Step Back Swooperman

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Lyrics
It’s not easy to be me
Child of a superhero
But it’s not that Dad’s off saving only strangers
While he treats me like a zero

Au contraire, he’s always there
Swoopin’ in most every minute
Always helping me to finish every little thing
As soon as I begin it

Homework answers by the score
So my scores are kind of crummy
With his Superbreath he cleans up all my messes
And he lets me win at rummy

Does heroics on his own
Tells me it would be traumatic
It’s no wonder he can leap tall buildings while
The highest I can do’s the attic

Though your Superintentions mean well, I suppose
The only super thing you do for me is Superimpose

Step back Swooperman
My style is cramped
My progress prevented
Development damped
I can’t get very far
As long as you’re party-pooper-man
Step back Swooperman

Hanging out sometimes with friends
Maybe going to the mall
But no matter where I go, your X-ray vision
Always sees me through the wall

Every little thing I do
You just have to have your knowledge
What on Earth will happen when I’m fighting bad guys
Much less partying in college?

Yeah, it’s nice that you just want to know I’m okay
But with your constant Supervision, how can I find my way?

Step back Swooperman
My style is cramped
My progress prevented
Development damped
I’m not asking for much
Just stop being such a snooperman
Step back Swooperman

Harder than you think
To grow up with falling not allowed
Now I’m on the brink
Since I’m not using it, I’m losing it now

Maybe I will steal away
And become a supervillain
Wreaking havoc so you’ll have to clean my messes
I’m sure that would be fulfillin’

Massive crises every day
Is there no-one else to brave ‘em?
Maybe if you just gave everyone a chance
They wouldn’t need someone to save ‘em

Step back Swooperman
My style is cramped
My progress prevented
Development damped
I might make a mistake
At least I’ll be Shake-My-Stupor-Man

Step back Swooperman
My style is cramped
My progress prevented
Development damped
I might make a mistake
At least I’ll be Shake-My-Stupor-Man
Step back Swooperman

Story
Spintown decided to launch the SpinTunes songwriting contest. The challenge for SpinTunes 1 Round 1: I’m A Marvel, And I’m A D.C. — Write a song from the point of view of a superhero or supervillain.

Doing an Appreciative Inquiry on the subject, I quickly became interested in playfully critiquing our typical notions of superhero/supervillain. Thinking about how disempowering it is for “the masses” to always need saving by superheroes, I related that to helicopter parents — always hovering over their kids, providing “help” even when their kids don’t really need it. With helicopters and many superheroes having the ability to fly, the connection seemed particularly apt.

Some Googling on these kinds of parents revealed mention of them as, in fact, “superhero parents,” swooping in too often for their children. The rhyming connection between “super” and “swooper” seemed too good to pass up. Immediately, the idea and title for the song popped into my head. If Superman constantly swooped in as a parent the way he did as a superhero, he’d have a child who had a hard time getting to know his own superpowers, perhaps eventually rebelling to become a supervillian.

With many superheroes’ and supervillains’ origin stories involving their parents and/or traumatic/unpleasant experiences, here was an opportunity for a superhero himself to be the very origin of a supervillain, ironically creating his child’s unpleasant experience by acting exactly the same as he does in his role as a superhero. This nicely fulfilled my initial goal of tweaking our typical notions about what it means to be these kinds of characters.

Some more messing around with the word super led to fun puns with “superintentions” and “superimpose,” as well as “supervision” with its nice connection to X-ray vision. I love lyrical jokes like these, as well as alliteration and tight rhyme schemes including inner rhymes, all of which I brought into the lyric. But beyond these, I tried to have the song not just express the kid’s feelings but tell his story as well. This origin story would show his growing older without really getting enough of a chance to grow up, until finally he must get what he wants by striking out on his own in the only way he knows how, the only way he’s been allowed to act all along.

In the first verse, in addition to wishing he could help with his dad’s heroics, he’s clearly expressing things from the standpoint of a younger kid. Homework, bad grades and playing games are his concerns. In the same vein, the first chorus has him complaining, childishly, about his dad being a party-pooper.

With the next verse, he’s a bit older and trying to gain independence, spending time away from home with friends. But he still can’t ever really get away and wonders what will happen as he looks ahead to college and beyond. The second chorus also grows up a bit, moving on to a bit of justified paranoia and the request that his dad simply stop being such a snooper. In the bridge, he expresses how he’s finally “losing it,” with the double meaning of losing the skills he’s not using (“use it or lose it”) and also becoming enraged.

This leads to the culmination of the story. The final verse shows his plans to become a supervillain. He makes clear that wreaking criminal havoc would be just living up to the expectations his father has had of him all along, giving his dad a chance to continue cleaning up his messes. The final jab at his dad comes when he undermines the very idea of being a superhero, suggesting that people wouldn’t even need to be saved if they were just given a chance, i.e., the chance to cultivate the best in themselves that his dad never gave him. The last chorus affirms the greatest amount of maturity he can muster, admitting that he might make mistakes without his dad’s help, but at least he’ll get out of the mind-numbing helplessness inflicted on him by Superman / Swooperman / Party-Pooper-Man / Snooperman. He’ll become Shake-My-Stupor-Man — for the first time he’ll be a man of his own, on his own terms, even if his mistakes may involve supervillainy.

Musically, I wanted something that would play with both the drama and the humor of the story. John Williams’ score to the 1978 movie Superman jumped into my mind — a phenomenal score that is both serious and playful, from an obviously relevant movie that is itself also both dramatic and fun. Riffing on well-known superhero music would match the lyrical riffing on both the superhero mythos in general and the Superman story in particular.

Experimenting with the main theme’s famous ostinato — the rhythmically repeating low notes that underscore the march — I realized I could come up with a very different tune to lie on top. As the song evolved, I found many other musical elements inspired by the Williams score, about a dozen in all — see if you can catch them :)

Knowing I didn’t just want a serious, orchestral march for the entire song, I wondered if there was a way to incorporate more of a pop song feel as well. I realized that the ostinato had an interesting relationship to some typical reggae rhythms. More effortlessly than I imagined it would, a reggae-flavored pop tune flowed out of the orchestral seriousness, blending well musically, lending some nice musical humor, and going well with the son’s aging into a teen. With these two main styles sometimes showing up on their own and sometimes combined, along with the bridge pulling winkingly (and liberally) from the John Williams score’s “Can You Read My Mind” theme, the song ended up with a lot of musical color.

In addition to the musical references, I also nod in the first line of lyrics to the Five for Fighting song Superman (It’s Not Easy), which seemed appropriate for the difficulties this son of Superman was facing.

You can check out the Round 1 songs at SpinTunes, or more permanently at BandCamp, and you can get directly to Step Back Swooperman at Bandcamp — but you can listen and download for free from BandCamp right from the player at the top of this post!

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4 comments for “Step Back Swooperman

  1. Bram Tant
    June 27, 2010 at 6:02 pm

    This was one of my favourite entries of this SpinTunes round. The lyrics are genius, they’re sung well and the music complements them perfectly. You got my vote!

  2. OHB
    June 27, 2010 at 8:01 pm

    Thanks so much!!

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