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ONLY HALF A LIFETIME – The Song

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half life 2

The soul-shaking sound of metal crashing, blood dripping and tears flowing…

The answer to whom has been the greatest songwriting influence for me was savagely swept from this earth, violently and tragically 39 years ago.

Harry Chapin… 39 years old…. writer of musical stories like TAXI, CATS IN THE CRADLE, COREY’S COMING, BETTER PLACE TO BE, I WANNA LEARN A LOVE SONG and dozens of other amazingly emotional and vivid tales.

On the afternoon of July 16, 1981, Chapin was killed in a freeway collision with a truck while on his way to perform at a free concert in East Meadow, New York.

Almost half of Harry’s concerts were benefits to raise money for social and environmental causes… Harry wasn’t interested in saving money. He always said, “Money is for people”, so he gave it away.

I was fortunate to have sat and listened to an Ontario Place (Toronto) under-the-stars concert of Harry’s, way back in about 1976 or ’77. He was enthusiastic and ebullient, mesmerizing and spellbinding.

Today when I sit to begin a songwriting session, I almost always ask myself… “how would Harry look at this – how would he inject this story with warmth and life and love.” Of course, it’s a rarity that I ever come remotely close to achieving any of what he was able to accomplish before he turned 40.

But that doesn’t deter me from trying, and as it really should, it inspires me.

Of course, writing songs about artists that have come to tragic ends is not new at all. Don McLean captured the premature deaths of a number of musicians in his song American Pie.

Following here is my ode to the too-short life and personal impact of Harry Chapin…

Harry Chapin.jpg

ONLY HALF A LIFETIME

by Larry Green

Alarm rang one summer’s morn
Thirty years ago erstwhile
The radio sang your voice again
gentle words that draw my smile
but this early candle’s flame gone numb
with breath caught short
when I heard them say
you’d played your final strum

The early clubs and roads on buses
your musical best friends
Your east coast Beach Boys
played concert halls and sang the gems
songs of cats and taxis rose the charts
guitar and cello sweet breezes
mixed falsettos filled the heavens
in starry summer parks

CHORUS

Your mischief smile has left me full
lit stages and the showtimes
like a jealous lover I glance your way
still learning from your stories now
though it took you only half a lifetime

*********************

Years slid by, I heard more tales
Sagas of a mail-order bride unfold
Wistful railyard yarns and a man who
sang bass while cleaning clothes
this magic muse you held inside
where lives emerged
from inner eddies
dark shadows on the road

Wet snow weighed heavy
burden on my windshield
you sang those first few strains
chalky road blurred with truth revealed
my eyes welled up, my gut cried out
your voice deepset with father’s pain
broken lives you wrote so dear
as if it was my private shame

BRIDGE
Seconds too short
metal screams too loud
tales saturate sanguine into the ground

CHORUS

Your mischief smile has left me full
lit stages and the showtimes
like a jealous lover I glance your way
still yearning for your stories now
though it took you only half a lifetime

*****************

POST-CHORUS

The stage gone black, Taxi meter expired
shadow embers smoulder dim
“Oh if a man tried
To take his time on Earth
And prove before he died
What one man’s life could be worth
I wonder what would happen
to this world…”

Harry Chapin2.jpg

THE BLESSING AND THE CURSE – The Song

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blessing curse

INTO Week Six of isolation here and now we’re disinfecting our outer AND … by gonzo suggestion from the top… inner… surfaces.

It’s like a Shakespearean tragi-comedy, except we can’t spit out our words like dramatic stage actors for fear of an impending manslaughter charge. No aerosols please!

Last week I mused about our collective situation of isolation and suggested some ideas that might help deal with our fresh new world. I quoted singer Garth Brooks who noted that everything we want comes with both a blessing and a curse.

The words stuck in my head like a *yum* peanut butter and banana sandwich does to the roof of my mouth.

Blessing AND Curse.

garth

Neither you nor I know what our world will look like in a year, there are too many moving and interactive parts for any rational assessment. This is the scientist in me speaking. My inner Bill Gates. We need rational thinkers like Bill and Melinda.

But with all of these unknowns… the artist, the creative me … holds onto a desire to think also in loftier terms, more emotional terms. It’s our artists – the musicians, the writers, the painters – that give us hope and joy in difficult times. We need artists as much as we need scientists.

And so I’m finding a bit more time in my days to write more prose, more song.

Yes, we’re on a ride folks.

And since the peanut butter phrase Blessing and Curse stuck with me I’m using it once again this week, this time in poetry and song form.

I hate cliches, but I’ll stoop now.

Be Humble. Be Kind. Stay Safe.

69465831 - young man composing the song with guitar on table with tea cup

 

THE BLESSING AND THE CURSE

by Larry Green

Little ones chase that coin
the one rolling down the street
towards the gutter or the drain
your two hands reach to grab and save
both mamas pull the chain

Last month I sipped sweet coffee from your cup
stopped in narrow grocery aisles and chatted
you pass me by at distance now
wild-eyed like something rabid
can we resurrect the sacred cow

CHORUS
Flip the hands, see the change
litter scattered in the desert whirling
shrink from shadows watch the afterbirths
there’s beauty and there’s hurting
Fill me up don’t leave me empty
The blessing and the curse

Stash your voice inside your house
Strike x’s through your plans
Bake bread to soothe your troubled soul
Muse about the coulds and shoulda-haves
Search blind and madly fill the holes

Alone now but are you lonely
put the Tanqueray away
this fog confines but stars abound in space
bright neon light will shine again
we’ll leave our separate places

Next year I hope we meet once more
unlock the chains and hug the children
I’ll touch your shoulder when you’re shaking
Wipe the tears with ungloved hands
we’ll walk the road untaken

CHORUS
Flip the hands, see the change
litter scattered in the desert whirling
shrink from shadows watch the afterbirths
there’s beauty and there’s hurting
Fill me up don’t leave me empty
The blessing and the curse

stars on beach

 

THESE SONGS I LIVE – The Song

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Songs in Head

Quick!

What song is playing in your head right now?

It might be a commercial ditty… it might be the last thing you heard before you woke from a warm and fuzzy dream… it might be the anthem of your existence.

I don’t know. Only you do.

I have to guess that nearly every one of us on this planet has a musical score that runs through our head on a daily basis.

If you list for me the 10 most frequent songs you hear inside yourself over time, I’d bet that I can give a pretty fair description of who you are and what is important to you in your life.

Think about this. What songs do you hear within regularly? Does it tell you something about yourself?

Here are just a few of my inner life repeats: In My Room (Beach Boys), Your Song and Goodbye Yellow Brick Road (Elton John), Music and Fire and Rain (James Taylor), Hello It’s Me (Todd Rundgren), First Day in August (Carole King), If You Could Read My Mind (Gordon Lightfoot), Bartender (Lady Antebellum), Hotel California (Eagles), Canon in D (Pachelbel), Smile (Charlie Chaplin).

One of my greater goals in life is to write a unique and memorable song that stands alongside the ones that rest in others’ heads because it carries a meaning that is universal and heartfelt.

A song that describes me, but also describes you in a way that has a visceral way of showing that we all have a connection.

Sure, it’s an ego thing, but it’s also a “meaning of life” thing.

Once I desired writing a novel that would survive my last breath and be readable beyond the vanity press. Ha!

book writing

Nice try Larry. I’ve had the vision of harsh truthful reality (even without hallucinogens) tell me that this isn’t where I can leave a mark that lingers.

But I still have a minuscule hope in hell of making something musically that meets the test. Or at least I’ll keep trying.

Sorry Yoda, but I’ll just keep trying.

While this incomplete song still needs another verse or two, this week’s musical journey captures a tiny bit of what I’m talking about above:

THESE SONGS I LIVE

by Larry Green

The songs I live in darkness
play at night on slow repeat
distant days I smelled the diesel
saw the smokestack belch the heat
til the morning sunrise
vagrant winds come set me to my feet

Bitter chill bites the basement window
words come from a separate shelf
sweet winsome faces at my door
something different I had those days to sell
selfish tunes that struck a minor chord
mirror image indelibly dark but ignored

CHORUS

These songs I live again
if every person has a book or two
if every bench holds a spot for you
every camera has a pic you knew
and hopeful bedtime stories replay
the songs that tell me who
I am

To be the greatest dancer
scribble lines that never fly
I’m just a raindrop in a pail
a lonely star up in the sky
sometimes an empty house
grasping words in ink that slowly hides

If you could hear my life in song
while you sat inside my head and listened
Those steady words of Paul, Carole and James
like bible quotes on signs positioned
at hockey games
Would you see the world any different?

BRIDGE

One day I’ll reconcile and smile
I can’t outrun the train

CHORUS

These songs I live again
if every person has a book or two
if every bench holds a spot for you
every camera has a pic you knew
hopeful bedtime stories replay
the songs that tell me who
I am

king me

Above The Water Line – The Song

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sheeran sings

When I feel worried or overwhelmed, I sing.

When I feel dejected or hurt, I sing.

Hell, when I feel ecstatic and want to jump out of my skin, I sing.

The simple bottom line of what I’m saying here is… after this globally tumultuous week, I’ve written some song lyrics for this week’s blog post. Go figure.

Stay above the water line…

When a week or two comes along like we’ve seen recently – when infectious disease and financial dis-ease rear their ugly heads – it’s easy to fret … to worry about the future, as individuals, as members of the world community… to worry about the havoc that ensues as we stumble along a road that appears dark and uncertain.

Of course, it is worrisome… it’s normal to be concerned about the direction of the days and years to come. Few of us like uncertainty, similar to how we generally don’t like change.

Think about it… our world has passed through two World Wars where millions perished from weaponry and disease, an earlier pandemic that took countless lives, an economic depression that lasted a decade. Huge, terrible cataclysmic events.

And still, here we are…

Obviously, I don’t know the outcome of the coronavirus situation, or where the moneyed world will lie in the short term…

… but given humankind’s past history of slogging through it’s biggest, ugliest problems, I am optimistic that this too shall pass and we will claw our way back onto the brighter path drawing us forward, working to carry on…

And so… I sing…

water line

ABOVE THE WATER LINE

by Larry Green

CHORUS

Stay above the water line
Stay above the water line
we’ve done it all a hundred times
when snows up high begin to melt
from unannounced March thaws
when eclipse creeps up like night
push darkness back to light

Verse 1

My mom felt the helpless shudder
of naked empty cupboards,
years when money shed all worth
blue days of milk and honey lost
jobs as rare as virgin birth, and worried long
if the world misplaced its feast of Pentecost?

Verse 2

I’ve passed some seasons, been unnerved
found sweat is best served,
by running fast and free
you anticipate such a heavy stone
whisper what will be will be
and wonder where’s the chaperone, just…

CHORUS

Stay above the water line
Stay above the water line
we’ve done it all a hundred times
when snows up high begin to melt
from unannounced March thaws
when eclipse creeps up like night
push darkness back to light

Verse 3

Kids, all check your Twitterverse
fill vacuums that you curse,
murky shares of hopeless ghosts
I wish you fresh angels from ether
tomorrow’s ones’ still cloaked
stay strong don’t be beleaguered

BRIDGE

Where the rubber ball will stop who knows
you try to catch with eyes shut closed so…

CHORUS

Stay above the water line
Stay above the water line
we’ve done it all a hundred times
when snows up high begin to melt
from unannounced March thaws
when eclipse creeps up like night
push darkness back to light

Lunar eclipse

Mischief Eyes – The Song

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boy with moon

To once more see the world…

… the beauty of the moon and stars … the unexplainable draw of planes and trucks… through toddler eyes is a reawakening.

To the child it’s all fascinating and new and calling out to be understood … to be held, twisted, tasted, and savoured. Danger can be a stranger while the senses tingle and excite… and sometimes they perceive fright where no danger exists.

As a young parent you miss so much. But why?

Simple. It’s because you’re just way too busy hanging on by the fingertips of sanity – the minutes and days are seen through hazy glasses of responsibility and exhaustion and the monetary stretch of daycare and diapers and clothes that grow too small each week (hopefully the child’s and not the parents’!).

But, as a grandparent… my young eyes have seen years slip by, and now these same eyes and hands that have lived through the world of weariness and depletion, find new vivacity and energy in this short-term cocoon of toddlerdom.

This is the world that my wife and I find ourselves in these days within this realm of relatively new grandparenthood.

It’s become our delight and wonder relived through Mischief’s Eyes.

So, today I write down some lyrics to capture a fleeting moment… a moment almost like a still photo, a snapshot in time, of a little boy in his own expanding world of wonder. (See if you can spot the Shakespeare!)

boy with stars

MISCHIEF EYES

by Larry Green

The boy inside this balloon that’s blue
and shifts black at night
ceiling stars dance and sing
everything is truck and moons
fingers float those
little boats
young maestro of wind and sound
with music scores that never kiss the ground

Rolling with the climb and spin
oaty ripples cross your chin
rightside up or upsidedown
a tiny joker with a tiny grin
toss and throw
help calls in slippy snow
is this sock left or right
and is this shoe red or white

CHORUS

Our tattered eyes ask
How did we miss eternity’s hole
your disguise fooled us all
when your arms surround
your finger’s got us twisted round
those mischief eyes that slowly drown
sail away little rogue

Big brown bears on pages
Wild things escaping cages
books whirlwind strewn
some quiet words, some filled with tunes
scramble and clamber
shimmy and scamper
with Sparkle climbing hills
up and up till clock ticks noon

BRIDGE:

This body contains a soul
a kingdom is too small to hold

CHORUS

Our tattered eyes ask
How did we miss eternity’s hole
your disguise fooled us all
when your arms surround
your finger’s got us twisted round
those mischief eyes that slowly drown
sail away little rogue

sail away

Summer Boys’ Prayer – The Song

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Beach Boys.jpg

Well east coast girls are hip
I really dig those styles they wear…

.

January in the Great White North… This is a time of year (in Canada at least, no crazed Aussie wildfires here) where bone-chilling temperatures and piled up banks of snow make many of us so-called Brave Northerners actually pine for warm tropical beaches and … as we kick the snow off our boots …

… musically… a slingshot release to the warm halcyon days of summer, short-sleeves and bikini-on-the-beach kinda songs … the idealistic Beach Boys kind of music.

Light, breezy, romantic, carefree, fun … and in my mind at least, filled with incredible harmonies, lots of reverb, and Fender Rickenbacker and Stratocaster electric guitars.

And the Northern girls with the way they kiss
They keep their boyfriends warm at night

This week’s set of lyrics is my ode to what we might think of as simpler and arousing formative times … the awakening of puberty …

… simpler times when one of the joys of this young boy’s summer was lingering with a couple of friends at the school playground across the field from my house where we could hear the nearby crack of baseball bats hitting balls and the smell of newly cut grass filled our noses.

Not yet old enough to drive, we’d head to the park after supper around 6:30 or 7 at night and hang out at the swings and monkey bars, anxiously waiting for a pair or threesome of our favourite sweet lasses to arrive at the “meeting place”.

boy and girl on swings.jpg

Sometimes they’d show and sometimes not, but either way, the childhood, child-like anticipation of the great titillating flirt-to-come was deliciously exciting and naughty.

I wish they all could be California girls
I wish they all could be California
I wish they all could be California girls

So let’s get to the childhood fun while the gettin’s hot!

SUMMER BOYS’ PRAYER

by Larry Green

Better hurry now
cuz the sun is getting low
and the girls we know have to be home
before the streetlights start to show

My two pals and me
grab the patch by the swings
make sure we have our fav spots laid out
get our best chance for a summertime fling

Racy game of anticipating
swearing out stories while we’re waiting
they know we’re here baying at the moon
they know we’re preying and hope they’ll be here soon

Just Summer boys
Wishin’ and dreamin’
in the church of passionate hopes
where pipe dreams are playin’
that’s our summer boys’ prayer
the summer boys’ prayer

There’s a flowery scent in their hair
at this sticky air time of the year
with rumours that drive us lads crazy
we’re workin’ real hard to get past maybe

Renato loves Adele’s brunette bob
I dream of how Cathy’s long blonde falls
And Frank well he just doesn’t care
cuz if they’re cute he digs them all

Bridge

Blood heads to new places
inside there’s a heat to this stirring…

Just Summer boys
Wishin’ and dreamin’
in the church of passionate hopes
where pipe dreams are playin’
that’s our summer boys’ prayer
the summer boys’ prayer

boy girl flirt

Sensuous Solstice

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NEW YEAR … old RUTS! Begone!!

rut stuck.jpg

I get stuck in the “rut” of trying to always write song lyrics that recite a story of some sort… what I think of as Harry Chapin songwriting… a narrative that has a beginning, a middle and an end.

It’s not a bad thing at all, but I think an assortment of approaches is good too…. would you agree?

Ruts in any endeavour, any area of our lives, are a monotony danger, and certainly one I rush away from the furrow’s edge in the other direction to avoid.*run away screaming*

Easier said than done though.

Freshness and new approaches help maintain an active and energized mind, an inner enthusiasm, a mini-orgasm of excitement …

This week, in another of my ongoing series of musical lyric blogs, I’m avoiding the “rut”, the story approach, and aiming for a less narrative-directed, more sense-based set of musical poetry.

When I think of airy, sensual music, a couple of examples come to me like Van Morrison’s Into The Mystic, or almost anything by Leonard Cohen.

Or how about a more recent feathery song I’ve been drawn to by a group of talented young musicians called Darlingside and their song, Hold Your Head Up High

How it rambles ’round the moon
A let-go-of balloon
Nothing is forever, everything is soon
And my father as he stands
A perfect cartoon man
Heavy-sighed and open-eyed, I heard him speak
Hold your head up high
Hold your head up high

Rise it up, it’s fine terrain
The time will come again
And misery’s no rest for weary gentlemen
See that humankind is you
Like all the rest, down to
The scratches on the album that you’re singing to
Hold your head up high
Hold your head up high

Through the light and through the shadow
I won’t wait it out, wait it out

So let’s get started here.

A part of our annual cosmic adventure is the ebb and flow of solstices. Solstices are markers of our time, the seasons of our lives. Solstices are important to me.

I feel an acute inner dread as we pass by the summer solstice and set out towards shorter, cooler, autumn and winter days…

… and then finally one day, the magic of winter solstice arrives and the excitement of longer days grabs me affectionately by the shirt collar and tugs me forward … forward to spring and the advent of new birth, new life bursting from the soil.

Enough said … here is my sense-based lyrical ode to the passage of winter solstice.

solstice

SIDES OF SOLSTICE

by Larry Green

smoky hue autumn brew
fizz pop proof of
luge rushing into December’s funnel
grasping winter’s tunnel
this icy pull of magnet pole
slippery tilt and earthly roll

dwarfed days charcoal skies
azure sinew patches carved with penknives
Charlie Brown sugar snowflakes taste
angel arms shivered and braced
smell the eggnog, sip the wine
push hard and harder at sun’s lowly climb

let’s hail this day this morning prize
as tiny ship sails o’er horizon sky
our worldly home comes creaking back
slow on slow escape this astral sandtrap

red hue yellow blue
emerald leafy proof of
running shoes by crocus bloom
discarded fleece Beach Boy tunes
light eons remain to harvest moon
sweet naked arms and torso too

weary, turns refreshed by days
robins and cicadas take flight and chase
bright shadows no longer freezing
perfume-infused dandelion breezing
the time that comes again again
forever comes again

let’s hail this day this morning prize
as tiny ship sails o’er horizon sky
our worldly home comes creaking back
slow on slow escape this astral sandtrap

dandelion.jpg

Lost Christmas

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NYC Killing 2019

Like a straight-line, linear graph (this is my lab background rearing its ugly head) …

… emotional intensity rises as we inch closer to Christmas.

Must be all that Harking and Jingling and O Holy’ing

The good, the bad, the beautiful, the tragic. The amplification soars.

I feel this intensity every year… my emotional core was struck deeply this past week by the news of a senseless cold-blooded murder of a young woman – a daughter, a sister, a student, a musician – in a New York City park.

Any parent will tell you that likely the most gut-wrenching and worrisome part of bringing children INTO the world, is still being alive to usher them OUT OF the world.

Nothing can prepare us for this.

Although I once experienced a close call many years back, I can only pretend to understand the inner devastation that cuts into a mother or father for the remainder of their days, upon the loss of a child.

So, as a kind of catharsis, I’ve “penned” a set of lyrics this week leading up to Christmas, that attempts to capture a bit of the heartbreak in losing a child, like the family of Tessa Majors … the unexpected, the shock, the despair.

Crimson Christmas

CRIMSON CHRISTMAS   (A Parent’s Lament)

by Larry Green

INTRO:

If she wasn’t young and pretty
would they care?
If he wasn’t an agitated kid dressed out in civvies
would they care?
Are thoughts and prayers enough for us
to show they care… when
the past is our only gift left to unwrap

Verse 1

Silver bells and mistletoe laugh
why would she walk those steps
in darkness alone?
gaudy glittered trees and romantic chaff
frosty wreathes over blood-stained snow
our goodbye epitaph

Verse 2

What ghostly happenstance
brought her to this savage moment
this chain of devil’s chance
from a day of season’s fa-la-la’s
from a life crammed full of plans

CHORUS

Headlines rage
screen lines scathe
tears scorching scars
ripped into our hearts
who asked for this unwanted fraternity
lasting for eternity

Verse 3

Her jacket torn and gashed askew
down feathers fill the evening sky
her heart that lost its beat
her bro that’s lost his feet
her guitar left deathly quiet

Verse 4

There’s little left inside this shell
please god I’ll bare my chest with glee
slash me deep to spare her tears
Crush my face in gravelled snow
I’ll forgo life’s wine and years

Bridge

Our morning seems to never come
Snow angels turn your heads in shame… while…

CHORUS

Headlines rage
screen lines scathe
tears scorching scars
ripped into our hearts
who asked for this unwanted fraternity
lasting for eternity

… and the past is our only gift left to unwrap.

tessa guitar

majors family

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

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?

.

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

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