On the heels of the official release of The Clearing, today marks the first in my track by track blog series where I’ll dive a little bit into each track and what they’re all about starting with track 1: Champagne Birthday.
Listen to the record in full on my YouTube channel (it’s still working its way to streaming services):
About the Track
Despite its title and its original demo release date of July 30th (my actual champagne birthday) this song isn’t about birthdays at all.
If I had to put a date to the main inspiration behind it, it’d be early May 2016, but it weaves in and out of a few interactions I’ve had with people over the years.
This was the first original song I’d written in years after taking a long time away from playing music and writing anything in this way. It poured out in February 2020 as I sat by myself in my old King City rental home thinking, and trying not to think, about a lot of the choices I’d made in the years leading up to it.
At the time, I was reasonably sure I was about to tell my now ex-husband that it was time we part ways, feeling like there was nothing more I could do to try and help him get his own head in order and knowing for sure that I’d remain stagnant in my own life if I chose to stay much longer.
The chorus was the first part to formulate as I thought about the day my ex and I went to my parents house to tell them about our sudden surprise engagement that had taken place while we were away on vacation just a couple weeks earlier (April 2016). I’ve talked about this story in part in a previous blog post but I’ll reiterate quickly here: as the youngest of 4 and the first to get engaged, the news was no doubt going to shock my parents when I told them, but my ex and I were committed to trying to do everything the “right” way and so we made sure that when we did break the news, we did in person, rather than what appears to be the new trend of just flaunting your ring and proposal on social media in the minutes it happens.
I can still hear the silence that sat in the air as the words escaped my mouth.
“We have some news, we got engaged”.
There was no, “let’s see the ring!” there was no, “this is amazing news!”. I said it before but truly, you could’ve heard a pin drop.
I didn’t know if I was supposed to say more so I just waited. My parents and my older sister were the only ones home at the time and it was in that moment that said more than words ever could about how they felt about our decision that my sister ran upstairs to her room to grab a bottle of Champagne she’d stowed away. She’d made a habit of keeping a couple things in case friends popped by unexpected or, big news broke out.
I could see the discomfort on her own face as she brought it back down trying to lighten to room as cheerfully as she could by pouring a couple glasses while my mother remarked, “you won’t do this right away right? You won’t get married next year, you’ll wait?”
It was more of a command than it was a question.
And I’ve had a lot of situations over the years where I’ve felt unsupported by my family but I have to say, this type of reaction to your engagement really takes it for me.
Of course he and I had no idea what we were doing and our marriage would end up only surviving for 2 years meaning maybe that reaction was in some way warranted but, on that day we didn’t know any of that.
Nobody asked about the proposal, instead shifting gears to “just tell us a little about the trip” (we’d been in Iceland and Ireland for just shy of 2 weeks).
We drank the champagne reluctantly and not much else was said about it.
As quickly as the chorus was written, I moved on immediately to the first verse which is loosely a description of where my head goes when I write pretty much anything.
If you’ve never written a song before or done much creative writing you might be unfamiliar but the best way I can describe it is that it’s almost like a persistent nagging comes into your conscious thought; a line, a word, a person, a feeling, that your mind and heart are telling you to pay some sort of attention to. And sometimes you’re thrilled to have it join you in your day; on a walk, as you enjoy a cup of coffee, as you lie awake at night.
But sometimes it’s not really something you’re all that interested in exploring, so you push it, ignore it, wonder what else it could maybe be asking you to think about instead.
The line “There’s comfort in the quiet places where I like to scream” serves to remind me and anyone listening that sometimes giving into that nagging is the best thing for you (often is, actually), even if it’s not any fun and even if it’s outright painful – even if it makes you scream.
In the pre-chorus, I’m pulled out of the trance these types of thoughts and creative writing sessions have led me down (the rabbit hole you hear so much about is really just a girl at her desk typing away on a laptop) and thrust back into reality with someone at my door interrupting me. And in this case, as is commonly so, the person who has just interrupted is in no way aware that they’ve caused any sort of disruption and it’s not wholly clear they’re aware of how you’re feeling in that moment, but it doesn’t matter to them because they’ve got something to say, something that they feel needs your attention.
And many of us reluctantly, even if we’d really rather just keep focusing on ourselves and our needs, turn our attention to the new need, the new problem, what the other person in this conversation or situation requests, neglecting ourselves and abandoning our own train of thought – of course, it’s really difficult to make any sort of progress if you continue to allow this type of exchange to keep happening but it’s always challenging to find that balance with the people you care about.
In verse 2 I acknowledge that this situation that I’m in with these people I’ve described is noticeably unhealthy and even predictable but I’m a little bit stuck, unsure of what to do or say to make it better. Of course there’s more happening behind the scenes here but as it pertains to the story I’m finding myself wondering if some of the conversations or lack thereof that I’m dealing with in the moment have more to do with their own perceived reality than it has to do with what I’m doing. “Is it me or them? Should I be doing more or is this out of my hands?”
Finally, in the bridge I have a little fun with a conversation half-invented.
At the time of writing Champagne Birthday, I had spent the last few months reducing my own drinking down to next to nothing after better prioritizing my own health, taking up running and focusing more on walking my dog. I was pleased that I was only having 1 or 2 drinks a week, sometimes none at all for many weeks, especially after New Years Eve where I’d blacked out at my own party just minutes after the midnight toast – telling myself on New Years Day 2020, “well, that’s definitely enough champagne for my lifetime and I definitely don’t ever want to blackout again – how embarrassing”.
There are plenty of conversations I could cite as the inspiration for this bridge but one that comes to mind in particular is from my 19th birthday. A friend of mine brought me a bottle of Patron Tequila. For brevity’s sake, lets just say this friend was someone with a penchant for being perceived as having expensive taste and I, someone who hates tequila.
Did I drink tequila in my younger years? Absolutely. Lots of it. But it is and always will be terrible and no one can tell me otherwise, even if you slap on a pretty label and throw it in a fancy bottle.
I still remember that friend excitedly watching me opening it, mentioning its value, its perceived reputation as “the best” and saying I should save it for a celebratory occasion – not that night, was the implied command there.
In short, that’s the type of interaction I re-iterate in this bridge for you here, although in place of tequila I was thinking about the way people talk about fine wines – and I’ve never enjoyed a glass of wine, either.
Lately when I’ve been thinking of you
The world around me stops
As though I’m in a new dimension
Just me and my intrusive thoughts
It’s there that it starts to itch again
And I’m where I shouldn’t be
There’s comfort in the quiet places
Where I like to scream
Then you walk in, never too soon
Hopelessly unaware of the energy in the room
(and that’s when you’re like)
Pop the champagne
Go fetch the flutes
Pop the champagne
I say any glass will do
You keep a bottle on hand for occasions just like this
And you lose my attention before a drop ever hits
Lately when I’ve been thinking of you
I get pains deep in my chest
I always know it’s coming
But I can’t prepare for it
The itching falls in sequence to the bitter taste you bring
Envy is such a filthy flavour dripping from your lips
Then you walk in, never too soon
Still hopelessly unaware of the energy in the room
Oh you’re so sweet it’s vintage
I can’t ever tell the difference
You shouldn’t have, I insist
The smell alone it makes me sick
A Little More
It was just a couple weeks after the writing of this song that I’d make the decision to quit drinking, well ahead of my champagne birthday which people have excitedly exclaimed to me for years, “you’re SO lucky you have a birth date where you ACTUALLY get to have a champagne birthday!” for reasons I’ll never understand.
Wasn’t in the cards for me, as it turns out.
Instead I used the occasion to celebrate the only meaningful way I could really think of, by putting out the original 3-song A Quiet Place to Scream EP for whoever wanted to listen to how I was spending my time in quarantine – thinking about people, things, and letting myself scream.