Oh the angst… Oh the drama… Oh the theatricality! If there’s one thing Christopher the Conquered gets so right on his new song “Paper Man, it’s the angst, the drama and the theatricality. The track is only available on the CD and LP versions of his new album I Am Christopher and only available here on American Songwriter (and not on streaming services).
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“Paper Man” is the sound of a heart-wrenched man at the end of his emotional rope, begging, crying, straining for understanding… and it’s raw, so goddamned raw… and his voice? Shredded.
“I wanted to record ‘Paper Man’ totally live, and my engineer, Adam Hill, said ‘Hey, you should do it on this grand piano’,” remembers Christopher Ford. “By that time, it was late at night, I’m exhausted, and my voice was all torn up. But with the lights turned down low, I sat down at this piano, feeling all these emotions from the weekend… and I put on the headphones.”
What he ended up with is an opus, reminiscent of the soulful cabaret of Anohni (Antony and the Johnsons) and the operatic range of Freddie Mercury (or perhaps more accurately, Hedwig) merged with a piano bar pianist who just had his heart handed to him on a platter.
About those vocals… his ripped raw and painful vocals that sound like he’s begging, crying, straining for understanding. He explains, “I’m sure you’ve heard the story of Paul McCartney recording ‘Oh! Darling.’ He recorded the lead vocals every day for a week to get his voice nice and rough. I can’t afford that much studio time, so I just did mine at the end of a very long day of recording. [It ended up sounding] more like John [Lennon] singing ‘Twist & Shout.’ The only difference is my song will never be featured in an iconic 80’s movie,” he laughs, referencing the parade scene in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. “But in all seriousness, the singing had to sound like a personal phone call. It’s one person talking to another about something very sad. It has to be worn out and a bit ragged… torn.”
“You can cut me, you can burn me, write down all your dreams and plans / Try me out, ‘cuz I’m the paper man,” he sings, plaintively mirroring the desperate downtrodden emotions of Radiohead’s “Fake Plastic Trees.” His paper imagery draws parallels to Thom Yorke’s melancholia about superficial disposability of the human condition.
“Right on! Great reference, I hadn’t thought of that song specifically,” he says excitedly about the connection made. “My song is about a relationship that you know will never work out. You know that you are the other person’s rebound. You’re the way they find closure with their last partner. You’re being used (willingly, but not happily). The image of the man made of paper plays two roles here. One is that he is a tool for the partner to figure out who they are. Cut, burn, tear, fold m up in a million different ways…. the paper man is there for the other person, sacrificing his own happiness so that he/she can get their life together and move on. The second role is that the paper man serves as a metaphorical piece of paper on which the other person writes a breakup letter to their ex, as alluded to in the lines ,’If you’ve got somebody you don’t love anymore, get out your pen, send him a note, that’s what the paper man’s for. And when I’m crumpled up and tossed onto his bedroom floor, that’s when I know you don’t need the paper man anymore’.”
While the overall gist of “Paper Man” is stomp-on-my-heart-and-hear-me-bleed emotional outpouring , he still injects some snicker-heavy winks in the song. “As a lyrics-centric person who counts Randy Newman as one of my biggest inspirations, I couldn’t resist all the wordplay opportunities here,” he concludes, making sure he’s not branded a melodramatic mess. For a song fraught with the fragility and disposability of paper and how it compares to the human heart, he still has a wicked sense of humor. So what is his favorite wordplay in the song? “Paper view,” he replies, chuckling. “’Paper view’ [pay-per-view] being perhaps my favorite, and one that almost never fails to crack a few smiles at shows.”
Dig what you hear? The tunes are not available on streaming services! Only through this link.