Thing a Week Redux

5 years ago Jonathan Coulton (that's me) started a project called Thing a Week, in which I released newly recorded song every Friday for a year. I'm replaying it in real time here with all the songs and the text from the original posts.

Jun 30

Thing a Week 40: SkyMall

Ah, the joys of travel. I actually enjoy browsing the SkyMall – never mind the delicious array of products for the person who already owns all the world’s products; the copy alone is worth the price of admission, which is zero, since Skymall is free. Look into it.

PRESENT DAY JOCO SAYS: Um, excuse me, that is a fantastic intro - that little McCartney bass riff right before all the other instruments is CANDY. I was bracing myself for this recording to be not so good, but it’s pretty decent actually. Maybe a little too busy an arrangement, but I’m not quite sure how I pulled off such a totally believable guitar rock thing. I feel like that was an ongoing struggle through that year, one of my weaknesses that the process really hammered on until it was much less of a weakness. I think that by this time of the year I had figured it out pretty well. And hey, check out that bridge! The lyrics there crack me up, it’s an interesting but not jarring little harmonic shift, and the arrangement hits all the right spots for me with the delay on the vocal and the washy wall of sound. 

I could have skipped that guitar solo. It’s not terrible, but it’s also not necessary. If I were to do this one today I’d take the bridge through some kind of fall apart moment and break the whole thing way down for the start of verse 3. I’m a fan of the verse 3 break down.

I also wish for a little more depth in the lyrics. I mean, the thing is about a guy who likes SkyMall, so I guess what are you gonna do? I fell into the trap of “list of ridiculous SkyMall items” in verse 2, but I’d say that failing is mitigated by the line about the Santa in which (in my mind anyway) the guy is talking to himself in the voice of SkyMall copy, as if he’s fallen completely under its sway. It’s a subtle thing, but I like it.

Really what would be excellent is if I could have gotten to a little more emotion. This guy’s on the road all the time, and he’s obviously got someone at home that he misses. “O’Hare is nice this time of year” is a pretty sad line when you think about it. And judging from my breathy vocal performance in that verse I was trying to convey a little sadness there. And I find a LOT of tragedy in the first line of verse 3 “I love you best when I’m away.” But all that gets swept away by the joke that the real reason he’s excited to get home is that he can’t wait to get his hands on the wine-holding bear statue. Honka honka! Again, the song is called SkyMall, it’s going to pull you in that direction pretty hard.

I don’t think I had a ton of travel under my belt at this point in the year, so maybe I hadn’t found that particular source of sadness yet. I had started doing a little touring, and of course having done long stretches with Hodgman on his book tour I had a taste of it. I always try to keep my tours as short as possible, because long trips tend to make me miserable. It’s a combination of highs and lows - the incredible rush and joy of playing for a crowd of people, alternating with large chunks of time waiting around, driving in vans, or counting Tshirts in crappy hotel rooms. It’s weirdly dehumanizing. I sometimes feel like pieces of my personality start to fall away - I go off twitter, I fail to contact friends that I have in town for the standard, unsatisfying rushed meal and catch-up conversation. And of course I miss my family and my home and all my stuff. SkyMall really isn’t that much of a comfort. I wish I were still young enough to just do drugs all the time - I get why that’s a thing in the rock and roll biz.

In September I’ll have a new record out and will be opening for They Might Be Giants for a stretch of over three weeks. That’s the longest I will ever have been out, and I’m curious to see to what extent I go to pieces. I’ll have a lot of company of course - my own band, plus all the TMBG guys who I know pretty well, so I’m certain it will be really fun. TMBG are serious, hard-working road warriors, and some of the people in that band have been dealing with long tours away from family for years and years, so maybe I’ll pick up some tips (or perhaps a couple of these).

You can find more info on this song, a store where you can listen to everything, and also other stuff at jonathancoulton.com.


  1. chicazul said: There’s no way you’re going to join TMBG for the second leg of their tour, is there. We’ll be lucky if the first leg doesn’t entirely break you. Sigh. One always hopes.
  2. jonathancoulton posted this