Song 44 -Nasty Weather

I suppose there are a lot of ways to write a song. Some say you should start with the words, and find a melody that expresses those words, or the meaning underneath those words. Others say you should start with a melody and find words that capture its spirit. Of course, there is also everything in between. I definitely do a little bit of both, and sometimes the words and the melody come out at the same time. These bursts of creativity usually occur during or immediately after a shower.

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Many people asked for pictures from Iceland. Here’s one of me at the start of a hike. That’s the Arctic Ocean to the right.

The melody, once created, suggests a handful of chords (or harmonies) that I can choose from. Often one progression (a sequence of chords) can enhance the mood that the melody implies, creating a bold statement of either joy or sorrow, and another can mask it somewhat, making a more subtle statement. Since I can’t take my guitar or cello into the shower to experiment with various chords, I usually make these decisions shortly after dressing.

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Here’s another picture of that same hike. It was fantastic. There were wild blueberries growing on the side of the trail. They tasted a little sour.

With a verse, or chorus, as well as a few chords in hand, the remaining parts of the song form a puzzle. If I have time, I’ll work on this puzzle as much as I can at that moment, but usually I try to solve it as I bike the work. Often, upon arriving at work, you can spot me in the furthest, most isolated corner in the lobby recording any additional ideas I came up with.

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Of course, you can’t show pictures of Iceland without a picture of waterfall. These things are all over the place.

At the end of the day, I try to remember the song I started in the morning. If so, that is usually a good sign that I should record it, or at least dedicate the time to completing it by filling in the missing pieces . If not, I’ll wait a few days and see if it comes back to me. Again, if it does, then it goes into the pile of tunes worth serious consideration. If not, I usually let it slip away. Sometimes songs sit in the “pile of songs worth serious consideration” for years before being finished. Some puzzles are harder to solve than others.

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Of course, I can’t just show you pictures of Iceland. The cats need to be given proper representation as well.

This particular song, “Nasty Weather”, came to me in the form of a chorus, both words and melody at the same time. After singing it a few times, I realized that the line “we’re in for nasty weather” was a quote from an old Talking Heads song called “Burning Down the House”. Although I have no idea what that Talking Heads song is actually about, the reference reminded me that friend I once played in a band with was getting divorced. The news struck me pretty hard because the couple, at the time, were inseparable. It seemed like it was just a few years ago that I played my cello during their wedding ceremony. And from this memory, the backbone for the verses was formed. The rest of the song came together in the two days that followed.

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Folks! I hope you had a great month. Mine was wonderful. I spent the first half of it in Iceland admiring the waterfalls (featured in the video) and enjoying the nature. If you’d like to sing or play along with my song, here’s the song sheet!

Song 43 – Maybe It’ll Go Away

I hope I don’t ruin this song by telling you that it’s about my hernia. I’m not sure how many rock songs are about hernias, but there can’t be many, and this might be a first. The story behind this song has two different sides – “before and after”. Let’s start with the “before”.

My general attitude towards health problems is to hope they will just go away. I know that sounds naive, but colds never last more than a few weeks; minor aches usually take care of themselves. Most burns, blisters, cuts and bruises, while painful, just need a bandaid and some patience. Thus, when I first felt hernia pain, my instinct was to think “maybe it’ll go away.” It didn’t.

It was a long time before I asked a doctor for help. Years. When I finally asked, I was relieved and hopeful that now, with professionals doing all that they could, the pain would finally go away. And it did, for a few months. When it came back, fiercer and meaner than before, I went through another, shorter “let’s wait and see – maybe it’ll go away” phase.

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Robert pulled double duty on this song – playing conga drums and a traditional drum kit.

When I asked for help the second time, the first test result came back negative – suggesting that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. This was depressing and confusing. Was everything in my head? Should I have waited longer and healed on my own?

Ultimately, you know how the story ends. I had surgery a second time and, fingers crossed, I’ve been cured.robert_on_drums_20160720.jpg

So that was the dark “before” part of the story. Now we’ve come to to fun part.

When I returned home to recover from the second surgery, I was flooded with love and support from so many friends and loved ones. People brought me food to eat, games to play and books to read. And I can’t remember how many times someone moved something heavy for me. It was touching and humbling to have so many people care for me in so many ways.

That spirit of helping me out was carried over to the recording of this song. Robert, Brian and Al (from Warrior Sound) went way above and beyond the call of duty to make this song a reality. Without them, well, let’s not even try to imagine what this would sound like without them. So, from rehearsals, to recording, to mixing – at each step – I was given an amazing amount of help to make this happen.

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Since the kittens are not in the video, I’ve included a picture that I took right before my trip to Iceland. They grow larger and larger (and more lovable) each day! In fact, the black one, Poe, is sleeping in my lap, right now,as I type. The grey one is sleeping at my feet.

Even though this is a song about an unusual subject, I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it with my friends. If you’d like to sing or play along, here’s the song sheet.

Song 42 – Another Day

This song is for my neighbor, and every bit of it is true. But there’s a lot that leads up to it, so let me tell that part here.

Just over 3 years ago I moved into a beautiful new house built by Paul Snow. One very pleasant, and unexpected bonus was my new neighbor; a retired professor. Although I feared he would be annoyed at me for the noise and bother from the construction, we hit it off immediately. Even though he was over twice my age, he was quick to smile and joke and we spent afternoons sipping wine on the front porch telling each other stories and discovering how much we had in common.

My neighbor turned out to be a living history book about all of my heroes. He told me about hearing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. give a speech in St. Louis. He told me about going to a classical music master class with Igor Stravinsky. And he told me about chance run ins with nobel prize winners.

So it was a big shock when, one evening, a police officer knocked on my door and asked if I had seen my neighbor recently. Someone reported that he was missing. After worrying for a week, we found him being treated for cancer. This came as another big shock. The good news is that the treatment has been very successful. He’s back home and just as friendly and funny as ever before.

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Here’s the latest instrument to join the family. It the awkwardly named “Baritone Tenor”. It plays a relatively subtle role in this months song – it adds body and fullness and sits between the higher guitar line and the bass. You can hear what it does most clearly at the onset of the last chorus.

I hope everyone had a great month. Mine had it’s ups and downs. It started with surgery, but it is ending with me feeling very optimistic about my recovery. Today I walked for 40 minutes without any noticeable pain. If you’d like to sing or play along with this one, here’s the song sheet.

What’s up the cat videos? (or, What happened to SoundCloud?) When I started recording a song each month, 3 and a half years ago, I never thought I’d record more than a few songs, tops. At the time, SoundCloud was an easy way to share my music. It had some nice features (you could download the MP3, for example) but it also had a limit on the number of songs I could upload. Back when I started, I was pretty certain I’d never get close to 40 songs, but as time went by, I proved myself wrong (I’m up to song 42 and I’ve got at least 6 more floating around in the back of my head waiting to be recorded). So, having run out of SoundCloud space, I had to put my music somewhere else. YouTube will host as many song as I write, for the rest of my life, so that’s what I eventually settled on. The reason I use cat videos (for now) is that I usually spend all my spare time on the song, but I’d still like to have a little something for you to look at while it plays.

Song 41 – Say Your Goodbyes

This song is about pain. Specifically, the pain of rejection, which is just about the worst kind that I can imagine. I used this song to put my own physical pain in perspective.

Early in May, it became clear that the hernia surgery I had in February was a failure. Up until the recurrence, I had been feeling great. I had been pain free for 3 months. My jogging was stronger than it had been in years. The possibilities of what I could do, physically, seemed limitless, and I no longer feared getting out of bed each morning. I daydreamed about hiking to the tops of mountains and running races. But then, right after telling my friends I had recovered, I felt an intense ripping and stabbing sensation that brought everything to an end.

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The ultrasound machine they used on me was so fancy it had a knob to control the space/time continuum.

To be honest, the pain was so intense and so different from what I felt before that it took days before I realized something was very wrong. I kept hoping it would go away on its own – that it could take care of itself somehow. But it just got worse; an ultrasound and physical exam confirmed the need for additional surgery.

This was a relief. My worst fear was of an inability to diagnose what was wrong. This happened early, when a CT-scan said there was nothing abnormal. But the final diagnoses made me optimistic for the first time in weeks. I knew there was something that could be done and that I might feel better sometime soon. In the meantime, I tried to keep things in perspective, and that’s what this month’s song did for me. It’s a sad one for sure, but it helped me through a hard time.

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Both Red and Poe enjoy the window seats around the house.

I’m looking forward to June. I’ll start recovering and I hope I’ll feel better. I hope you have a great June, too. If you’d like to sing or play along with this one, here’s the song sheet.

Song 40 – Deal With It

Ever have an exasperating day? One where the only release is to bang on drums (real or air*) as loud as you can until you’re completely exhausted? Well, that’s what this song is for.

A few months ago a friend had a terrible day. He’d gotten in trouble at work for, of all things, being friendly. Not too friendly, not creepy – just nice. That was enough to rub a co-worker the wrong way. My pop used to say, “some people eat nails for breakfast”, and I think that explains the situation.

Well, you can guess what happened next – within a few days I demoed this song for the band, a few weeks later we played it at Mystery brewing and now we’ve finally recorded it.

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Photo by Carol Bales.

In this case, we went to our studio of choice, Warrior Sound, and knocked everything out in a very fun afternoon. As always, Al dialed in our sound super quickly and captured the energy that comes with a new song. The goal was to move fast and let our emotions carry the day, and I think that’s what we got.

I hope everyone has a great month. However, if you have a bad day, at least you’ve got a new song to sing and play along with (here’s the song sheet).

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Also, you may have noticed the new kittens in the video, Red and Poe! The’ve been non-stop entertainment and cuteness.

* Personally, I prefer my set of vintage air drums. I got them super cheap at a pawn shop a few years back.

Song 39 – Rachel’s Song

This one’s for my sister. She has always been the big reader in the family. For every book I read, I’d make a safe bet she reads a hundred. A long time ago she got into Flannery O’Connor and drew me into that strangely-familiar and strangely-strange depiction of the American south. Since then, I’ve read all of her books three or four times each. What brings me back are the characters. Each one seems so familiar, as if I’m reading about a not-so-distant relative.

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The ukulele enjoys reading books when he’s not making music.

Flannery O’Connor’s most famous character is Hazel Motes from her book Wise Blood. Hazel, who often went by “Haze”, was a mixture of extreme personality traits and easily spotted by his fierce hats. Here’s a quote that describes Haze’s hats and shows a little bit of who he was:

 

… [Haze] went to a dry-goods store to buy a new hat. He wanted one that was completely opposite to the old one. This time he was sold a white panama with a red and green and yellow band around it. The man said they were really the thing and particularly if he was going to Florida.

“I ain’t going to Florida,” he said. “This hat is opposite from the one I used to have is all.”

He went outside and took the red and green and yellow band off it and thumped out the crease in the top and turned down the brim. When he put it on, it looked just as fierce as the other one he had.

Hats aside, he was a drifter; looking for something with a uncommon intensity, even if he didn’t know what it was. The kind of man that throws himself, body and soul, into each new half-baked plan he comes up with, each one crazier than the last. Add to that an overwhelming innocence that rendered him child-like. He acted like he knew everything, but inside he was confused and overwhelmed by it all.


 

As for the song, it came to me at The Scientific Retreat at the Beach, 2015. We had the afternoon off from science and I’d just had a delicious superburger at El’s Drive-In. Satisfied with my meal, I had this idea: what if Hazel Motes was real and I knew him? I doubt I would know him well – I don’t think anyone would make that claim. Instead, he’d be one of those people I ran into from time to time, or heard a story about. Crazy Haze, what’s he gotten himself into to this time? What new scheme had he come up with?

Back at the hotel I pulled a chair onto a tiny balcony overlooking a parking lot, grabbed my ukulele and started to strum. The verses came easy, but the chorus didn’t show up until I put the ukulele down and walked on the beach for an hour. Like a rogue wave, it hit full force and I sang it all the way back to my room.

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Did I mention I’m getting a cat next week? Expect a lot of cat themed songs in the near future! Maybe something like “Hey cat, get off my keyboard…”

Folks, it’s one thing to write a song, and another thing to have it arranged by such talented musicians. I feel blessed to have Miriam Chicurel-Bayard, Mara Shea and Robert Cantrell helping me out with this one. They brought their own ideas to the studio and all I had to do was blend them together. And speaking of studios, the drums sound is perfect because we recorded at Warrior Sound. As always, Al skillfully captured the magic. I hope you like it – if so, please share it with your friends. And if you’d like to sing or play along with it, here’s the song sheet.

Oh, and if you missed the show at Mystery Brewing, here’s a video of the premiere of this song:

Song 38 – Now or Never

February was an interesting month – I had surgery for a hernia. Pretty much every person I talked to and every website I visited said I should plan on taking at least one week off from work to recover. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love my job, but part of me was pretty excited about having an excuse to stay at home for five days – I imagined myself sitting on the couch playing music all day, every day, for a week. The night before the surgery I moved all of my instruments downstairs so that I could get to them easily once I was recovering.

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The ukulele didn’t feel like playing much music for a week. Instead, it just rested on the couch.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go as planned. Sure, I stayed home all week, but playing music was one of the last things I wanted to do. Instead, I just laid around and tried not to move too much. When I did feel like doing something, playing music gave me an extremely painful coughing fit. In hindsight, I should have seen this coming. Everyone and every website said I would take a week off from work – none of them said I would spend that week jamming out.

The good news is that I recovered quickly and today I went jogging without much pain. It was a beautiful day and I got to go out and enjoy it – something my hernia used to get in the way of. It makes me wish I’d done this years ago, but, like the week I spent laying on the couch not playing music, sometimes you never know until you try it.

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However, once the ukulele felt a little better, it could spend nice days outside without worry!

As for this month’s song, back in December I decided 2016 would feature a lot of “story” songs. Songs where I try to tell someone else’s tale. This one was inspired by a trip to a rural North Carolina town. There wasn’t much there, which was charming, but also a little suffocating for the younger people. Some were intent on making their dreams happen in that town, but some didn’t really know what they wanted other than more options. They wanted more ways to define who they were and what they would dedicate their lives to. I wrote this song for those seekers.

I hope everyone had a wonderful February and will have a great March. My February might not have been the most comfortable month, but I’m glad I had the surgery and am looking forward to my new life without hernia pain! If you’d like to play or sing along with my tune, here’s the song sheet.