I haven’t actually finished this one, because I still have one song to go and I’m late. We’re all a little more lenient with one another in this tribe these days, but I still feel a little guilty talking about it before I’m done.
Nevertheless, here I am talking about it.
One thing I’ve realized out of this 14-Days challenge is that there’s never going to be a time when I have two weeks in which there is nothing else going on. There will always be another big project at the same time, or traveling I must do, or house guests, or any number of other reasons why I can’t complete. But they’re all BS. Long ago, someone told me “If you want to call yourself a writer, than you gotta write.” And that’s even if you’re not feelin’ it right now, or whatever the current excuse is. It’s just like every other desire. If you want to be the kind of person who makes her bed every morning, well, make your bed every morning. Duh!
Well, so this time, I had family in town (Well. Sorta. They were in San Antonio.), and one of them kicked his childhood to the curb by graduating from the Air Force Basic Training and getting married in the same day. I’m still a little shocked, and eventually, I suppose I’ll write a song, but the song that came out right afterwards is below. It’s got peculiar origins, as it was based on the names of subdivisions we passed in the car on the way home. Fanciful names in the middle of Nowhere, Texas. I was delighted. That was Day 13 for me.
Y’know …. I used to think that I had to be high to write, or at least to write well. A lot of illusions have been dispelled since we started doing these challenges.
I was going to try to list my favorites of the other writers involved, but there’s really too many. But I did want to mention Pattie Stuart who, not 3 weeks ago after some big changes in her life, was saying she didn’t feel like writing. And then wrote 14 lovely songs. Way to go, Pattie!
As I said, I still owe one song, so this missive will be a bit shorter than usual, but here’s Silver Valley, with all the usual sound caveats.
So, when last we met, I described how in the first week of the 14 Songs challenge, two of the songs came to me in dreams. In the second week, it got even stranger.
I did a show with Jean Synodinos and a man named Mike Silver, who was in Texas from Cornwall, U.K. The woman who brought him here had heard him in a club there and paid for him to come to the U.S. She booked gigs for him, and one of them was my new songwriters showcase at Star Company Coffee in Round Rock. It’s scheduled for the second Saturday of each month from now until … eternity. Or at least that’s the plan. Anyway, Mike turned out to be an incredibly good songwriter, and he had one of those beautiful Celtic tenor voices. I was very enthusiastic. I gushed. We traded CDs. I listened to one of his, and realized that I had decidedly not gushed enough. You can find him at http://mikesilver.jigsy.com/ Listen for yourself.
So a couple days later, I was driving down Highway 130, listening to Mike’s CD, and one of titles catches my ear. So I shut off the song he was about to sing, to see where I would make the idea go. And sure enough, it went somewhere completely different than what Mike did with it. So that was that day’s song. (What if?) It’s one of my favorites from the whole 14, and I will be including it in this post.
About two days later, I dreamed of my Dad, who has been gone about 5 years. It gets less painful after awhile, but I still think of him pretty frequently and miss him a lot. So dreaming about him wasn’t that surprising. But I dreamed that he had sent one of my daughters a gift, and it was being delivered 5 years later. And I was explaining how remarkable that was to the UPS guy, as he’d been gone for that same amount of time, and the whole thing turned into a song. (Many Years Ago)
So in other words, I got three dream songs in less than two weeks. I think that’s pretty bizarre. Don’t you?
This was one of my most successful challenges ever, or at least since the very first ones where I got three of the songs that are on my new CD, Siren Song (which is doing very well, thank you.) If you’d like to listen to some samples, and perhaps acquire the CD, you can find it at http://janseides.com/music
My only complaint these days is how many songs I now have to practice. Which makes me pretty happy, actually.
Technically, this isn’t a 14-songs-in-14-days tale, though it still has to do with songwriting and with Pat Pattison and all the other usual earmarks. We have a new 14-day challenge coming up on May 1st, though I won’t really be doing it until June. I and several others begged off, partly because of the story I’m about to tell. Also, my new CD will have it’s official release celebration on May 17th — at Joe’s Place, MLK and Chicon, 7 – 9 pm — and I feel like my time would be better spent preparing for that.
However, for at least one other person that declined the next challenge, it’s because Pat and Berklee School of Music offered an online songwriting class for FREE. My favorite price. It was though a company called Coursera, and it was very well put together. And I’m about to tell you all about it and send you the two songs that came out of it.
We have actually already done one 14-day challenge this year, but it was about putting together effective metaphors, and I made it to Day 10, before real life took over. It was grueling, requiring a lot of thought, and even more time. I’m sure it was good for me, it was that painful. Maybe one day I’ll go back and finish the other four days, mostly because it took such effort to get that far. But I’d rather write songs….
The class was 6 weeks long, and involved putting to use the ideas that Pat presented in each of several lectures for each week. For example, the first week was about describing a song idea in a series of boxes, each larger than the one before, and each concluding with the chorus idea in a way that made the chorus pay off bigger each time. It was also about identifying different points of view in examples of popular songs, and then trying them out in one’s own songs. There were quizzes along the way, to make sure the student was getting the point, and then at the end there was an assignment involving the boxes.
I didn’t particularly care about getting a grade for the course, though later that did become an issue for me. I wanted to do well and get something out of it, after all. But at the end of the first week, despite several hints that this was the case, I discovered that what I thought was the due date actually was not. It had actually been the day before. This happened because on the stated date, Monday, March 11th, the window closed at 9 AM. 9 AM????? I’m a musician! The only reason I know there’s a 9 AM is because it’s on my clock. Though not necessarily in bed, I’m usually not functional before 11, and even that’s iffy. I haven’t been actually awake at 9 AM since I stopped having to take children to school …. a long time ago.
So I missed getting in the first assignment. We weren’t supposed to write an actual song for it, just outline one in boxes, and just write the chorus and maybe the first verse. In fact, I had been so intrigued by the idea for this one, that I had most of the song. Since I was kinda ticked off that the window closed that early, and since living well is still the best revenge: I went ahead and finished the song. I ended up using it for the next assignment. There’s a link to it at the bottom of this post. Recording is quick and dirty. Garage Band. You know how that goes.
The next few weeks were spent variously on identifying different types of rhymes, and learning to use them in a song. Pat generously offered to allow us to look on while he put the concepts into practice. It had boxes, rhyming worksheets, choice of tones, lots of preparatory stuff. At one point, I thought to myself “This is pretty mathematical.” which (from me) is not a compliment…..
But then, he started to actually flesh out the song. Amazing! Wonderful lyrics that not only suited the idea, but felt exactly the way I believe he intended us to feel. “This way you don’t ever have to have writer’s block”, he remarked during one presentation. I thought, “I don’t believe in writer’s block anyway! I learned during the first 14-day challenge that songs are literally everywhere….oh wait! The 14-day challenges were Pat’s idea too”.
Now the course is over. I turned in the last assignment, designed to make the students use all the skills they’ve learned, and evaluated five of my fellow students’ efforts (We had to do this after each assignment.) I’m waiting to see what five of my cohorts had to say about my efforts. I know several others of the students personally, and wondered if I’d run into them during the 6 weeks. Pretty unlikely. There were 65,000 people from all over the world taking this course is what I heard!
The results of the last assignment are also linked below. (Same caveat about the recording quality.) So I got two new songs out of the 6 weeks. Not bad.
I know. I kinda left you hanging, didn’t I.
Well, here are the rest of my songs from our last 14, and a couple of descriptions of my favorites from the other writers involved in this insanity.
Although I had pretty much resolved to stay home during the holidays, the Universe was not listening when I said so. You know the old saying, “Humans plan and G-d laughs”. We were going to Los Angeles, it turned out, because my daughter, Raina, and her husband, Jesse, now live there. They have a house in North Hollywood we wanted to see, and Andy had not been to California in a long time, and someone offered me a gig at a nice venue there, and…..etc. But some of you who know me, or for whom I’ve performed, know that I ran screaming from Los Angeles back at the end of the 80s. And that every once in awhile, I wake sweaty from a nightmare that I had to go back and live there again. Mostly, it had to do with people I encountered there, or anyway, two of them, who convinced me I was in the wrong place. It’s hard not to believe some people are predatory when they are preying on you.THE SCENE OF YOUR CRIME I’m revisiting the scene of your crime I guess the universe thinks It’s been enough time For me to recover But I’m not so sure So I’m revisiting the scene of your crime I’m rehearsing the words I could say To calm myself down When I notice my hands shaking Like “Take a deep breath” And “You don’t have to be upset” I’m rehearsing the words I could say. You hurt me in a way No one’s thought of before How very creative of you! That was years ago now I don’t care any more I’m sure I’m pretty sure…. That’s why I’m revisiting the scene of your crime I guess te universe thinks It’s been enough time For me to recover But I’m not so sure So I’m revisiting the scene of your crime
Everything went just fine, and I returned to Austin unscathed. A funny thing happened on the way home. My friends Linda and David drive down from Minnesota every winter to escape the cold. As they were reaching Austin, there was a freak snowstorm in West Texas, so they stayed at our house while waiting for the weather to clear. They left our house at almost the same time as we left California, so we met them at Exit 65 on I-10 in West Texas, without either one of us losing any time in our journey! Which would have been impossible without cellphones. We hugged, talked a bit, then they continued west, and we continued east. Dontcha love it?
This next was the result of a very productive day for anything except songwriting:HALLELUJAH! Hallelujah my car is washed Hallelujah my bills are paid Hallelujah my house is clean Hallelujah my bed is made Hallelujah my shopping is done And the rest has been deferred. Hallelujah! Best of all, Hallelujah my pedis are cured. Hallelujah my pianos practiced Hallelujah my guitar is too Hallelujah my ivories are tickled Hallelujah my strings are new I guess I’m a little ADD I guess I’m a bit of a nerd Hallelujah my song is written Hallelujah my pedis are cured.
Not much as songs go, but my chores were done.
The next day, as I was telling someone about Raina and Jesse’s wedding, I realized that the song for that day was already written. By Rob Corddry who was the officiant at their wedding. Or sorta:LOVE IS FUN Physics is hard And chemistry’s hard But love is fun, and it’s easy House cleaning is hard And mowing the yard But love is fun, and it’s easy Either kind of calculus is hard The perfect pun, a 10K run But love is fun And it’s easy. Doing my taxes Makes me anxious But love is fun, and it’s easy Losing weight is hard Not being late is hard But love is fun, and it’s easy Speaking truth to power is hard Writing these songs, admitting I’m wrong But love is fun And it’s easy. People tell you love is hard You gotta work (You kinda do.) They forget to tell you the reward Love has its perks And that’s the truth Learning restraint is hard Learning to paint is hard But love is fun, and it’s easy Splitting a log is hard Bathing the dog is hard But love is fun, and it’s easy Learning to drive is hard Playing a drum, lifting a ton But love is fun, And it’s easy.
And finally, I got the song about my Dad that I’ve waited a decade to write:HERO My papa was a fly boy In 1944 He flew his final mission In the 2nd “war to end all wars”. But didn’t see his home again For a year and 2 months more And there are those who call him a hero They locked him in a prison Somewhere beside the sea With the memories of companions To haunt his dreams And a photo of his wife And the child he’d never seen And those at home called him a hero The most modern of maachinery The most primitive act When he was finally free, He wended his way back And he saw what they had done, And what we did to them He said, “No….I am no hero. My papa laid his life down In 2007 A good father, a good men He gave me goodness to believe in. And somewhere in the universe I hope he feels forgiven. And he knows he is a hero
As far as other writers and their successes this time, the standouts for me were Jean Synodinos (Forgive His Sins – which was good advice for me at exactly the moment I needed it — Winter Grey and The End of the World); Katie Gosnell (among others, a hilarious little ditty called No More Funny Songs Please); Stewart Moser (The sweet story of It’s For You and a beautiful Biblically-based song called Inner Abraham), Joe Strouse (The Right Lane is the Right Lane For Me). Couldn’t agree more, Joe!
I can’t give you any of theirs, for obvious reasons, but you can have Hero to listen to. This will definitely show up on a CD or EP at some point.
Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. It’s the “trickster” aspect of it, I think, and also the opportunity to pretend to be someone (or even something) else for awhile, that gets me so excited. Consequently, I love Halloween songs, the weirder the better. My favorite of other folks’ musical contributions to that holiday are many but the standouts are “Sally’s Song” from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and something called “Zombie Jamboree”. There was also a song in The Corpse Bride — can you tell I like Tim Burton? — called “The Remains of the Day”, that I want to learn for my next Halloween show. I always try to book something at the end of October so that I can have a Halloween show. This year, the closest I can get is October 20th, but that’s OK. Halloween really should be celebrated all month, as far as I’m concerned.
So, we’re on our second 14-songs-in-14-days challenge, and it’s five months past my sudden and unexpected trip to the hospital. I think I’ve spoken of this in another post, but the short story is that I developed a blood clot in one leg. First time in the hospital for anything other than a baby, first surgery and I emerged pretty traumatized by the whole affair. To start with, my life, pre-hospital stay, was lovely. And I knew it. I was writing and performing. I was teaching music. Mornings began with a 30-minute run admiring my neighbors’ gardens. Lovely. And threatened by my health “issue”.
Now, there were all these white-coated people telling me about things I needed to slow down, or even stop, and suffice to say, I was pretty resistant. As the symptoms yielded to time and medicine, I mentioned to someone that I was running again, and he clucked and shook his head. My reasoning was that if I wasn’t supposed to do it, I wouldn’t be able to, and I was able to run, therefore …..
Seemed logical to me, but I may have been biased.
At one point, the doctor ordered an ultra-sound and the results indicated that the clot wasn’t gone, as I and everyone else expected. It was the day before a trip up to see my sister-in-law, and it was a Friday, which meant I couldn’t talk with the doctor about it until Monday. I just wanted the whole thing to be over, and I was pretty distraught that it wasn’t.
That night we were at my sister-in-law’s house and I couldn’t sleep, and I still owed the universe a song, so I got up, turned a chair to the wall, and worried. All sorts of terrible things went through my mind, of all the things I wouldn’t be able to do EVER AGAIN (I have a problem with what they call “awful-izing”.) At some point, Andy got up and came looking for me to ask what was going on.
“Oh nothing,” I responded. “I just have goblins in my head.”
That became the title of my newest Halloween song.
There were some great songs written by the group this time too. By now we were veterans and no longer freaked out by the project. A few people wrote songs about the challenge, but not as many as before. Sue Young wrote a heart-wrenching song about the BP oil spill called “Black Water” that she says was pretty much an interview she read in the paper. And Jimmy Joe Natoli wrote a fantasy about driving one of the students on his school bus, called “Ellen’s Ride”. Great fun was had by all, I think. But we were still fairly surprised that we were getting usable songs out of this.
We had a gathering after the two weeks were over, and I chose this one as one of my two favorites. When I played it, Mo McMorrow, one of the other members of this group, expressed her surprised that this song came out of that experience. Here it is. Have a listen. See if you’re surprised.