Monthly Archives: March 2006

Some Kind of All American

When this life of mine is over, if it’s been of any worth
Royal Oak can lay a claim as the place of my birth,
and where my ash is scattered they may choose to put a plaque;
the rest is just conjecture unsupported by the facts.

When you say you’re from somewhere, does it mean just recent years?
How can you call one place your home if throughout your career
the most you’ve settled down is long enough to catch your breath,
and write a song or two about the place that you just left?

I could say I’m from Michigan, but that was long ago;
or from outside a farming town in northwest Ohio;
and those years in California where I played my first show
surely count for something meaningful, but sometimes, I don’t know…

It seems more truthful to just say I am
a product of each new place where I stand:
some kind of all-American.

I learned to love the outdoors on that farm for seven years;
spent high school out in California, starting my career;
But my roots are bent and twisted, they don’t lead any one place,
what you hear in my voice is not reflected in my face.

I’m German, Swiss and Irish, but the only thing that means
is that mountains and pastures are both buried in my genes;
the sea, wild rivers and lakes are there, too.
Not one set of geography will do.

In the South, they call me Yankee;
In the North, they call me hick;
maybe somewhere in the middle,
there’s a label that might stick.
In the East, they say I’m laid back;
In the West, far too high-strung;
but it doesn’t really mean that much
when all is said and done.

I could say I’m from Boston, but just for those years in school;
or Memphis, where I learned the difference between hip and cool;
Seattle, where I reconnected, strangely, to my past,
or New Orleans, where I discovered my true love at last

It seems more truthful to just say I am
a product of each new place where I stand:
some kind of all-American.

27 MAR 2006

Confucious

The words that rend my soul’s speech are my own;
they are not borrowed from another’s lines.
From someone else’s field, of their seeds sown,
come not the fruits due me at harvest time.

To posit otherwise is to admit
my life only an actor’s walk-on role,
with no responsibility or wit
of my own — no true joy, love or control.

So, each new moment becomes mine to make,
immersed in self-wrought ecstacy or hell.
How then, to keep from making more mistakes,
or at least, to recover from them well?

The secret: admit what you do not know.
From that small bit of knowledge, all things flow.

21 MAR 2006

A Song Worth Singing

“People only want to hear
the few songs that they know.”
That’s what some will tell you
drives live bands and radio:
the lowest common factor
in the drunkest, toughest crowd
who only care to listen
if it’s familiar and loud.

“People have no interest in
songs they’ve not heard before.
The same old sound is what’s been found
to get ’em past the door.
There no use playing anything
that they don’t want to hear,
because your job is not much more
than selling lots of beer.”

But hey, they’ve got a jukebox over there
that works much cheaper, and won’t really care…

If the song is worth the singing, if the words mean something strong
If the second time you hear it you might want to sing along
If the people that you’re playing for aren’t worth that something more,
Then please tell me, what am I still writing for?

“People only come to see
an entertaining show;
so that’s what we provide them,
then we pack up and we go.
Yeah, we’ll play what we want to,
someday, when our name’s in lights;
but until then, we’ll give ’em what
they think they want tonight.”

But hey, the jukebox can play all the hits;
live music’s got to have much more to it …

If the song is worth the singing, if the words mean something strong
If the second time you hear it you might want to sing along
If the people that you’re working for aren’t worth that something more,
Then please tell me, what are you still playing for?

20 MAR 2006

Something I Can Feel

This bar’s got a jukebox; for a quarter, you can hear the latest big-time songs;
there’s no need to book live entertainment if all you want is just to sing along.
Yes, I’ll take requests, but not too many; don’t be hurt if your favorite’s not on queue.
I know a lot of numbers, but to tell the honest truth, there’s only certain kinds of songs I’ll do.

It’s gotta be true to who I say I am;
if it’s gonna make anyone listen or give two fifths of a damn;
It’s gotta be straight and speak from the place I know;
if it’s gonna be worth the money that it costs to see the show;
It’s gotta be more than some old line that builds up crowd appeal;
It’s gotta be saying something I can feel.

There’s not much reason for seeing live music if all you want to hear is someone else.
You’re better off just cranking up the jukebox; it sounds much better than I can myself.
Sometimes it’s those old songs not in rotation that touch you, when the band begins to play;
it creates something that’s real, not imitation, and it offers so much more than some DJ.

And if you don’t know what you’re asking
when you ask me to perform
like a chicken on a barbwire stage
who’ll dance when it gets warm,
then it doesn’t really matter what I’m singing anyway.
You just sit back there and listen; I’ll decide what songs to play…

It’s gotta be true to who I say I am;
if it’s gonna make anyone listen or give two fifths of a damn;
It’s gotta be straight and speak from the place I know;
if it’s gonna be worth the money that it costs to see the show;
It’s gotta be more than some old line that builds up crowd appeal;
It’s gotta be saying something I can feel.

‘Cause if it don’t mean nothing to me
then what am I singing for?
There are better ways to get by
than a percent of the door …

It’s gotta be true to who I say I am;
if it’s gonna make anyone listen or give two fifths of a damn;
It’s gotta be straight and speak from the place I know;
if it’s gonna be worth the money that it costs to see the show;
It won’t ever be really good, if it’s not something real.
It’s gotta be saying something I can feel.

19 MAR 2006

Come Out to the Cherokee

Sometimes, it’s the craziest little line that starts off a whole chain of thinkin’. This one, of course, is not based in reality whatsoever; but it does beg the question … when IS that Jeff Rachall website going to be updated?

You think that I’m lying when I say I’m in a band;
this going out all weekend, you say you don’t understand.
And furthermore, you’ve searched the ‘Net but never found a trace
that proves beyond a doubt that I’m not lying to your face.

It’s not another woman, or some poker game I’m in;
it’s not long nights of drinking, contemplating ways to sin.
I know that country music’s not your favorite cup of tea;
but for our sake, so you’ll believe, please do this thing for me:

They won’t put my picture up on the group’s new website,
so I can’t prove I’m in the band if you’re not there tonight;
Come out to the Cherokee, where I said we’d be ’til two;
then you’ll know my word is good and I’ve not been untrue.

You think that I’m lying about playing songs all night,
and worry that I’m straying as soon as I get out of sight.
I’ve tried hard to convince you that my word on this is true;
but there’s only one way I know to prove myself to you:

They won’t put my picture up on the brand new website,
so I can’t prove I’m in the band if you’re not there tonight;
Come out to the Cherokee, where I said we’d be ’til two;
then you’ll know my word is good and I’ve not been untrue.

17 MAR 2006

If You Want Love

My father was an upright man who never went to church;
but he gave his word and that was that, he’d help you from a lurch.
He hated all self-righteousness and practiced what he’d preach;
when I asked him what made the good life he’d give me this speech:

Live as if there’s no hereafter if you want a Heaven here on earth;
Spend as if it’s your last dollar if you want to get your money’s worth;
Act like everyone knows something that it might be worthwhile to learn;
Love as if the world is ending if you want love in return.

My father died ten years ago; we laid him in the ground.
I don’t think anyone expected he’d be Heaven-bound.
When I think back on how he lived, I have to crack a smile
imagining their faces when they look in his file
and it says:

Live as if there’s no hereafter if you want a Heaven here on earth;
Spend as if it’s your last dollar if you want to get your money’s worth;
Act like everyone knows something that it might be worthwhile to learn;
Love as if the world is ending if you want love in return.

Someday may be good enough for some folks, he would say;
but if you want to change the world you’d better start today …

Live as if there’s no hereafter if you want a Heaven here on earth;
Spend as if it’s your last dollar if you want to get your money’s worth;
Act like everyone knows something that it might be worthwhile to learn;
Love as if the world is ending if you want love in return.

17 MAR 2006

Stretched at the Seams

I’m living in a small, rural town again. It may have a university campus smack dab in the middle of it, but face it: Natchitoches, Lousiana is not a center of urban sprawl.

I’ve lived in small rural towns before. Hell, I spent 2nd through 8th grade 15 miles outside of one with a population of less than 8,000 (and even had the audacity, at 36, to move back). I like living in the middle of nowhere, geography-wise, and privacy-wise. But I have to tell you, if I were using either John Cougar Mellencamp’s “Small Town” and Jason Aldean’s “Hick Town” to describe my experience, I’d be a stone-cold liar — although there is a grain of truth in both of these paeans to Smallville. Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall” is a lot closer to my truth. Closer even than Springsteen’s “Nebraska”. Maybe country living has changed, though. I said the other day that Aldean’s song seemed to be missing anything about putting M-80’s in mailboxes and tipping cows. And it certainly doesn’t speak to my experience with tractor training, 4H and FFA.

I guess the difference is living outside a small town, versus living in it. There was always a big difference between the country kids (like me) and the townies. Inside the city limits, any borough can seem confining, structured, staid, stilted, stuffy … a place where young people feel limited by the expectations placed on them by their elders and peers. On the farm, I never really had too much time for that kind of contemplation — there were chores, long bus rides, acres and barns to explore, fish to catch.

Of course, a lot of people I know who are from small towns have never set foot more than 50 miles from where they were born. And often, that natural insulation (and isolation) from the rest of the world is cemented and augmented by the institutions in which so many of us are indoctrinated from birth — churches, schools, social clubs. A lot of folks, in that kind of environment, do grow up to be on the outside just like their parents, just like their neighbors. Some of ’em are happy doing it. Many, though, it seems to me, are only happy on the outside. You can tell it in the way they talk about the government. Or foreigners. Or even just people from the next town over.

But I reckon it’s not just a small town thing. It’s a people thing. You either take responsibility for your own life, and get busy living it, or you are, quite bluntly, just killing time waiting to die. Most folks choose the former, and become wonderful parents, friends, spouses, lovers and business partners. But a few seem resigned to, and even rejoice in, their unhappiness — they say, “what this town (or country, or world) really needs is a …” and wonder why somebody else hasn’t done it. They’re starving for change, for growth, for individuality and a life outside the box, and simply don’t feel it’s their place to change, grow or step outside the establishment’s door. Granted, there are repercussions for those brave souls who do challenge the status quo, even in the smallest of ways. You do get talked about behind your back. You will get worse service at the grocery store. You may not get a decent table at restaurants. You may even have bricks thrown through your window, or crosses burnt on your lawn. You certainly will be going to Hell, one way or another — at least that will be the consensus of opinion, even among your own relatives.

Country or city, it seems like the most frequent thing you hear is “don’t get above the roots of your raisin’.” That’s like getting too big for your britches, I guess. But it seems to me that if all a plant ever has is roots, if it never breaks the soil and stretches out for the sun and makes, heaven forbid, a statement of its own potential — and that potential may be as a fruit, nut or vegetable (LOL) — then no matter how good the roots are, they haven’t done their job. They’re the foundation, and the source of nourishment and balance, but they are NOT the end product. Each vine and branch have their own path to follow, their own song to sing.

All that being said, I wouldn’t trade small rural town living for the metropolis. I’ve seen enough of big cities (on both coasts and in foreign countries) to know that urban existence is not natural. It leads to thinking that oranges come from trucks, and funds studies to prove that mother’s milk is the best food for infants, or that cheese is the best bait for a mousetrap. It creates country music that doesn’t have a damn thing to do with the flyover land between the Holland Tunnel and the San Andreas fault. It’s proud that only 5% of its population has to actually touch dirt for a living.

The friends that I’ve made in small towns are closer friends than those I’ve made in the city. Sometimes I wonder about their ambitions to get out to the “big town”, though. I don’t fault them for that dream, but have to filter it through my own experience. It ain’t what it’s cracked up to be.

I’d rather be a big fish in a small pond, than a wee little minnow in the ocean that is big city living. Give me the limitations of small town reality over the lunatic fantasy of the big city any day. I know ya’ll ain’t gonna believe me, if ya haven’t lived it yourself, but life under the Hollywood sign ain’t all that and a bag of chips.

Peace, ya’ll.