Stories Behind the Songs: “Small Name, Big Ego”

Posted by  Grand Poobah  May 6, 2016  •  No Comments  • 

Johnny BravoJohn: Continuing my Steely Dan-esque attempts.  Like the others, it started out as a chord progression (though I did have a melody in mind), and turned it over to Wendy for lyrics.  Also like the others, this one just came to me one day, though not in its final form.  I’d had the verse for quite a while, but couldn’t figure out where to go with it.  My older daughter Emily actually contributed both the chord progression in the chorus, and little chord progression at the end of the bridge.  She was a music major at Mt. Holyoke College, and we frequently talk and email about chords and chord progressions (we have our own names for some chord types… ask her about the “Bella Notte” chord and the “omega” chord).  I had shared my early version of what was to become Paragon with her, and she was messing around with those chords, but with different rhythms and alternate keys, and I realized that those might fit into “Small Name, Big Ego”.

Wendy: John provided me with a demo, complete with a vocal melody, in June of 2012.  He also had a couple of lines of lyric: “She tried to tempt me with her tangerines/Outside a tent in Bonnaroo”.  Try as I might, though, I couldn’t seem to come up with any additional ideas that would that fit that couplet’s meaning and rhyme scheme and that were not completely stupid.  In reading a web page on slang terms, I happened upon the term “Ms. Taken”, meaning a ring some single women wear to give the impression that they’re married.  I thought it was an interesting idea and fit the chorus melody, so I attempted to write a song around that.  It didn’t work.

Weeks later, I hit upon a new title: “Small Name, Big Ego”.  This one was from the TV Tropes web page as a term for someone who has a “comically inflated” self-image.  This concept was much more fruitful, conjuring up images of American Idol divas and bad karaoke.  I wasn’t able to work John’s lyric in as is, but at least got “Bonnaroo” in there.  Flemingtown (originally the lyric was “tiny town”) is a small community near where I grew up.  The “through a mirror, darkly” line paraphrases a well-known Biblical passage, 1 Corinthians 13:12.

When we recorded this song, it originally ended at the end of the last chorus.  However, that seemed a strange way to end the song; after some discussion, John and I agreed that coda would be appropriate.  He came up with the chord progression for the coda and we tacked it on the ending of the original recording.  However, now it seemed like the coda was making the song go on too long, so I ended up making some strategic cuts to shorten it significantly.

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