Song Profiles

Song title: A Broke Machine
From the album: A Broke Machine

Jack Gilbert wrote "My heart is as helpless as crushed birds". When I read that line, it popped off the page and I constructed an entire story from it. It dared me to ask the question: what is my heart? The answer, "my heart is a broke machine" came pouring out of my fingertips and I began to write quick, impulsive thoughts that supported this statement.

As I backed away from the page, I began to question the words. My heart is a broke machine? What does that even mean? Is that true? Am I even talking about myself? My heart, in terms of its ability to love, is not broken. And that's when I concluded that having a broken heart is not reserved for failed romance. A broken heart means there is a lack in its capacity for fullness. Any sorrow, fear, doubt, or quiver reveals some undoing in the robustness of the machine. And now, that, surely describes my heart.

However, this idea is rather intangible so I decided to write a loose narrative around the phrase. Once again, using "The People of Paper" as inspiration, I sort of superimposed my thoughts over one of the love stories in the book, and also included a brief reference to Jack Gilbert's crushed birds. Every time I sing the song, I wish there was a way people could telepathically know that I'm not literally singing about a romantic broken heart - that the album is not named after a failed love story.

To record the song, I brought in cellist Carter Dewberry to create a sort of duet with the piano. I found one of my favorite pages in The People of Paper, pointed to its layout, and told her, "I want the cello to sound like how this page makes me feel." She scanned the strange page layout and understood what I meant. Her cello was recorded in one improvisational swoop. We spent the rest of the day chatting.

All in all, this song wrote itself with very little interference from me. That's the way I like it.

July 2008