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No. 210 Scalpel 

To understand the title of this song, you need to know two things – one from medicine and the other from music.  The first is that a common scalpel in surgery is called a #10 blade scalpel; the second is that most songs you hear on the radio these days are about three-and-a-half minutes long – or 210 seconds. 

This song came about because of an opportunity I had to sit at the feet of my musical hero, David Wilcox (www.davidwilcox.com), while attending a songwriter’s workshop in March of 2004.  The experience taught me more about being a human being than about being a songwriter.  Until then, I thought I had known a little something about both. 

The following is a snapshot of the concepts he shared that hit me right between the eyes…

There are – in songs – verses and choruses and bridges.  Now, some people think that that is some sort of social convention – that if you want to write a song it has to have those things – sort of like a dress code. 

My opinion is radically different.  I think if you had never heard a song that had a verse and a chorus and a bridge you would invent it on your own…  Songs have that structure is because life has that structure. 

Same thing with rhyme.  It’s not that songs rhyme because there’s some kind of dress code.  I think songs rhyme because the experience in a song – if the rhyme is done really well – is that before you hear that last word – you know it.  And the reason that works is because then – it’s your idea.  When you’re listening to a song and you know last line – it’s as if you’re writing the song.  And the fact that that rhyme comes along and it sounds like it belongs – I mean, it not only belongs; it sounds like it belongs. 

That’s what rhyme is – it reinforces the idea of “this is true.  This is the only word that fits here.”  And when you hear that, it feels like it is not just another human talking to you…  This is something that was true before it was spoken.  This is something you knew before you heard it.  This is something you’re remembering rather than learning.  This is something true.  That’s what rhyme is for…

One of my biggest weaknesses as a songwriter is – I want to show them my ideas.  I want to say, “This is a great idea – don’t you agree?” And no one cares!  Songs are not meant to carry ideas – no one presents their financial plan in a song.  It’s not a medium for ideas; it’s a medium for emotion.  It’s not your idea anyway – it’s their idea.  You’ve just packaged it into three and a half minutes and put a nice bow around it. 

I was eventually able to put the emotions of my experience that day into this song, which pays homage to David in its style and form – right down to the tuning (D-A-D-G-A-D).  You might say I wrote it in the key of David Wilcox…

As the soul surgeon slices down the middle
He says, “Sit tight – this is gonna hurt a little”
With a rib-cracking chorus and retracting refrain
The Milk of Anesthesia barely touches the pain
The tumor’s exposed, but it can’t be excised
The cancer runs deep – it’s metastasized
The surgeon sees the fear in the patient’s eyes

Just three minutes thirty seconds – the procedure’s through
The surgeon shakes his head and leaves – nothing more to do
“Why?” cries the patient
“Tell me why’d you have to cut me ’stead of letting me be?
Now I’m condemned to misery
That number two-ten scalpel’s got the best of me”

His soul-stained latex hand grabs the chart by the bed
Replacing all the vital signs are liner notes instead
And there he reads, “So many broken souls are only fallow ground
Vibration hits their ears – all they hear is sound
But the open soul resonates with every tone
You finish each line like it’s already known
And claim it for your own”

And now your soul is chiming in –
“You didn’t write the song – the surgeon doesn’t forge the steel
But in the surgeon’s hand the scalpel can heal
It’s a lifelong procedure attempted by few
But take a closer look and you’ll see – the surgeon is you
The song is just a scalpel – the surgeon is you
That number two-ten scalpel brings out the best in you
Brings out the best in you
Brings out the best in you
Brings out the best in you
All the soul searching you do
Brings out the best in you”

Ross D. Martin, MD, MHA
6 May 2004
2004 Rockin’ Doc Media
Take two songs and call me in the morning

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