Episode XII: Tracy Newman

By Tracy Newman

I’ve been accused of being too literal and sometimes linear in my songwriting. It’s true. It’s what I do and I like it that way. It comes from years of writing ½ hour TV comedy. I also try to write in pictures, almost like a storyboard. However, if you ask me what music I listen to, over and over, I find myself drawn to more cryptic songs. I love the Rowland Salley song “Killing the Blues.” (I’ve heard it by John Prine, Shawn Colvin, Alison Krauss, to name a few.) If I could write that sort of song, I would. It’s actually not cryptic; it’s actually very clear, but a little more veiled than I’m able to write. Now that I think of it, I can write more veiled lyrics, but I find that I can’t perform them live. My audiences don’t expect to work very hard. My songs are generally so clear and simple, that listeners are taken by surprise when they laugh and cry.

“Fire up the Weed” is a prime example of that. (The mere mention of weed on stage prompts a certain kind of raunchy laugh.) I know it’s a funny song, but it’s tragic to me. Some people just hang out on the surface of that song. Some delve deeper and are rewarded.

I present the song this way: “Here’s a song about all the ingredients in a successful relationship.” I then proceed to paint a picture of a couple who don’t talk to each other anymore, never go out, and are high all the time on both martinis and weed. The only plus, if you can call it that, is that they realize they probably want things that way. They’re comfortable. In the second verse, we find out, they got together through cheating on others, and the singer (the woman… me,) seems to have no respect for the man whatsoever. She also has no faith in communication, when the two participants drink. In the bridge, she says “I think that talking things through is overrated/ I’d rather be blue and medicated.” Even though the song is honest and is delivered in a carefree manner, there’s an undercurrent of self-loathing that ultimately is so tragic. People don’t even bother to ask if it’s autobiographical. I think they know it is. By the way, that relationship ended a few years ago, so don’t worry about me!

I have a great deal of confidence in “Fire up the Weed” as a performance piece, so when I’m able to do a whole set without doing that song, I know I’ve really scored with the audience. And to bring it out as an encore makes me feel very powerful!