Tag Archives: songwriting

(364) Stay Tuned

Yesterday a friend gave me this awesome shirt:

StayTuned

I decided it was perfect for my musings today. I am typing this as I go, after thinking about the theme a lot, after going to Lakes Park and sitting in my power spot. Here goes…second last post!

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Moving toward 2016, I understand my life is going to be more and more about sound. How the world sounds. How I sound. How we sound to each other.

Walking in the park today, I was behind two people who both had ear buds in, yet were talking loudly to each other. They obviously were listening to something, but decided it was important to communicate.  But here was my thought: If we really want to hear each other, we should be cognizant of shutting out other noise. It is like the people who talk on the phone when the television is on. Why?

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This year has opened me up to sound. I planned a whole vacation around sound. We heard bluegrass music and blues music and synthesized music and musicians talking about the sounds specific instruments make, the sound of Jim and I singing together in the music booth at the Birthplace of Country Music, the sound of the Flint, the Cumberland, and the French Broad Rivers, the sound of old blues musicians wafting across Dockery Farms, the sound of The City of New Orleans speeding next to Money Road in the Delta. These sounds have stayed with me and I call on them from time to time.

Today as I walked I brushed my hand through all the palm fronds I passed. “How can I duplicate that sound” was my constant question.

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Paul Simon had an exhibit on his songwriting at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. I was unable to get there, so I purchased the exhibit booklet. In it is Simon’s speech when he was inducted into the Rock Hall.  He said:

I thank Sam Phillips for Sun Records, for rockabilly’s Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley, whose recording of ‘Mystery Train’ remains my all-time favorite. I spent a career trying to get that sound.

This stood out to me for many reasons. First, because “Mystery Train” is my favorite Elvis tune, mostly because of the way it sounds. And second, because this came late in the book and I had already read Simon’s words over and over again about trying to get to a sound.  The exhibit was called “Words and Music,” but from what I read it was really about sound.

As I stay tuned to the sounds in my life, I am looking to get them into any music I create. My music teacher talked mainly about sound when I told him I wanted to write songs. Silly me — I thought it was about lyrics. Seems that isn’t always the case.

Not sure why I’m just learning that.

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A friend of mine posted this meme on Facebook:

Soundmeme

We are the music we love. I want to do this experiment. Tell me the song that matters most to you, and I will listen for you in it.

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Years ago I heard that our DNA, when related to various musical notes, creates a different musical composition for every person. This idea has never left me, and continues to intrigue. Today I found there is a website for it (of course there is) where you can actually send in your DNA information and the type of music you like, and they will create the composition for you. Here is a future birthday present!

If interested, check it out here.

They have created songs for all kinds of things, including this one for whales:

 

So, yes, sound is in our very DNA.

With sound comes vibration. This is why crystal bowl meditation and bells during ritual services and chanting monks lift us to new dimensions. Sounds and vibrations are our lifeblood. They can heal or poison.

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As I finish up this blog, my plan is to stay tuned to the Five Questions in my life. They have truly become a part of me during this journey, and now I cannot imagine living life without seeing it through the lens of the Five Questions. Not writing about it will free me up to be in the moment, to search for the sound in the message, to stay tuned to doing the next right thing. All year long I have been listening, and this message comes to me continually like a drumbeat.

Listen.

Here (hear).

Now.

 

 

 

(357) Twilight Wine

It began the day I bought Kind of Blue by Miles Davis. It was April 2000, and my life was very close to changing drastically, as our move to Florida was right around the corner.

On this particular Saturday I had picked up the Davis CD at a good sale price. I had no idea if I would like it — I had just heard many times that it was very good. It was twilight, and I took a glass of wine and decided just to sit in my upstairs room alone and listen to the music, while I watched the changing light out my window.

I cannot really explain what happened. I’ve often likened it to a religious experience. This jazz music, created in 1959, moved me deeply. But not in a way I can put my finger on. All I know is that when it was done, something had moved inside of me.

MilesDavis.KindOfBlueRemastered1-300x300

I tried to recreate the experience, but once something like this happens, it is hard to ever reinvent the the feeling. I still love listening to Kind of Blue, but it is always in the shadow of that first time.

Then last weekend I was talking to my music teacher, Tom, about writing songs. We discussed writing music and writing lyrics, the processes involved. Then he mentioned Kind of Blue. “Those songs don’t need lyrics,” he said. “It is all said in the harmonics and melodies of the music.”

Tom had named what I had been unable to verbalize. I was so stunned by what he said, I couldn’t even respond. That was what I had experienced. It is in the music. Words are not needed.

Somehow, during that Twilight Wine evening fifteen years ago, I heard all I needed to hear come through the currents and rhythms of a master and his band. When I said it was like a religious experience it is because it spoke to me on a level that I did not have direct access to. Trying to paint any fancy words on the experience diminishes it somehow.

So that’s it. Twilight, wine, and Miles.

Nothing more needs to be said.

(344) Dangling Conversation

This morning I stepped out onto the lanai at around 5:30 a.m. to say my prayers. I listened to the frogs conversing across the lake. One would croak, and then across the way another. After a bit I realized there were three frogs involved. Sometimes there would be a break in their croaks. That brought to mind the phrase “dangling conversation.” I would be eagerly awaiting the next croak that would not come.

“The Dangling Conversation” is a song written by Paul Simon and performed on Simon and Garfunkel’s album “Sounds of Silence.” I looked up the words today and, although it has nothing to do with frogs, it certainly has a lot to say about relationships. I have contended for many years that Simon is our greatest American songwriter, and this is another example of why. You don’t even have to know the song to appreciate the poetry in these lyrics. How he could evoke something like this at such a young age is truly marvelous.

Every year I think I am going to do a lyric study with my students on Paul Simon’s songs.  Reading these words makes me think once again what a great unit it could be. This song along is so full of subtle metaphor and hints of who these people are. My favorite: “And I only kiss your shadow…”

It’s a still-life watercolor
Of a now late afternoon
As the sun shines through the curtain lace
And shadows wash the room
And we sit and drink our coffee
Couched in our indifference
Like shells upon the shore
You can hear the ocean roar
In the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
The borders of our lives

And you read your Emily Dickinson
And I my Robert Frost
And we note our places with bookmarkers
That measure what we’ve lost
Like a poem poorly written
We are verses out of rhythm
Couplets out of rhyme
In syncopated time
And the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
Are the borders of our lives

Yes,we speak of thing that matter
With words that must be said
“Can analysis be worthwhile?”
“Is the theatre really dead?”
And how the room is softly faded
And I only kiss your shadow
I cannot feel your hand
You’re a stranger now unto me
Lost in the dangling conversation
And the superficial sighs
In the borders of our lives

 

(173) Cycles and Seeds, Part Three

This is the final installment of “Cycles and Seeds” — songs, poem, and other connections to the theme of fathers and sons.

*7*

REGRET

“The Living Years” written by B.A. Robertson and Mike Rutherford Recorded by Mike and the Mechanics

Significant Lyrics:

I wasn’t there that morning

When my Father passed away

I didn’t get to tell him

All the things I had to say

I think I caught his spirit

Later that same year

I’m sure I heard his echo

In my baby’s new born tears

I just wish I could have told him in the living years

My thoughts: Much of this song is about regret — how we do not and cannot get the words out when someone is alive, and to tell them what it is we really want to say.  This song seems to carry a lot of frustration and anger, yet lifts up at the end with the stanzas I included above. With the passing of the father and then a new born child, the cycle continues. We can only hope we can do better next time. This song pairs well with the Hayden poem “Those Winter Sundays.” When we are young, we miss so many things, are so unaware. It can only lead to regret, which then leads to hope for better days.

Text Connection:  last section from “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden

Sundays too my father got up early

And put his clothes on in the blueback cold,

then with cracked hands that ached

from labor in the weekday weather made

banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.

When the rooms were warm, he’d call,

and slowly I would rise and dress,

fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,

who had driven out the cold

and polished my good shoes as well.

What did I know, what did I know

of love’s austere and lonely offices?

*8*

GRATITUDE

“Everything I Own” written by David Gates

Recorded by Bread

Significant Lyrics:

You taught me how to love

What it’s of, what it’s of

You never said too much,

But still you showed the way

And I knew from watching you

Nobody else could ever know,

The part of me that can’t let go 

And I would give anything I own, 

I’d give up my life, my heart, my home

I would give everything I own, 

Just to have you back again

My thoughts: If not listening closely, one might think this is your normal love song. And in a sense it is.  David Gates wrote this after his father passed away, and it found a special place in my heart when I knew that about the song. It is gentle, and somewhat eulogizing. But mostly it is about the need for being thankful for what once was. What our fathers deliver to us — in their presence or their absence — is the stuff of which our lives are made.  The cycles are eternal, and the seeds we throw should be worthy of us. Mostly, no matter our relationship, no matter the anger or the pain or the joy, we must keep moving forward. The final legacy for each of us is that our fathers had a part in giving life to us.  And for that, we are grateful.

Text Connection:  last two stanzas of “Throw Yourself Like Seed” by Miguel De Unamuno

Throw yourself like seed as you walk, and into your own field,

don’t turn your face for that would be to turn it to death,

and do not let the past weight down your motion.

Leave what’s in the furrow, what’s dead in yourself,

for life does not move in the same way as a group of clouds;

from your work you will be able to one day gather yourself.

(160) The Guitar

Yesterday I came upon the poem “The Orange” by Wendy Cope.  I had forgotten all about this poem, but it is one that I knew.  I used it as a model for my own poem (see below).

The Orange

By Wendy Cope

At lunchtime I bought a huge orange
The size of it made us all laugh.
I peeled it and shared it with Robert and Dave—
They got quarters and I had a half.

And that orange it made me so happy,
As ordinary things often do
Just lately. The shopping. A walk in the park
This is peace and contentment. It’s new.

The rest of the day was quite easy.
I did all my jobs on my list
And enjoyed them and had some time over.
I love you. I’m glad I exist.

image
September 1997 with my new guitar.

I decided I wanted to write about the guitar I just brought out of years of storage.  Why I haven’t played  it…well, lots of reasons.  The poem tells a little more of the story.  I broke down Cope’s poem into syllable counts and rhyme scheme.  I also included an almost identical last line because let’s face it, that line really rocks and is what makes the poem memorable.

The Guitar

by Helen Sadler

Last weekend I unearthed my Martin,
A guitar from my long ago past.
I vowed it was time to play it once again.
Just strumming it really was a blast.

When I bought it I had a vision
Of myself playing my own song.
It has never come to be, but now — maybe.
Meanwhile, I have songs to play along.

So, sweet Martin guitar, you’re back.
This time I swear I will persist.
No matter our journey, one thing is for sure
I love you. I’m glad you exist.

I read the poem to my husband Jim and he suggested that maybe this is my first song. He says all it needs is a chorus.  I’m not so sure about that, but hey, time will tell.