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Control Songs

by David Garland

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I Am With You I am with you.
 I wish I may, I wish I might
 know what I do and where it goes
 once it’s done.
 All consequences can’t be known.
 Some consequences take their time.
 They’re on their way.
 Here they come. I am with you. Take a piece of paper in your hand.
 Write a message of your secret thought.
 I am with you.
 Now try to tear the note in half, 
 and once again tear it in half.
 One piece still.
Very Popular 02:56
Very Popular “It’s all for the best” was asked for a date
 five times last Saturday night.
 It is a very very popular misconception.
 “The importance of the nightly news”
 is asked to visit all the nicest homes.
 It is a very very popular misconception. Contrary to popular thought,
 that’s not the way it works.
 That’s not the way that it works, I think. “The national security provided by the arms race”
 got itself invited to a big shebang.
 It is a very very popular misconception.
 “You can control your life”
 was the subject of a massive manhunt.
 It’s a notorious, it’s an increasingly,
 it is a very very very popular misconception.
The Stick Figure Kick away the stick figure.
 Send him end over end to the end
 of the land, where the sea meets the land,
 and the waves take him in and away. Break apart the stick figure, churned by the sea, barnacled and waterlogged, drifting on the tidal flow,
 sinking down and rising up,
 little arms and legs gone every-which-way. Tear away the statistic.
 Search out the way to reveal what is meant
 by percent and survey, so you know
 how a fiction and a fact make a figure—
 made of sticks. (first verse)
I Am an I-Beam Girder Gird yourself for life among the girders.
 Steel yourself for a riveting time.
 Map a grid, plot a graph, coordinate coordinates.
 Grab a grid, and put it on. Fit to it!
 Nothing’s so erratic that it can’t be graphed.
 Girder shapes loom on the horizon!
 Button your belt, ride along the network
 that funnels to the city.
 Brush elbows with the sure and shooting.
 Population averages a million per square foot.
 Systematic thinking fits the shape of the city,
 but it is a rare commodity.
 Map it out, keep it straight. Fit to it!
 Grapple with the girder girls!
 Even romance can have good sharp edges—
 like the shape of a grid.
 The steps of a graph can serve as a path;
 like the steps of a ladder, they’re a means to the top.
 Map to it!
 An I-beam girder has a fundamental shape:
 it’s built to be strong.
 Planks can snap; I’m not a piece of lumber
 breaking into splinters and warping when I’m wet. I have a stronger structure
 I am an I-beam girder!
 I form the superstructure
 I am an I-beam girder!
My Pony’s Falling Bright, my herd of buffalo.
 Dark, my quarrelsome me.
 Bright on an open field of starting over,
 saved from extinction only in a dream.
 I could build, but I’m not building.
 I’m not finding open fields.
 I should try, but I’m not trying.
 I’m in a chasm, not open fields.
 Bright, my dreams of mountain tops.
 Dark, my quarrelsome me.
 Bright at the top above the timberline,
 where a harsh wind has swept it clean.
 Clean into the gully, where I live in the shrubs.
 In the shrubs in the gully awaiting the chance
 to be hit from above, by the avalanche.
 Saved from extinction only in a dream.
 Hey, watch my pony.
 He’s falling down.
On Planet X 06:06
On Planet X There’s a room with a window,
 and there’s glass in its frame.
 When it’s clean, I can see that
 far away it’s not the same. Some of the probes launched into space
 are sending back pictures of neighboring planets.
 The list of landscapes grows and grows and grows and grows. There’s a world based on ammonia,
 shrouded in an acrid cloud.
 As for me, I’m based on carbon—
 just another face in the crowd. On Planet X the rock formations
 look like cathedrals gone awry.
 On Planet Q flying saucers
 are the passé way to fly.
 Meanwhile, my apartment’s tiny,
 and the bus is often late.
 I’ll be stuck here for a light-year
 if I keep on at this rate.
 Planet X holds my heart in its cusp in the dark.
 The list of landscapes grows and grows and grows and grows.
Forest Fractures Branches growing thick and thickly,
 grow in sharp and jagged lines.
 Bark on trunks is rough and brittle,
 needle leaves grow on the pines. There are leaves in all directions,
 there are leaves upon the ground.
 Friction in the upper levels
 offers ears the only sound. Trees can block out all the sunlight,
 vines can cling with viperous coil.
 And the roots are part of this scene,
 though they’re hidden in the soil. (chorus:)
 Trunks taper to twigs.
 A twig’s a harness for a leaf.
 Leaves translate the light
 into wood and green and height. Breaking branches, crackling footsteps—
 sounds not heard here for an age.
 Forest fractures herald humans
 appearing on our verdant stage. Are they here to chop the woods down,
 stripping bare the forest floor,
 clearing roads and building cities,
 making way for millions more? No, it’s worse, they come as poets,
 to interpret what is here.
 Seeing trees as symbols only
 of their strictly human fear. (chorus) One intruder tripped and stumbled,
 fell into the underbrush.
 One is lost; another’s frightened
 by the leafy forest’s hush. Still another’s nervous feeling
 stems from staring at a tree.
 They’re all desperate, in a panic,
 thrashing through the woods to flee. They think forests harbor dangers,
 they think woods should be cut down.
 But the truth is, their behavior
 differs little in the town.
TV Can Teach Me How could this man have done what he did?
 This man or thing, the one in the News.
 He killed his wife, then he killed himself.
 I can’t help but wonder how he chose his moment.
 He must have boiled over,
 or maybe planned slowly. A crime of passion is a thing beyond,
 beyond the scope of my emotions.
 “Are there indications that the violence is growing?”
 [laughter—“You shut up!”]
 I can’t help but wonder
 what good this news does me.
 I watch it all nightly,
 but still I don’t get it. The men in power—how do they choose?
 When faced with choice they forge ahead.
 They know what’s best, or so it seems.
 I can’t help but wonder
 who they ask for guidance. They have their advisors.
 I guess they’re sufficient. I can’t decide just what to do.
 I’m well informed, but still I feel
 “like a ghost from the past in the Nuclear Age.”
 [laughter—“You shut up!”]
 I can’t help but wonder
 if TV can teach me
 how to make moral choices,
 if I watch the News nightly.
Clocks 06:52
Clocks Clocks bear watching, and are extremely useful tools for counting time.
 In fact there’d hardly be any without them.
 In the race against time,
 clocks keep track of your opponent’s
 every movement.
 In fact there’d hardly be any without them. I see the big hand. I wear a wrist clock.
 I see the little hand. I look at tower clocks.
 I’ll see you at 10:24. I’ll be there at 10:24 p.m. Clocks are numerical.
 What counts is perfect accuracy.
 In fact there’d hardly be any without them.
 They say that time
 can mend something delicate like a broken heart.
 In fact there’d hardly be any without them. I see the big hand. I have my deadlines.
 I see the little hand. I dread my deadlines.
 I’ll see you at 10:24. I’ll be there at 10:24 p.m.
Furniture 02:13
Furniture Lamp, table, and bed, and a chair—
 a chair for sitting.
 Where I might even bring a thought
 to a problem or two.
 Draw up a chair, draw out a plan.
 Process the plan by lamplight,
 with your elbows on the table.
 Then rest in the bed and dream
 of sitting in the chair.
 Regardless of room size,
 have a lamp, table, and bed, and a chair—
 furniture for furnishing answers to questions
 ...or at least a place to sit.
Keep In Touch I think I’ll probably be
 here for you when you need me.
 Just give me the word, I’ll come right away—
 unless, I guess, I’m busy or something. I’ll be your steadfast friend,
 see you through right to the end.
 Your problems are mine, you can cry on my shoulder—
 unless, I guess, I’m overwhelmed too. (chorus:)
 Of course I’ll let you know.
 You know I’d let you know.
 Rest assured I’ll keep you up to date on this.
 You’ll be the first to know.
 I’d be the last to keep
 a secret from a trusted friend and confidante. Let’s share and share alike,
 but if my time is a bit too tight,
 I’m sure you’ll get by. I’ll do what I can—
 unless, I guess, I get a better offer. (chorus, first verse, chorus)
Don’t Shoot I carry my possessions, and a walking stick
 to help me step firmly through the field. I left my home quickly, I had heard through friends,
 this path should take me safely through the field. —But up above, the planes buzz by. Looking down below they see a speck—that’s me—
 and they draw their conclusions from the scene they see unfolding like a bold newspaper headline,
 like late breaking news that they watch on evening TV.
 The headline’s information is that I’m an easy target,
 a very easy target for a high flying fighter,
 a fighter flying higher than my cry will ever carry,
 my cry that simply says, “don’t shoot!” The planes fly fast, the planes have their orders. I look in the direction of my home back there,
 and see it changed forever by the planes.
 I turn to look ahead, but the path’s not there;
 instead I see a mountain that’s in flames. Single-minded soldiers fight atop the mountain.
 One has a sword, the other’s dressed in armor.
 If they fight to the death, there won’t be a winner.
 Stop that fight, or we will be the losers.
Bad Advice 04:18
Bad Advice Man 1: Look how high the buildings, built with human hands, rise above those humans stuck there on the ground.
 They are going nowhere, I am moving up, rising like a building, look out down below!
 I can rise along with the best—
 who would want to deny it, to themselves or to me?
 If you should shirk your duty, you’re the one who’ll lose. 
 Survival of the fittest forces you to choose. No it isn’t pretty, isn’t always kind, but you’ll come out stronger with a tougher mind. Bear in mind this axiom: Fighting hurts only the looser; winner takes all! Woman: Can’t you see... Man 1: I don’t care to see! Man 2: Tolerance is at issue here! You would have him conquer when he should forgive;
 You would have him murder, just so he can live.
 You would have him godless in a hostile land, improvising morals for each case at hand. Guidance might come from above! Faith heals even the lowliest; winner gives all. Man 1: Can’t you see...
 Man 2: I don’t care to see! Woman: They mean well—I’m sure you do—but
 I know you best (I know you better than they do). 
I know your heart—you can’t love a man and not know
 that you’ll do fine (given the chance that I wish you would ask for).
 Please let me know what’s on your mind. You need a rest—there’s nothing wrong basically. You need to work—keep yourself occupied. Somehow you’ll find a way—better sooner than later, I’d say—
 to let me know what’s on your mind. All: What are you thinking? What are you thinking? 
What are you thinking? What are you thinking? Man 3: Well, since you ask, I...
 Man 2: Can’t you see... 
Man 3: Well, I’d like to say...
 Man 1: Can’t you see...
 Man 3: If you’d let me speak!
 Woman: Can’t you see...
 Man 3: Now just hear me out! OK! Well, I thought I’d tell you that...
 Man 1 (simultaneously with Man 2 & Woman): Business is a world where conferences are held. Let me tell you, there decision making counts. I want to hear you speaking your ideas! If your concepts sparkle, if they’re really fine, then you’ll be promoted to the CEO!
 Certain observations bring you to the top, be a yes-man, sure, if that is what it takes. Man 2 (simultaneously with Man 1 & Woman): All that I can offer is a friendly word with my clever insight and my sage advice. Words of wisdom can be found among the books written by the faithful honoring their faith. I want to hear you speaking your ideas! Naturally, I must point out that there’s one book far above them all, I think you know which one. Woman (simultaneously with Man 1 & Man 2): I want to hear you speaking your ideas! Surely I’m the one to whom you can confide, I who hold you closest in my heart of hearts. Try your best to answer, we will listen close, and you should remember, we’re just here to help. I want to hear you speaking your ideas! Man 3: OK, OK! I’m convinced of it now! I don’t want to deny it to myself or to you.
I have been a fool—yes that’s it exactly on the nose—
 and you’ve made me see—my mistake is clear to me now—
 I had thought I was right—it seemed like a good idea at the time—
 to think that I just might be wrong.
Another Mistake Once—I guess it was several years ago—
 I looked up and saw
 dark clouds on a darkening evening.
 I fell into anxious fear.
 And there were other times:
 moments and places that would be with or without me.
 And all the events that I cannot change, and all the changes in me I can’t make, show me that anthropomorphism
 is just another mistake.
Growth 01:58
Growth Growth’s not growth if it’s prescribed growth.
 Growth is only growth when it breaks with the prescribed form.
 Mostly what passes for growth is the fulfillment of 
Prescribed expectations.
 One learns, bit by bit, how to be a boy, etcetera.
 One grows into, not out of–
 into, not out of prescribed expectations.
 A culture determines its character
 by slandering alternatives, and encouraging
 growth on its own terms. Describing prescriptive restrictions, describing prescriptive restrictions...
Hist’ry 07:02
Hist’ry Look at my house, it’s not my histry.
 It’s where I live, but it’s not histry.
 Histry beats a path right up to my door, breaks in quietly, sees me sleeping in bed. Watch me sleep tonight, dreaming in my bed.
 Histry, you can’t know of my histry in dreams.
 Histry watches me, Mystry lives in me, Mystry holds my hand, Histry kisses my mouth. Look at this map, no it’s not Histry.
 Its roads and routes are not my histry.
 Histry brings to me responsibilities
 which then stare at me, though I never look back. I don’t look ahead, I just stay in bed sharp hands at my eyes, jaw shut tight against words.
Please don’t bring it up, please don’t wake me up. 
Mystry’s growing up, Histry’s looking away. Some thoughts can place you in histry.
 Those are the thoughts that have left me now.
 If I could have what I wanted, I would turn my Histry off and on. Look at my face, for me it’s Histry. I look at yours, can’t know its Histry. Histry beats a path right up to my door breaks in quietly, sees me sleeping in bed. Hist-repeats itself, Hist-repeats itself, Hist-repeats itself, Histry does it again.
 Hist-repeats itself, Hist-repeats itself, Hist-repeats itself, Histry does it again.
Simba 04:59


Just as some people write love songs, I write control songs—songs about our need, avoidance, and manipulation of that sense of control which we all use to help us function. I haven’t made any conscious attempt to work in a certain style; instead I find ideas and sounds and pursue them until they become songs. I like the song form because it can be such a surprising meeting-ground for emotion and entertainment.
—David Garland, New York City, 1986

This version of “Control Songs” has all tracks from the original 1986 Review Records LP, and the bonus tracks included on the 1997 CD re-issue. All have been gently re-mastered in 2011.


released September 1, 1986


David Garland: vocals, acoustic and electric keyboards, electric guitar, bass, accordion, Synthabbott, flutes, bowed psaltery, ocarina, percussion, lamp, and chair

Guy Klucevsek: accordion on “Forest Fractures” and “Simba”

Mark Abbott: bass guitar on “I Am an I-Beam Girder” and “Simba”

John Zorn: alto sax on “On Planet X” and “Simba”

Christian Marclay: turntables on “I Am an I-Beam Girder” and “Simba”

Clive Smith: trumpet on “Forest Fractures” and “Simba”

Meredith Monk: vocals on “Don’t Shoot”

Anne Garland: vocals on “I Am With You”

John Alexander, Wayne Diana, and Nancy Gassner: vocals on “Bad Advice”

All music and lyrics by David Garland, except ”Simba,” by Les Baxter. Produced and arranged by David Garland.


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David Garland New York, New York

Composer/singer/multi-instrumentalist David Garland has been steadily shaping songs in new ways since 1980.

"Like many great songwriters before him, Garland pushes the limits of acceptable harmony and dissonance, yet never at the expense of beauty. If it's not possible for popular music to reach the heights of the great classical masters, it seems no one has told David Garland."
--Sean Lennon
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