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Elton vs Freddie

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freddy vs jason.jpg

I know the title sounds gruesome, like the name of a horror pic… weird white masks, long claws and blood-dripping knives … but … no.

Horror ain’t my genre (CNN is close enough!) …

But music is.

This past year has brought us two highly-hailed musical icon biopics, although inexplicably neither the (Failing) New York Times nor The Globe and Mail contacted me for my reviews.

Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman.

Freddie Mercury and Elton John.

Elton and Freddie

By modern musical standards, both Brits are brilliant at the craft of songwriting and music production.

Interesting similarities … British, gay (or bi-sexual), piano players, ultra-flamboyant performers, the same manager for a period of time.

There are a lot of reviews of each of the flicks that dispute the honesty and full-disclosure and timelines of the stories – but you know what? I don’t really care.

Every life is a sh*tshow of interpretation and false-memory and all the bad and good put into a blender of individual perspective (kinda like history in general).

Besides, books do a far better job of relating the nitty-gritty details of a life… movies capture highlights, usually entertain … and in these particular cases, highlight the discography of the musicians. And that’s enough.

I knew of these two artists in the 70’s, and in looking back over time to my formative years … I was all agog over Elton … his Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album was a masterpiece encompassing many musical genres.

At the same time, I knew and enjoyed some Queen tunes but Mercury never quite caught me in the same way that John did.

I was Elton’s slave where pop and rock music was concerned. Just to be clear, we never had sex (it never occurred to either of us, go figure).

That was then. This is now.

Today, I’ve switched allegiances somewhat. I haven’t lost my sense of awe in the songwriting of John … but …

… years of listening to the complex orchestral and harmonic brilliance of Bohemian Rhapsody (and to a slightly lesser extent, the larger Queen repertoire) has elevated and shifted my joy of their songs.

But back to the movies themselves.

The flicks took a different approach to the era from which they both emerged… the in-your-face sex and drugs of Rocketman contrasted against the more scratch-the-artist-surface storytelling of Bohemian Rhapsody.

None of us is so naive to believe these were musical angels in disguise … no doubt the sexual encounters and hazy miasma of drugs were large parts of the life and creative existence of both, but brought to the screen far more graphically in the telling of John’s life.

Fantasy scenarios and telling his story through the medium of his songs was a cool and innovative approach for the Elton movie, but somehow it couldn’t draw me in to its narrative in the same way the Mercury one did.

Queen - Bohemian.jpg

Ultimately, I think the reason I came away enthralled from Bohemian Rhapsody and not from Rocketman comes down to the main actors.

Elton John’s portrayer, Taron Egerton was always a person, an actor, playing Elton John … he never inhabited the role of Elton. He was Taron singing Elton.

But when I watched Rami Malek … I was taken in, absorbed … and believed that he WAS Freddie Mercury … from his actions, to his voice, to his vulnerabilities.

The movie battle of the musical icons is over in my mind …  Elton vs Freddie brought Freddie as the clear and easy winner. Hail Freddie and Bohemian Rhapsody.

… but …

Oh, I’ve finally decided my future lies … in going back to my (long gone) vinyl collection and enjoying the REAL Rocketman, Elton John.

Yellow Brick Road.jpg

 

 

Let’s Bake You A Banana Cake

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beatle bananas

Remember a couple of weeks back when I said I’d be using you to help me work on songwriting? You do?

Fabulous!

‘Cause this is where we are today and I’ve got a few lyrical lines to share.

They’re pretty simple ones… nothing too flowery or poetically profound … but heartfelt and melancholy for me … and for others in my family.

I confuse myself. There must be a fatal flaw inside me because when I sit to write lyrics I almost always begin with the thought that … “this one I want to be light and fun and maybe even silly”

… and then this shade of darkness bubbles to the surface out of nowhere… maybe I’m the Nowhere Man I mention in the song … maybe …

Anyway… here are some song lyrics I’ve written about my older brother – diagnosed with Alzheimer’s about 7 years ago.

He rides the amusement park rollercoaster where he’s stuck on the downhill slope with no chance for an uphill boost.

Screenshot_2019-06-08 Louis Tomlinson Helps 83-Year-Old Man Whose Wife Died from Alzheimer's Check Things Off His Bucket List.png

Today he’s far removed from the erudite, quirky intellectual – a PhD chemist, Monty Python lover – his family and friends knew for many decades. He lives in a care facility where he slowly dwindles but retains his easy smile and gentle demeanour.

It’s such a common scenario for so many …

If you have any suggestions or ideas for improvement, fire them at me.

Let’s go my friends:

Let’s Bake You A Banana Cake

VERSE
I called my brother the other day
when he answered I knew he wasn’t there
his voice held up strong but
the same world we didn’t share
at least not anymore.

VERSE
It’s funny that you can hear a smile
though the sound travels a thousand miles
the words are a salad, they even sound sane
Do you think you can remember my name?
No, not anymore

VERSE
Books linger hushed on your shelf
framed photos pretty your little room’s walls
with blue summer skies and childhood smiles
are prairie breezes sharing your favourite waltz?
I don’t think so anymore

CHORUS


Maybe you’re Lennon’s Nowhere Man
so let’s bake you a banana cake
’cause you’re kind of already there
there’s a batter of sorts
all mixed up of course
And you don’t know what you’re missing

VERSE
So let’s chat lightly for a bit mon frère
I’ll ask the questions, make the chatter
You’re pretty cheery so does it really matter?
We’ve sipped some wine, skied some trails
but, perhaps, not anymore

BRIDGE
There’s a thief in the house
taken the marbles and flown
the halls echo empty where you once roamed

CHORUS


Maybe you’re Lennon’s Nowhere Man
so let’s bake you a banana cake
’cause you’re kind of already there
there’s a batter of sorts
all mixed up of course
And you don’t know what you’re missing.

banana cake.jpg

This Song’s for You

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Version 3

Next month marks 7 years of this weekly diatribe, this wordy assault of inner thought in my character of MAN ON THE FRINGE.

In June of 2012 … I began a meandering reflection totalling 365 weekly posts (with the rarest of exceptions) to date.

My intent at the time was to personalize the differences, the commonalities, the challenges and beauties and frustrations between men and women. All from the viewpoint of a guy who doesn’t fit neatly into a box of manly genderociousness.

But as I’ve learned over these years, as you probably have too, gender labels are fluid and there is danger in categorizing and putting lives into tidy little boxes.

Yes, nothing in human relations is simple. When I think I’m smart, I’m actually stupid.

Over time I’m realizing that perhaps I should re-brand, re-label as PERSON ON THE FRINGE.

But that’s just a touch of lint-gazing into my not-so-pretty navel (who designed belly buttons for God’s sake?). Let’s move forward, shall we?

Given that I’m a guy who has a mixed relationship with routine, I’m patting myself on the back for staying with this diurnal habit – this diarrhea of words with no seeming end – and I plan to carry on for a wee bit longer… but … but …

… perhaps with a slight twist to my “norm”.

There is a price to be paid for attempting to absorb too much of the vigour and energy that surrounds us.

Diversification in investing is admirable, smart even, but too much diversification in real-life can become deworsification.

The dilution of what we really appreciate and want, dilution of what drives us becomes a painful irritation of casting about in a huge ocean.

I need to spend more time on the things I love.

For the past few years I’ve been focussing more on music, and one of my desires… my goals … is to write music … meaningful lyrics, melodies and harmonies.

It’s narcissistic and self-aggrandizing to some extent to believe we have something important and meaningful to add, but it’s a draw into humanity that refuses to be ignored… it just is.

Every spring I plant flowers that I know will return to composted soil in a few short months for another season, and still I return each year to the seeds of growth because the ephemeral beauty is too luscious, too sweet, to turn away from.

I’ve said more than once that I use you as a juicy, delicious Bugs Bunny carrot of motivation in writing this blog. You are my personal assistant sans pay!

My proposal is to use you (again) as my motivator … my muse … the fire at my feet to take my disciplined approach in writing this blog every week and carry it over into the passion of songwriting.

Guitar music.jpg

So going forward I’ll take a break from my every week yada yada yada posts to morph into regular lyric writing, an internal friendly exchange of prose for poetry.

No, not every post will become a tuneful poetic ode but I see it as a refresh and a push to spend more time on something I love … the personal expression that comes out of my head and my mouth in harmony.

You’re welcome to comment on my writings and also to share your lyrical thoughts back if you care to “expose” your inner expressive words for others to enjoy.

So… here’s a song I’ve had in process for a little while now, not complete yet but so be it … a nod to those who struggle with interior thoughts of suicide… I’ve used the late Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade as a means of personalizing the unbearable pain many suffer:

THIS IS WHO HE WAS (Anthony & Kate’s Song)

Camera catches amber light
that last bite was great he said
giggling of a child with bread
smiling host whose face was red  
eyes just a little wide and wild
This is who he was

Sad can’t be the sun in sky
When setting at the end of day
maybe clouds will always stay
when you fly a million miles
blindness hides the fragile eyes
This is who he was

CHORUS
His Days were numbered
our days are numbered too
sometimes we choose to count them down
sometimes they’re counted down for you
smiles within a smokescreen
sun comes shining through the clouds
yet there’s nothing left but rain

Born a Christmas Valentine
In a castle with your schoolboy prince
Cast your eyes on Central Park
Colours helped you make your mark
For every girl who wanted to be you
This is who she was

Whispers in your playful smile
Like snowflakes ‘cross your spirit while
The ones you’d helped to come of age
Blinded by your hidden pain
Or the one you left behind who carries on
This is who she was

BRIDGE 
Our loss has no end
Listen to the mystic hymns that guide us back to life

CHORUS-
Her days were numbered
Our days are numbered too
sometimes we choose to count them down
at times they’re counted down for you
the smiles are just a smokescreen
of normalcy through pain
the sun comes shining thru the clouds 
yet there’s nothing left but rain

… nothing left but rain… nothing left but rain…

anthony-bourdain-kate-spade.jpg

 

How to Find Your Courage …

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But life isn’t hard to manage when you’ve nothing to lose.”

                                – Ernest Hemingway

So it came to pass that as he trudged from the place of blood and wrath his soul changed.”

                                – Stephen Crane, The Red Badge of Courage

courage

What do I have to lose? Really?

In this life I’ve embarrassed myself so many times and in so many ways, it just doesn’t matter.

It never did actually, I just thought it did.

So I’m pushing myself to be courageous.

Not climb-over-the-wall-shooting-bullets-at-the-enemy, being-shot-at-by-the-enemy courageous – that’s WAY beyond my imagination-to-conceive courage. That just scares the shit out of me. How do people ever do that to themselves and to each other?

Nope, I just want to be gritty enough to walk up the stairs to a stage where a microphone awaits and I begin playing my guitar and singing a song.

Not any song.

A song of my own composition.

It’s a tiny thing that feels not-so-tiny in my mind. Kinda like my penis.

They tell us to conquer our fear of this sort by envisioning the audience in their underwear. Great idea.

audience-underwear

The problem as I see it is that while the good folks watching me are in their underwear, I’m standing in front of them TOTALLY NAKED!

It’s a level of personal exposure that this blog should have prepared me for … except … I can post these blog posts without you looking me in the eye as I unveil my inner demons, my successes, my failures and joys.

The reason I want to do this so badly is because I need something to push me from behind… I’m not a super self-motivator kind of guy.

You see, I want to write songs, but I’ll only do it well and consistently if there’s a loaded gun at my head. The end of the barrel says “DO this or DIE!” … that’s motivation. I have to take the dark fear and compress it into a sparkling diamond.

Let me give you a few examples of motivation diamonds:

  1. I enter running races like this weekend’s 8K run in Kelowna regularly because I train harder and more consistently when I know there’s a timed event coming up. Otherwise, I yawn and roll over in my bed in the morning and snore and drool instead of sweating at 6 am.
  2. I write this weekly MAN ON THE FRINGE blog that I publish every Sunday. If I don’t publish as expected, I start getting e-mails from kind readers asking if I died. BTW… if/when I do die, I may not respond to your inquiry. I’m not sure if there’s Wi-Fi connections in hell … Just sayin’.
  3. When I was working (Another BTW: I am working part time again… stay tuned for next week’s post)… I had a few hundred dollars taken from each of my paycheques and deposited automatically into my RRSP (Registered Retirement Savings Plan). I don’t want to be penniless in my dodderage. If I didn’t do this I would have visited Tim Hortons 3 times every day and blown a bunch of $$ on sweet chocolatey donuts which would have really negated the usefulness of point #1 above.
priestley-eating-doughnut

I guess sweet appetites come in different forms, eh Jian?!

Writing music is something I’ve longed to do all my life.

My passions, my dreams, my desires won’t be lived out unless I’m courageous enough to accept and brush past my fears. Every great personal reward has its gut-twisting risks.

The push that motivates me now is the fear of going onstage and looking foolish because I’ve written something that I feel little or no pride in … something that sounds like so much commercial stuff we all hear on our radios and iPods and iPhones and through Spotify and Sound Cloud. There are amazing musical gems out there, they just tend to be few and far between … needles in musical haystacks.

I need the courage to test my music – a rare needle or just a stack of formulaic hay.

Courage is something we all seek within ourselves and for a host of reasons and causes.

Courage comes in all McDonalds’ sizes: small, medium, large and super-sized.

We need courage when we look for a job, we need it when major changes occur in our lives, we need it when we lose someone special to us, we need it sometimes just to get out of bed in the morning.

For me, finding the courage to expose my inner self on-stage is a big deal. That and remembering lyrics. Singing John Denver or Sam Hunt or Gordon Lightfoot gives me a couple of butterflies to perform… but I’ll need to envision a lot of sweet golden lab puppies to calm my nerves when I sing Larry Green.

I found my courage once earlier this year when I sang one of my songs in public, on-stage. I did it and I woke up breathing the next morning.

The real test for me now is to load the gun over and over until I forget that courage was ever needed to walk up those stage stairs.

Then the smile on my face will be one of true joy and not just a faux front I plaster on as I climb over the battle wall and face the guns.

fake-smile

Goodbye Norma Jean …

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Candle in the Wind.

Candle

One song … of two mysterious but tragically unfortunate women, struck down at the age of 36, in the beautiful prime of their lives.

Long after Marilyn’s lifeless, drugged body was found in her bed on August 5, 1962 …

Long before any of us knew who shy young Diana Spencer was …

Long before Princes William and Harry were born …

… Elton John (music) and Bernie Taupin (lyrics) penned a song called Candle in the Wind… an ode originally written to the memory and significance and tragedy that was Norma Jeane Mortenson. You probably know her more familiarly as Marilyn Monroe.

…………………

And it seems to me you lived your life, like a candle in the wind 

Never knowing who to cling to, when the rain set in.

…………………

The song was on Elton’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road album that came out in 1973 when I was a young lad at Glendale High School in Hamilton, Ontario.

It was the most influential set of songs I had heard to that point in my life with pop classics like Bennie and the Jets, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, Saturday Night’s Alright For Fighting, Funeral For A Friend, and of course … Candle in the Wind.

“Candle” was probably my favourite song (along with Danny Bailey and Sweet Painted Lady) on the entire 2 record album.

I’ve always loved ballads, and Candle in the Wind with its simple chords and melody and poignant lyrics, captured the struggles of untold fame on the lives of simple people.

Songs we love are so important to us because we find meaningful significance in them that the writer may have never intended.

We internalize a message that is unique to our own experience.

For me, Candle in the Wind was an ode to my Mother’s untimely death – I’m certain thousands of others felt the same deep emotional connection within their own lives, whether relating to the death of a significant other or perhaps the loss of a relationship that had once been strong and filled with love, hope, and longing.

When I was a teenager, I would sit in the apartment I shared with my sister, playing my guitar, dreaming of becoming a music writer and rock star like Elton John …

elton john

I wanted the weird, multi-coloured eyeglasses.

I wanted the fame.

I wanted the adulation.

I wanted the ceaseless waterfalls of cash flowing into my bank accounts.

What I didn’t want was to serve up the work ethic and sacrifice that would make it possible.

Like my studies in high school where I did OK, but rarely ever pushed myself, I was a lazy musician and songwriter.

I hadn’t mastered the arithmetic of putting 2 + 2 together yet and wouldn’t for a couple of decades to come. I closed my eyes to the blatantly obvious that the really good things happen when you put in the hours and focus to make it happen.

The hard work happens before the rewards flow. It harkens back to that old 10,000 hours rule of “practice makes mastery” that Paul and John knew, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs knew, JK Rowling and Sheryl Sandberg knew.

Good luck shines on those who pour themselves wholeheartedly into their dreams. Wishing just doesn’t make it so.

I’ve changed now. Both in understanding what it takes to excel … and what I’m willing to bring to that lionized table.

I’ve changed, but not enough to become a rock star, or an esteemed author, or a renowned gardener, or even a celebrated Porta-Potty cleaner.

I’ll never be a famous or acclaimed singer/songwriter because, even though I’m willing to put more effort and time into the things that are important to me, I’m still not willing to make the all-out sacrifice of time, focus and energy that it takes.

I won’t pour myself into making music or anything else for 8 or 10 or 12 hours a day every day. That’s not who I am. Even my vacant macho dreams of becoming a male prostitute to Desperate Housewives peters out as I realize my Peter’s not up to the hard and salacious demands of Urban Princesses.

I’ll always be a Hobbiest, never a Master.

I’ve made my choices and I’ll never be Elton John.

Some candles burn brighter than others, but really, we all cast a flicker of light that provides warmth and illumination to those around us.

Marilyn and Diana were those dazzling, brilliant candles that lived their lives on the treacherous edge of hurricane alley where the storms were always a threat to their light.

Often, those that burn brightest sadly seem to be the ones at the greatest risk of being snuffed out when the winds begin to swirl and howl.

And I would have liked to have known you
But I was just a kid
Your candle burned out long before
Your legend ever did …

Marilyn and diana

 

 

 

Songwriting 101 for Everyone …

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Michelangelo

I took aim with my pellet rifle and squeezed the trigger, killing the first and last sparrow ever in my life.

I stood over it – lifeless, still in the grass – tears welling in my 10 year-old eyes taking in what I had done. 

And years later, I realize that this is the kind of story or song that is universal and needs to be shared; we’ve all pulled the metaphorical trigger before realizing what the end result will mean to us.

cute-sparrows

Have you ever wanted to write your own song?

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You should. Let me explain…

Yup, it took me a lot of years to get to this stage … but finally I can write a song.

And the secret? It’s pretty easy.

Except when it’s hard.

Life is a long, long lesson. Often a long, hard lesson. Lessons filled with puking and rejection, then elation and wonderment. Lessons of killing and discovering the consequences afterwards.

Our songs … our stories are writing themselves based on the lessons we learn everyday.

Renaissance artist Michelangelo claimed that his job in sculpting was to free the human form hidden inside the block of stone.

Songs and stories are rocks in the same way.

We live in an endless ocean of stories waiting to be told in verse – spoken or sung. We humans crave stories that help us to understand ourselves better.

The tough part often is to find a tiny corner of the rock and zeroing in on it to make it our own special story.

We all know how to write. We’ve all read nursery rhymes. You learned how to rhyme words as a pre-schooler.

And when we’ve been drinking, we all know a limerick or two:

There once was a man from Nantucket
Whose *&^% was so long he could suck it.    
He said with a grin    
As he wiped off his chin,
If my ear was a hole I could *&*%  it.””
churchsign-nantucket

OH MY….

 

And so, I believe we all have a song or two or twenty inside us, and the ability to share that song.

OK, maybe not an actual song, but a message so personal, so individual, that it can only be told by us.

I was frustrated for years.

I desperately wanted to write songs that would have a universal message, a meaning so great that it couldn’t be denied. I wanted Shakespeare and Bach and Van Gogh to come flowing out of me so I would know that I had found something important, something visceral.

Agonizingly, I searched for the important message, the big story I needed to discover before I could finally begin to write meaningful songs.

Then one day I made the big discovery.

What I needed wasn’t binoculars or a telescope; for most of us, our life’s meaning – down deep – isn’t in the major political stories, or the stunning atrocities in Africa, or the OMG! collapse in oil prices. We feel these stories, but the impact lessens with us over time. The anguish I feel inside over killing a small sparrow stays with me for life.

Our lives – our personal meanings – are lived in the miniature.

The big discovery? What I needed was a magnifying glass, a microscope.

Years back I laughed at the audacity of Paul McCartney to write and sing nonsense songs. An example? :

You’d think that people would have had enough of silly love songs
I look around me and I see it isn’t so, oh no
Some people want to fill the world with silly love songs
What’s wrong with that?

Silly? Yup … Simple? Yup …

I hate to say it, but it’s profound in its silly simpleness.

John and Paul

Our lives are defined by the tiny details; our loves, our simple joys, our jobs, our heartbreaks in loss, the stunning sunsets, monstrous snowfalls, the small stuff we sweat about. We feel less alone in the world when we know others see and feel the small things the same as we do.

Now when I sit down to write blogs or songs, I’m not looking at the world as one big globe… a huge amorphous forest. My world is made of 7 billion individuals, each carving a daily existence in the best way they can with what they were handed at birth… a labyrinth of trees trying to survive against the ill winds and enjoy the warm tropical breezes.

My life …. your life … has wonder and sorrow and delight and tragedy and these are what we should carve into stories and songs – Michelangelo’s block of rock is waiting for our inner saga and wisdom, simple or complex, to be uncovered.

This week I’m writing a song about a descendant that migrated to Canada from Ireland leaving his family behind reluctantly (and forever, as it turned out) … next week I plan to begin another song using volcanoes as a metaphor for one person’s buried anger and resentment.

These are small personal vignettes that I hope you might see a bit of yourself reflected in.

Think about it, OK? Writing your story or your song will help you see yourself in a new way. Uncovering something unknown within yourself might come as a surprise. It happens to me almost every week. Often, this is what keeps me writing a weekly blog post; I’m learning lessons about myself.

A little trick to help you? Think of a tiny occurrence in your life that affected you deeply. A beloved pet that disappeared in the dark night. A music recital where you found your confidence. A first kiss in 7th Grade.

Pick a favourite song you love and write a few lines about that small occurrence to match the song’s melody.

Everything you do begins with a small first step. Don’t stop. Write another line, another verse.

Start carving your stone today. It – whatever IT is – is inside you waiting to escape .

words escape

Them’s Writin’ Words … A Heartbeat of Harry Hero Worship

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Photo of Harry CHAPIN

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STATEMENT: Writing blog posts is easy.

.

Well, not easy… no, not easy at all. I’ve written 130 posts in the past 2 and a half years, and not one was a simple, mindless endeavour, even if you think my compositions about baginas or castration are mindless!

Dogy Balls

I only write about matters that interest me – if the subject doesn’t catch my intrigue, the words will NOT come –  while at the same time, quarrying a nugget or two in the slag pile that somehow, hopefully, will be meaningful to you in your life.

My ego doesn’t fare well if no one reads a word I publish … yes, I NEED YOU!

But when I compare the mental effort and time it takes to write a blog entry versus piecing together the jigsaw puzzle that makes up a musical song, it just seems easy.

Writing blogs and composing music are comparable to the striking differences in playing guitar and playing piano. If you’ve tried both, you’ll understand what I’m saying.

Writing a blog post – like playing guitar – is a singular, one-tracked effort. Putting one word after another is a focussed undertaking where your total concentration goes into moving forward in a single direction.

It’s kind of like becoming a killer kisser. Your entirety is devoted to the touch, taste … all of those sensations that cook up into making one other set of soft, sweet lips happy and well looked after.

But writing a song? Whole different breed of animal.

Songsmithing is a complex of musical melody, harmony and lyrics which is more like combining the left and right hand in piano. Songwriting is a boudoir threesome (like I would know!); there are parts running off in all directions. It’s pleasurable for sure (again, like I would know!), but it makes your head spin.

Sorry Ladies, but I've just GOTTA finish writing this song ... the BIG MALE FAIL

“Sorry Ladies, but I’ve just GOTTA finish writing this song” … the BIG MALE FAIL!

 

There are two independent thoughts running side-by-side inside your head and fingertips. Through exhaustive practice, you learn to separate them sufficiently to then weave them back together in a cohesive whole that makes a deliciously fragrant sonata.

If I want to write songs that are meaningful to me and – just like my blog writing – hopefully contain a snippet of something that has meaning for you too, the formulas that commercialized music depend on just don’t work very well.

Which, happily for you, brings me to the point of today’s sermon … avoiding the cliche in songwriting.

Songwriting cliche threatens to swallow us whole in today’s musical marketplace and it drives me crazy sometimes.

Don’t you – maybe even occasionally – ask yourself when listening to a song on the radio, “Who the hell let that DOG out?”. The music, the lyrics are a dog’s breakfast and still it smuggled itself past a recording studio, a bunch of music-studio talking heads, and a radio station programmer. ARGGGGG!

But there are and always have been exceptions.

One of my lifelong songwriting heroes – I have many musical heroes, but probably none as emotionally resonant – has been Harry Chapin.

Harry perished in an auto accident in the late 1970’s while only 39 years old. You might know Harry for his powerfully evocative song: Cats in the Cradle.

But Cats in the Cradle was just a miniscule sample of Harry’s ability. Harry didn’t write or sing cliches and I loved him for it.

Harry was a husband, father, writer, singer, a supporter of social causes, and most impressively, a funny and talented storyteller.

Today, 33 years after his death, I still think about him from time to time – I miss Harry like a treasured friend or brother who left behind a huge hole in my existence in his wake.

Harry had the ability to find a tiny fragment of the joy or sorrow in the life of a common man (woman) and magnify it into an opus that pierced directly into our hearts.

Over and over, Chapin sketched universal human stories in just a few short verses and choruses.

It’s an amazing skill akin to Ernest Hemingway’s famous brief 6-word story:

For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn

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A few examples of Harry’s songs and the stories they told:

  • Mr. Tanner, the drycleaner, who tried opera-style singing at Carnegie Hall, just once, and was cruelly rejected by the reviewers.
  • the lonely midnight watchman in A Better Place to Be who desperately craves the love of someone, and discovers that he isn’t alone in his struggle to be held dear by others.
  • the former lovers who accidentally meet in a Taxi, and sadly realize that their young dreams weren’t fulfilled in the way they hoped.
  • the aging FM disc jockey who’s life lies in crumbles from chasing fame and fortune in WOLD
  • the truck driver rushing to get home to his “warm-breathed lover” after a long road trip in 30,000 Pounds of Bananas.

He told us stories, and like Steinbeck or Austen, his yarns entered our hearts and made us weep or smile with the fortunes of the characters he forged in his mind.

Harry Chapin, so long gone now, was a musical and storytelling saint, an inspiration to anyone who longs to tell a story.

Who of us doesn’t love a story from the sweet, innocent nights where we lay in our comfy beds listening to Daddy’s voice reading from a book, to sitting in concert halls where Stuart McLean or Garrison Keillor recite homespun yarns to us?

That was Harry … Master Storyteller. I miss you Harry… and…

I’m gonna write a blog post about you because it’s so much easier than composing a song. But one day …

 

 

 

HarryChapin