“Keep It with You (demo),” from Powder to the People (1998)
I was in graduate school for fiction, writing short stories like I was supposed to. I hadn’t managed any songs in a few months, but I had a cute girlfriend I loved, and I told myself that was the reason why: Most of my songs had been about heartbreak. I didn’t know how to write about being happy. And surely I was so happy. I was so happy that I was panicking. It is as hard for me to explain fourteen years later as it would have been then.
I had a small pile of microcassettes: recordings I’d been making on the fly since college, forgotten conversations with the blare of background barrooms, punctuated by little snippets of myself singing—usually as Dee-dee-dee-dee-dee—propulsive bass lines, muscular guitar hooks, piano arpeggios, entire choir parts, the grandest arrangements ever, sprinkled with fairy dust, all of it nearly impossible to decode in the hard light of morning, never mind the hard light of three, four, five years later. Nevertheless I had to try because I was so happy. I was so happy, if I didn’t record something I would be lost, and I would lose my cute girlfriend. I was so happy.
For two weeks that summer I sifted through the tapes and fleshed out thirty-five snippets that I thought someday I could turn into real songs when I had something to write about. These became Powder to the People, which despite its magnanimous title wasn’t supposed to be heard by other people. And several of its songs did become real: “Pardon Your French,” “In the Loft,” “Keep It with You.” Sad, hurt songs written about a year and a half later in the winter after, indeed, my cute girlfriend was gone.
Just a few weeks before I quit my job and moved out of the loft and back to my parents’ house, I came up with the words to this song. They were about trying to keep someone you love when she’s already out the door, although I didn’t realize it at the time. I thought I still had a shot. On the streets of South Norwalk, before the 1999 Fairfield Weekly holiday party, I sang it all into my little micro-recorder like I used to, along with ideas for a horn part and a guitar lead. A couple days later Jake came down from Hartford and we put a three-piece together and we laid it down in a studio in the city. Now there is a band, I wanted to tell her. This is the best I can possibly do. I gave my girl the song for Christmas: I only want to keep it with you. It’s going to get better. See? I’m writing songs again. It’s going to get better.