The Way Things Go

composing a letter to the aliens

Last week’s blog entry recounted the origin of the song “Sugar Mornings” from my new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven. Since posting that article I got an email from a fellow in Virginia asking if the song ‘The Way Things Go’ is true. So…here are some origin tidbits about ‘The Way Things Go,’ Track #1 on Lounge Act In Heaven.

One of my favorite things about writing songs is the myriad ways in which the songs arrive. Sometimes I’ll be improvising on the piano, I’ll start to sing without knowing what words I might use, and out comes a line or two of a song. This beginning may not grow into something more, but sometimes the words and melody are compelling enough to pursue. Or I’ll be somewhere without a musical instrument, writing a letter or a story or just thinking, and a line will come to me that seems made for music. Lately I’ve been inventing catchy chord progressions on the guitar that inspire me to sing, and this has resulted in two new songs.

I composed the rhythmic pattern of guitar chords for ‘The Way Things Go’ in 1995 when I was forty-six. I had just moved to Berkeley and was recovering from a difficult ten-year marriage. The first words I wrote to go with that pattern of chords told a bitter tale of betrayal and broken promises. The song was not so much about my marriage as it was about a mythical relationship made of parts of several relationships I’d been in where money or the lack of it trumped love every time.

Singing that bitter ode was cathartic for me, but I was not inclined to share the song with friends or audiences for a few years because I was pretty sure anyone but me would find the song difficult to listen to. When I did finally perform the song a few times for other people, the song proved to be the massive bummer I thought it would be, so I retired the words and hung onto the pleasing chord progression.

Fast forward to 2019. Playing guitar again after a ten-year hiatus, I rediscovered the chord progression that would become ‘The Way Things Go’ and after just a few iterations of the progression sang, “Ricky and Kathy were lovers in high school, then Ricky went away to war.”

The hair on the back of my neck tingled pleasantly and I knew I was onto something. I wrote the rest of the words over the next few weeks and loved the song so much I was going to name my album The Way Things Go until Lounge Act In Heaven came along and won the title contest.

Would I say the lyrics of ‘The Way Things Go’ tell a true story? Yes. A true story composed of truths from many stories, some about me, some about people I’ve known, some about people I’ve imagined, and some about people I’ve watched from afar. I also think the song is very true to our time.

The Way Things Go


Ricky and Kathy were lovers in high school

Then Ricky went away to war

Kathy fell in love with a used car salesman

Five kids by 24


Ricky came back from Afghanistan

He didn’t know how to be,

So he wandered down to Hollywood

Landed in a situation comedy


I’m not making this up

That’s the way things go

The way things start is never how they finish

I thought you’d like to know

That’s the way things go


Now Ricky played the part of Larry Dorfman

A guy with a checkered past

Larry’s wife Camille a stewardess,

teenagers Lisa and Chaz


And as long as he was Larry Dorfman

Ricky knew how to be

But away from the set of the sit-com

He was all at sea


This is all completely true

That’s the way things go

The way things start is never how they finish

Don’t you know

It’s the way things go


Well that show ran for seven seasons

And Ricky became a big star

Mansion in Malibu, New York penthouse

Million-dollar car


Then they made him a super hero

In a billion-dollar flick

He fell madly in love with his co-star Vicky

Otherwise known as Vick


This is all completely true

That’s the way things go

The way things start is never how they finish

Thought you’d like to know


Now Vicky as it happened was a mystical master

with a bent for Psychology

And she knew from the minute she met him

Ricky didn’t know how to be


But she loved the size and the color of his aura,

loved the way they clicked in the sack

So she made it her life’s work to heal him, yeah

To bring old Ricky back


This is the truth!

That’s the way things go

The way things start is never how they finish

Don’t you know it’s the way things go


Now the irony of Vicky healing Ricky

Was that once Ricky knew how to be

He quit making movies and bought a farm

And started planting trees


He and Vicky had a baby named Venus,

They adopted another three

Tino, Gina, and Esmeralda

And they all learned how to be

From their mom and dad,

Some pretty good ways, such as


Be loving and kind to each other,

share what you have to spend,

make love not war, use solar power,

treat the earth as your mother and friend.


Yeah that’s the way to go, yeah.

That’s the way to go.

You start things right, you’ll have a good finish,

At least I hope that’s so

It’s the way things go

But you never know