zachary has to say about the song.

I only heard about the Machine of Death talent show and the whole book enterprise a few days before the extended submission deadline. Between my mother being in town, and going to work, I didn’t actually get to focus on writing an MOD-related song until the day of the deadline, but my friend Jim, who eventually sang the song with me, encouraged me to give it a try.

I’m fond of older songs where the song titles are the refrain ending each stanza, the ones that serve as a jumping point for material. A song like “I Only Have Eyes For You” spends the entire song listing things the singer can’t see; the stars, the moon, millions of people. That’s because the singer only has the ability to see this one particular person. Dangerous for driving, but romantic as hell. “I’ve Got My Love To Keep Me Warm” repeats different ways in which the singer is impervious to cold weather because s/he is deep in love. The love keeps the singer warm. And so on.

I came up with the MOD-related refrain “When We Found Out On Our Own,” which could be sung from the point of view of a cranky, technophobic old man. Personally, I can relate. It took me a long time before I got a cell phone, and I still don’t have or want an iPod. I used that same ire to lay down some lyrical ideas.

With my refrain, I tried different ways that particular lyric could be sung, chose my favorite, and made a list of all the words that rhyme with “own,” choosing the meatier words that fit into the context of the Machine of Death. “Unknown” and “outgrown” were good ones. “Home” was a tiny stretch I made work, and as a curveball at the end I rhymed “own” with “easy”. Ha! Bet you didn’t see that one coming, didja!

From those words, I worked backwards and wrote lines that promoted nostalgia for a bygone, pre-MOD era which ended with the words “unknown” and “outgrown”. After an hour or two, I had a new song with lyrics and music (6/8 time; some key changes; grand, soaring notes Dusty Springfield might’ve spilled her heart out over). Because I didn’t have much time, I tweaked the lyrics to my liking after submitting a recording to the talent show. My favorite line, “we need to move on from the way we move on,” was originally in the middle, but because it was a clever way to sum up the basic idea of the song’s narrative, I moved it to the end.

Thanks so much, Zachary! For more of Zachary’s music, visit his Bandcamp page, thebicycats.bandcamp.com.

Comments are closed.