Monthly Archives: January 2007


What did you expect here in the space above my name?
The golden boy you never thought I was?
Redemption for some lost and lonely cause?

Guess you’re right to wonder about who and what’s to blame
From nothing, a great nothing came to pass
And left just me behind as epitaph

Yeah, there’s money in the music business for a chosen few;
If that was all there was to it, I’d be a rock star too.
But somewhere down the line I dropped the ball, that’s what they say,
and figured out I wanted just to play.

What did you expect, some tale of glory found and lost?
Still waiting for that ship that never came,
Bad weather and coincidence to blame.

Guess you’re right about me, but I understood the cost
of learning how to sell it for a price;
and losing what I thought was paradise.

Yeah, there’s money in the music business for a chosen few;
If that was all there was to it, I’d be a rock star too.
But somewhere I lost interest; reality got in the way,
and I learned to love the hours that I could play.

What did you expect, a price tag hung on every song?
They came to me for nothing, after all.
It don’t seem right that they should have to crawl.

Guess you’re right, my talent’s wasted and my life’s gone wrong;
But these old songs are proud to be called mine;
go write your own, become your own John Prine.

Yeah, there’s money in the music business, if you shake the tree,
and wait around for it to drop, it comes eventually;
But in the meantime, don’t lose sight of where you are today,
and do it simply ’cause you love to play.

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‘Til I Die

Maybe I’m a dreamer, but I sure don’t want to be
one of those two old guys sitting in the balcony:
a grizzled, bitter muppet who makes fun of everything
and never gets up off his ass, and on the stage to sing.

Maybe I’m a geezer, but I’ve got a youthful heart
that’s ready, anytime, to get on stage and do my part;
could be that I’ll look foolish, but I’ve done that bit before:
been some kind of a fool for almost thirty years or more.

‘Cause I can play the guitar and sing circles ’round a song;
the feeling that I get on stage can’t possibly be wrong:
that you can change the world with music, if you only try.
I’ll be an old musician, ’til I die.

Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I learned back in the day
that every kind of music’s good, in its own unique way;
from Lawrence Welk and Hee-Haw, and the Porter Wagoner show
I figured out there is no song that you can’t make your own.

Maybe it’s kinda crazy, but I wish you’d take a chance
on an old guitar picker who’s too old to learn to dance;
together, we could play some things that are worth listening to,
and change the world, if only for a brief hour or two.

‘Cause I can play the guitar; hell, I’ve played for thirty years;
that should be worth some to you, at the start of your career:
let my voice of experience assist you while you try.
to grow as a musician, ’til you die.

Maybe I’m a dreamer, my whole life spent out of sync;
why ain’t he rich or famous, I can hear some of you think.
You’re right, to some degree, but money ain’t the only thing.
Sometimes, the prize is that you get to sing.

18 JAN 2007

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My Country Gold

Thirty years ago, back when I composed my first tune,
country music wasn’t all that cool;
anyone who said so, was a fool,
and better off in engineering school.

The only exceptions: Waylon, Willie, John and June;
everybody else seemed pretty old;
and despite the records that they sold,
they seemed to leave me pretty cold.

It seems since Hank the Senior died,
you want to know the truth,
that country music lost its sense of innocence and youth;
and split itself from rock and roll
to give the city folks
something they could ridicule with cleverness and jokes.
So despite I what I knew inside,
I left that music be;
pretending that it wasn’t part of me.

Thirty years ago, when I first figured how to play
most country singers came to stardom late;
hell, Merle Haggard sung his first at 28;
mixing youth and country? Don’t hallucinate.

Who’d a thought that things would change to how they are today?
Past thirty, and you haven’t too much chance;
You’re judged by how you fill out some tight pants;
And history? Forget it. Learn to dance.

It seems to me, since Elvis died,
you want to know the truth,
that country music figured it had best reclaim the youth;
and joined itself to rock and roll
to convince city folks
they could wear cowboy boots and not
be thought of as a joke.
So despite I what I knew inside,
I left that music be;
pretending that it wasn’t part of me.

Thirty years gone by, and only me that’s still the same;
listening to ol’ Merle and Bill Monroe;
measuring the hours as they go;
too old for stardom out on Music Row.

No regrets, and country music surely’s not to blame;
I’ve no consistent action to defend;
no single kind of music as my friend;
just wonderings and lots of might have beens.

It seems to me since Johnny died,
you want to know the truth,
that country music’s cut old age and now clings to the youth;
who start from rock and and roll
and write to give the city folks
a way to reconnect with life between this great land’s coasts.
Because it’s what I know inside,
though now I’m far too old;
I still pan for that solid country gold.

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A Tale of Two Singers

Last night I had the opportunity to take in a performance by a young singer-songwriter-guitarist named Adam Dale. I understand he’s originally from the Shreveport area but now based out of Baton Rouge. He plays a mix of original material and originally arranged covers that run the gamut from political satire to straight up rave up, all in a style that while definitely unique reminds me of a number of other performers, including but not limited to Dave Matthews and my good friend from Berklee, Aaron Flinn.

In particular, the parallels with Aaron were remarkable.

Both are very intricate and rhythmic guitarists, who manage to be delicate, dynamic and driving at the same time – which is no mean feat, I can tell you from 30 years of guitar-playing experience. It’s not any easy thing for any guitarist except Richie Havens to fill so much space without sounding like a repetitious drone. For good reason, Aaron has been recognized as the best acoustic guitarist in Vermont. I venture that Adam could fare likewise were such a competition held in Louisiana.

Both have very dramatic, one might almost say operatic, voices that they employ from a whisper to a scream to first draw you in and then almost knock you senseless. Their lyrics, too, have a cryptic feel and course with an ultra-personal and almost secret sense of meaning, and seem to weave perfectly between the polyrhythms of the guitar on their voices. Adam and Aaron both use quite a bit of falsetto; when I first heard Aaron sing, I thought immediately of Kate Bush, or Tori Amos. I still draw the comparison, vocal-wise, and do the same with Adam.

Then there is the physical showmanship. I guess having started as a classical musician (violin and clarinet), and then as an upright jazz bass player before I learned to rock, I never really learned (or rather, was taught to inhibit) the art of movement while playing. John Mayer’s got the art. Joe Cocker has it (in you might say a Picasso sort of fashion). Aaron Flinn and Adam Dale have it. Onstage, they keep moving. Always in motion, always (if eyes not closed in a moment of deep emotion or pique) in contact with their audience. In tandem with, or as counterpoint to, the jump-stop guitar chuka-chuck; approaching and retreating from the mic with the grace of swans. Myself, I’m more like a walrus. Not so interesting to watch.

I have seen and performed with Aaron numerous times in an acoustic setting. I have now experienced Adam Dale in similar surroundings. Both artists (and they are truly artists, definitely deserving of greater public acclaim, distribution and critical attention) also front full-scale electric bands. I’ve heard recordings of these efforts, but never seen them live and electric. I’m sure these shows are, no pun intended, electrifying, if they are anything like the acoustic shows, but bigger and more grandiose.

But there’s one area, I think, where both Aaron and Adam miss the mark. Both, in my opinion, have gorgeous and pure, clear voices. The majority of their vocal delivery, however, masks this underlying beauty with a kind of affectation, a deliberate quirkiness that runs the gamut from Stan Ridgeway to Tim Curry. Even when they’re singing ballads, they tend to truncate the notes, do some range jumping calisthenics and maintain a certain distance from what I can judge is a massive volume of pure tone. Both are large men with large voices; both are certainly effectively emotional singers. But I think both Adam and Aaron are a little afraid of their voices sounding gorgeous. Of casting aside all gimmickry and showmanship, all the fabulous guitar noodling, and simply stopping you dead in your tracks with sheer beauty. Because beauty, and that kind of exposing of the soul, is not what’s hip. It’s never been, nor probably never will be, cool to remind people that they don’t pay attention to what’s really important. It’s a scary thing to do, I must admit. I’ve only managed it on one or two occasions, and one of those was in private. Neither one of those times did I come close to what I think Aaron or Adam is capable of — because I’m more or less a trained singer, while these two are naturals.

Both Aaron Flinn and Adam Dale are capable of that kind of beauty, intrinsically. I’ve heard what they can do onstage. I’ve been in awe of the way they combine their vocals with their obvious guitar prowess. To put it in a clumsy metaphor, I’ve heard Saturday night. But I want Sunday morning. Take me to church, so to speak. I for one would love to hear it.

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Leaving Something Good

The kind of bands that play
the music that I write these days
seem few and far between;
somewhere between grasping the brass ring
and the consequences
lie some broken dreams.

Just for myself, it doesn’t matter much;
but without substance,
how can we survive?
When everything is so disposable,
how will we prove
that we were once alive?

A lifetime isn’t long enough
to waste a single ounce of what you find;
in every hour’s experience
there’s suffering and pain and being kind.
To think your generation’s got it right
is tanamount to being blind
unless you’re learning from the past, living the now,
and leaving something good behind.

The kind of songs that live
in memory aren’t written
for the copies that they sell;
They represent a drink of water
in a world that seems to build
only dry wells.

And for those who’re never
thirsty, maybe it’s enough
imagining a drink;
but so many die in deserts,
waiting for a single drop;
it makes you think.

A lifetime isn’t long enough
to waste a single ounce of what you find;
in every hour’s experience
there’s suffering and pain and being kind.
To think your generation’s got it right
is tanamount to being blind
unless you’re learning from the past, living the now,
and leaving something good behind.

14 JAN 2007

Listening to John Hiatt’s Chronicles, and thinking about the parallel between some distinctive voices: John Hiatt, Richard Manuel, Van Morrison, Ray Charles, Joe Cocker. Yes, they can lay on the coals and push the volume, but each of them is most effective when they approach the breaking point: when you feel as if the next note they sing may well be their last. And it got me thinking about something I read regarding Joe Cocker — that he was willing to do physical damage to himself in order to do proper service to a song. You may well wonder, and surmise that it would have to be a pretty damn good song to be worthy of that sacrifice. Which brings up another question altogether: why inflict such self-suffering on mediocre material, on art that isn’t likely to last the month, let alone the decade or millenium?

Learn from the past, live in the now, leave something good behind. Explaining that to a generation that thinks it can learn how to play like Eric Clapton by listening to Eric Clapton perhaps is a waste of time. Talking to a Deadhead whose only concept of music is the Dead and other “jam” bands, without realizing the scope of music from which the Dead drew their inspiration, maybe is wasted breath.

But maybe it isn’t. There’s a line from the movie Footloose where preacher John Lithgow asks, “If we never trust our children, how will they ever become trustworthy?”. I wonder along a similar tangent: “If we never share with our children why our music (or anything else about our culture or lives) is important to us, and all they get is our CD collection when we die, how can we expect them to appreciate why we bothered to keep it for their inheritance?”.

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Gospel of the Jester

Sometimes, you write something that still resonates no matter how much later you rediscover it, or in how different a frame of mind you are from when you wrote it. The Gospel of the Jester is such a song for me. Written in a 23-hour songwriting binge when I first moved to Boston and knew no one, when I was writing on both piano and guitar almost simultaneously. Certainly a lot of the songs ended up sounding similar, and many of them lean almost too much in the direction of Van Morrison (good for Van Morrison, not so good for me most of the time).

Ring around the radio, listen to a dream
Close your eyes to visions that you haven’t seen
The truth is misperception and the fact is a lie
Wisps of clouds are covering the face of the sky

Ring around the telephone, pealing like a bell
Turn on your machine so if you’re home, no one can tell
Read between the lines of what has never been said
Make believe you’re make believe, go where you are led

Fall down, fall down, all fall down
Queue up for the symphony, the same old sound
Dream on, dream on jester kings
Dance your dance for the puller of the strings

Ring around the television: watch your life unfold
Put your trust in advertising; do as you are told
Your future is decided, don’t attempt to be free
Your friendly big brother runs the ministry

Ring around the roses, made from plasticware
Keep your polyester, and for God’s sake, cut your hair
Trust in the brotherhood, you’ll be all right
Don’t be afraid, we only come out at night

Fall down, fall down, all fall down
Listen to the piper’s hypnotizing sound
Dance on, dance on jester queens
Dance your dance onto the stage of the machine

You can be anything we want you to become
You can learn the language of the deaf and dumb
You can control the future, well, that is nothing new, but
You can win friends that are just like you.

Fall down, fall down all fall down
Listen to the music leading underground
Dream on, dream on jester fools
You can play the game while we re-invent the rules

Fall down, fall down all fall down
Listen to the piper’s hynotizing sound
Dream on, dream on jester kings
Dance your dance for the puller of the strings


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New Insights into Genius?

I am currently reading a fascinating biography of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Mozart: A Life, by Maynard Solomon. Of particular interest to me is its focus on the relationship between father and son as one of the defining aspects of Mozart’s personality and life pursuit. Another interesting aspect of the biography is reference to passages like this:

What is a poet? A poet is an unhappy being whose heart is torn by secret sufferings, but whose lips are so strangely formed that when the sighs and the cries escape them, they sound like beautiful music … And men crowd about the poet and say to him: ‘Sing for us soon again’; that is as much as to say: ‘May new sufferings torment your soul.’ — from Either/Or by Soren Kierkegaard

It is a literate biography and definitely worth reading.

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