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Delineations

log dyad

Though they are as different as night and day, they like hanging out together. They are about the same size. They both enjoy surfing and sunbathing and meditating. They are both existentialists. They sometimes think about getting married, but they are each fiercely independent. So they entrust their lives to fate and tides and currents and love bumping into each other here and there along their ways.

vast beach

We love to go to the beach when the tide is very low. We head north across the great expanse of sand, wandering somewhat aimlessly because there is no path. We revel in the aimlessness. That’s part of the reason we go to the beach when the tide is way out and the expanse of sand is vast, so we can wander aimlessly yet also be together.

beach path

A few beach visits ago we found the tracks of a vehicle in the sand, most likely made by a park ranger’s truck since no other vehicles are allowed on the beach. And because the tracks delineated a path, we walked on the path for a while, our aimless wandering given direction and boundaries for a few moments. We both expressed surprise and delight at having a well-defined path to follow. 

big river slide

When the path ended we resumed our more improvisational rambling and soon forgot there had ever been a path.

gull reflections

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Vietnam

Inside Moves 3

Cold sunny day, I’m having a sandwich on our south deck, sitting next to the clothes drying on the line, the sun brilliantly illuminating my inside-out black T-shirt and Marcia’ inside-out black blouse. And I notice that both pieces of clothing have labels that say Made In Vietnam. Out of curiosity, I take off one of my shoes bought from REI and the label says Made In Vietnam.

I am struck hard by the realization that from 1963, when I was thirteen and went on my first anti-war march, until I published my first novel in 1978, a novel narrated by a disabled Vietnam veteran, that the Vietnam War and the countless repercussions of that terrible conflict had a greater influence on my life than almost anything else.

ash pile

The American military killed millions of Vietnamese people in an invasion and occupation that lasted more than a decade. Sixty thousand American soldiers died during that senseless war. Several hundred thousand more American soldiers were physically and emotionally disabled by the war, and hundreds of thousands of those soldiers committed suicide in the years following their return to America.

Our culture and politics were entirely transformed by the ways in which we, as individuals and a society, reacted to that ongoing tragedy.

 

made in vietnam

Today, forty-five years after the last American troops were withdrawn from Vietnam, many of the clothes and shoes Americans wear are made in Vietnam, and Vietnam is now a popular tourist destination for people from all over the world, including many Americans.

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birds and monster and dog

Every day a man drives his old car into Mendocino, parks across the street from the old Oddfellows Hall, and throws food scraps out for the ravens.

meeting of the minds

We came upon a beached sea monster.

beached sea monster

 

They started their family in a seasonal pond near the high school and then decided to move to the islands just off the headlands. To get to their new home, they had to walk through town.

the geese family part 2

The gulls gather at the mouth of Big River.

big river gulls

 

 

Molly waits patiently for the humans to get the ball rolling again.

dog and ball

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Studio Time

jennysletter

This is the story of a song that came out a finished work the first time I played it, never having played it before. This had never happened to me with a song that has both music and words. Which is to say, I have improvised piano tunes that were finished works, though I could never repeat them exactly as I played them the first time. But music and lyrics in their finished form the first time I played a song? Definitely a first.

Which reminds me, if I may briefly digress, of the one short story I’ve written in my fifty years of writing stories when the first draft was the final draft, and that turned out to be one of my most popular stories, Of Water and Melons. I recorded it for CD of stories I Steal My Bicycle and other stories. And you can listen to my reading of Of Water and Melons on YouTube.

Now back to the song story.

So… the basic guitar parts, piano parts, and my vocals for eleven songs on my new album Lounge Act In Heaven were recorded and I had a three-week wait before I could get back into Peter Temple’s studio to do more work on the album. Meanwhile, Gwyneth Moreland was listening to those eleven songs and figuring out her accordion parts and vocal harmonies.

I had been practicing those eleven songs every day for months. Now that they were recorded to my liking I no longer needed to play them, so I turned my attention to working out second guitar parts and vocal harmonies, though those would mostly have to wait until I heard what Gwyneth came up with.

And I resumed my usual practice of improvising on both piano and guitar and hunting around for appealing patterns of chords and neato melodies.

On a beautiful fall morning, about two weeks before Gwyneth would begin recording her parts for the songs, I picked up my guitar and played high up on the guitar neck a repeating pattern of three jazzy chords and sang in a plaintive voice, “Got my songs together, waiting on studio time. Got my songs together, waiting on studio time, studio time.”

Then without pausing, I shifted to a classic rock n’ roll chord progression and sang, “If I make a million from my music, this is what I’m gonna do, build me a super duper studio for me and you, get a super duper engineer, on call twenty-four hours. We can work there night and day, maximize our power.”

Again without pausing I went back up the neck to the high jazzy chords and repeated, “Got my songs together, waiting on studio time. Got my songs together, waiting on studio time, studio time.”

Then I played the rock progression again and repeated, “If I make a million from my music, this is what I’m gonna do, build me a super duper studio for me and you, get a super duper engineer, on call twenty-four hours. We can work there night and day, maximize our power.”

Song finished, I put down my guitar and went outside and had a good laugh because the song struck me as both a funny satire and an honest elucidation of my impatience to get back to work on the songs for Lounge Act In Heaven. In a wholly unanticipated outburst, I’d composed an anthem to the adolescent fantasies of millions of wannabe rock stars who imagine the only thing standing between them and stardom is studio time. That is to say, when I was young, before the advent of digital everything and YouTube, aspiring musicians everywhere longed for studio time.

I played the song again, wrote down the words, practiced the song many times, and when I finally got back in the studio I recorded the groovy tune in one take. And while recording the song, never having done this before, I spoke the line “Shred it Johnny” between the rock progression and the high jazzy.

I really loved how the song turned out and thought I’d like to find a hot lead guitar player to play hot lead guitar on the instrumental sections. But after Gwyneth came up with a groovy accordion part and I recorded a vocal harmony, I thought I’d face my lead guitar demons and take a crack at playing lead. After lots of practicing, we recorded my lead guitar parts and I was happy with the results. Shred it Toddy.

Studio Time

Got my songs together, waiting on studio time

Got my songs together, waiting on studio time

Studio time, studio time

 

If I make a million from my music, this is what I’m gonna do

Build me a super duper studio for me and you

Get a super duper engineer, on call twenty-four hours

We can work there night and day, maximize our power

Shred it Johnny

 

Got my songs together, waiting on studio time

Got my songs together, waiting on studio time

Studio time

 

If I make a million from my music, this is what I’m gonna do

Build me a super duper studio for me and you

Get a super duper engineer, on call twenty-four hours

We can work there night and day, maximize our power

Shred it Johnny

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Sometimes It Seems

 

gwyneth tray

So there I was in early 2019 in our house a mile inland from Mendocino, creating songs for Lounge Act In Heaven. New music and lyrics were coming with ease and I was also writing words for music I’d written years ago but had never gotten around to recording. A most exciting creative time for me.

One morning I was in my office/studio and said aloud to the unseen ones, my main audience these days, “I want to write a calypso.”

The minute I said the word calypso I thought of Harry Belafonte, a vastly important person to me when I was a young music-hungry kid in a household with a non-musical father and a musical mother who only played the piano and sang songs from the 1920s and 30s when she, as Paul McCartney put it, had a bellyful of wine. I loved standing beside her and singing along as she played from a Tams-Witmark songbook and sang the old songs in her beautiful soprano.

It’s only a shanty in old shanty town,

the roof is so slanty it touches the ground,

In a tumbled down shack by the old railroad track,

like a millionaire’s mansion it’s calling me back

The records I remember my mother playing when I was little, and those records only rarely, were a couple Mills Brothers albums (which I loved singing along to) and Artie Shaw’s big band hits, which my parents played and danced to at every party they ever gave. We also had a read along/sing along album of Winnie the Pooh. When Winnie sang Tum Tum Tiddle Iddle Um Tum Tum I was supposed to turn the page. That was our home music scene until…

1957. I was eight. A movie called Island In the Sun starring Harry Belafonte came out that year, caused a national sensation, and made Harry an even bigger star than he already was. Island In the Sun was such a big deal culturally that shortly after the movie came out every sophisticated household and many quasi-sophisticated households in America had Harry Belafonte’s hit album Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean.

I will never forget the first time my mother put Belafonte Sings of the Caribbean on our old monophonic record player. I came out of my room like a moth drawn to a flame, listened breathlessly to the heavenly songs for the duration of Side One, then dashed to the record player, turned the record over, camped by the speaker for all of Side Two, and then turned the record over and started Side One again. I must have listened to that album from start to finish five hundred times over the next few years, and my mother occasionally played the album while she made dinner for the first few years we had the record, so I came to associate supper with calypso.

My favorite song from that album was ‘Cordelia Brown’. Oh Cordelia Brown what makes your hair so red? Oh Cordelia Brown what makes your hair so red? They say you come out in the sunshine with nothing on your head. Oh Cordelia Brown, what makes your hair so red?

When I was ten, I went to Discount Records in Menlo Park and with my very own hard-saved three dollars bought Harry Belafonte’s album Love Is a Gentle Thing, a mix of Calypso songs and folk songs and what in those days were called Negro Spirituals. I played the album countless times and still remember several of the songs sixty years later, including ‘All My Trials’. If living were a thing that money could buy, you know the rich would live and the poor would die. All my trials lord, soon be over.

Some months later, I bought another Harry Belafonte album, brought it home, took the album out of the Discount Record bag, and was horrified to find I’d somehow brought home the wrong record. The man on the cover was African American and wearing dark glasses. His name was Ray Charles. How was this possible?  I had watched the record store clerk put the Harry Belafonte album in the bag and hand the bag to me. Was the clerk a sleight-of-hand genius? And why had he given me a record by someone named Ray Charles and not Harry Belafonte?

Then I turned the album over and here was Harry Belafonte. Seems in those days record companies would release promotional albums that paired two of their recording artists on the same LP so the popularity of one might aid the popularity of the other.

Now here is something I find interesting about me, and maybe about people in general. For the first six months of owning that Harry/Ray album, I listened over and over to the Harry Belafonte side and steadfastly avoided the Ray Charles side.

Then one fateful rainy Saturday, having exhausted the indoor resources of our house and being a bit weary of Harry Belafonte, I lowered the needle onto the first cut of the Ray Charles side, the song ‘CC Ryder’. When Ray began to play the piano in a way I had never heard anyone play the piano and sing in a high plaintive voice unlike any voice I had ever heard, I only listened for a moment before I lifted the needle from the record. Why? Because Ray’s music and his incredibly emotional singing seemed like something I was not supposed to hear, something frightening and forbidden and dangerous.

A little while later on that same rainy Saturday, my mother announced she was going to Macy’s, did anyone want to go with her? My sisters and brother all jumped at the chance to get out of the house and my father was at work, which meant I would have the place all to myself.

When my mother and siblings were gone, I returned to the living room, lowered the needle on Ray Charles singing ‘CC Ryder’, and seven songs later I was a totally different cat and rarely listened to Harry Belafonte after that.

My parents loathed the Ray Charles side of that record, so I only played it when they were not around until we got a stereo with a headphone jack, and thereafter headphones were the salvation of my musical life.

So I lived another sixty years without listening to Harry Belafonte, but his songs and timing and phrasing were ingrained in me and I wanted to write a Calypso song. I spent several days hunting around on my guitar until I found a calypso-like chord pattern I loved, and when I’d mastered the pattern, I started scat singing with Harry’s calypso phrasing, and out came ‘Sometimes It Seems’.

One of the things I loved about Harry’s calypso songs was that no matter what the songs were about, they sounded sweet and hopeful, and that’s what I aimed for with ‘Sometimes It Seems’.

In his commodious recording studio, Peter Temple set up three microphones and we tried a couple takes of ‘Sometimes It Seems’ with me playing the guitar and singing. I was not happy with the rhythmic consistency of my guitar playing, so we recorded the guitar part first, which allowed me to focus entirely on the somewhat tricky chord changes without the distraction of trying to sing, too. Once I was happy with the guitar part, we recorded my vocal part, made a rough mix, and gave that mix of voice and guitar to Gwyneth Moreland.

Gwyneth spent some time figuring out her accordion part and a vocal harmony and then came to Peter’s studio. We recorded her accordion track first, then she sang, and we liked her singing so well, we mixed her voice slightly louder than mine, which resulted in a pleasing duet. Then I recorded a second vocal track we placed low in the mix, and voila, a sweet simple calypso song.

Sometimes It Seems

 

Sometimes it seems life’s not fair

And nobody seems to care

Nobody seems to understand

Makes us want to run away to the end of never land

 

But when you dance with me

Our worries disappear

When you sing with me

We overcome our fears

 

So let’s dance together every day

Sing harmony and chase those blues away

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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

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Sugar Mornings

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.”

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You Are The One

Portuguese Beach scale

Last week’s blog entry recounted the origin of “Light Song” and how I came up with the title for my new album of songs Lounge Act In Heaven. Readers seem to be enjoying these song origin stories and I enjoy remembering how these songs came to be, so I thought I’d tell the story of the song ‘You Are The One’ which is Track 11 on Lounge Act In Heaven.

By the way, there is a stirring piano/accordion instrumental entitled ‘Lounge Act In Heaven’ on my CD Lounge Act In Heaven. Track 3.

So… in 1995 I moved from Sacramento to Berkeley and took possession of a large old house on Evelyn Avenue, the diminutive front yard featuring one of the tallest eucalyptus trees in Berkeley. Forty-five and recently divorced, I was excited about starting my life in a new place with clean air and cool summers. I was able to afford the rent on the old house because I signed the rental agreement in 1994, a year or so before rent control ended in Berkeley and rents skyrocketed. This was also at the very beginning of the Dot Com boom that would change Berkeley and the Bay Area forever and force most low-income artists in the Bay Area to move elsewhere. In other words, I snuck in shortly before I couldn’t have possibly snuck in.

I loved living in Berkeley for the first few of the eleven years I eventually lived there. There was no need for me to own a car, delicious ethnic cuisine abounded, and my creative juices were flowing again. I had stopped writing songs for my last several years in Sacramento and I surmise the songs had been mounting up all the while in my heart/brain/spirit because upon arriving in Berkeley many songs burst forth.

‘You Are the One’ was born as a bass line/chord progression played on the guitar. I loved the jazzy feel of the notes and chords, and after a few months of playing the sequence dozens of times every day, I could have lengthy conversations with my friends while playing the progression and never losing the beat. (My friends seemed to enjoy having a guitar soundtrack underpinning our conversations.)

Once the progression was second nature to me, I started singing wordlessly to the music. After some months of singing along using non-word vocal sounds, I had a melody I liked. The first actual words arrived at the end of a verse. “You are the one everybody wants to be with tonight.” I wasn’t sure what the words were referring to, but I liked how they sounded and I liked how they might mean all sorts of things.

One night in September I was sitting in my living room playing the progression and listening to a strong wind off San Francisco Bay blowing the thousands of leaves of the aforementioned gigantic eucalyptus tree in my front yard and I sang, “Listen to the wind as it blows through the trees, listen to her, listen to me.”

Intrigued, I got out pen and paper, wrote the line down—and the rest of the words quickly followed.

A few days later I got a call from an old friend asking me to come to Sacramento to perform in the annual Kerouac reading that would take place in early October. When I lived in Sacramento I participated in this annual homage to Jack Kerouac and his Beat cohorts several times. However, I was no longer interested in those writers, save for Philip Whalen, so I declined the invitation.

The next day that same friend called again and said, “We could really use you on the bill. I’ve kind of already put your name on the fliers and posters and T-shirts and in the press release and… you don’t have to read any Beat stuff if you don’t want to. Just do one of your stories and sing a song.”

Feeling a little nostalgic for my old stomping grounds, I agreed to perform.

When the gala day arrived, I borrowed a car and drove to Sacramento, arriving in the rain at an old warehouse where a hundred or so poets and artists and musicians were gathered to listen to a handful of latter day Beats read Kerouac and do some of their own stuff, too.

We four headliners drew straws and I was up first. I placed the not yet completely memorized lyrics to ‘You Are The One’ on a music stand in front of me and said to the wonderfully attentive audience, “This is a brand new song called ‘You Are The One,’ and for some reason I want to read the lyrics to you before I sing the song.”

Why this got a big laugh I don’t know, but it did, and then I launched into the progression and sang the song. And one verse in, a very good string bass player waiting in the wings started playing a groovy bass accompaniment and a couple gals in the audience joined in with high harmonies on the recurring line ‘You are the one everybody wants to be with tonight,’ and we brought the house down.

During the long intermission, I was approached by several people who said they loved the song, which was nice to hear, but even more interesting was that three of those people, two women and a man, each said they felt I was singing the song especially for them, though I didn’t know any of them. And because I had no solid notion of what the song was about, I was eager to learn what they felt the song was saying to them.

They all said essentially the same thing, which was that the song is a call to overcome our self-doubts and step into our full power so we may bring our gifts to the greater world.

I have subsequently performed ‘You Are The One’ for many audiences, and many people have confided that they felt the song was asking them to overcome their fears and doubts so they might bring their concealed talents to a larger audience.

th_whenlight-351

In 2008, Marcia and I made our first CD of songs together When Light Is Your Garden on which we recorded a slow ceremonial version of ‘You Are The One’. I love that version, especially Marcia’s cello solos, but I have always wanted to record a faster version with a great vocalist singing with me, and that’s what we did for the Lounge Act In Heaven version, Gwyneth Moreland singing with me and playing accordion. I also play lead guitar on the Lounge Act version, which was a big deal for me because… well, first I had to overcome my self-doubts and step into my power.

You Are the One

Listen to the wind as it blows through the trees.

Listen to her and listen to me.

Listen to your heart, and listen to your brain.

Listen to the sweet song of the rain.

Oh my darling, I know this is hard for you to hear,

But you are the one everybody wants to be with tonight

 

Listen to her and listen to me.

We can see what you can’t see.

We have felt your healing touch.

We have known your healing power.

And we believe this is your golden hour,

That you are the one everybody wants to be with tonight

 

Listen to your heart, listen to your brain.

Can you hear what they are saying?

Can you bear the knowledge that you were born

To bear the torch of hope?

Oh I know there’s a part of you that would rather live in secrecy,

But you are the one everybody wants to be with tonight.

 

Listen to the sweet song of the rain.

Listen to the howl of that old night train.

Listen to your feelings.

Listen to this song of our love for you.

You are the one everybody wants to be with tonight.

 

Listen to the wind as it blows through the trees.

Listen to her and listen to me.

Listen to your heart, and listen to your brain.

Listen to the sweet song of the rain.

Oh my darling, do not be afraid,

You are the one everybody wants to be with tonight

loungeact-front

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Light Song

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.

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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

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A Wedding Song

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.

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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

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