The story of Thieves & Gypsys song “Penny Arcade” is one of those stories that makes me try to understand the wondering spirt and wholeness that is called randomness. I didn’t really think much about what the song was about or what the message was until it was finished. It was a bit of a reverse effect on me opposed to the “standard songwriting method”. At the end and once I had a chance to think about Penny Arcade and look at the words and the music, I was able to understand what I was trying to get through to people.
In the early life of Thieves & Gypsys, every now and then I enjoyed playing on the streets in downtown Santa Fe. After a few showings I grew to enjoy the feeling of getting a chance to show off some songs that I had written and getting gas money. At the time I had been seen a girl for a few weeks. Like all flings it was interesting and had its place. A few weeks later she broke up with me during one of my small busking moments. About ten minutes after the break up, a man with a his six or seven year old daughter stopped to listen. He would ask me, at the end of my song, if I knew how to play any reggae music. I told the man “I only play original music” . His daughter looked at me and asked “What if you wrote a reggae song right now” I laughed and said I’ve never written a song on the spot but I could try. At that moment something just came over me and I put my finger to the strings and the structure for the song came out at that moment. Almost like a free style rapper. Then the opening lines to the song and melody followed:
“Penny Arcade a nickel a game
Can drive you insane, right from the start
Head for the heart right for the heart
tell me what you know”
I repeated that line one more time then created the chorus:
“So how low to your pretty little soul?
Tell me stories about what you don’t know”
Once I finished the chorus I simply ended the song. The little girl smiled and laughed then told me “That was not a reggae song!” I replied “Well I tried for you” her father dropped a couple of ones in my case and off they went to continue with their lives. I stayed there for a few more minutes trying to make sure that the song was burnt into my head. i then rushed to find a pen. I stopped a local cafe and asked a waiter if I could barrow a pen I then wrote down the chords and lyrics that had just been given to me out of randomness.
I would later head home call Aaron Jones to come over check out this song I had written. We sat in my living room for a few minutes talking and learning the song together. After I finished the lyrics of the song in that jam session we took a break to get some food.
Aaron and I ended up cooking and talking about bass players and bass riffs that we both loved. We finished eating and asked Aaron to come back to the living room with me to play the song one more time to lock it into our memory for our next whole band rehearsal. Once we finished it I felt like the song was solid and there was not much else to do but show it to Dave (drummer). But once I put the guitar down Aaron started playing a thumping bass riff that caught my ear. I asked him what that “You just played” he answered casually “A riff I like to warm up with”. With excitement told him we need that riff to finish the song. Aaron modified his little warm up riff to fit the song for the opening and closing bass riffs for the song.
We had a rehearsal sometime later that week with the whole band. Dave started the song with a slight reggae feeling. Aaron asked if he could play a “faster punk dancer version” Dave let the song begin and right after the critique Dave executed the idea and Penny Arcade was born.
After playing the song over and over Dave and Aaron finally asked “What is the song about” I felt like I had a blank look on my face. I really didn’t know what to say. I just told them I did not have the slightest clue. I looked at the lyrics and told them the story. I then realized that the song was about simply about that day and my girlfriend breaking up with me and this little girl calling me out to write a song. Then I looked deeper and realized that the opening verse was me telling myself that sometimes I can lie to myself to believe that there is something less to something or a story then there really is. Like how you are in a penny arcade but its a nickel a game. Out side it says penny arcade on the sign but inside the games cost a nickel. That was the original verse that I wrote on the street and it explained the whole song to me. There is always more to everything on the inside then what you see from the outside. Then the chorus when the line is “how low to your pretty little soul, Tell me Something you don’t know” It feels like you are diving in into that idea much more. Like how far do you need to got to understand something and everything in life.
I truly believe that this song was created out of randomness. I don’t think it would be the true and honest song if it was not for the events that happened to me at the time of writing it. If I had not been dumped that day I would not have had the deep thought of “why” in my head. If the little girl did not ask me to write a song there on the spot I had the opportunity to write a feeling that was still raw that didn’t have the chance to be diluted by whatever conclusion I would have drawn with my wondering train of thought. I own the emotion that of the song to Aaron random riff that just happened to fit the song so perfectly to pull it all together.
From that point Penny Arcade is requested before and during show. We believe Its a song that people turn to because of its honest raw message. I’m happy for this song and the randomness that is the fog around it.