When I was a teenager I spent hundreds of hours making music on my computer. This isn’t a surprising thing to hear someone say — except that this was almost 40 years ago, and the computer wasn’t a Mac but an Apple ][ Plus.
I had an ALF II music synthesizer card with some car speakers hooked up to it. The ALF software and hardware supported nine voices, and you entered music into a staff using the computer paddles. (This page has a screenshot showing what that was like.)
Though it was a very slow way to work, and limited to beeps and bloops with varying properties, it was a miracle to me as a teenager. I took so much pleasure in layering the instruments to get something way beyond what I could perform on guitar or piano.
I stopped before turning 17. I don’t remember exactly why. Probably just spending more time writing words than music.
Tie & Suit
No recordings of the dozen or so songs I made exist. I remember fragments of some of them, and it’s fine that they don’t exist.
The one exception is the very last song I made, called “Tie & Suit.” I remember all of it: the chords, melody, arrangement, everything.
I had not, until “Tie & Suit,” written something with a traditional verse-chorus structure. Everything before that was more adventurous — to put it kindly — with odd chord progressions, lots of key changes, and weird structures. (I was convinced of my musical genius.)
I was frustrated that none of the songs I’d written were particularly memorable or even likable. I couldn’t play them on piano for someone else to enjoy. So I decided to write something simple and traditional.
I had a hobbling case of I-hate-top-forty when I was a teenager, and so I had to be sarcastic about this song: I called it “Tie & Suit” because I thought I was selling out creatively. (OMG the narcissism of me as a 16-year-old!)
Here’s the thing, though: writing a very simple melody with just five chords (I, IIm, IV, V, VIm) and a traditional structure worked! I don’t remember any of the earlier songs, but I remember this one perfectly well.
There’s a lesson in there, though I was too young to learn it.
I’ve been promising myself for years that I would allow myself to start making music again — only this time on a Mac with GarageBand. And so I did, just a few weeks ago. (This is my first time using GarageBand other than recording a couple tracks for James Dempsey last summer.)
I started where I left off, with “Tie & Suit.” Here’s a version where I tried to recreate what it sounded like on my Apple ][ Plus 37 years ago. It still ends up sounding more sophisticated than the original — it’s hard to make GarageBand sound like an early ’80s ALF II. I did my best (short of getting obsessed with it).
Also: it sucks. I know the song sucks. It doesn’t matter! I was 16 when I wrote it, and now I’m learning GarageBand and having fun.
The next thing I did was to try and make a modern version that’s still true to the original. “Tie & Suit 2021” also sucks — but it was so much fun to make!
I am now completely addicted to GarageBand. The pleasure of layering instruments together, picking their parts, and letting it play is every bit as intense as it was when I was 16 on that primitive gear. It’s hard to say that about most things! But this is just fucking wonderful.