On God’s Gardener (reposted from Facebook)
I don’t remember whether the melody came first or the lyrics, but I have a feeling that in this case I may have actually started by sitting down at the piano and playing. I came up with this melody, which, to me, was reminiscent of a Joni Mitchell or Cat Stevens piece — predominantly in bright major chords, but with certain passages in minor keys that create this massive tension bordering on paranoia or anxiety. The narrative thread obviously borrowed from that musical sentiment.
I recorded the digital piano along with a click track and applied a certain degree of midi time-correction and then laid down a pilot vocal, both in my home studio. The vocal take was fantastic as far as my tone and range (at least on the version I took with me to Jankland — I’d done two prior takes in which the voice came out extremely gruff); it’s a shame that take was on the home mic, which doesn’t capture sound as well as the one in Steve’s studio, because my vocal take in his studio (which wound up on the album) was better suited to the MIXING process even though the vocals never matched that one demo take.
Anyway, despite having used a click track and midi time-correction, somehow the midi file must have been slightly corrupted (either because I accidentally highlighted and then dragged certain notes, or because I hit a function button that affected the whole file), because the timing was NOT perfectly aligned to the click track in Steve’s studio when he used it there with the band. I knew I could not play this one live yet (I’d only played it a total of four or five times) with the band playing, and I didn’t want to throw them off. So instead, Steve turned off the click track and let Tom Briant listen to it several times to get a feel for the ebb and flow of the time idiosyncrasies.
At that point, Tom went ahead and played acoustic guitar to complement the piano, also adjusting the arrangement he’d been practicing at home to accommodate the fact that the song’s ending had changed since I’d sent him the original demo and I’d never bothered to update him. Meanwhile, Paul Galiszewski added colours on the cymbals and drums. Afterwards, the files went digitally to England where Adam Silverstein added orchestration to give more depth and range to the emotional palette of the music, a job he did amazingly and on very short notice.
Now, on to the song itself.
Spoiler alert: Listen to the song before reading any further!
The narrative, of course, is one of isolation and religious certainty, the type that leads to extremists who commit terrorist acts (a phenomenon that occurs in absolutely ANY religion), but I wanted the storyline to play out like a mystery for a first-time listener. While it is obvious that the protagonist is a devout man, and a troubled man, it is only at the end that his intentions become clear.
He says it’s a war out there. It’s the only analogy he knows. He’s never seen combat, never known service to any but his Lord. He lives in a world of absolutes. Everything’s only black and white. No context to colour his blind conviction.
There’s a Heaven, he says, but only for those who’ve proven their worth. He he has a template upon which he wishes to remake this earth, And it’s beautiful in a twisted, stuned way like bonsai. He wants to bind the trunks and arbitrate what limbs live and die.
He feels that he’s chosen, a character living out a verse. This Scripted Faith to sustain him through these Days of Darkness. He sees Tribulations, each a cross only he can bear; Ignores all the doors so he can walk through walls.
There’s a Heaven, he says, but only for those with his perverse aversion to pleasure. Only they can find their Way to It. And it’s beautiful in a twisted, stunted way like bonsai, And he’ll bind your trunk, your feet, your soul — determined to make the shoe fit.
All the push pins are in place. Points on a map to be erased. Nothing to do but wait. The components cannot be traced. He’s just clearing up debris, strengthening the limbs of God’s Tree. Brimstone, sulfur, and fire: in this world, his only requited desire.