Category Archives: Freedy Johnston

A Familiar Ring

I wrote my latest song (listen below!) while vacationing in France last month. I worked out the lyrics for the chorus during a drive through the French countryside, between Champagne and Paris; the melody for the chorus came to me that evening, while wandering the Musée d’Orsay. (I realize the construction of that sentence makes it sound like the melody was wandering the Musée d’Orsay. “Funny running into you! I was looking for a melody.” Actually, that’s pretty much how it happened.)

The verses for “Do You Know Me? (Getting By)” came together the following day, after a visit to the Picasso Museum. (To be clear, it was I, not the verses, who visited the Picasso Museum and later had a cucumber martini.) Below, you can read the famed artist’s imagined comments regarding the song he partially inspired. Spoiler alert: they’re scathing!

What should I tell you about this song? I would like to think the opening idea, of being unfamiliar with one’s own face, was entirely original. But I believe it was informed, at least subconsciously, by the lyrics of three of my favorite musicians, in songs I have listened to many dozens of times:

Freedy Johnston, “Radio for Heartache”
He was so alone
He wouldn’t have recognized his face

Neil Finn, “Try Whistling This”
If I can’t be with you, I would rather have a different face

Elvis Costello, “Stranger in the House”
There’s a stranger in the house
Nobody’s seen his face
But everybody says he’s taken my place
There’s a stranger in the house
No one will ever see
But everybody says he looks like me

Perhaps these lines have stuck with me because they are so startlingly surreal, like Picasso’s surrealist portraits. The face is so intimately connected to identity that if you were not to recognize your own, or to feel detached or dissociated from it, that could be cause for an existential crisis, indeed! In a dream, have you ever looked in a mirror and seen someone else looking back? For me, that discovery is typically accompanied by a scream. Or imagine the unease of sitting for Picasso, only to discover, upon viewing the finished work, that your eyes are arranged diagonally, your nose is in your hair, and your lips are blue!

You would probably not be surprised to learn that the second line of the song’s third verse (“The salad days weren’t meant to last”) contains a reference to Shakespeare. In Act I, Scene 5, of Antony and Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen refers to her “salad days,” when she was “green in judgment.” The phrase has come to mean a time of youthful inexperience, or the peak or heyday of something.

CREDITS: The featured image for this post is Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter (1937, polka dots mine), photo taken by me at the Picasso Museum in Paris. Neil Finn wrote “Try Whistling This” with Australian musician Jim Moginie. “Do You Know Me? (Getting By)” contains two sound effects, from Zapsplat.com.

Do You Know Me? (Getting By)

Profile

Title:
“Do You Know Me? (Getting By)”

Number:
9

Length:
2:24

Vibe/inspiration:
Freedy Johnston, Neil Finn, Elvis Costello, Pablo Picasso

Key:
G major

What I imagine Picasso might have said:

  • Surreal is a polite word for these lyrics.”
  • “This is not pop art. See what I did there?”
  • “I apologize for being a muse on this one.”
  • “This song has sent me right back to my Blue Period.”

Lyrics:

Woke up—I didn’t know my face
I left it in another place
I disappeared without a trace
But I’ve been getting by

Went out—I didn’t know my name
I couldn’t play or sing the same
I’ll never climb the heights of fame
But I’ve been getting by (bye, bye)

Do you know me? (Do you know me?)
Do you recognize a thing?
Do my words have a familiar ring? (oh-oh)
Do you know?

Got back—I didn’t know my past
The salad days weren’t meant to last
And yet the end came on so fast
But I’m still getting by (bye, bye) (bye, bye)

Do you know me? (Do you know me?)
Do you recognize a thing?
Do my words have a familiar ring? (oh-oh)

Do you know me? (Do you know me?)
Do you recognize a thing?
Do these words have a familiar ring? (oh-oh) (oh-oh)
Do you know?

Woke up—I didn’t know my face
I left it in another place
I kept it in a crystal vase
But I’ve been getting by (bye, bye) (bye, bye) (bye, bye)