Monthly Archives: September 2007

Thoughts on Time and Loss

A conversation yesterday prompted me to think about time and loss in a personal way.

Think about it: as a musician, it seems like one is always surrounded by greatness in terms of performances and songs. Upon close examination, you find yourself watching a recent Neil Young concert documentary where he’s playing songs like “I Am A Child,” “Old Man,” or “Down by the River.” You see the Beatles on TV doing some of their great songs, or Paul McCartney in concert within the past few years, and you hear “Yesterday”, “Let It Be” or “Helter Skelter.” Put on Hank Williams record.

What do these artists and songs have in common? Age.

All the Beatles recordings were made before John, Paul and George were 30 years old. Hank Williams, Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Ian Curtis, etc., etc. wrote and performed their best (in some cases, only) work in young adulthood. The Rolling Stones were in their prime in their 20s and 30s. Steve Winwood was 15 to 17, for heaven’s sake, in the Spencer Davis Group.

How does this relate to me, you may wonder?

I’ve been writing songs and playing music since I was eight years old. In the 30+ years since then, I’ve written probably 600 complete songs, composed countless additional melodies, and crafted lyrics for hundreds of songs that are still awaiting melodies. Many of these were captured on fragments of paper, journals, napkins, dozens of cassettes, a couple of CDs, and existed in NO OTHER FORM. It’s the rare song, and usually one from within the past 10 or fifteen years, that exists in digital recording form (MP3) or whose lyrics still exist – usually because I posted this information on my journal.

Thanks to Hurricane Katrina, any extant documentation in written or recorded form is lost forever. That means that my musical output that correlates to that of John Lennon, Hank Williams, Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan from the ages of 8 to 35 may as well have never existed.

Imagine if John Fogerty, for example, had to start at age 40 writing songs and had never composed “Run Through the Jungle”. Or if Jimmie Rodgers had never written “Blue Yodel #5”.

There were some great songs in my younger days. From a perspective that I don’t have anymore. Because I’m 42, not 18 or 23 or 27. I’ll never fall in love for the first time again. Or a lot of other things for the first time. Or be as politically angry and energetic enough to scream about it. Or have a four octave range, for that matter. And just because you may have never heard those songs, doesn’t mean that they aren’t worth missing, or wondering about.

I suppose it’s the equivalent of having spent 30 years writing a 1,000 page manuscript, never making a copy, and suddenly having only pages 899 through 937. How do you recreate it?

How many great songs does a songwriter have? How many poems? Would W.B. Yeats have the same cultural significance if the only thing he could prove he’d written was “The Wild Swans at Coole” or “The Stolen Child”?

I used to think that my legacy would be the documentation of a life in art – from cradle to grave as a writer, musician, philosopher, bard. But instead, I find myself in a kind of reverse Rimbaud. Arthur, you’ll remember, gave up poetry at 19 to become a businessman, and never wrote another verse. I can only prove I started out at about 28. Elvis died at 42 – the age I am now. Where would he have gone had he lived, without having had those years from 17 to 41 documented and memorialized so thoroughly?

So many words, melodies, pictures, and recordings make up a true artist’s magnum opus.

Sometimes I feel as if I’ve suffered a literal and figurative lobotomy.

Share This:

I Wonder How They Do It

I wonder how they do it:
save their sins for Saturday,
when the sirens at their honky-tonks,
their claws attached to whiskey-rocks
or draft beer cold enough to freeze
a witch’s tit, sing out the same familiar song.

I know they must have plugs of wax
stuffed in their ears, ’cause they don’t listen
to the band, or much to what the sirens say;
their only interest is the way
a pair of too-small jeans is filled
with that forbidden fruit they’ll spend
’til closing time trying to pick.
Then in the pew next to their wives
they’ll squirm and pass the buck,
blaming their weakness.

I wonder how they do it:
how they manage to survive
when every other thing about their lives
is cataloged and sorted out;
the neighbors know what business hours
you ought to keep, and just how long
it takes to make the trip uptown
and back. How is their secret kept?

And of these sirens? What’s their game?
What kind of life do they expect?
They sift among the wild or weak,
and hope these sailors will respect
their song, after the whiskey-rocks
are emptied from their hands
and they are perched outside the trailer door
to watch the low tide back at sea.

SEP 24 2007

Share This:

Lowdown Existential Blues

Just like everybody, I try to get along;
but I can’t win for losing, things always turn out wrong.
Need to have a membership,
but I have an objection to the dues.
I’ve got the feeling non-essential,
clearly quintessential
lowdown existential blues.

I could stand for something, but really, what’s the point?
It’s not like what I say will change the way they run this joint.
I still end up walking the extra mile
in someone else’s shoes.
I’ve got the wrong end of the pencil,
most irreverential
lowdown existential blues.

You don’t need my opinion on the way it ought to be;
you do just what you want to, in the end.
Nowhere doing nothing is reward unto itself;
No sense in wasting time on let’s pretend.

Yes, it’s a dilemma; I don’t know what to do.
Seems I’m good for nothing; I know that to be true.
Doesn’t seem to matter much
what answers that you’re seeking, or the clues.
I’ve got the sittin’ on the fence will
make you non-essential
lowdown existential blues.

21 SEP 2007

Share This:

King of Americana

Being the King of Americana
might mean nobody knows your name:
except for the local bartenders
who still serve you just the same,

while you’re sitting on the mike for three hours,
singing songs that nobody knows,
wearing out strings for a hobby that brings
in about thirty dollars a show.

Being the King of Americana,
you know at least a thousand songs by ear;
but in a three-strong crowd, there’s always one who’s loud
with something else they want to hear:

another song about scraping the bottom,
another ditty on the journey down;
and you hate it, but you play it, one more time,
just before you pass the tip jar ’round.

One more round, please, for the band,
who’ll shuffle, waltz or swing
at your command; the next four hours
they’ll play anything.

Hold your applause until you hear
the last guitar chord ring…
then give it up again
for the Americana King.

Being the King of Americana
might mean you know no one cares
about how songs are born and die
in curses, tears and prayer;

and each one takes another’s place
to catch the public’s ear.
You hope to find enough of them
to pass for a career.

One more round, please, for the band,
who’ll shuffle, waltz or swing
at your command; the next four hours
they’ll play anything.

Hold your applause until you hear
the last guitar chord ring…
then give it up again
for the Americana King.

05 SEP 2007

Share This: