up front: this one is long. the story i’m about to tell is going to work as a general backdrop for a section of songs that i plan to write about; let’s call it the “nyc era”. i’ll apologize now if some of this initially is a little long and meandering, but i think it’ll be important to contextualize where these songs are coming from.
this is one of the first songs i wrote after i had moved to new york. i had just graduated from uchicago around 4 years ago.
the plan was to move the band from chicago to new york — we had a lot more industry connections in new york, and both our brand-spanking new manager and pr firm were located in brooklyn. ostensibly, i personally would be happier too, since my long distance gf had been living in nyc for the past year and we’d finally be reunited again.
unfortunately, this move was a total disaster. first off, i had severely underestimated how bad the rest of the band’s heroin addiction had become. i wanted to get a head start on nyc, mainly to secure a production space, get some shows scheduled, be with my gf, etc.
but once i had hauled ass out of chicago with all the equipment, the other guys basically just gave up on the idea entirely. both my drummer and my producer (who, for what it’s worth, were also my best friends) were supposed to catch up with me two weeks after i had arrived in town; after my first month in brooklyn, they stopped answering my calls entirely. it was a completely heartbreaking experience — all the more, because it was so obvious to everyone else that they were in trouble. sadly, i was in so deep, i couldn’t even see it.
so naturally, i became depressed. i felt like i had abandoned my friends; i was also in jeopardy of losing everything i had been working towards for the last 4 years. but i tried to soldier on. i developed a workflow that would allow me to play our live set by myself, a la grimes. i moved into a cheap apartment in bed stuy with another producer friend of mine and we started working on new music together.
but i kept finding myself really sad and distracted. so i started taking a whole soul-trainload of uppers to get me energized and focused (mostly adderall, drizzled with crumbs of moonrock and powder). i thought it was a great program: i was getting a lot of work done and constantly feeling like i was making new creative discoveries. i went on a month-long trip around the world: japan, china, turkey, lebanon. i wrote a book of poetry.
but i was terrifying my gf. i was alternating between full-bodied states of mania and dejection, often multiple times a day and without any concern for my well-being. it wasn’t sustainable. i ended up having an exhaustive nervous breakdown the night before taking the LSAT, crying inconsolably in her arms, ceaselessly into the morning. i sat for the exam, but i immediately passed out and stone cold slept through the whole test. she convinced me to go see a psychiatrist, who quickly diagnosed me with bipolar disorder, without even a moment’s differential diagnosis. the very first meeting i had with her, she prescribed me all the shiny shit: flavors like abilify, gabapentin, xanax, prestiq…
i played along for my gf’s sake, but honestly, i wasn’t convinced. growing up, i spent a lot of personal time with my best friend’s father, who was so legitimately bipolar that he had to resign from his high-power executive position and live off of disability checks. i remember hiding underneath a couch while he beat his son, hysterically weeping, incoherently screaming untrue platitudes of his victimhood, regurgitating pills while drooling and pissing himself. did i really share his illness?
so it was at this juncture that i wrote “freak of the week”. i wanted to profile my experience with bipolarity, since i thought that what was actually happening with me was markedly different than what others were telling me i was going through. personally, i just thought i was surviving, as if i was staving off the melancholy and guilt i had about the past, by being as actively crazy as possible in the present: pursuing the poetic act, irresponsibly, at any cheesy cost. to everyone else, there was nothing strategic about my craziness, and i just needed some anti-psychotics asap.
with this distinction in mind, i started writing this song.
the salient ideas behind the composition and production in “freak of the week” are fairly simple. i ripped the piano from a random country song (props to anyone who can recognize it, i have lost the source material), scaled it to D major, and then copied and transposed the part into I and IV majors chords. this is a really common chord progression to implement when wholesale sampling the orchestration of a major chord, because it’s a fundamental progression in pop music whose chord shapes are naturally concurrent– meaning you don’t have to get creative about eq’ing out any atonal notes in the chord shape. the jingle drums are a much slower drum fill that i stole from arctic monkeys and sped up (i believe specifically “fake tales of san francisco” although i’m not sure). and of course, i swiped the “freak of the week” vocal from the funkadelic song.
with these samples coming together, i found that i just wanted the song to be funky, as well as feature dynamics in the rhythm. to that end, for the chorus i recorded a busy bass line and added a kick&clap to the percussion – this has the effect of making the chorus more catchy and accessible (since the beat is better defined), while allowing the chaotic, undefined elements of the verse (e.g. the tumbling percussion) to breathe. this is nice, because the lyrical content of the verses are similarly tumultuous, while the chorus lyrics are simple, so there’s continuity between the song’s dynamic forms and functions.
beyond the sample integration and funk dynamics, i only worked towards making the song fun to listen to. after adding some synths to mark the melody and pad out the remaining space, i felt the song was in a good enough place to add vocals over it.
presently, if i had the stems and the inclination, i would add some synth or guitar lines in the section between the 2nd and 3rd chorus. that could have been fun, and i remember messing with a lot of filters in that section before it got too out of control to keep in. as it stands now though, i think that section is serviceable, even if only as a moment to be mindless and catch-up as a listener before the song’s dance finale.
When did I stop brushing my teeth everyday?
i start by wondering when i gave up on my run-of-the-mill dignity, as a way of introducing the type of self-loathing that drives the song’s psycho-existential investigation. “brushing my teeth” also invokes an unhygienic oral practice, which will directly color the sexual practices detailed in the following lines.
We went into that whorehouse
And picked the girls we’d slay.
i try to answer this question by thinking back to the first memory i have of when things started to get insane for me. i originally wrote a long explanation about this, but i realized its actually a pretty common story: my dad took me to a brothel when i was a little too young for the experience. you can imagine how that might spark some self-destructive tendencies.
i’m using the terms “whorehouse” and “slay” (as opposed to softer, less provocative language) to emphasize the violent attitudes that sexual objectification can invite – this was my dad’s way of trying to help me through my first break up, and now that i’m older, i can see that it’s not particularly healthy to try and get revenge with sex.
No windows in the room;
i continue illustrating this scene at a brothel, developing the depiction as a metaphor for my emotional malnourishment. windows with astounding views, and flowers adorning the bedroom, as lively and tender as white spanish brooms, are images that evoke comfort and decency — but as the brothel sorely lacks windows, flowers, or any decorum whatsoever, so does self-respect vanish.
(the only problem i have with this line now is that white spanish brooms are a shrub and you wouldn’t expect to see them indoors anyways. i was trying to emulate poets who use horticulture as a natural symbology, so my thinking was that anything specific to the region would work.)
I don’t remember any of their names,
But was I supposed to?
unable to recall the names of the women i’ve slept with, i disrespect them. or do i (considering they are prostitutes who most likely use fake names in the first place)? this is a manner of questioning my own authenticity, and whether being inauthentic is even the problem.
Depression’s got a bad rap —
nah, nevermind, depression isn’t so malicious. check out what it’s helped me accomplish:
It picked my favorite clothes;
i’m referencing a specific anxiety that i had when i got to college: i was very much worried that if i didn’t try and always look as fashionable as possible, i would be completely unfit to be respected or loved by anybody. but it was that kind of motivation that led me to finding clothes that i actually made me feel good about myself.
for the record, ever since moving away from the city, i don’t have this anxiety at all anymore. it’s actually weird to talk about because i don’t really understand it anymore – i don’t really know how clothing can represent someone in any serious way. but at the time, it was something i recognized not only in myself, but just about everyone my age.
depression has also inspired me to travel to exotic places, in search of danger and intrigue. the shell represents what we bring back from our adventures (the shell i used in real life had been recovered from one of my drug-fueled beach quests in central america). and while the shell is beautiful on the outside, it is predictably empty on the inside.
maybe i’m asking whether or not i can outgrow my own self-disrespect, simply by living a romantic life unto myself. but with that question ultimately undecided, i’m left inquisitively ashing my cigarette (the quintessential unhealthy object) into that romantic shell (of a man).
But girly’s in my bed;
Sometimes we must choose friends.
even if depression can be a friend, it’s really hard to love someone the way they deserve when you’re perpetually sad. and this is a love song, if only an unconvincing one.
So I shave my face; I wear condoms;
essentially the things i’m giving up for the girl. i’ll try to look clean when i otherwise wouldn’t, i’ll make sure to be responsible sexually when i otherwise wouldn’t, i’ll play the psychiatry game when i otherwise wouldn’t, etc.
the homeland reference would have been more topical when this was written. it’s funny in a different way now though.
Baby, don’t be worried.
I won’t be a freak of the week.
Freaky weeks are pretty neat,
But I gotta keep my baby.
pretty simple. can’t be unhinged and at the same time keep my girlfriend. as such, i’ll prioritize keeping my gf happy, although if she only knew how much fun we could have if we lived those freaky weeks together…
I have a music buddy,
His studio was robbed.
true story: my friend was living in washington heights, in an apartment on like the 20th floor. while he was sleeping, someone came in and robbed him of all his music equipment. they then scaled the building from the outside, all the way from up on his high floor to the street. they were able to do this because his studio was basically an imac, an interface and one or two instruments. they were able to store all the stuff in two backpacks and escape through the fire escape without their identity revealed, even though plenty of security cameras caught footage of them in the act.
more importantly, the image of having your studio stolen as a musician, is a decent metaphor for the criminal acts of happiness.
I don’t want happiness to mug me while I jog.
the working theory here is that depression is what keeps me motivated to perform acts of insanity, aka acts of unbridled creativity. since depression motivates me to exercise my creative life, i simply want to secure myself from becoming complacent.
I wish I had my gun.
I have a lot of shit, and country boys
Can’t see insurance as a prescription.
i come from a gun-loving family, and i’m being tongue-in-cheek by saying that i’d feel a lot safer being able to fend myself off from depression with a gun (to my head) rather than with a bottle of pills.
obviously, the line that i can’t “see insurance as a prescription” is just a slight pun made from the jargon of medical coverage (a prescription won’t insure my safety in the story, while prescriptions are covered by insurance in the real world). kind of dumb, but whatever.
And scurry through the trees.
The owner of the property shot at us —
a follow-up image of home. when i was a kid, there was an orange grove next door to my house. our neighbor hated us, and so in spite of his old man temper, we would take a golf cart and race through his orange groves every once in awhile. he would retaliate by shooting at us with his shotgun. it was insane of us to do, but it was by way of that exhilaration that we fought against the tedium and hatred of our neighborhood.
That’s still how I think of things,
as in, i’m still using the adrenaline of lunacy to fight against tedium and self-hatred.
But let’s not worry you.
I squeeze all of those legal fruits
And drink its juice, its healthy juice.
but because i love my gf, i’ll try to be a sounder, better person. i truly loved her more than anything that had worked for me before. instead of being the guy who steals thing, i’ll be the guy who juices. i would have rather lived a lawful, healthy and soulless life, than any other life at all without her. but what kind of choice is that…
Baby, don’t be worried.
I won’t be freaky weekly.
sadly, a promise i couldn’t keep.
hope you enjoyed! any feedback is appreciated. still trying to get a feel for what’s important to talk about – there’s a lot more i could have written about but this already felt exhaustive. thanks!