The Writing of “We Belong”

Today marks the 30th anniversary of Eric Lowen and I writing “We Belong”. At that point, Eric and I had been friends for five years, with an on-and-off partnership that was, at that moment, off (like sour milk).

A couple of months before, I had been asked to leave our band, Bon Mot, which was on its last legs and scrambling for a way to survive. He was appointed to actually fire me, and I was pissed. We hadn’t spoken in six weeks when, out of the blue, he called and said, “Let’s write a song.” Though my emotions were way more convoluted than my ultimate answer, I agreed.

Earlier that day, I had the last of four gift lessons with vocal and performance coach extraordinaire, Lis Lewis, now one of the best in the business. The session was more like therapy, as I confronted demons of all sorts — fear, doubt, insecurity and a nagging tendency to self-edit out of insecurity rather than insight. I was 31 years old and my musical life, it seemed, was over. Lis’s advice, in a nutshell? Trust yourself; “do”, don’t “think”; and let go.

I wish I could say I was resoundingly inspired by the input. I was confused, fearful (surprise, surprise) and not a little spaced-out when I arrived at Eric’s half an hour later. He had already come up with a chord progression, composed on his Roland JX-3P keyboard (which Lis later bought).

I liked what I heard, but thought it sounded like another song, “Incident On 57th Street” by Bruce Springsteen. Rather than getting him to change it, I decided not to tell him of the similarity, and wrote the beginnings of a new lyric to that other song.

When I had arrived, I came in hoping to write a song that ended with the line “We belong together”, in reference to a failed relationship from two years before and a song that I felt was one of “our” songs — “We Belong Together” by Rickie Lee Jones. So, I wrote and wrote and wrote, dozens of lines, and then took my scribbles and tucked them under a pad, burying the evidence, to start anew.

Eric wanted to know what I was hiding. I refused to show him. He prodded and cajoled, and then uttered, calmly, “Remember what Lis said.” So I sighed, and showed him. Though he said he didn’t love the opening bit, which rambled semi-aimlessly, he said really liked the second bit that opened with “We belong to the light / We belong to the thunder.” So maybe, just maybe, we had a chorus.

We both liked the idea of belonging to all these other things, like light and thunder and sound, coming eventually to “We belong together”. The “Whatever we deny or embrace, for worse or for better” line? I was just looking for a rhyme for “together”, wanted to convey “bigger than both of us”, and liked the idea of turning the wedding vow “for better or for worse” inside out.

But we still had no opener. Eric grabbed a pad and proceeded to write, in one quick burst, the opening verse…”Twenty times I tried to tell you / Twenty times I cried alone.” It came out whole. He handed it to me, way less of a chicken than I had been. It was instant, a clear-cut vantage point from which we both could see the whole story.

So I dashed off a second verse of lyrics … “Maybe it’s a sign of weakness / When I don’t know what to say”, and added our newly agreed-to chorus. My melody for the chorus was not unlike that of the Springsteen song, stronger on emotion than actual melodic contour. So Eric, typically, added a high harmony, one that moved around a bit, so much so that it was much more interesting than my original melody. So, we switched, and his part become the melody and mine the lower harmony.

We needed a third verse, so I culled the best lines from the rambling bit Eric didn’t like, and all of a sudden, in 90 minutes we had a song. We quickly went to cut a rough demo, and had to work fast, as he was only allowed to make music in his apartment until 10pm, and it was 9:58.

The attached link is the original sketch of the finished song, recorded that night, September 22, 1983. It’s very rough, with clams and miscues galore. And if you listen carefully, at the very end, you can hear the faint sounds of pounding on Eric’s door..a neighbor telling us it was after 10pm and time to STFU.

If that guy only knew…a year later it was Top 5 all over the world. But that’s another story.

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