We live in an age of disruption. Both in technology & politics. The exploitation and corruption rival the Gilded Age. Tech giants and startups alike make end runs around hard-fought labor rights and democracy. Political opportunists go all in on accommodating them. Meanwhile, we are told that disruption is not only an economic necessity, but fashionable and beautiful. This ethos goes beyond advertisers purring reassurances and TED talks’ restatement of the blandly obvious. It is the full-scale repackaging of capitalist exploitation as a benign — nay glorious — form of consumerism. People with power changing the rules to suit themselves is nothing new. But packaging it as a liberating force for humankind is.
Like many of my songs, “If It Ain’t Broke, Break It” attempts to make its point in the negative. It is sung from a the perspective of an unsavory character. He’s boasting, and glorying in, his ability to change the rules as it suits him. He is essentially advocating the opposite of what I believe. I use this technique enough to know that it can be a challenge for the listener to discern. I contemplated singing it in a more charactery voice, but opted to sing it straight, and let the words and music succeed or fail in their mission.
Alfred Johnson is a songwriters’ songwriter with a feverish, fertile imagination, whom I deeply admire. We made several stabs at collaborating on various song ideas. At one point I presented him with a list of titles, many of them clichés with a twist, which he termed antithets (thus providing me part of the title and concept for my 4-volume magnum opus, Anthems & Antithets). This song was one of the antithets that we worked on.
Though the concept was mine, Alfred contributed a lot to the lyrics and the development of the ideas. Much of the music originated with Alfred, including the feel and the piano part of the intro, verse and bridge, with me occasionally chiming in with a melodic idea. I came up with the chorus, after more than a dozen failed attempts. I bore you with these details not for their sake alone, but to demonstrate that it is harder to build something that to tear it down, but infinitely more worthwhile.
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