Writing The Full Catastrophe

Third in a series of posts about the songwriting on our new CD The Full Catastrophe, due out April 10. This photo is of Dave Chalfant figuring out a kick-ass acoustic part which he played on the CD and taught to me. I now try to replicate it onstage. Dave is my favorite guitar player ever.

The genesis of this CD really began in January of 2009 when Katryna called me up, as per usual, to tell me to write a song.

“Patty just called and told me that some study just proved that people without children were happier than people with children.”

“Well, yeah,” I said. “The highs get higher and the lows get lower. True happiness is about sane and useful contentment. That’s the exact opposite of parenthood.”

“Whatever,” she said. She’d been tussling lately with her four-year-old who had taken to calling her “the worst Mommy ever.” “I want you to write a song about post-happiness. How having a family gives you fullness and richness and complexity.”

“Ah,” I said. “The full catastrophe.”

“Huh?”

“You know, that line from Zorba the Greek* that Jon Kabat-Zinn riffed on for his book Full Catastrophe Living? It’s a book about stress, basically, that teaches the average stressed out American how and why to meditate. I remember reading it ten years ago or so, and I read it like any self-help book, trying to get the big secret of life out. You know, do these three things and be happy and healthy for the rest of your life. I kept looking for stories about how divorcing people fell back in love, or how cancer sufferers got cured. But meditation isn’t like that. It’s about learning to calm yourself so you can handle the fact that no matter what you do there are no guarantees for health and wealth and fame and easy relationships and slim thighs and six pack abs. But learning to meditate can help you find that balance.”

“Balance? You mean like having a career and two kids and a husband and somehow managing to raise them well, occasionally have sex, go on dates and make a five-figure income? Because I’ve given up on that long ago.”

“I know, me too. But I like to think that my acceptance of the fact that for the next 18 years I am not going to do anything particularly well is kind of balanced. Don’t you think?”

She agreed, and so I sat down and wrote this song.

Full Catastrophe
When we met, I thought our journey was over
Lock the door and shut me in.
Buy a ring, invite our friends to come over
Celebrate the holy sin
But love’s much bigger than either one of us
We knew love can’t be contained.

Don’t wanna be right, don’t wanna be wrong
Don’t wanna be smart, don’t wanna be strong
I don’t even want to be happy
If you tell me what’s true, I’ll know what to do
Then I can be me, you can be you,
We’ll have the full catastrophe

I want to see the sunset in the desert
I want the moonrise by the sea
I want our kids to sing a Bach cantata
And Appalachian harmonies
I want to be there when the early morning monsters come
I want to hold you when the spokes pull free

Don’t wanna be right, don’t wanna be wrong
Don’t wanna be smart, don’t wanna be strong
I don’t even want to be happy
If you tell me what’s true, I’ll know what to do
Then I can be me, you can be you,
We’ll have the full catastrophe

They say the hours drag but the years fly by
Some days it’s hard to find a moment to ask why
We think we’re in it for the memories
But I’d trade in every scrapbook for an hour more of sleep.

I want to rise before the kids start us spinning
Take your hand and say a prayer
I want to take you back to our beginning
Unsuspecting chose pair.
And how we traded all of our worldly goods
Bet it all on that double rainbow.

Don’t wanna be right, don’t wanna be wrong
Don’t wanna be smart, don’t wanna be strong
I don’t even want to be happy
If you tell me what’s true, I’ll know what to do
Then I can be me, you can be you,
We’ll have the full catastrophe

Nerissa Nields Feb. 2009

We recorded this song with a drummer we hadn’t worked with before: Zak Trojano from Rusty Belle. Dave Chalfant played the acoustic guitar, which was good, because I didn’t like the part I’d been playing. Dave gave me a whole new way to approach the song.

PS Later that year, Katryna gave her four-year-old his first ever cheese croissant. “Mommy,” he gasped, chewing slowly. “It turns out, you’re the BEST mommy ever!”
At the end of the movie…
*

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