FINISHING THE HAT: “Anyway” – A Conversation with Kait Kerrigan

Modern musical theatre has become a master class in honest dialogue – and what a welcome and amazing thing that is. When I first heard the songs of Kerrigan-Lowdermilk many years ago, that is what struck me most – the honesty. Kerrigan’s lyrical prowess lies in her ability to balance honest awkwardness with poetic metaphor. I continue to be impressed with her work and careful word choice, and her recent song “Anyway” is the perfect example of that. I talked to Kait about how this lyric came to be.

THE STORY: “Anyway” comes from Kerrigan-Lowdermilk’s TALES FROM THE BAD YEARS – a new musical about a group of interconnected acquaintances and strangers who enter their twenties with great expectations. Over the course of the show, these twelve individuals collide and eventually even begin to connect and grow up. They experience love lost and first mistakes and a party to end all parties. There's no doubt that the bad years make the best stories. 

THE SET-UP: An awkward and unexpected meeting inspires this lyric.


I didn’t expect to see you here –
I mean outside, smoking.
I’m more of a nicorette girl these days.
I’m joking.
I mean – I did quit.
But who feels like joking now?
I’ll see you your scowl
And raise you a furrowed brow.


Do you remember how we used to read
Rilke, Joyce?
And we barely understood it,
But it gave us a voice
Or a language…
I don’t read poetry anymore.
But if I did,
I’d be reading it tonight for sure.
Oh. Oh.

I keep thinking about how the timing seems false.
How some days seem faster than my fucking pulse.
And others go so slow.
Like this morning
Feels like a month ago.
Oh. Oh.
Oh. Oh.

I feel like I’m underwater.
I feel like I’m underwater.
I feel like I’m underwater.

There’s this building you pass
On the subway to Queens.
It’s on the L or the R or the one that’s green.
It’s covered in tags,
Bright hieroglyphics.
These fifteen-year-olds –
They’re so fucking prolific.
I’m commuting,
I’m eating my goddamn apple
And they’re secretly painting their Sistine Chapel.
But whatever,
It’s like they know their odds.
If you're gonna die young,
You'd better live like gods.

And me?
I’m not doing anything.
I’m not helping or cleaning.
I’m not even crying.
I’m not doing anything.
She’d be so goddamn helpful.
Well, fuck her for dying ’cause I,
I’m not writing her elegy.
Not me.
I’m not writing that down.
They would scrawl her name on a city wall
But I’m a fucking clown.
I’m making jokes
So I don’t drown.
I feel like I’m underwater.
I feel like I’m underwater.
I feel like I’m underwater.
I feel like I’m underwater.
Like the whole world is underwater.
Like I’m screaming out underwater.
I feel like I’m underwater these days.

I didn’t expect to see you here.
I mean – thanks for coming.
I thought you’d oppose the use of religious rites as numbing.
I mean – it is dumb.
But what if she can hear them pray?
I mean what the fuck do we know?
Who are we to say?
If there was anyway.


DB: Tell us a little about the creation of the lyric generally.

KK: Years ago, I was fooling around on a piano and decided I should try to write a song on my own. It was repetitive melodically and a bit rambly, but the one thing that I hit on was the musical and lyrical hook of this slow drawn out "an-y-way" as a restart – something that feels like a person stalling after running out of steam and trying to find their way back to the topic at hand. Also, inherent from the beginning was the idea of "turning" the hook. In other words, I wanted to write something where the word "anyway," which started as filler, became something that held the weight of the world in the final seconds of the song. Then it went in a drawer for years. Brian Lowdermilk (the composer) and I loved these elements of the original and wanted to put them to good use. We started talking about writing a song about grief – not the sad parts but the anger and denial and posturing that happens in the early stages, especially to a character who has a lot of walls up. That's when we pulled those elements back out of the drawer and started again from scratch. 

DB: Was there a rhythm pattern you were looking to achieve in this song? What was the goal of the flow of the text?

KK: This was a strange song in that it wanted to feel like a monologue. It didn't want to feel like the music was in charge even though the music ultimately contains it. You never wanted to feel like you knew where you were going. As such, it was written completely lyric first and Brian encouraged me to not worry about scansion to start. Over time, it was massaged into a scansion that is pretty similar verse-to-verse but the goal was always to recreate speech patterns in music. Brian spent hours on a beach (his preferred way to set lyrics) trying to find the exact musical equivalent of how something would sound spoken and I think he did an extraordinary job. In a lot of ways, he acted as editor on this. I would give him lyrics (that generally followed the exact contours that we have now) and then he would help force it to fit into a song structure. The exception was "It feels like I'm underwater." which was a separate idea that I found after the majority of the lyric was written. We knew we were missing something that you could rest on and sit in. We knew we didn't want a traditional chorus but we wanted to have something that felt chorus-like. One night, I was walking down the street and I had my music on shuffle and some ‘90s song from my teen years (I unfortunately can't remember which one right now) came on that had a refrain – a phrase that just gets repeated and repeated and I started looking for one sentence that the character could say that might describe what it felt like – both panicked and muted and I came back to Brian with this phrase.

DB: Thematically, where does the lyric reach its "moment" – meaning, is there a particular line that serves as the heartbeat of the song?

KK: Besides the two mentioned ("anyway," which functions as the restart but finally as the point of the song, and "I feel like I'm underwater"), there's a valley and a peak in the song. The character reaches her worst, ugliest truth when she says: 

"I'm not doing anything. 
I'm helping, or cleaning, I'm not even crying. 
I'm not doing anything. 
She'd be so goddamn helpful. 
Well, fuck her for dying, 'cause I… 
I'm not writing her elegy." 

I wrote several drafts of this – many of them gentler. I didn't know if we could go there, if we were allowed to have her say something horrible but it felt really honest. That's something that happens in the aftermath of someone's death. You simultaneously think – this person (who's becoming more saintly by the second) would be better suited to dealing with this than I am and also fuck them for putting me in this situation. Neither is rational but it's honest. So we decided to go for it and see if it turned an audience off or if it hit them as hard as it hit us. And it turned out that it was something that really resonated for people. The moment that breaks my heart a little when I hear the song performed by an amazing actor is the last verse, which is a huge restart. She's already showed her ugliest feelings but there's this magical thinking (I'm stealing that phrase from Joan Didion who, to this day, has written better about grief and death than any other author I've read) that can't be quashed. The character is cynical and almost nihilistic. She doesn't even believe in the literature of her youth anymore, but at the very end she says, 

“I didn't expect to see you here.
I mean – thanks for coming.
I thought you'd oppose the use of religious rites as… numbing.
I mean it is dumb, 
but what if she can hear them pray? 
I mean, what the fuck do we know?
Who are we to say? 
If there was any way… anyway.”

Very quickly, she goes from someone who says religion and faith and services are pointless to revealing a desire that faith could help – that perhaps these other people who have faith are able to send up prayers and maybe her friend could be touched by that even after death. Then, her own tiny prayer is that maybe because so much is unknowable, just maybe that could be true. 

DB: If you had the chance to re-write this lyric, knowing what you know now, what if anything would you do differently?

KK: If I had known that they were going to tear down the Five Pointz, I might have forced myself to find a different metaphor for the feelings I was trying to explore but I'm more frustrated that the building was destroyed than I am at my own lyric. I think they should probably rebuild and allow Five Pointz 2.0 to be resurrected for both the health of the artistic life of the city and also for my own selfish desire to keep that lyric. 

Watch this video on YouTube.

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