Song-poems were a hustle back in the sixties and seventies that still persists in the form of various publishing scams. Here’s how they worked: Sleazy bastards placed ads soliciting lyrics in the backs of magazines. They claimed that they would review your lyrics and if they were good enough they’d turn them into songs. Of course every lyric was brilliant, suitable for your very own recording of which you’ll want to buy several copies.
The American Song-Poem Anthology: Do You Know the Difference Between Big Wood and Brushcollects twenty-eight horrible submissions set to equally bad music. It’s still in print — fifteen bucks buys you your own copy — but I have an ulterior motive for bringing this up.
Back when this album was released in 2003 I couldn’t stop listening to it. There was something horribly raw, tragic, and immediate in these songs, in the knowledge that behind their strange lyrics lay heartfelt sincerity. Titles like “I Lost My Girl to an Argentinian Cowboy” and “How Can A Man Overcome His Heartbroken Pain” told the tale and made the fact that these poor bastards were taken by grifters even sadder.
I spent so long in song-poet land that eventually the following short story emerged. It ain’t Faulkner (or even Danielle Steele), but I thought it was pretty solid. I shopped it around a bit without any luck, but that’s okay. I am my own publisher these days, and after much deliberation I’m pleased to inform me that I’ve accepted my story for inclusion in Why It Matters. Congratulations and best of luck to me, and I hope that you enjoy it.
1924 Lapidary Way
Hollywood CA 90046
January 8, 2—-
John “Buster” Swanson Jr
100 Ghost River Rd
Bolingbrook SC 29349
Dear Mr. Swanson:
Our professional songwriters have reviewed your song-poem, “Daddy in the Duck Blind,” and they tell me that it is one of the finest we have ever received. You may have guessed from the number of new shows on television that the recording industry is hungry for fresh talent. However, you may not be aware that new artists who work “behind the scenes” also are very much in demand.
But even now, when songs like yours are in such high demand, the music industry is very competitive. I should know–I’ve been a successful producer for over thirty years! The best way to turn your lyrics into a radio hit is with a quality, professional recording. And that’s what we do at Pelagian Records. Many new songwriters make their first recordings by responding to our ads in comic books and men’s magazines, just as you have.
John, your song-poem has the potential to be a very big hit. I believe this so strongly that as president of Pelagian Records I’ll promise you right now that we’ll cover all distribution and promotional expenses for the record, AND I’ll have my team of professional songwriters and musicians record “Daddy in the Duck Blind” right here in a Hollywood recording studio.
Enclosed is our standard contract. Please sign and return this to us, along with a cashier’s check or money order for only $499.95. As you probably know, this is the standard fee that artists like yourself pay to cover the cost of a test pressing. Also, please indicate by checking one of the below what kind of song you’d like “Daddy in the Duck Blind” to be:
_ Rhythm and Blues
_ Spiritual or Gospel
_ Other (indicate speed you prefer)
John, I promise you that we will send copies of your finished song within 6-8 weeks of receipt of the above, so please reply quickly. Thank you again for this wonderful opportunity.
President, Pelagian Records
January 11, 2—-
Dear President Pelagian,
I am honored that you like my song. I am including with this letter the contract and a money order in the amount of $499.95 to cover the expenses like you said. After much consideration I have decided that my song should be Spiritual or Gospel. This is mainly because my friend Charles at work says that even peckerwoods like me should raise their voices to the Lord now and then. I thought it was a country song but Charles let me hear this song called Family Circle and he was right gospel is very pretty. Charles is a good man even if he thinks we’re peckerwoods. He isn’t like the other ones.
If you will please have the Mighty Clouds of Joy sing my song I would appreciate it. I don’t know if you know them or not but if you don’t maybe you could call them because I’m sure they would be honored to work with you.
Please send me my copies like it says in the contract as soon as you can as it is very important and urgent. Even better if you can send them to my Momma’s PO box that would be better. She is at PO Box 8210, Bolingbrook SC 29349.
John “Buster” Swanson, Jr.
January 28, 2—-
Just got back from going over the charts for your song with our arranger. This guy is super–we’ve been working together since the early ‘70s. Contractual obligations prevent me from telling you the names of the superstars we’ve worked with, so let’s just say this guy could be considered “The Chairman” when it comes to arrangers. He liked the idea of working the song as gospel, but he knocked me out with his arrangement for a full orchestra. I can’t name names, but when it’s finished your song should sound as smooth as a “Velvet Fog.”
John, it’s your decision but this thing could be a huge hit as a jazz song. It will cost us about $2,000.00 to record with a full orchestra. I feel bad about the cost overrun, so I’m willing to chip in for this additional expense. Please send us a check or money order for just $1,000.00–only half of the cost of recording with an orchestra–and we can get this in the can.
President, Pelagian Records
February 14, 2—-
Just got back from a business trip to New York City, and my girl had left several notes that you’ve been trying to reach me. Please accept my apologies. It’s not my practice to leave artists like yourself unattended.
Unfortunately we cannot ship your copies to your mother’s house as requested. Those first 100 copies are the artist’s copies, for you to distribute as you please.
I understand that you’re concerned about the additional $1,000.00 cost. It’s too bad we didn’t get that song laid down before I left for New York City. I had Broadway producers clamoring for songs like yours to include in their shows! I’d hate to miss any more opportunities like that over a few bucks. Can you afford to send $750.00?
February 17, 2—-
Dear Mr. Pelagian,
Thank you for cutting the price to $750.00. I probably can afford that but it might mean that Edgar will have to eat table scraps for awhile. He is my dog and my family. I take him hunting everyday but we don’t really hunt we just walk alongside the river and if he flushes anything out of the brush he has to let it go on account of when I was a boy I shot a blue jay but I just clipped it through a blood feather so my Daddy, John Swanson, Sr., made me put it down with a stick because you can’t let dying things suffer.
On any account I am enclosing a postal money order for $750.00 as requested. I know Frank Sinatra is dead but maybe you can get somebody like Mel Torme to sing it. He might be dead too but maybe you know somebody who sounds like him. I was just thinking maybe he would be really good but you are the experts.
I’m sorry you can’t send my copies to my Momma. Like I said to the girl on the phone I don’t care about getting famous or nothing like that I just want my Momma to have this like Elvis made that song for his Momma. Anyway like Hank Sr. says maybe it will “Take These Chains From My Heart.” So if you can reconsider sending them to my Momma that would be nice.
John “Buster” Swanson, Jr.
March 1, 2—-
I haven’t heard anything from you since I sent that last check so I am writing to make sure that everything is okay. Charles at work says that I haven’t heard anything because you’re a crook but he thinks everybody is crook since Brian that works the fry vats sold him that watch that said Timax instead of Timex. I told him you’re probably just very busy.
One thing I learned when I was a boy hunting with my Daddy, John Swanson, Sr., is you have to be patient and then good things happen. When you try and rush things bad things happen. So if everything is okay please send a letter so that I know as I can’t afford to call long distance to Hollywood anymore.
March 15, 2—-
I have some great news! We were going to record your song with a house orchestra, which is a very good orchestra. But when we got done with the arrangements and the charts, Bernie (the arranger) and I agreed that it’s just too good to not record with the best. We’ve been in the business over sixty years between us–we know top-notch material when we see it.
We contacted Teddy Gillespie, whose big band has recorded some of the biggest chart toppers in Billboard history (you can look it up!), and he would love to do the song. This is big, Buster. All we need to lock Teddy and his orchestra in is an additional $2,000.00. I know money is tight for you, so maybe you can ask your mother for a loan.
March 18, 2—-
Dear President Pelagian:
With this letter I certify my intent to take my song elsewhere. Charles was right. You are a bunch of crooks after my money. How do you expect me to ask my Mother for money. If I could ask her for money then what would I need to send her a song for. You don’t have to send songs to people when you can just talk to them.
It doesn’t matter anyway. It’s like whatever you do things are just going to blow up anyway. Like when I think I got Edgar’s coat brushed good and then we’re sitting in front of the wood stove and I feel a lump on his neck and it’s a tick so big that it’s white and its legs don’t even touch and it’s about to pop. Or that time there was a flash fire in the fry vat even though Brian had packed the new lard down real good. Or the worst time was when I was duck hunting with my Daddy, John Swanson, Sr., and he was just sitting there and the shotgun went off right in his face because he had it cocked even though there weren’t any ducks in the sky and there was blood everywhere and his bones were white as this paper and his breath was kind of like when you’re a kid and you blow bubbles in your milkshake. And I just did like he said. I just broke a branch off the dead pine tree he was leaning up against and did just like he said all those years ago when I hit that blue jay right through a blood feather. So maybe if I had a song to give her she would listen to it and know what happened and she wouldn’t blame me anymore but that would probably just blow up like everything else does.
But you already know that story. Oh wait you probably don’t because you’re a liar and you probably never even read my song-poem. So please send me my $1,249.95 back or I will get a lawyer.
John “Buster” Swanson, Jr.
March 21, 2—-
I am so sorry that you misunderstood my intent in offering the Teddy Gillespie Orchestra. Our goal at Pelagian Records is to provide our clients with the finest recordings possible, and it was in that spirit that I sought out the finest big band available anywhere in the world. Please accept my apologies.
As we speak your song is being recorded by our in-house band. We should have something to send to you tomorrow, and as my way of apologizing for the confusion I’m going to tell our shipping department to send your copies straight to your mother’s house. Just call my girl and give her the address.
P.S. While you’re on the phone, ask about special artwork for your copies. I know how important they are to you, so I’ve had my art department–free of charge–work up a commemorative sleeve with images of various ducks. If you will send us a cashier’s check or money order for $99.95 to cover the cost of four-color separation and printing, we will be happy to include this beautiful, one-of-a-kind artwork!