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.


15-Minute Song

That’s not 15 minutes long, it’s 15 minutes to write.

Last Saturday we played some of my songs for a bunch of friends in our living room. During the show, folks scribbled notes on slips of paper and dropped them in one of 6 hats:

  • people
  • places
  • moods
  • things
  • times
  • ?

At the end of the evening, I drew a random sample of suggestions from all 6 and wrote a song. In 15 minutes.

The suggestions were

  • pensive
  • dark ages
  • Costa Rica
  • Aunt Jemima
  • old motorcycles
  • siblings
  • a cowboy who doesn’t like horses or cows

I chose 2 people which is why there are 7 on the list.

It pretty much wrote itself. The video below (lightly edited for bonehead mistakes) was shot 15 minutes after I drew the suggestions. I’m switching a lyric to specifically mention Costa Rica, but even though “dark ages” would fit where I used “medieval” it just doesn’t flow, so that stays.

Lyrics

I wonder why I didn’t post these before?

what do you do when you’re in the wrong place
in the wrong place in the wrong time?
thinking like that can ruin your breakfast
looking for reason and rhyme

roping and riding and drivin’ ’em in
is driving me out of my mind
so I’m moving on
next week I’ll be gone
the week after that I’ll fine

my sister just doesn’t get it
she doesn’t have to, she knows I’m okay
her Harley will get me to LAX
I’m flying south today

chorus

I’m off on a plane to the tropics
heading south as fast as I can
get away from those horses and smelly old cows
in Costa Rica I could work on my tan

chorus

no more bacon and eggs in the morning
Aunt Jemima’s got nothing on me
that medieval torture of saddle tramp days
is washing away in the sea

chorus


February Album Writing Month #13

Every February since 2006 I’ve participated in February Album Writing Month. (I joined up during FAWM’s 3rd year.) While I do sometimes write songs during other months, the bulk of my nearly 200 songs have been written during these episodes of shared mania.

Hundreds of participants commit to writing a full album, 14 songs, of new material during the 28 days of the month. Sort of a NaNoWriMo for songwriters, though with less emphasis on embracing low quality; it’s more like accepting it without actively chasing it.

Some of my very favorite music has been written by my fellow FAWMers during this month of madness. Here are four examples:

Fiji (Matt DiVito) Quickly (Resonance)
Dear Noreen (Phil Henry) Pig of Lovliness (oddbod)

Whether or not the styles are your cup of tea, the songwriting is as good as most of what you hear on the radio or elsewhere. Better, I think.

I’m still working on making better recordings, which these chaps have mastered. But I’m proud of my lyrics, confident in my songwriting.

And ready for February.


blow, wind!

blow, wind!
shatter leaves from the trees and slash them through my dream
pour them onto the road I cannot travel
smear them across the windows I cannot see

blow, wind!
tear the rain from the air and chase it from this place
dry the lies
and the hate and
upturn the funnel
empty the blackness till it whitens

blow, wind!
drag my heart from here to that place I belong
that place where I dreamt I was me,
myself,
and I—
where I dreamt I was myself
without dreaming

http://www.freeimages.com/photo/maple-leaf-1510431