What you see above is the ACTUAL WORKSHEET from my notebook (I'm not yelling, I swear) that I scratched out as I was beginning to compose 'I Remember Mornings' (British punctuation for British songs, remember?). This is your first clue into one of my most common songwriting processes—having a little chat with myself to straighten some things out so that I don't fly off in the wrong direction.
Let me take you through what I wrote on this note page, so that you can perhaps use my methods in your own work!
Main Technique Employed: FIND THE PUNCHLINE (a.k.a. The Terrible Truth)
At the top of the page, you will see a Punchline: I'm in mourning 'til I die.
So, I'm sitting in bed, where I usually write, and I know that I want to punch the audience in the gut at the end of this song, in the nicest possible way. I know the words I'm going to weaponize to accomplish this arguably honorable mission. But how am I going to get to this punchline? I've got to establish The Joke.
What is the joke? Well, as I jotted down, there's a line that's been repeated at the end of every chorus, "In mourning still am I." I know that the audience will come to expect this, probably appreciate the clever reference to Mournington's name, and will even look forward to it by the end, because, hey, it's a great closing line, even if we have heard it before. It's solid. It's satisfying. And it's sad. But...we can do better.
Let's kick expectations square in the arse (this is getting too violent for me). Switch "I" to "die," reveal Madam Mournington's "terrible truth," AND have the lady foreshadow her own tragic demise, whilst (yes, there's more) painting an ironic metaphor equating mourning to a living death. Ouch. My gut is sore already.
How can I pull this off? I need to really have this mean something, otherwise we're just witnessing a supporting character's punny pity party. I've got to lay out some Objectives, both for the character and for myself regarding the audience, whom I am there to shepherd and protect above all things.
Madam Mournington's Objectives:
1. This is her final attempt to crush any remaining love and beauty in her heart and unburden herself from guilt and self-flagellation.
1. Set up the audience to care when Mournington dies.
2. Solidify the wedge between Mournington and her son, Dr. Stockill.
3. Explain her heretofore inexplicable actions by revealing her "pain point" (just enough so that, when it is later revealed that Stockill killed her infant daughter, the audience isn't like, "What the actual hell").
Now that we've gone through my original song notes from 2018, I'll go a little deeper into what happened after these notes were made.
On top of the Punchline, the Joke, and the Objectives, Mournington needed an Arc. In my observation, and in my own practice, there are 3 primary types of Song Arcs:
1. Acceptance (where the character ends at the same place they started, but with a different perspective: 'Nothing')
2. Transformation (where the character is different by the end: 'From The Gutter To The Stars', 'One Foot In Front Of The Other',
"We Have Instructions")
3. Explanation (where the character doesn't change but the audience's perception of them does, because they learn something new: 'The Spider's Face', "Private Practice," 'Who's A Little Leech')
'I Remember Mornings' is prime example of...ding ding ding! ACCEPTANCE.
Much of IRM you can actually sing 'Gaslight' over, and this is an example of a "non-accidental accident." The two songs wove themselves together because their similarities made it impossible to keep them apart. In 'Gaslight', Emily starts off looking around at the place she's in, and ends up accepting that she will never leave, and that despair is to be her permanent state. M.M. does just that in IRM (they are even talking about the same place).
They are both flashing back to instances where a young female they adored had been hurt (in M.M.'s case, her daughter, and in Emily's, The Captain, whom she feels maternally toward).
They both talk about the cells that imprison them, showing that Mournington is just as much an inmate as the...Inmates.
But, the connection between Mournington and Emily goes ever deeper...not only are they the only two women in Stockill's life, but M.M. even adopts the melody of whose opening number? Emilie's (who is of course also Emily). That's right, M.M.'s first line is straight out of "What Will I Remember?" There is even a sort of "call and response" going on here: Emilie asks, "What will I remember?", and Mournington replies, 'I remember mornings'.
This all comes together when, as she is dying, Mournington realizes that she and Emily have a common enemy in Stockill and gives Emily the key that has symbolized her own position in the Asylum (and in the modern-day psych ward as the Head Nurse), essentially making Emily the new Mournington as keeper of the key (bet you never thought of that implication, ah?).
Of course, Emily had the key that would unlock the cells all along in the form of the one tied around her leg for a damned decade, but Mournington never knows this, and this also presumes that Emily's key would have worked before the moment she truly needed it to, which is something that even I don't know the answer to, and to which you will kindly draw your own conclusions.
Actually Singing The Thing:
Vocally, recording this song was difficult for three reasons, the first being that I had to manipulate my voice to sound like that of an older woman without making it campy (it's easier to be a Rat), the second being that I was recording this in, no, not a bathroom, but in a bathroom closet (this was all that was available at the time), and the third being that the last note of the song is really, really bloody high. Or rather, it seemed so then, because I hadn't yet moved the Asylum HQ to NYC and studied voice with the master goddess that is Mary Setrakian, who discovered, through her magical methods, that within my untrained alto throat lay a coloratura soprano, which I'm relieved to report is no longer entirely untrained, and which has made possible the song that will end with the highest note ever sung in a musical to my knowledge. (You've not yet heard this song, but I'm recording it for you now, so get ready for your wine glasses to shatter.)
And the final piece of IRM's puzzle is the intro bit...the melody of '4 o'Clock'. In the show, Mournington serves up her big number walking through the Cell Ward in the middle of the night (just after becoming slightly aware of the Asylum's prostitution ring), indicating that she can't sleep. And this leads me to something I'd like to leave you with—two questions I'll invite you to ponder at your own leisure:
1. Is there even the most remote possibility that the borrowing of the '4 o'Clock' theme as Mournington's intro says just a little bit more about her mental state than that she's got insomnia because she's miserable/morally uncomfortable? After all, it is, and has always been since its release all these years ago, well before I was even properly medicated, the anthem of the bipolar girl experiencing the common if creepily unexplained bipolar phenomena of waking up each night at 4 A.M. on the dot. Why is Mournington up at 4 A.M.?
2. Why don't Mournington and her son, Dr. Stockill, share a surname? What does this say about her, about him, and about the dead husband we know oh-so-little about?
I shall see you next week, when we will finally delve into...'Nothing'!