Ballad of Building Bad

First, the book. Now the song. Worlds collide (apologies to Seinfeld).

[Sept. 17, 2021 update: I’ve made a new, more fully orchestrated version of the song!]

Ballad of Building Bad
Words and music © 2021 Jonathan Ochshorn

Verse 1
Flames shoot up from a couch by the front bay window
Toxic smoke quickly fills the room
Then works its way right up the stairs to the floor where the boys had been so
Fast asleep that they didn’t smell the noxious fume
And didn’t hear the smoke alarm with their parents out and the doors all shut tight
There is no law requiring sprinklers whose activation
Might have doused the flames and saved their lives that night
Perhaps the home builders associations that lobbied so hard to kill that legislation
    Will explain their tortured logic to Mom and Dad
    Building bad

Verse 2
Everybody’s talking about the fancy new library
Where you must climb up steps to get to these bookshelves
Asked about ADA mandates for access he says it’s customary
For disabled people not to get their books themselves
Now he’s pointing to the killer views you get looking out from those steel stairs
But when asked about excluding handicapped users
He says I won’t ruin my design just because of some strollers and some wheelchairs
This is a gift to the community and beggars can’t be choosers
    And it’s based on these watercolor drawings in my sketchpad
    Building bad

Bridge
Architects are trained to get their kicks with fashion an obsession
While utility’s constrained by politics and damaged by expression

Verse 3
There are leaks and cracks and mold but the building’s still standing
Like a party of drunken robots celebrating
Says the architect hired to promote the institute’s rebranding
He says it as a point of pride — not to be self-deprecating
I can’t hang my blackboard when these office walls are curved and slanted
Complains the famous linguist wondering why they’re convex
And why even configuring control layers correctly is something you can’t take for granted
Where the risk of failure grows and grows as forms get increasingly complex
    And fashionable dysfunction is more than just a passing fad
    Building bad

Unbeknownst to me, when I started writing this ballad, it took the form of a Shakespearian Sonnet, with these two modifications: (1) instead of three quatrains (abab, cdcd, efef) in each verse, there are two (abab, cdcd), followed, as in the Shakespearian model, by a couplet (gg); and (2) the accent in Shakespeare’s classic iambic pentameter (“Arise, fair sun, and kill the envious moon“) is reversed, so it is more like trochaic pentameter (“Toxic smoke quickly fills the room“). And as the lines in my verses get elaborated, the meter becomes harder to detect, but it’s there!

Links to all my music and videos can be found here.

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