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When song prompts get twisted ("Bigger Prize")

Last fall, I was invited to participate in an in-the-round with a handful of other performers at a cute new venue in the 'burbs of Boston. I really love in-the-rounds, where you have 3 or more different songwriters (in our case it was 5) on the stage and you go around in circles sharing stories and songs... There was a little catch for this show: each of us songwriters had to write a song inspired by a particular prompt that was chosen by the audience during the previous performance! How fun!! The audience was not easy on us. They chose "Comfort Food" ...my first reaction to the announcement of the prompt was sheer horror. I really did not want to write a song about macaroni and cheese (one of my personal favorites) nor of my mother's chicken over rice with white wine sauce - it just sounded messy and not very entertaining (for me to write or for audiences to listen to). The literal interpretations of this prompt left me thinking that I was going to write a song that I would play just once and then throw on the shelf to collect dust. Even then, it was surely going to be a corny song about an all-kale diet broken by the need for mac-and-cheese. And then I thought, I could write a funy song! So I got my banjo (because that's where all the funny songs come from for me), but not much came out other than fried okra, fried green tomatoes.... and mac-and-cheese. I let this prompt stick around for a while before I began to write again... I started asking people what they thought of when I said "comfort food"... as expected, I got a lot of momma's mac-and cheese (notice a pattern?!), some casseroles made with SPAM, and a couple of healthly alternatives (like kale - turns out, the hosts of the evening did write that song, and they totally made it work!) But one answer struck me square in the gut - "the easy way." This reply came from my housemate, after I explained my dilemma about not wanting to write about food - thank goodness there are people in my life like her. So we chatted for a little while about how making the easy decision, or choosing the easy way, is a lot like eating comfort food... You might not always be happy with the result. After talking for a while and jotting down some notes, I went off into my lair of songwriting (which is really more of a space in my head, than a space in my apartment) and out came a song! And, lucky for me, it only needed a couple of line edits here and there, a couple of preposition changes to get to the version that you can hear on the new EP. For a while I called this song "The Easy Way Song" or "Easy, Anyway"... but let me tell you, when you put a bunch of titles on the packaging for your project, and read them through, sometimes the name you originally gave a song doesn't work anymore. For me, this project does tell a little bit of a story of brokenness and ending with a song called "The Easy Way" just didn't seem right. After some thinking over coffee, we re-named this song to be "Bigger Prize." (Of course now, I just have to be careful to enunciate the "z" or else I'm saying the Bigger Price... which is interesting in its own way... but not the title of the song.) Ending the EP with a song named "Bigger Prize" seemed much more uplifting and felt like a more stable way to end the project. Here's an interesting tidbit about the production process for this record... Below is a chart of the original song titles and the new titles, just because I think it's fun, and maybe you will, too:

Original/working title Title on "Broken Record"

Momma/Poppa Words of Wisdom

So Many Ways Broken Record

Gotta Go So Long

At Sea At Sea

The Easy Way Bigger Prize

Well, that's all for this week's edition of the story behind the song... Next week, I'll be posting about the banjo instrumental "At Sea." Until then, be well!! -B “Bigger Prize” Some days, all I need is a little grace, All I want is a little space, to feel like I’m here Like this place I’m living in is real Like this body I’m cast in is mine And like the grass just might be greener on the other side, Oh some days I find I’m often looking for the easy way Cut the corners and rush through life Make a rolling stop at all the signs But I’ve heard there’s a smaller door, With a bigger prize, A brighter sunset, but a harder climb, Who wants easy anyway One of these days, I’m going to slow it down I’ll pay attention to what’s around me I’ll look up, instead of always looking down I know I might not get all that far But at least I’ll start to see things as they truly are Oh, One of these days I find I’m often looking for the easy wayCut the corners and rush through life Make a rolling stop at all the signs But I’ve heard there’s a smaller door, With a bigger prize, A brighter sunset, but a harder climb, Who wants easy anyway Who wants easy anyway Today, I’m going to sit in my skin I’m going to take it all in, Soak up the sunshine, even on those partly cloudy days I’m gonna slow dance in the hallway And stop to smell the roses even when I can’t stay… today I find I’m often looking for the easy wayCut the corners and rush through life Make a rolling stop at all the signs But I’ve heard there’s a smaller door, With a bigger prize, A brighter sunset, but a harder climb, Who wants easy anyway


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Bethel Steele

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