Dark of Night

I’ve been participating in February Album Writing Month for 15 years. Though I’m not aiming for 30+ songs during February like the past two years, or even the standard goal of 14, I couldn’t let the month pass without writing something. Which, of course, happened spontaneously as I was trying to sleep one night last week.

Dark of Night

You’re the dark of night
You steal the sun from the sky
You’re the dark of night
Make the songbirds cry
You’re the dark of night
And I don’t understand why

You told me you loved me
Sweet as a slice of peach pie
You told me you loved me
Intoxicating as rock and rye
You told me you loved me
You knew all along it was a lie

You took my heart
Made me think I could fly
You took my heart
Told me I was your guy
You took my heart
Was just a piece of meat for you to fry

You’re the dark of night
You steal the sun from the sky
You’re the dark of night
Make the songbirds cry
You’re the dark of night
I’ll never understand why


02022020

Palindromes fascinate me, even palindromic dates.

Here’s a video about what made yesterday (missed it by that much!) not only unusual, but unique in the Gregorian dating system.

Music! Laughs! Bad Hair!

And, more fun perhaps, here’s Weird Al’s take on one of the best music videos ever created, Bob Dylan’s Subterranean Homesick Blues. You’ll see why it’s in today’s post.

Al

Bob

Here’s some 02022020 art I made.


A Month into Winter

Not that the Phoenix valley has much of a winter, but this year was more wintery than the past two; December’s highest temp was 73º but the previous two years it was in the low 80s.

For the first time in 15 years, I’m not knee-deep in songwriting. I’ve participated in February Album-Writing Month since 2006, some years writing as many as 32 songs in a single month. I want to write at least one to celebrate my 15th FAWM, but I’m having a hard time dredging up the feeling.

I’m also 6 months or so behind on delivering the third Jake Calcutta story. And don’t get me started on the third Irish Adventure; poor Web Martin ended his second adventure on a low note and I’ve been meaning for years to lift his spirits with another chapter in his life.

The family band used to practice music 5 days a week. We’ve been up in the music room twice in five months. I’ve barely strummed my brand new 3/4-size Orangewood guitar. It’s beautiful, easy to play, great-sounding, and parked beside my desk. But, parked. In the same stand as my Blueridge tenor, the most wonderful musical instrument I’ve ever owned.

Moving my mother into assisted living absolutely trashed me physically and emotionally. Getting herself evicted in under 90 days because she’s so uncooperative was a gut-kick to Best Beloved and I after all the time, energy, and money we spent making it happen.

I usually ignore my age; I don’t celebrate birthdays, and the only reason I know my age most of the time is that it ends with the same number as the year. I haven’t been conscious of anything special about turning 60 the end of last month, but I have been feeling old, slow, a bit bleak.


Bells

His mother picked up his sister from our house. She said he’s not answering his phone we have to go.

His mother, young enough to be my daughter, cut him down.

His sister ran to the neighbor, my friend: he’s dead he’s dead.

My friend knelt over him in the hallway for two hours doing CPR until the paramedics came. Two hours.

The paramedics worked for two hours before they gave up.

My friend texted me. He just didn’t have the strength for the phone call.

I told my wife. She cried.

We talked. We told our daughter. She cried. Her first death.

My wife said I have to be there. We went over.

We hugged everybody. Everybody hugged everybody.

There was no crying left.


Three months later I wrote this song.

I finally cried.

Bells

I really don’t blame him he chose not to call
he’d been there for hours crouched in the hall
he sent me the message my heart tore in two
said someone was dead he said it was you

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go

Why didn’t I see you were so lost?
Would have done anything, paid any cost
But I never asked, and you never said
And some days I wish, it was me instead

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go

no matter how black there’s always hope
but it’s hard to see at the end of your rope
in the middle of love now there’s a hole
silence so loud taking its toll

there should have been bells
so everyone would know
’cause the silence is killing me
since you had to go


Arthritis Finger

I’ve had some flexible squishy tape wrapped around the last joint of my left index finger for over 5 weeks. The doctor is treating a symptom of the severe arthritis in that joint.

On the surface, that sounds like typical old guy stuff.

Let’s dig below that surface.

First, a conundrum: the same joint on my pinkie finger on the same hand has the same severity of damage, yet feels no pain, no discomfort of any kind.

Next, the deeper issue: as a musician, the top joint of my index finger is vital to playing any instrument. You use your left hand to choose the notes you’re playing, and it has to be strong and flexible. Arthritis is neither of those.

The damaged joint affects me physically, and concern about its future affects me emotionally.

There’s good news. The pain and swelling has been exacerbated by a cyst at the end of a bone spur. The bone spur is quite small; the cyst was growing. And painful. And causing swelling and pain in the joint.

Large doses of anti-inflammatory meds plus a 6-week regimen of light pressure (thus the wrap) has almost eliminated the swelling, and reduced the pain, even when I’m playing an instrument, to negligible levels.

Videos of Les Paul, a great enough guitarist to have the most famous guitar in the world name for him, show his aged hands twisted with arthritis, the knuckles swollen.

He was still Les Paul, still one of the greatest jazz guitarists in the world, ever.

I’m gonna hang on to that image.


The Stranger on the Road

a barnEver since he’d set the barn up as a recording studio, he’d wanted a window so he could see his farm while he played. Windows not being inherently sound-deadening, it was a complication, but over time he’d hit upon a solution involving multiple layers of glass embedded in spongy soft stuff that helped reduce sound transmission.

So when the old man in the battered brown hat headed up his gravel driveway, he didn’t have to wait for the surprise of someone banging on the big barn door and messing up the track he was recording. He’d stopped playing his old Telecaster to watch as the stranger trudged up the drive, never raising his head enough to reveal his face.

But there was no banging on the door. With no windows anywhere else in the barn, he didn’t know if the old guy had gone around, or was just standing there.

Easy enough to find out.

He hung the guitar on the wall and crossed to the door, sliding the crossbar and pushing outward.

Mr. Brown Hat stepped back, blinking, obviously surprised.

“Um, hey, I’m sorry, uh, I was just . . . ” His hands wiggled around as he talked.

“Did you need something? Like, I mean, are you lost? Long way from anywhere, sir.”

The elderly gent chuckled. “I’ve been lost a long, long time, but not how you mean.” He shuffled his feet, glanced toward the road, shoved his hands in his pockets.

“I was passing, y’know, just walking down the road, and I heard the music, and, well, it drew me. I wasn’t trying to trespass, just getting closer to hear it better.”

That brought a chuckle. “You do realize that’s the shortest route to a musician’s heart, right?”

He pushed the door open wider. “If you want to listen, you might as well come in and get comfortable.”

The traveler pulled his hat off and held out his hand. “Morris. Morris Michael Miller. For which I apologize on behalf of my long-departed parents.”

“No apology necessary, Morris Michael Miller. I’m Reed. Reed Smith, most common last name in the English-speaking world, I guess.”

“There’s a reason for that, but instead of boring you with that, what if I sit down and shut up and you can play some more of that hopeful-sounding stuff you were playing.”

Reed smiled. “Hopeful? I guess the words made the music lean that way. Come on in.”

Morris found his way to one of the battered old kitchen chairs near the biggest speakers, and Reed grabbed the Tele and sat down to play.

He had no idea he’d just begun the greatest friendship of his life, nor that the stranger he’d taken in would live out the rest of his long life on the farm he’d been passing for no reason except that was where the road took him.


Three Applauses

I’ve noticed something about an audience’s reaction to live music: how the applause happens.

Obviously, there’s applause at the end.

And at the beginning, there’s applause—twice.

Some people recognize the opening notes on the guitar, the first piano chord, the drum riff leading it off, and instantly cheer for what they know is coming. There’s a medium sized round of applause in the opening seconds.

Then, the singer starts the song, and people recognize the words. That applause is a roar. People recognize words more than they recognize music.

Some bands play around with this. Bob Dylan is famous for rearranging his music so much that, until he starts singing, even fans aren’t sure where he’s going—and sometimes, not even then. Okay, we always eventually get it. He’s an extreme example. Sometimes a new intro delays the applause until the singer makes the song clear.

Comedians and storytellers play on this. Telegraph where you’re going with a joke, a humorous story, and people will slowly start to get it. A rising chuckle, a few laughs, and before the punchline everyone gets it—and then, you leave it there. They’ve figured it out and told themselves the joke. Don’t kill it by nailing it down.

Listeners, readers, those people who take stories in, whether they’re jokes, morality plays, songs, are smart. They love story, they understand it. They don’t need to be led by the hand, they just need a compass and a map.

As long as you’ve marked the trail clearly, letting readers find their own path makes a more satisfying experience.


A Winter of Sorts

You can tell when the conversation is running dry because the talk is all about the weather.

Turned the heater on this morning for the first time since a 4-day stretch in December. It was 63º inside the house. Upstairs. It’s normally about 76º up there.

Fiona sleeps with her window open and her face near the window. I used to sleep like that as a kid in San Diego. Winter nights there get down in the 40s, so I always had cold air to breathe. I like heavy blankets and cold air when I’m sleeping. Trying to sleep when it’s warm is hard.

Took a drive today and listened to all 19 songs I’ve written so far this month. I’ve done well. Two more I need to finish, a travel song for with Fiona, and a third song to go with Not Just Believe and Laminated Map of the World.

Thus far, every song has been entirely voice and tenor guitar (except a collaboration, which really needed bass and screeching electric guitar; if someone shares their lyrics I play what they need, not what I want.)


More Songs, Including My Daughters

I’ve written another handful:

but the real treat is that my two girls collaborated on one, and we can actually hear the Little One singing: Sister.


2 Happy Songs and 2 Long Drives

Tucson

Our little one visits her sister in Tucson every month. She usually stays 3 nights. They have a studio so while the little one and her sister are up all night singing and laughing and making videos, the good husband is trying to sleep so he can go to work in the morning. We’re all (especially him) hoping they can move to a bigger place soon.

It’s 3 hours down, drop her off midday, then 3 hours back. Two full days at home, then do it all over again, pick her up late afternoon, arrive home wiped out after dark.

Music

Two more songs, making it 4 for 4. Four for four. Fore! These two were happy.

The next one will be pensive. Many lines will begin “I remember . . . ”

I never know which list songs will end up on: lost and forgotten, performed once and abandoned, or regular rotation crowd faves. Some songs I thought were great when I wrote them don’t interest me much anymore, and some I thought were throwaways get played all the time because people love them.

This is the planting time. Harvest will happen later, and as always, will surprise me.