Note: If you’re just here for the video, scroll to the bottom of the page.
The Birthday Song
No, not that birthday song. It was my youngest brother Bryan’s birthday back in 2007. I woke up that day in a funny mood, and ended up spending a half hour or so recording a silly song for him:
- Happy Birthday (Apocalypse House Mix) Releaux 2:18
Silly and fun, he told me that it was funny, then not funny, then annoying, then funny again, finally resulting in a literal spit take when the “Apocalyptic Men’s Chorus” came in. I hadn’t intended to start anything, but apparently I did.
The following year, Bryan teamed up with our brother, Eric. I got an email from Bryan with the innocent subject “An oldie but a goodie.” Despite it being my birthday, and despite the artist being “The Brothers Grimm” (a joke band name we’d talked about in the past) I was oblivious and assumed it was going to be something nostalgic from our childhood. I was wrong. Have a listen:
- It’s Your Birthday The Brothers Grimm 4:02
That’s right. They rickrolled me. I didn’t even get that it was a rickroll until the first chorus started because I was so busy trying to identify the rapper. Even better, they spent most of my birthday song talking about themselves. To make it even more impressive, they did the whole thing cross-country. Stuffed with in-jokes and old pop-culture references, and complete down to the meta-information in the file (e.g., Genre: Birthday Hip Hop), this outdid anything from previous years, and I knew my next effort would have to be so over-the-top that it could never be surpassed.
Now – go back in time to the heady days of 1990. I have my freshly minted BFA in Theatre and am, therefore, living back at home for awhile. My brothers are still in high school, and I have invited Eric to go with me to visit friends in Austin for the weekend. A huge Depeche Mode fan, Eric was naturally excited about the recently-released album, Violator, and even more excited about the new single that had just come out, Enjoy the Silence. So excited, in fact, that he kept singing it repeatedly on the two-hour drive to Austin. And that would have been fine, except for one thing: he didn’t know the words.
Well, to be accurate, he knew 10 words – “All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, is here.” – which he proceeded to sing, non-stop, for two hours. Like my first birthday song to Bryan, it started off funny, stopped being funny after the 50th repetition, became annoying after the 100th, and then started being funny again after the 300th.
All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, is here… All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, is here… All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, is here… All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, is here… All I ever wanted, all I ever needed, is here…
Ultimately, I drove to a record store (which was the style at the time), bought the album, and gave it to him on the condition that he never sing it around me again unless he knew all the words. This bargain was largely honored in the years following.
At this point in the post, you should watch the original video for Enjoy the Silence. It will become important later. I would embed it, but YouTube won’t display it here. Just be sure to come back.
Back to the Future
Well, technically, back to the past. A year or two after the Rickroll, I had an idea for a song for Eric, who hadn’t gotten a birthday song yet. It was basically going to be (sung to the same ten words that he inflicted on me in 1990):
Happy happy birthday, happy happy birthday to you… Happy happy birthday, happy happy birthday to you… Happy happy birthday, happy happy birthday to you… Happy happy birthday, happy happy birthday to you… Happy happy birthday, happy happy birthday to you…
That would have been pretty funny, but I felt the effort wasn’t up to what I needed to top their 2008 victory. I decided that the repetition would be included, but that I needed to cover the entire song. Still not sure that it was going to meet the bar, I called Bryan to discuss a collaboration. By the end of our conversation, we had decided that we were going to do a shot-for-shot remake of the Enjoy the Silence video, but substituting family members for the band, and using locations around Texas that were special to Eric. The final segment would be me, dressed as King Dave Gahan, sitting in my blue chair on the 50 yard line of an empty Kyle Field at Texas A&M University.
Perfect. Genius. It shall be so. But we were too late for that year, and the schedule didn’t work out the next, but we kept planning and refining things. At one point, we were going to do it Holy Grail style, with Bryan playing the galloping Patsy, complete with two coconut halves.
Then Bryan died. And I just didn’t want to do the video without him.
Back to the… uh… Present
A few weeks ago (mid-December 2021), with Eric’s 50th birthday approaching, I was chatting with my wife about how I was sorry Bryan and I never ended up making that video. She immediately started pushing me to do it and I ultimately agreed that if I were going to do it, that this was the time. But I didn’t have enough time to do it right. She wouldn’t accept any of my excuses and told me to accompany her on an upcoming business trip to Spokane – there were a lot of scenic places between Portland and Spokane that would be perfect settings for the video. We’d scout on the drive out, and shoot some footage on the way back. Over the next 30 minutes I went from sad that I’d never done it to being manic in my planning. I started contacting family members and asking them to send me “Band” footage.
I used this project as the excuse to buy the nice camera Mary and I keep meaning to buy. There were a few production hiccups that I’ll detail in a future “making of” post, but everything seemed to come together. One thing had to be done before anything else, though: the lyrics. Because I’d be singing on-camera, I had to know what I was going to be saying. I’d learned that Eric wasn’t overly thrilled about his upcoming birthday, which is, I believe, a first from the man who normally starts telling his birthday is coming up roughly 364 days before it does. Knowing this, though, I decided that I would make a non-birthday birthday song, and that I’d tweak the lyrics a bit to celebrate the life lived so far.
I produced my version of the song over about 2-3 days (learning a great deal about Depeche Mode and Flood’s production approach for that album along the way) while the extended family sent in their shots, then started cutting the video. I’ve used Final Cut Pro X before (to create the 42403 video), but I still consider myself a complete beginner. It’s relatively easy to use, but this was definitely a “drinking from the firehose” project.
Thankfully, the original video isn’t overly complicated – no effects, no fancy editing – so I just had to address some minor things like removing telephone poles, replacing the sky here and there, and cleaning up backgrounds on the Family/Band shots. The main lesson I learned is that no matter how much footage you have, it’s still probably not enough. I also learned that there were a lot fewer band shots than it seemed when I was mapping the original out.
There was also the elephant (not) in the room: Bryan. I knew I wanted to include him, as well as other family members we’ve lost, and decided that rather than cutting still photos into the video, that I would instead have people holding photos. I worried for a bit, especially right before sending it to Eric, that it would make things overly morose. But this is, sadly, the way of things, and even though we didn’t have enough time with them, they were all huge bright spots in our lives, and the video would not have been complete without them.
So, without any further ado, here is the end result:
Naturally, I see all of the things that I might have done better, and am kicking myself a bit for not committing to the project earlier in the year when I might still have been able to get footage at the top of a mountain or in the desert, but I did learn the value of a pressing deadline and that this type of thing is possible. It’s also a a pristine example of “perfect is the enemy of good.” If I’d held to making it perfect, it still wouldn’t be done. In a way, it was a very similar experience to what I get from Song-A-Day, though I will never sign up for “Music-Video-A-Fortnight.”
I also learned to let go of wanting to make the remake exact – my first drafts used exactly the same edit points as the original but, because my footage differed (sometimes radically), the pacing didn’t make as much sense. That was a good lesson.
Most importantly, though, Eric was suitably moved by it. And I don’t think he can top it. Win/win!!