Behind the song Canon in Drop D Part 2
In this second part of Behind The Song Canon in Drop D, we take a look at the events that inspired the explosive second half of the epic rock-opera. You’ve probably been through a situation in your life when you experienced a series of conflicting emotions; the events that make up this song are no different. Canon is broken up into four sections; The calm before storm, the destruction of life-as-I-knew-it, wrestling with hopes and fears, and acceptance of life’s circumstances. The first movement as we examined in the last blog was light and upbeat, but it foreshadowed the turmoil to come. Then, a couple minutes into the song, everything changes. If you haven’t downloaded the song yet, click here to download it for free along with four other songs. Prepare yourself! We’re about to face the darkness.
The lyrics to this second part were written during the breakup rather than before. The chorus of movement ii sings “I’ll be the one that’s good for you, only if you want me to.” This was meant again as an appeal to my fiance as she tried to decide if she still wanted to have a future together. I wanted to be in her life, but I wouldn’t force it. At that time, I was desperately hoping she would choose to stay with me and build a life together. The line “When everyone else is gone, I’ll be waiting right here for you” was a statement of my commitment to her. I wanted to think that I was invincible and could weather anything with her. We want to be heroic; we want to think we can grit our teeth and hold the relationship together even if hope seems lost and the other person’s commitment has waned. To me, this was self-sacrifice. Maybe we can hold on for awhile, but it takes a toll. I could feel the relationship slipping out of my hands and all I could do was wait. This becomes the central theme of the second movement; I had made my decision and all I could do was wait for her to make her own. During that time, I realized how little control we actually have in life, particularly when other people’s free-will is involved.
The line of lyrics that follows was an attempt to deal with the weight of the commitment we had made as it began to deteriorate. On the night that she gave me back the engagement ring, my fiance told me she was struggling to figure out who she was and who she wanted to become. She didn’t have a firm grasp on her own identity when I asked her to marry me. Suddenly she had come to the realization that she didn’t actually want to be a part of my world. Looking back, she was probably making a wise decision. On paper, we were almost nothing alike. I can’t even figure out what drew me to her in the first place today. She was a nice girl from a completely different world with no idea of who she was. Who can blame her? We were both young. For whatever reason, I was unable to see that she was in an identity crisis throughout the course of the relationship, and this realization manifested itself in the lyrical line “When you said you would say ‘I do,’ how could you have understood who you are?” Looking back, I wonder, had I truly been dating someone with no identity for years? If so, why in the world would I have been so drawn to someone who didn’t even know who they were? What does that say about me?
I’m still not sure I know the answer, but the instrumental section that follows this line is meant to symbolize exploring these questions. When the harmonized guitars kick in, you can almost sense a “light bulb moment,” signifying a new way of thinking. It’s really strange how well the guitars symbolize the overwhelming questions my fiance and I wrestled through. You might notice how the lead guitar keeps “meeting up with” the rhythm guitar, but they keep splitting off. It almost represents the “back and forth” internal debate we were experiencing emotionally. Would we stay together or not? What would a life with someone else look like? There’s a musical expression of hope, fear, and the unknown. The guitars build up into a climax and then split off, letting the acoustic guitar shine through; it’s like a brief moment of clarity before reality kicked me in the face. And with that, we broke up. You can almost visualize the moment in which there was a pause after I opened the door, waiting to see if she would choose me… or him. And then that glorious Canon riff pounded me into the ground. Nothing could have prepared me for it. Reality is harsh sometimes… but that’s the world we live in.
With the engagement ring having been returned to me, I was left saying to myself, “Say you’ll be there in the end, cause I don’t know what’s coming next.” For months, I held out hope that she might call me or show up at my doorstep wanting to work things out together. I wrote song after song in an attempt to cope with the loss. It helped, but the relief from the pain was only temporary. As horrible as it sounds, I felt like it would have been easier to lose someone to death than have them willingly leave our relationship to be with someone else. Slowly but surely, I began to accept the reality that she wasn’t coming back. As I looked toward the future, a strange mix of emotions followed; freedom, loneliness, hope, fear, emptiness… many contradicting feelings both good and bad created in me the sensation of being pulled apart. That kind of emotional stimulation can wear you out fast, hence the musical climax and soothing acappella outro. Exhaustion sets in as the music slowly fades. This is beautiful. This is painful. This is life.
There… that’s the whole story. Whew. You might think I’m looking back on that experience with dread, but I’m not. It was absolutely necessary for me and I’m finally able to fully embrace the experience, although the aftermath would cost me a couple years of my life. We’ll get to that eventually… but for now, not only did it shape me, but it gave me what I consider to be the song of a lifetime as a writer. It may not mean much to you, but to me personally, I view this song as my personal best. I even wrestle on a regular basis with the fear that I will never write a better song. I know it’s not a typical song with a recognizable song order. It probably wouldn’t have qualified as a “single” due to its length, but these things are not what I value. What I value in songwriting are things like passion, energy, musical and emotional exploration, and depth of lyrics. Canon hits them all for me. When I listen to it, I feel like it’s not even my own song and I don’t know where it even came from. Even though the subject is sad, listening to it only brings me joy. It’s a way for me to remember what I went through and learn from it without being trampled by the pain.
Because of these elements, Canon was always one of the most passionate and intense songs in my band’s live set. The song is a test of endurance to play live, but it generated so much life from the stage. I can look at the photo above and know exactly what moment during the song the picture was taken; “Say you’ll be there in the end… You know my heart is deep as the sea…” The climax at the end of the song; the highest note I can sing without entering falsetto. Every show, I would lean back and scream toward the heavens to hit that note. Pay no attention to the fact that this is not good singing technique… I laugh at myself and shake my head a little. At least it makes for a great photo and displays the amount of heart I poured into this song.
Hopefully someday, at least in my own mind, I will write another song that I love as much as this one. If I can’t though, I’ll always have this one. Hopefully next time it doesn’t take as traumatic of a life experience to generate my best creativity. I hope you enjoy this song as much as I do. Here’s to great breakup songs!
Nathan (aka Vandarth)