Portland Anonymous: Fragment Three

I’m always surprised about how much people like to talk about “Beside Me.”  Like many songs of its kind, it is one that came together pretty easily.  The chorus came first, and it came to me while I was struggling with deep depression in 2011.  The tune of the chorus got stuck in my head and I couldn’t get it out of my head, so I just wrote it down, and then the rest of the lyrics came pretty quickly after that.  It did take a while to record, but that’s mostly because I’m a shy person and didn’t come to music studios before the invitation.  Once I recorded that song I recorded quite a few other ones that I had written over the years.  “Road Outside Portland” was written about a girl I liked who lived outside of Portland, and it was inspired by hearing a band called Of A Revolution sing “Road Outside Columbus” at a live concert I saw on cable television.  “Somewhere They Can’t Find Me” started from the Jem song “They” and then I wrote other, but equally paranoid lyrics around that sampled prechorus.  Sometimes life itself will inspire you to write particular material, and sometimes it will be a song on the radio.  It is hard to avoid being inspired and influenced by what is around you, and probably somewhat vain to try.  Even someone as quirky and unusual as I am is going to find some sort of influence that comes from my surroundings, and I don’t consider that a bad thing.

***

It was a pretty easy thing to recognize that “Beside Me” was going to be a smash hit, but we at the label wanted more than that.  It wasn’t enough for him to have a hit single, we wanted to make sure that there was an album of good material around it.  And we didn’t necessarily want to lead off with that single because we thought he would be pigeonholed as one of those Ed Sheeran types who sang nothing but romantic ballads and we knew from what he was recording in the studio that he was going to be far more broad of an artist than that.  Fortunately, even if “Beside Me” was recorded pretty early in the process, it was one of the first tracks he laid down and one of the first that we had mixed and mastered, since we all knew this would crossover in a big way, there were plenty of other songs that he recorded pretty early and he was interested in working with others, so we were able to position him as someone who was an oddball, someone who came at things from a slightly askew angle, and that made “Beside Me” popular without making it impossible for him to be himself and record what he wanted to do.  I think we did a good job in making it possible for him to do something else than sing love ballads, as he would have been miserable just as a balladeer, I think.

***

Yeah, I host a weekly YouTube video called “Billboard Breakdown” and it can get hard on me sometimes with all the mediocre music that somehow manages to find its way on the charts.  I definitely remember when “Beside Me” came on the charts.  My first reply was to be a bit irritated that we had some sappy love ballad that would be played for months by pop and adult contemporary stations, and that’s exactly what happened.  But when other songs of his started to chart, I realized that he was more than just some sort of bad Ed Sheeran-ripoff act like I had first assumed, and I realized that his music had a bit more depth and that the framing of “Beside Me” was as a search for love and intimacy in the midst of one’s struggle to maintain strong mental health in the face of crippling anxiety.  I never got to meet him personally but he was a fan of my videos and would comment on them from time to time, and even before he released any songs he would watch some of the videos I did with ARTV and other YouTube personalities.  He was a shy but definitely present member of the internet community that supports music criticism, and I was glad for that even if I may have been a bit hard on him at first for “Beside Me.”  I think by the time he released “Let Me In” and it charted I gave it an honorable mention and told people to check it out, and if he would have lived longer and performed in Canada I think I would have watched his concert and talked to him about his approach to music.  He always struck me as a well-spoken person who was aware of framing problems when it came to songs, and that is something that I always appreciate.  I jut miss having the chance to get to know him as a human being rather than simply trying to understand him from his music.  That’s a missed opportunity, though.

***

I remember playing on “Beside Me.”  It was a beautiful experience, really, and one I think I will always remember.  It’s not everyday that you can help to write the music for a song and know that it is going to be a smash hit, but everyone involved just knew this song would be big.  There’s always a taste for heartfelt and sincere ballads, and though people get tired of singing them, there are always a lot of people who never get tired of listening to them.  I remember hearing the track first set to a simple beat and I got immediately what he was trying to accomplish, so I and the other musicians who worked on it set up a very simple acoustic backdrop to it that included some flourishes, and we even added some strings, including the singer himself playing viola on the album version, and we were all pretty satisfied with how it turned out.  I will appreciate the song as long as I live, because I’m pretty sure I will be getting royalty checks on it as long as I live and being asked to talk about the song and what it felt like to help write the music for it and to record it in the studio.  I just wish I would have had more time with him to write more songs.  I knew he had some more classics in him, but we didn’t have the chance to work together for years like I would have liked.  Sometimes you think you have a lot of time and it turns out that you don’t have a lot of time at all.

***

I knew as soon as I heard “Beside Me” that there was the potential for a one-hit wonder there.  I’m someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about one-hit wonders, and this story was a perfect one.  You have some sort of reclusive person who doesn’t like a lot of personal attention, and someone like that is bound to have a lot of odd material that they think of, and here you have them singing some sort of straightforward ballad.  There are several types of musical acts that tend to have only one hit, and he was the sort of singer who was just too weird and strange to be massively successful more than one time.  At least that’s what I thought at the time.  I thought he might have a few minor hits that might barely reach the top 40, but that “Beside Me” was going to be the only one that was a massive smash, and boy, was I right.  I mean, I’m a guy who makes videos online and hides my face in the shadows, so I’m pretty aware when people aren’t looking for attention and when their material is going to be a bit out there.  I mean, his other songs weren’t like “Space Age Love Song” or anything like that, but they were definitely odd.  Who sets Auden poetry to a dance beat?  Who writes country songs and gives them Latin titles?  That guy, that’s who.  So yeah, figuring him as a one-hit wonder was pretty easy, and had his career been longer he likely would have had more glorious material to work from.  And the way he died, I don’t want to spoil anything but that death just sealed the deal for me.  I knew as soon as he died and once his music was released to the world that my patreons would want me to make a one hit wonderland for him, and that’s exactly what they did.  It was glorious too, and I wholeheartedly believe he deserved better.  I mean, to be known for a sappy love ballad when one was obviously a vastly more interesting person is not the kindest fate in the world, but when I studied into his life, I realized there was a lot of poignant information there.  I just wish we would have had more time to appreciate his strange but compelling approach to making popular music.  We don’t get nearly enough really quirky people, and it was sad to see his career be so short.  So yeah, I hope wherever you are, that you’re having a lot more fun than you did here.

***

Was I the first person to play “Beside Me” on the radio?  Really?  Well, it was an obvious hit.  I remember when we received the promo music for it, that it was a total no-brainer to all of us that this song was going to be pushed.  Some songs you have to get your arm twisted to play them, but we were all convinced that our audience would love this song.  And we were right.  I remember the first time I played it was on an evening challenge where we would play songs and have the audience reply to it, and I think about 98% of them said they wanted to hear the song more.  We figured that would be the case and before too long the song was on heavy rotation.  We’re a Hot AC station, so it’s not hard for us to get a grasp of songs that will go mainstream and that one did in a big way.  I remember that he came to our station and sang for us and talked with us a little bit and with our audience on our morning show.  It was nice to hear that he had grown up in the Tampa Bay area and he talked about his experiences as a kid and as a teenager and young adult, and he answered a lot of questions from the audience, it was one of our best shows and he seemed like a really good guy.  I wish we would have had a lot more chances to have him on the show than just that one, but it was a really memorable experience.  Sometimes you just know someone is a really decent person, and he was real, as well as really shy.  I listened to the whole of his first album as well as his later material and that shyness and anxiety wasn’t an act.  That was the real him, with a really friendly person underneath it.  It’s just a shame we didn’t get to see more of that.

***

You know, I can’t really consider myself that big of a fan of his material.  I mean, I don’t hate him or anything, but he was a really big part of my teenage years and to hear songs that I know were written about me is just not very fun at all.  I don’t know if other people feel the same way about songs written about them.  I suppose some people would be flattered by that, but I’m not someone who ever wanted that sort of attention, and so when people would ask him on interviews about the inspiration for songs, he was polite but also gave enough detail that I knew I had inspired him.  Like, take “Road Outside Portland,” that song is about the town where I grew up, and there are only 3,000 people or so in the town, and we are the only family there that he was really close to, so it was obvious that he was writing about me.  It’s not as if he did anything hostile or mean, he wasn’t that sort of person, but it makes one uncomfortable to be written about.  And he was a writer and a person who made a lot of people uncomfortable.  And yeah, I’m not really happy about being reminded about it, or knowing that I didn’t have the chance to make things less uncomfortable before he died.  That song is going to stick around, and remind me of him, and I’ll never have the chance to just have a good conversation with him because he’s gone.  I’ll never have the chance to ask him why he put that song on an album, and why it was that he was able to act as if everything was okay even when he was obviously deeply unhappy, and why he couldn’t just apologize for being the awkward soul that he was.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Musings, NaNoWriMo and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Portland Anonymous: Fragment Three

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Portland Anonymous Project | Edge Induced Cohesion

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