I've written a few dozen songs over the course of my musical life, some good, some clever, some... not so much, you know? I recently got it into my head to perform some of them and post them on the innerwebs, Part 1 and Part 2. I describe each song a bit in the video, but I thought it might be fun to go a little deeper here, where words go to, if not die, then to languish. (In all honesty, I am really pleased that Blogger has hosted this sight for almost twelve tears now, that's pretty cool.) The images are scans of the tabs I use for each song, some are very old.
This first song is pretty straightforward - I saw a pretty girl walking down the street in front of our off-campus college house Junior year, and I wrote a song about it. I make it sound as if I knew she loved to dance because of some sort of cosmic connection between us. No, I'd seen her in the Dance building a few times. For decades I called this song "Kari's Song" (yeah, clever) but, I'd lost the original song sheet and actually forgot her name and changed the song's title. I was later reminded of her name, but that's a story for another time.
Tears in Texas
I was living in New York City, Queens, in the nineteen-eighties and, back in those days, most everyone subscribed to magazines. I got several; Newsweek, Life, Psychology Today, Popular Mechanics, The Utne Reader of all things, and National Geographic. You might remember that the magazine came in a brown paper bag sort of covering. I pulled the newest issue out one day, and a young, good-lookin' cowboy was staring right at me, all macho and rodeo-ready, holding a pretty girl, both beaming. All the main title said was, "Austin!" The first thought I had was the opening line of this song.
This Old Cracked Guitar
I could linger long on this one, a whole damn book, probably - stories of pear trees and wedding restrooms, ill-fated roses and sweet summer seas, an actual very cracked guitar, and tender naive love. I won't. Two things: this is the most important song I've ever written and... she said "yes!"
What I Got (The Butt-Wigglin' Song)
I don't know if I've ever admitted this before, but that previous song was not the original one I wrote to ask Marci to marry me. This was. Yeah, I quickly decided against it, it's a little rowdy, and the diamond ring thing didn't really work. But, I think it's a fun song.
(Here's something I'd like you to know about why I am doing this. It's hard to admit, but... I, really - I just choked back one of those silly mid-sentence sobs we all get - anyway, I am not sure how much longer I will be able to play these songs. My hands are going fast, and some of them are sort of difficult, and when you can't play your own songs it's sorta sad. At least they'll be here.)
I've sometimes wondered if this song was a little too show-offy and literary, what with its many references and general cleverness. In the past several weeks, as I've been working up these songs to do all this, I've just decided it's a pretty damn good song. I had the opportunity to drive a bit of the highway itself, west of Flagstaff, I believe. You could actually get off the road you were on, some interstate, and scooch over to what was actually "Old 66." I stopped off to the side and took a real look around. It was there I noticed those double yellow lines and the feel of the whole place - it seemed like you could feel all them souls passin' by. It is pretty special when giant, complex ideas get distilled to a piece of pavement and a dusty parade of ghosts.
This one's sort of self-explanatory. I don't think all these images were in the same photo-book, but other than that, I believe I could find all these photos in the albums my mom made for us, Bob and Don and I, growing up, thanks, Mom.
This is a song about my hometown. A bit of literary license has been utilized; everything is not true here. Except that... well, it is all true; the feeling behind every word is as true as rain. A couple of times, the accuracy of this song has been questioned - a little advice here for ya, don't do that. As you listen to a song, hear the notes, cipher out the words, ride the melody, be in the story, but never, never, question a song's truth.
I spent a great deal of my teenage years hunkered down in a basement bedroom on my unmade bed, learning songs. Actually, I still spend a great deal of my time now hunkered down at a basement work desk learning songs. I suppose the artists have changed but I guess I like it. This one is for Woody Guthrie, John Denver, Jim Croce and Bob Dylan. I think I wrote this in the late nineties. I didn't include Gordon Lightfoot, but the songs are already too long so I am sure that's why. I worked in references to many of the artist's songs here, which I find clever. Those names sure do take me back to a time that was so formative for me. "That's the boy I was," says the man I will become to hisself. Time is a big, damn mess of noodles and intersections - and a liar.
The Rhythm of the Rain
This is the last song of the first part - side A if you will - of the video. It is also the first song I ever wrote. It's precocious and sappy, treacly, you know? But, but... I've been playing it now for awhile, after not even considering it for decades, and I've got to say it's pretty good. I really dig the droning sort of verse, those minors and all, then a happy full major chorus. It circles back and ends well. I wrote it in the summer of nineteen-hundred-and-seventy-nine on the same bed I learned the Dylan and Lightfoot and all, on the then new, not-yet-cracked guitar, a few months before I was off to college in Athens. In a way, I think it was a goodbye to, uh, maybe myself, there was certainly not a girl I was that enamored of at the time. I guess I was scared and thinking I'd once loved so much - fictionally, albeit - was comforting... I don't know where this tune came from - probably Gordon and Bob and Woody, Jim and John. An homage perhaps?
And, here - just to add a little verisimilitude - is the original copy I went to college with, in my songbook. Man, why does rememberin' hurt so much sometimes.
Where the Indians Danced
I've spent a lot of time in my life outside, often in places where there aren't a lot of folks, and so often I have sensed the long shadows, heard the faded echoes, felt the joy of those who were there before me. I spent some time alone on the Mogollon Rim in northern Arizona, on two separate occasions, and never exactly felt alone. Here in Ohio, probably not ten miles away from where I am right now - perhaps in my backyard - serpentine earthworks remain from the early indigenous peoples here, often referred to as "The Moundbuilders."
Down on Jimmy's Farm
Another place that has that ancient, important vibe of pasts long gone is my friend's farm. He's a private guy so I won't dwell on him or how good and steadfast a friend he has been or his lovely family and all... it does seem I sorta called him out there in the title and I may as well have given global coordinates to his place in the song. Suffice to say, it's a damn nice place to sit and, well, sit. I've haven't been down there in years, I better do that soon.
In A Little Boy's Soul
"Some days you know just how it goes, Some days you have no clue. Some days you write the song, Some days the song writes you." Guy Clark wrote that in a song, and he titled a whole album on that truth - Some Days the Song Writes You (2009). This one definitely wrote me. It's about the inherent hope and even happiness in longing and loneliness, a lifetime foe of mine. Also, again, time is a fucker, sometimes I can't find myself on my own damn timeline.
Ballad of Jane Doe
This song is based on a story I heard once at a conference in Cleveland. A women told this story and a few days earlier I'd seen the movie Days of Wine and Roses - a very rough watch about a couples' descent into alcoholism - and I remember thinking, "where were her days of wine and roses." The phrase comes originally from an 1896 poem called Vitae Summa Brevis by Ernest Dowson which is really quite lovely. I mentioned that it was written in a different tuning and on a big dreadnought guitar, but, I didn't mention that I wasn't sure I'd be able to pull this one off.
The Ballad of John and Paul
(The similarity between this tune and the previous tune is because they are indeed similar. They weren't originally what with the different tuning and all but, well, here we are.) Todd Snider a wonderful singer, songwriter, storyteller you should check out if you'd care to, always talks about his original tunes as songs he made up, like, "here's a song I made up about a beer-run." This song is like that, it just came out nearly whole one summer afternoon many years ago. I don't know who these cats are but they're as real as anyone I've ever known - sorta my Pancho and Lefty - with apologies to TVZ.
Do you remember the first song on Side A here, Dancin' Girl? I told you for a number of years I couldn't recall her name. About twenty years after I wrote that song, well, what happened in this song happened; we were reacquainted, remembered each others' names and a few other things. In case you're wondering, I ended up with the shirt.
The Day is Done by Longfellow
In the late nineties maybe I was binging on a lot of Romantic poetry and such - as one does - Wordsworth and Longfellow and Whitman and Keats and the like. I got it in my head to put one of the poems to music. This is the result. During the Days of Covid (now there's a song title), my good pal Spoon Phillips helped me with a version of it for Play Music on the Porch Day - a real thing - it's really a better version because of all his fiddle-dee-dees and pretty do-dads he adds over me rather utilitarian rendering of the song, Here's a link: now. Ooh, this tab is in color... fancy.
The Nick and Zack Song
I guess I had to write this song. I was worried about being a Dad, getting it right and all. That's all I've got to say about it for now, I think I went on and on about it once in my blog but today... I guess it's, well, a little overwhelming somehow. There's a line that sort of summarizes my parenting: "I'm gonna teach you everything; how to sing and dance and love and live and pray." I am particularly glad I wrote this song, it's sorta hard to play though.
Princes of Loveland
An old buddy of mine penned these lyrics and I set them to a tune and that's about all there is to it.
That's a wrap, I guess. Thanks for sticking around, perhaps for listening in and all that. This took a lot of work and time but, I am very glad I did it.
Peace to you all.