A lot of us are intense about music, whether or not we make music ourselves (there are so many ways to build your life around it). You meet people and, when they tell you what albums they love, their taste speaks volumes, right? It’s shorthand. We feel love and loyalty towards our favorite artists and experience a genuine, powerful sense of loss when they are gone.
Through my life as a musician, I have been drawn to fellow songwriters as friends, and it has been our songs that did the introducing, providing that very same shorthand. And one night, when I was up past any hour that would be appropriate to make a phone call, I realized I could go over to my stereo and put on something by one of my friends. And everything got better. Voilà. So this is a love song to records and the people who make them.
Here’s a song from the Lunch Money album Original Friend. Most of the lyrics come from my memory of a day from my childhood when a light dusting of snow got us all sent home from school. Snow was, and still is, so rare in South Carolina. That day my brother and I just started walking home. I don’t even think our mom was notified that school was closing. Even the old guy who served as a crossing guard on the highway was not at his post yet, and we hesitated for a second and then shrugged and navigated it on our own. We made our way the couple of miles to our house, surrounded by miraculous snowflakes. I remember being confused that it could actually snow when all I had brought that day was a red sweatshirt! For me, this song is about the beauty of snow and also about the exhilarating freedom to be kids wandering home in it.
My brother now lives in Massachusetts, where snow is not as rare. I was visiting him one October and it started snowing. I was so moved by this unexpected bonus and, on a whim, I lay down on the ground and looked up. When I did that, I was astonished by how different the world seemed from that perspective. It was suddenly quiet and thick flakes were floating right towards my face for as far as I could see. It was one of the most surprising sensations I have ever experienced.
Feel free to download this mp3 at my Soundcloud page.
There is a teenaged boy who walks around my neighborhood. I see him in the day and in the evening. He usually has an iPod and is always alone. And when I see him I feel a pang because I remember being about his age and being alone a lot. Walking home from the movie theater, where I would go by myself. Taking my dog down the beach past all civilization, or silently through festivals and crowds, or around my neighborhood at night. I remember the feeling of passing houses full of activity and feeling so close and distant at the same time. By some mixture of chance and awkwardness, I went for years without having any real friends my age. It was music that both kept me company and eventually would be my bridge to finding people I could connect with. This song is about those nighttime walks and about the belief that a friend would eventually be found. There’s a nod to a much-loved friend who once told me she was so over-worked she felt like “a shell.”
Russell was coming over to say goodbye. He plays trombone with us, and was moving to New Orleans, where, really, a young trombonist belongs, don’t you think? But, don’t worry, kids…we’re going to KEEP him. He’s willing to fly around and keep playing some shows with us. That’s a huge relief because we LOVE him. Anyway, he came over and I asked him to join me on “Umbrella” with a whistling solo. Watch his expression when he finishes the lengthy solo. My kids and I laugh every time because it looks like he’s going to faint. I appreciate people who give it their all.
As I said in my last post, I often wind up writing a song for a special occasion. Several years ago, my library asked us to perform at the annual summer ice cream party for the Junior Volunteers. We were happy to oblige, and I thought it might be nice to write a song just for the event. When I asked the volunteer coordinator to tell me more about the junior volunteers, I was soon grinning and scribbling away with my pencil as she listed off things like windexing sticky books, cutting out nametags, putting out the little pencils and slips of paper by each computer. And their time commitment, for me, was the cherry on top: one hour a week. Oh yes, I was going to enjoy writing this anthem. Here is the song that resulted:
Sometimes I write a song in trade, or on a dare, or in support of a cause, or to salute something or other. This song “Smokey” was written in trade. An artist friend offered to swap a painting of my son for a song about her dog. I went over and spent a few hours chatting about Smokey, hearing about her photo being used in a giant ad in Times Square, her growing understanding of Japanese, her ability to swear at the neighbors, her various quirks, likes (peanut butter) and dislikes (other dogs), and her life together with cat-friend Banjo and her favorite human, Leslie. Here is the song that emerged:
OK, I’m cheating a little here in the efforts to get a defibrillator on my song blog. Sorry to be away so long. My good buddy/husband/drummer/former bassist/web designer/personal chef/mechanic/studio engineer Jay started a blog. It’s very neat and nerdy, just like Jay. He made a post about finding an old mic at the flea market and fixing it. He even got me to sing into it for his blog, so I am putting a link to that here.
Here’s a song about that old childhood form of human sacrifice – the picking of teams. I consider this a song to sing to yourself while waiting in the line-up. It’s part resume and part kiss-off (with plenty of love for yourself and your fellow wall-hugger to spare).
Today’s song is one I played with The Verna Cannon. It’s about how fragile people can be when it comes to believing that they can sing. I was convinced that I could not sing after my teacher didn’t choose me to sing a solo line. It took years to build up the notion that I had the “right” to call myself a singer. And all around me I hear people dismissing their own abilities, declaring themselves unfit to sing. How does this happen? I, for one, want to hear you sing.
I write songs. But not as often as I should. So maybe I can do this a little more? Every day? Whoa, let's not get crazy. Still, I am going to start posting video performances of songs. Some old, some new. Eventually all new. I have been in two bands, The Verna Cannon and Lunch Money. There might be a third band one day. I put out Lunch Money CDs on my little record label called Squirrel Mechanic Records.