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


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.


Sleeping Lie

shirtsleeve wipe the window grime
your bark weaker all the time
don’t see you but you’re out there I can tell
shaggy coat too far away to smell

back and forth, closer every pass
you think you see me looking through the glass
shadow of coal pacing hot
you think you’re gonna take me but you’re not

hand on the doorknob, I know

I won’t turn my back
I won’t turn my back
I won’t turn my back
for you
today

I don’t pace I don’t shake I don’t freak out
once in a while I can’t help but peek out
you’re not close enough to bite
you’re still there prowling my night

I lean against the door, I know

I won’t turn my back
I won’t turn my back
I won’t turn my back
for you
today

I hit the light your eyes glow red
you whimper and cower and duck your head
thought you’d come to me to get fed
I’ll laugh out loud when I know you’re dead

you used to knock me down, get on my back
work your fangs to hear my spine crack
worry my neck like you were killing a rat
you and I we’re way past that

kick that door open, now I know

I won’t turn my back
I won’t turn my back
I won’t turn my back
for you
today


Stars: a Song by Fiona ER Canfield

Recorded the vocal for this about 2012, when Fiona was 6 or 7. It’s taken all these years to learn enough about music and have the equipment to put it to music.

I was astonished to discover that other than a few flat notes, she’s singing perfectly in the key of F. This is worth investigating. I wasn’t aware a small child could, a capella, sing exactly in key. (I adjusted the final note because she was precisely two semitones flat; I suspect that was voice control, not pitch awareness. Also she was 6.)

Maybe children are more musical than I’m aware. Maybe I have an overdeveloped proud father muscle. Maybe I just love my little girl and music and when they come together, why wouldn’t it be perfect?

Stars
Fiona ER Canfield

If the stars could talk
What would they say?
Would they say those words to you?
If the wind could tell secrets
Would it share them with you?
Would you protect them with all of your strength?

If the sun could make you smile
Would its smiles be for you?
Would your eyes have protection from the rays?
If the moon could give you dreams
Would they be happy?
Would the dreams be for you?

Good night for now
And when we wake up
We’ll have dreams of the things that I said
And when we meet again we’ll discover
That the dreams have come true


Imposter Syndrome

The group of mad songwriters I’m hanging with this month have a thread with 100+ posts about imposter syndrome.

Every artist who’s ever created something they feel strongly about has also felt like a fraud. Who am I to pretend to be an author? Who am I to pretend my songs are worth your trouble to spend 3 minutes listening?

John Lennon anguished about his lyrics. Stephen King is, to this day, ashamed of his subject matter, still smarting from a teacher’s disdain for the junk he wrote.

I have reached a point where I’m confident about my song lyrics, and getting there about my books. Every smart writer I trust has said they learn to ignore feedback except from very specific people in very specific ways. Not the 1-star haters on Amazon. Not their Best Beloved (though mine is my first audience, but her one and only job is to smile and pat me on the head; we both know her job doesn’t involve anything like honest criticism, that comes later.)

I don’t believe in the anguished lamenting artist who must bleed and die to create. We choose to do this. On some level we’re driven to it; I don’t think I’d be happy if I stopped writing novels. But no one makes me do it, and a lot of folks never feel the joy of publishing a book or performing a song they wrote. I get to make art, and I’m happy about it. It takes work, though, to focus on the positives when Imposter Syndrome and Resistance strike.

Next time you see someone doing something creative, whether it’s performing in public or just sketching a doodle in the park, thank them for daring. They can always use the boost.


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.


February Album Writing Month Rides Again

Tomorrow begins a month-long exercise in artistic immersion.

I’ve been participating in February Album Writing Month (FAWM) since 2006, making this my 13th year. (I missed the first year it went public, but I’m still one of the Old Folks in the forums.) Nearly every song I’ve ever written has been born in February. For a while I wrote throughout the year, partly because I couldn’t afford to shut down all my other activities during February.

It wasn’t the same, though. Writing three songs in a week isn’t the same depth of immersion as writing 14 (or 30, like last year) in 28 days. Now that my schedule allows it (thanks to Best Beloved who loves my art) I’m back to diving in unrestrained.

Except tomorrow, when we’ll be taking the Little One to Tucson to spend a few days with her sister. But I’ll bet I can write a song on the drive. Maybe she’ll even play the ukulele while I record it.


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.


Dylan’s Nobel Speech

Just discovered the full text of Dylan’s Nobel speech at the Nobel website.

They’ll be debating whether song lyrics (and/or specifically Dylan’s song lyrics) are literature for many long days. I don’t care. What I care about is Dylan as a songwriter.

  • All Along the Watchtower
  • Like a Rolling Stone
  • To Make You Feel My Love

One man wrote all three. All three and a hundred more, dozens of which everyone alive has heard.

Nobel literature? Doesn’t matter. Best songwriter alive?

Absolutely.