The stories behind the songs….
My label has asked me to write extensive liner notes for my songs. I approach the task with a mixture of excitement and trepidation. Most of the songs have a clear and definable inspiration or origin, but what if what I meant for the song to be is not what it is for you? I don’t want to sully your experience of a song by challenging your interpretation. Or what about the songs whose meaning have changed for me over the years? Or what about….. ? Well, you can see what I mean. But the good folks at Enneagram assure me that I will not ruin anyone’s experience by sharing the origins of the songs. So please, even if what you take from my music is different than what I originally set out to give, find meaning where you can and hold on to what works for you or brings you joy.
I wrote I Am when I was part of a women’s trio called Blackbird. Each of us had a verse – maiden, mother crone – our voices coming together in harmony for the final Goddess verse. Every time I sing this song I still hear their voices in my head. I actually feel different with each verse. Whether that is the nature of the song or because of my memory of these wonderful women, I do not know.
What He Missed
I was still a Songwriter’s Circle regular at the time I wrote this, and the monthly challenge was to write a song with a tag. “That’s what he missed…..” As with most of my songs, much of the imagery here is right out of my life. However: “The pictures that she drew on the window, in the winter, with her breath that made the canvas when she saw him outside the window and blew him a kiss….,” was inspired by a scene from the movie Young Sherlock Holmes
You Found Me
“You Found Me” is not the real title of this song. My recording engineer/producer told me I needed a song title related enough to the song that people could remember it. To me, however – and to my closest friends – the song will be forever known as Shorts. Which is short for its original title, I Want My Shorts Back. The song chronicles an experience I had at Heartland, a spiritual festival in Tonganoxie, KS. The experience ended up being just that – an experience. A moment in time. The subject of the song, however, had borrowed my favorite pair of shorts, back when I thought I’d see him again on a regular basis. You can probably guess how things progressed from there. But I liked the song and decided to keep it. …. Oh. I got my shorts back.
High Up in the Air
I performed at the Kansas City Renaissance Festival for several years in a duo called Black Blooded Bohemians. My partner and I got an off-season gig at a castle in Illinois. I think the owner had brought it over in pieces from Europe and re-built it for his wife. (At least, that’s the story I tell….) I had strange dreams while I was there. During the long drive back I kept myself awake by writing High Up in the Air.
Fly was written for the wedding of friends and I got to sing it during the ceremony. (I’m happy to say that they are still together!) “Piece of twine, your hand in mine. Tie the knot….” This line refers to the ancient Celtic custom of binding together the hands of bride and groom to represent the act of binding their lives together. I’ve seen a number of variations on this theme and it is always beautiful.
Clearer in the Night
Several years ago there was a film being shot in Desoto, Kansas. I can’t remember how I heard about it, but they were looking for music for their soundtrack. And more specifically, a theme song for their protagonist. So I set out to write a throw-away bit of Americana. (Yes, this was before I realized how very cool the genre can be. Lesson learned.) I ended up writing a song that I fell so in love with and was so proud of that I couldn’t bear the thought of handing it off to someone else. I had no idea how reputable the film company was or what would happen if my song was chosen, so I took my tune and went home and have been playing it ever since.
When I was an undergrad, my college concert choir sang at Epcot Center. On the way down, we stopped off at several locations for concerts. On the way back, however, we had two drivers and did the drive straight through. This song came almost entirely from the images and sensations I recorded throughout the trip. Someone really did line the back of a seat with post cards covered in palm trees. The paper bag crown? Burger King. I still remember the bus driver asking where he was supposed to go – like I knew! He was confused because he was looking at a larger map, but needed to be looking at Insert A. Another musician had recommended this form of writing – simply recording ideas and images, then stitching them together. I was surprised at how well it worked. The song became a metaphor for… well, all kinds of things. Every listener brings his or her own cloth to the song as well.
One night I was watching a TV show called Mysterious Ways. The episode was called “condemned”, and it’s the only episode I ever saw. The series is about a guy who tries to find explanations for – or proof of – miracles. The main guest character was is a violent criminal who has survived lethal injection. He feels no remorse or responsibility for his actions. He is on death row and convinced he shouldn’t be. The episode focuses on one of the regulars helping the mother of the victim come to terms with bitterness and grief while the main character tries to suss out how the criminal survived. Eventually, the killer comes face-to-face with himself and his actions, and the mother somehow finds a path to some level of forgiveness. The episode ends with the killer going willingly (well, as willingly as one who wants to live can) back into the chamber. He apologizes to the mother and their eyes lock until the chemicals take over and – finally – do their job. I couldn’t get the guy’s eyes out of my head (the character was played by the fabulous William Forsythe). Every Day grew out those eyes.
During a particularly rough transition in my life, I lived in Weston, Missouri for a month, house sitting for my boss. I spent several days sitting outside with my guitar, willing the countryside to inspire me. I was trying far too hard to make something happen. One day I became distracted by the insistent chirping of a nearby bird. And when I say I was distracted, what I really mean is that it was annoying. But I stopped. And I listened. And I was quiet. And so was the bird. I don’t know for how long, but sat with the bird and the silence and the sunset. And that night the song finally came.
Life is Beautiful
There is a movie called Pay It Forward. See it. Have a box of tissues. I watched this movie, sobbed for somewhere between twenty minutes and two hours, then I picked up my guitar and let this song write me.
I wrote this when an acquaintance of mine committed suicide. I imagined her singing it to her husband (sadly, he followed her a few days after) and friends. The song, as songs do, has grown beyond its original intent and is appropriate for anyone who has crossed over.