Spoon’s Biggest Fan Consults Britt Daniel On How To Write A Song For Her Dog
Stereogum merchandise reviewer and former Videogum editor Kelly Conaboy recently published her first book, The Particulars Of Peter: Dance Lessons, DNA Tests, And Other Excuses To Hang Out With My Perfect Dog, which is about her dog, Peter, who has had numerous appearances on this very site looking very fetching while modeling a Kacey Musgraves candle and some Grateful Dead deodorant. In this excerpt from the book, which is out now, Conaboy consults Spoon’s Britt Daniel on how best to write a song for Peter. Conaboy, as you might know, is Spoon’s biggest fan.
Because I enjoy music, I provide it for Peter, too. Almost constantly. Sometimes I play guitar for his pleasure, but mostly I just sing. I change the lyrics of popular songs to be about him; I sing about whatever activity he’s doing. I had this cassette tape when I was little that featured songs with my name in them. (More in the custom-keychain sense than like Air’s “Kelly Watch the Stars,” one of the very few songs that has my name in it, which is a tip for songwriters who maybe need an underused name to put in one of their songs.) I remember the entirety of one of them and sing it for Peter, replacing my name with his. I think there would be copyright issues involved with telling you the lyrics exactly, so I’ll just give you the gist: It was about how I was the greatest, amazing, stupendous, funny, smart, had a lot of heart, and was going to go far. Rather prescient, I think you’d agree. It rings just as true for Peter.
I also have a stable of short original songs that are good for anytime. I think the melodies are somewhat inherent to them, so I’ll provide them here for your own singing pleasure:
• “Who is this little puppy man? He’s doing everything a puppy can! He is little and he is sweet, and he has got — puppy feet!”
• “Who is this little puppy man? I love him all that a puppy can! He is little and he is funny and he has got — a puppy tummy!”
• “Are you my little puppy guy? Do you have little puppy eyes? Are you sweet and are you small? And do you have a face?”
• “Who is this little puppy guy, why is he so sweet? He is tiny and he is small, and he has got four feet!”
• “This is my best friend [kiss]. And I’ll love him till the end [kiss]. He is little and sweet [kiss]. And he has got — puppy feet.”
• “Why are you so small? (Chk-chk-chk.) And why are you so sweet? (Chk-chk-chk.) Why do you have a tail? Chicka-chicka, and why do you have feet? Chk-yeah!”
• “You are a munch and I love you a bunch, you are tiny and so soft to tou(n)ch! You are my baby and you’re my man, I love you all that a puppy can!”
They’re sort of derivative of each other, I suppose, but I think you’ll agree that the song I sing for him while he’s eating dinner is an exciting departure from form:
• “Munchman, munchman, munch-a-crunch! Muncha- muncha-munchaman, munch-a-crunch!”
Though it is clearly already quite good, I was curious if I might be able to improve my musical output. I felt I needed some guidance from someone whose songwriting skill I admired. I don’t think my art would ring true to Peter if it were not at least inspired in part by my own taste.
“Have you ever written a song before?” Britt Daniel, of the band Spoon, asked. “No,” I said.
Spoon is my favorite band, and Britt is one of my favorite vocalists, which, I think you’d agree, raises an interesting question. What famous male singer’s voice would Peter’s voice sound like if he could sing? It’s something I’ve spent a considerable amount of time contemplating. We can discuss it together — I’ll say what I think first, and then you write down what you think and save it for the next time you have a lull in conversation with a friend.
Freddie Mercury’s voice is too powerful, obviously. Peter’s charm is a harder sell than Sam Cooke’s. David Bowie is closer, but ultimately too weird. Frank Sinatra’s masculinity is too unexamined; Bruce Springsteen’s masculinity is examined but still not right. Prince? Peter would be so flattered at the comparison, but no. Jello Biafra? Hm. I do think there are a lot of dogs out there whose singing voices would sound like Jello Biafra’s, but not Peter.
I asked friends what they thought his singing voice might sound like and they said “Elliott Smith” and “Lou Reed singing ‘Pale Blue Eyes.'” (You can see what sort of personality they think Peter has from their answers.) These are close, but I don’t think they’re quite right. Peter’s voice would be at once rugged and angelic; capable of full-throated power but always maintaining a careful delicateness. An ethereal, lilting vibrato. Peter would sound like Jeff Buckley.
Britt: Have you ever sung melodies before, just for fun?
Kelly: Yeah, I have songs that I sing to my dog already.
Kelly: I just haven’t tried to put them to, you know, actual music.
Britt: I see. So, these songs — do they have melodies?
Kelly: Sort of, yeah.
Britt: And do they have words?
Britt: So you’ve pretty much got a song there.
Britt said (I’m calling him by his first name because I consider him a friend rather than a reportorial source) he doesn’t generally write vocal melodies before he writes a song’s music. “It’s very rare that I write a vocal melody first. Not many of them are like that,” he said. “‘Metal Detektor’ was like that.” “Metal Detektor” is my favorite song of his, so in that case, I’m fine with having “written” the “vocal melody” first.
Britt: What are the lyrics about?
Kelly: His body parts mainly … that he’s small and has ears and a face, and I love him.
Britt was very encouraging about the fact that I’d already composed songs for Peter, though admittedly I did not disclose what the songs sounded like, nor did I give any examples of the lyrics.
Excerpted from THE PARTICULARS OF PETER: Dance Lessons, DNA Tests, and Other Excuses to Hang Out With My Perfect Dog by Kelly Conaboy. Copyright © 2020 by Kelly Conaboy. Reprinted with permission from Grand Central Publishing. All rights reserved.
The Particulars Of Peter: Dance Lessons, DNA Tests, And Other Excuses To Hang Out With My Perfect Dog [Hardcover]