Posts Tagged ‘Gwyneth Moreland’

Sugar Mornings

Monday, January 13th, 2020

the improvisor

Last week’s blog entry recounted the origin of the song “You Are The One” from my new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven. Readers continue to let me know they’re enjoying these song origin stories, so now I’ll tell the story of the instrumental ‘Sugar Mornings’, Track 7 on Lounge Act In Heaven.

When I was in my mid-thirties I made my one and only attempt to write my autobiography. I thought I should first write something about my parents’ lives to set the scene for my birth. Then I realized to do my folks justice I should write about their parents, too. But to understand my grandparents, the reader would need to know about their parents, my great grandparents, and how they got to America and California. When I found myself mired in a seventeen page description of life in a Jewish village in Poland in the 1870s, I gave up the autobiography and returned to fiction.

I feel a little bit this way about ‘Sugar Mornings’ because the life from which the music sprang is most of the story.

My parents were children and teenagers during the Great Depression. Thus though they were fast moving up from barely scraping by to middle class by the time I was born, they continued to live frugally and raised my siblings and me to be frugal, too. When each of us turned twelve, we were expected to earn our own money for things other than food, basic clothing, and the utility bills. My older sisters became zealous babysitters and I pulled weeds for neighbors and babysat, too.

To say that my parents were neurotic about money is a grand understatement. As a teenager, I was well aware that my parents were by then wealthy compared to most Americans, yet they pinched every penny and were painfully ungenerous to their progeny. This had a huge impact on my siblings and me and would shape the courses of our lives.

When I dropped out of college at nineteen, I reckoned the less money I needed in order to survive, the more time I would have to work on my stories and novels and songs. So for the next ten years I lived on next to nothing and could get everything I owned onto a Greyhound bus with me whenever I needed to pick up and move. Save for a couple idyllic years of living in communes in Santa Cruz, I rarely had an easy time making ends meet from week to week.

Then in 1978 Doubleday published my novel Inside Moves. And though the book was nearly remaindered (taken out of print) before publication day, Inside Moves had a big pre-publication paperback sale followed by a movie sale. (You can read the remarkable history of Inside Moves on the Inside Moves page of my web site.)

And so for the first time since dropping out of college I had so much money I didn’t have to worry about paying the rent and having enough money for groceries.

In 1979 I rented a little cottage in Santa Cruz and gave myself fulltime to writing and composing. Heaven. What’s more I fell in love with a woman who I fervently hoped would return the favor. And though she did not, my infatuation with her inspired several songs including ‘Sugar Mornings’.

The title came from a letter I wrote to a friend, the letter lost, the gist remembered. I call these mornings when I wake free of worry, sugar mornings, the sweetest mornings I’ve ever known.

I wrote lyrics for ‘Sugar Mornings’ at the time I composed the music, but after all these decades I only remember the first few lines. “Sugar mornings and midnight dreams, lying here by myself it seems, kinda crazy that you are there, faraway and…”

This past summer, the summer of 2019, forty years after composing ‘Sugar Mornings’, and just a few weeks after I brought out my album Dream of You, I was noodling around on the piano one evening and stumbled on the beginning of ‘Sugar Mornings’. I hadn’t played the piece in many years and might have let the tune sink back into the depths had not Marcia heard me playing and said, “I hope you’re going to put that on your next album.”

To which I replied, “I will if you’ll play a cello part.”

She said she would play a cello part and that inspired me to learn ‘Sugar Mornings’ again. I do not read music, so everything I compose must be practiced many times to take hold and not be forgotten. After much hunting around and many dozens of run-throughs, I was able to play ‘Sugar Mornings’ again with confidence and élan.

Peter Temple came to my house to record the piano parts for Lounge Act In Heaven. We then gave those piano parts, including ‘Sugar Mornings’, to Gwyneth Moreland who came up with delightful accordion parts for all the songs. When her part for ‘Sugar Mornings’ was recorded and roughly mixed with my piano part, I gave the mix to Marcia and she composed her cello part. After we recorded Marcia’s cello part, Peter and I mixed the three parts, played the new mix for Marcia, she made suggestions, we refined the mix again, and so forth. Eventually we came up with the version of ‘Sugar Mornings’ you can hear on Lounge Act In Heaven, what one friend called “a sweet nostalgic soundtrack for the opening and ending credits of a classic French film yet to be made.”

Light Song

Monday, December 30th, 2019

after storm sky


Last week’s blog entry recounted the origin of ‘A Wedding Song’, one of the twelve songs on my new album Lounge Act In Heaven. Having heard from readers that they enjoyed hearing the history of that song, I will now describe how the title Lounge Act In Heaven came to me and also tell the origin story of ‘Light Song’, the last song on the album.

(Aside: I grew up in the era of concept albums, when the order of songs was very important to both recording artists and those listening to their albums. Thus today I still put lots of thought into the order of the songs on my albums, though the streaming downloading web-crawling algorithms care little for that sort of thing.)

In the spring of 2019, I produced my CD of songs Dream of You on which I collaborated for the first time with Gwyneth Moreland, a marvelous singer and accordion player, Mendocino music celebrity, and my neighbor. A raft of new songs were inspired by our collaboration and I invited Gwyneth to come hear the new songs and try some harmonizing, and to see how her accordion playing sounded with my guitar and piano playing.

We began with five guitar songs for which her delightful accordion playing and singing were just what I was looking for. Then we moved to the piano and I played and sang two of the piano tunes. Again, her accordion and singing seemed ideal for those songs. And then I began to play ‘Light Song’, a song I wrote many years ago but had never recorded, though it is one of my all-time favorites.

I began to play the slow ceremonial progression, Gwyneth found a lovely accordion accompaniment, and then something rare and wonderful happened: Marcia emerged from her studio with her cello and joined us—the music of our trio as beautiful as anything I have ever heard.

The next day I wrote to my friend Max and said, “While playing ‘Light Song’ with Gwyneth and Marcia, I felt I was in a lounge act in heaven.”

I wrote the piano music for ‘Light Song’ circa 1994, the year before I moved to Berkeley from Sacramento. My inspiration came from a modern dance concert I attended in a small theatre in Davis. I was so taken by one of the dances that I went back the next night to see that particular dance again.

The name of the dance and the accompanying music elude my memory now, but I remember the dance was marvelously ceremonial, four women entering in stately procession, priestesses, each of them slowly and gracefully finding her place on the stage.

I was under the spell of that dance for the next several weeks and improvised many piano pieces I imagined as accompaniments to ceremonies. Out of those improvisations came the processional ‘Light Song’.

A decade later, while I was living in Berkeley, my mother died and came to me in a dream at the moment of her death. She was young and beautiful as I remembered her from my childhood. As she approached me, she metamorphosed into two translucent discs, each the size of a small butterfly that fluttered to the ground and dissolved into the soil.

In describing the dream to a friend I wrote, “Maybe there is no end, only transformation.”

Over the next few years whenever I played the music for ‘Light Song’ I would improvise lyrics, and the first line to stick was, “Here there are no endings, only tides of change.” But it was not until I moved to Mendocino in 2006 and became a denizen of the redwoods that the rest of the lyrics came to me.

th_Ceremonies-489

In 2011 I created an album of ceremonial piano improvisations entitled Ceremonies, my most successful album to date if Internet radio plays are indicators of success, but I did not include “Light Song” on that album. Something kept me from recording ‘Light Song’ until just the right elements arrived to join my voice and piano—Gwyneth’s voice and accordion, and Marcia’s cello.

 Light Song

here there are no endings

only tides of change

here the path goes ever wending

through the forests born of rain

 

there’s a shadow of a raven

gliding over fields of stone

life and light have found each other

we are none of us alone

 

come with me and join the dancing

add your voice to evening’s song

find a place to watch the turning

of the day to night and dawn

 

give yourself to silent wonder

shout your feelings to the sky

bless this chance to share the gift of life

never mind the reasons why

A Wedding Song

Monday, December 23rd, 2019

town beach

I’ve just come out with a new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven and I’d like to tell you the origin of one of the songs: A Wedding Song.

On a rainy winter’s eve circa 2001 I was sitting in the living room of the house I was renting in Berkeley, noodling on my guitar, when I happened to noodle upon a progression of chords that made a pleasing three-part song. At the time of this propitious noodling I was the daily babysitter for Conor, the one-year-old child of my neighbors Karen and Scotty. Karen loved my new three-part song and asked me to play it for the processional at their upcoming wedding, which I did.

th_istealmybicycle-550

A year or so later I was making a CD of three of my short stories entitled I Steal My Bicycle & other stories, and I recorded songs without words to go before and after each of the three stories on the album. I played guitar and Adrian West accompanied me on violin. The last of the songs on that album is Karen’s wedding processional, which I entitled Wedding Song.

I Steal My Bicycle came out in 2003 and all these years later Wedding Song is still occasionally streamed or downloaded by somebody somewhere in the world, no doubt because the title is Wedding Song. You can listen to the instrumental on YouTube or stream and/or download from your favorite sites. Or you can get the CD with three fab short stories and groovalicious instrumental music for just five bucks from my web site.

Over the ensuing years, I would occasionally play the progression of chords for Wedding Song so I wouldn’t forget how the song went; and I would try out a lyric or two, but nothing ever caught.

Fast forward to early 2019. I collaborated with local vocal wizard Gwyneth Moreland for the first time on my CD of songs Dream of You. Inspired by working with Gwyneth, I wrote a bevy of new songs, and while I was writing them, my friend Max Greenstreet released his wonderful half-hour movie Guys.

I watched Guys three times in four days, and then over the next few weeks watched my favorite parts of the movie several more times.

And then I had an epiphany. One of the things I love most about Guys is that much of the dialogue is composed of intriguing questions for the viewer to ponder.

This epiphany led me to wonder: what if I wrote lyrics to Wedding Song composed entirely of the kinds of questions prospective marriage partners might ask each other? Might such a composition make a compelling song? You bet it might.

So I started creating a list of such questions, and whilst making my list, Marcia and I went to supper at Bill and Sally Fletcher’s house and the four of us brainstormed about such questions and I took copious notes. After accumulating hundreds of potential courtship questions, I began fitting the most compelling questions to the music until I completed the song, which I entitled A Wedding Song to distinguish it from Wedding Song.

For A Wedding Song, Gwyneth plays accordion, I play guitar, and we sing the song as a duet with a couple extra Gwyneth vocal tracks here and there throughout the song. You can hear our rendition on YouTube, or you can add a few pennies to my coffers by downloading or streaming the song (or the entire CD) from your favorite music site.

Here are the lyrics to A Wedding Song.

 

Are you a day person or a night owl?

Do you like traveling by train?

Would you like to go out walking with me?

When it starts to rain?

 

What’s your earliest memory?

Where in the world do you feel most free?

Wanna go for Thai food with me?

 

Who was your first great love?

Are you always early or always late?

When did you stop believing in Santa Claus?

Do you believe in luck or fate?

 

How old were you when you started to talk?

Have you ever run a marathon?

What’s your go-to comfort food?

How do you feel about puns?

 

Do you have a favorite song?

Wanna sing it and I’ll sing along?

Oh come on now it might be fun.

 

What’s your favorite ethnic cuisine?

Who’s your favorite movie star?

What really really pushes your buttons?

Can you imagine a world without war?

 

What do you like to do for fun?

Are you a gourmet cook?

Are you a cat person or a dog person?

Have you got a favorite book?

 

Do you remember your dreams?

What if life is not what it seems?

Would it be okay with you if I needed to scream?

 

Did you have a happy childhood?

What’s your favorite holiday?

What would you do if you suddenly got a million dollars?

Would you give it all away?

 

When was your first real kiss?

Do you like poetry?

Who is your very best friend?

It’s okay if it’s not me.

 

What do you really want to be?

Can you imagine living with me?

You’d wake up and there I’d be?

 

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?

What makes you laugh and cry?

If you could have just one super power,

Would it be that you could fly?

 

So I guess the big question is:

Will you marry me?

Merge your heart and soul with mine,

Share a destiny?

 

Let us never be afraid

To say the things we need to say

Trusting love to show us the way

loungeact-front

 

Dream of You

Monday, June 3rd, 2019

th_dreamofyoucover-122

Hello dear readers, I’m pleased to announce the birth of my new album Dream of You, featuring nine of my original songs for guitar, piano, and voice. One of these tunes was written forty-eight years ago, and two were written in the last year. The primary guitar tracks and vocals were recorded simultaneously to give the songs a live feeling, with Marcia’s gorgeous cello and Gwyneth Moreland’s splendid vocal harmonies adding magic to the mix.

You can buy copies of Dream of You from my web site for 5 dollars each, plus a flat rate shipping fee of 6 dollars no matter how much stuff you buy from my web site, or you can download the whole album for 6 dollars from CD Baby, or download individual songs from CD Baby for just 69 cents per song. Such a deal!

The album is also available for downloading and streaming from iTunes and Amazon and Spotify and Apple Music. Or you can listen to the songs on YouTube. If you do take a listen and enjoy what you hear, I hope you’ll share this article and links with your music-loving friends.

I’m now at work on a new batch of songs inspired by the satisfying creative experience of working with Marcia and Gwyneth and Peter Temple in his Albion studio.

Here are some brief notes about the songs on Dream of You.

Wake Up Thinking About You

Written thirty years ago as a slow smoky blues, I never got around to recording this tune until now. When I was learning the song again for this album, I sped up the tempo, added some swing, some piano, some Gwyneth harmony, and I love the joyous feel.

Strange Confusion

This song is twenty years old. I’ve long imagined harmony parts and was thrilled when we got them all in place. I sang two additional vocal tracks, Gwyneth sang two, too, and I love how groovy the song feels now.

Dream of You

This is the newest tune on the album, composed a few months before we recorded the initial guitar and vocal track. After a ten-year break from playing the guitar to focus on my piano playing, this recounting of a lucid dream was the first new song to come to me as I was regaining my guitar chops.

Alone and Lonely

I wrote this song almost fifty years ago. A vagabond in those days, I spent hundreds of hours standing by the sides of roads hitchhiking. This tune was born in those long hours of playing guitar while waiting for a ride and hoping for happier times.

Nothing Anybody Says

This is my newest piano tune, written within the last year. I imagined singing this love song with a fine female vocalist, and Gwyneth surpassed my imaginings.

Whole Lotta Kissing

I wrote this tune in Berkeley, circa 2000, following a painful dismissal by a woman who clearly (erroneously) thought she was too good for the likes of me.

Hey Baby

I was broke and lonely and pining for an old love when I wrote this song in Seattle in 1977. I imagined Bonnie Raitt singing this song, and over the ensuing twenty years I tried to get it to her without success. This song also forms the basis for my novel Night Train.

Agnes June

I wrote the words for this song in 1970 in New York City. A young German composer asked me to write lyrics for operatic lieder, and this was my favorite of the several poems I created for him, none of which he used. I found the lyrics in my guitar case some years later and put them to music. Gwyneth’s beautiful harmonies thrill me every time I listen to this song.

One Last Time

I wrote this song in Sacramento in 1989 and first performed it in an art gallery as part of a two-man show with the fine poet and artist D.R. Wagner. A song of resurrection and the healing power of love.

th_dreamofyoucover-122