I was walking to my car one night and the opening line and melody of “Perfect” came into my head from out of nowhere. I started humming it on the way home, hearing different chords and lyrics. By the time I got home, much of the song had been written, but it was stuck in my head and I had to get it on paper. Of course, once I started writing it down I’d forgotten much of it, but the melody and the opening lines still stuck. I’m a big fan of movies that have multiple story lines going on at once at various non-linear pace. One of my favorites in this style is “Magnolia” written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson. The movie has a brilliant soundtrack by Aimee Mann and many of the lines in the film are directly taken from her music: “Now that I’ve met you, would you object to never seeing each other again?” is my favorite. Every time I watch the film I get something new out of it, it’s just that good. Anyway, I had wanted to write a song that used this kind of storytelling technique…different people at different places in their lives experiencing similar things. No part of this particular song is autobiographical. It’s abstract and written as one of those happy accidents. It is the song that I continue to get the most comments about from my album “Tune My Heart.”
When we make big moves and have big transitions in life, it causes the waters to stir with the ripple effect felt long after the event is over. Moving back to the east coast after nearly five years in the southwest was something that changed the waters in my life significantly. I received one of those oversized cards before I left from a group of students that I had worked with and on the inside it said “have fun in your new life on the other side” or something like that. There was also a picture of someone on an island fishing…not sure what the significance of that was, but anyway..it got me thinking. Once you write a song and call it “Other Side” you realize just how many songs of that same title are out there. I looked it up on iTunes and counted at least twenty. I like to write with a kind of free prose without locking in to one particular experience or story, and “Other Side” is the result of a real stream of consciousness style of writing. It started out with the images and language on that card, but soon developed into a tale of loss, and of moving on. It reminds me that songs don’t always have to be factual to be true, if that makes sense. If a phrase or an image resonates with someone else, perhaps even in an unintended way then I think the piece is “true.”
I live a life of opposing forces. We all do. Let me explain. The earth never smells so good except after a heavy rainfall. Once we reach the limit of our imagination, we find our true creativity. Once we get all our anger out in an argument, the healing begins. See what I mean? I think the ancient Chinese religion of Taoism has it right here. There’s always some degree of “the opposite” in everything. There is a beauty in opposing forces that we tend to overlook in constant favor of “the balance” of life. Yes, balance is good (especially when looking at our checking account), but it’s not necessarily the ideal. The great artists of the ages understood this. Why do we think that so many of the brilliant artists of our time were by everyday standards…pretty nuts? Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Ludwig Van Beethoven…these all seem to be individuals who lived on the edge of insanity but who are credited as “creative geniuses” changing the scope and vision of art in their wake. There is good and evil in each of us, the two are at war, constantly changing and reacting with each step we take. They aren’t necessarily on opposite extremes of one another, but they are in opposition. One needs, produces, informs and changes the other. We are complicated creatures, neither “all good” nor “all bad”…we’re all these things. We are waging war daily. How we deal with our life’s contradictions testifies to who we are and where we are on our journey.
I’m a big fan of the Narnia books. I think I’ve read them all three times now. They are great stories full of rich imagery and imagination. “The Silver Chair” is one of my favorites because it is such a specific story. Many of the other books in the series have a lot going on at once and a lot of backstory and characters, but this one feels different. It’s the story of two school children in search of a missing Prince in a mystical land. Their journey eventually leads them to an underground world that is under an evil spell from an enchantress. Their mission is to escape the spell and free the Prince who is chained night after night to a curious silver chair. The boy believes that he has to be chained to the chair because if he isn’t, he’ll turn into something evil. The school children come to understand that this is indeed not the case, but that the boy has been tricked into staying held captive by the evil enchantress. So they untie him from the chair, slay the evil enchantress, free the gnomes living underground, and in short, live happily ever after. What intrigues me about this story are the at times blatant, but none the less meaningful, metaphors for modern life. We happily content ourselves to become enchanted by worlds, people, and objects that are not true, that are not life-giving. They are the things that will eat away at us until we lose our core. We become reduced to slaving after things that have no purpose. We have to learn to “see beyond the silver chairs” in our lives.
I wrote this song after hearing some difficult news over the phone. It felt like the bottom of my world was dropping out, and I was all over the place emotionally. The refrain of the song was written down within minutes of hanging up: “nothing seems real except the feelings that I feel” seemed like the only genuine place to start. Sometimes there are simply no words to describe what we’re experiencing…we just have feelings and they feel truer and more potent than any words would. We have to let go of our fears to disable the power that they have over us in our lives. Our hearts are heavy and full of love and hope if we will let them do the work of “peeling away the scars.” It was unimaginable how life would go on after hearing this news, but we have to trust that all will be fine and that our wounds will heal in time.
This is one of my favorite songs I’ve written. I don’t know why in particular, I just like it. We were on a bit of a deadline trying to wrap up the recording stage of a sampler album we were working on as a loose group of musicians that call ourselves the Renewal Artists in 2008 and I was responsible for producing one more track for the CD. (By the way, if you like this song you should download it here.) I wasn’t confident enough about some of the stuff I had already written, so on the floor of the spare room in my parent’s house, I retuned my guitar and began strumming the simple chord progression in DADGAD tuning and a melody just started coming. I had no concept, no lyrics, no structure, but I just went for it and out it came. Some songs are like fountains, others are just annoying little drips in a very large, very rusty bucket that just gnaw at you. “Meaning of Life” was the former. I had the start of a melody, I had a meter and I had what I considered a strong lyrical start “I will not take that which I make into a bigger deal than you. But what can I bring as my offering of total dependence on you?” Then the “oh oh oh’s” took over, a simple bridge-like melodic trick that allowed me to get away with not writing an actual bridge with actual lyrics. I really am not too good at building bridges in most of my songs, I seem to prefer the old folk model: verse, chorus, verse, chorus, verse, chorus…you get the idea. There’s a beautiful simplicity in that structure that isn’t always necessarily laziness (though some of my bridge-less songs do belong in that category). In less than an hour I had the songs scratched down on a notepad with a numbering system to remind me of how the melody went, and I was off to the studio and recorded the song that day.