Relative Something

*this* John W. Hays’ take on things and experiences

Posts Tagged ‘songwriting

Looking, Listening

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The morning light coming over the eastern horizon bathes our property with such picturesque hues. Yesterday, Cyndie captured how the smooth, freshly mowed hay-field looked as she and Delilah made their way around to open the chicken coop and tend to the horses.

Was it a coincidence that while I was processing this image, John Hartford’s “Gentle On My Mind” was playing and took over my brain with its lyrics?

“…in back roads by the rivers of my memory
Keeps you ever gentle on my mind.”

Maybe. Maybe not.

That’s the kind of song I wish I had written.

I’m probably in this mindset after reading Rickie Lee Jones’ tribute to Walter Becker on RollingStone.com. Just put me deeper in songwriting envy, revisiting the Steely Dan catalog and some of Rickie Lee’s best.

“done up in blue print blue. It sure looks good on you…”

She writes, in answer to her query about the “blue” meaning, that Walter told her he didn’t know; just felt like writing it.

I understand exactly.

Rickie Lee’s big breakout self-titled debut album was released when I was working full-time in a record store. Her phrasing and lyrical story telling captured me immediately.

“you never know when you’re makin’ a memory…”

My memories are flowing over the rolling hill of the hay-field toward the rising sun that is sculpting the popcorn clouds hanging low under the high blue sky. I am thinking of lives and loves who have come and gone with whispers and kisses, dipping toes in unknown oceans of improbable possibilities that did or didn’t actually play out, but undoubtedly shaped everything that has happened since.

Luckily, love grows, unbounded by physical limitations, and it continues to pave the rivers of my memories.

Ever gentle on my mind, indeed.

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The Song

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For those of you who are unfamiliar with the great June bicycle trip, I am once again providing the YouTube video of the song I wrote about the event. It is set to a slide show of photos I took during a couple trips that happened in northern Minnesota a bunch of years ago. It pretty much describes the week from start to finish. That’s why it is over 8 minutes long.

When I wrote this, in the days after a fabulous year when I couldn’t get the trip out of my mind, it was simply a chronicle of the routine, but that made it a little wordy. I unsuccessfully struggled to fit it into a song. So, the next year I told Jim Klobuchar, the ride conductor, that it was a poem I wrote and that I wanted to share it with the group.

He asked to read it, but when he took the sheet of paper from my hand, he just put it in his pocket. That’s the kind of leader Jim is, and I chose not to challenge his methods. He would read it at a time of his choosing. Not long after, he approached me and shared his approval, but he said that he wanted to read it to the group.

Really? I was a little taken aback by this, but at the same time, honored and humbled. I was happy to have him read it. In my mind, the initial gathering of the Friday night or Saturday morning was a time that made sense. He had other plans, but I’m guessing they weren’t firm.

Day after day went by, and he made no mention of it. I soon gave up any expectation and chose not to fret over not knowing what he had in mind. Finally, at lunch of the second-to-last day, he told the group to gather outside after the meal. He called me up to stand next to him, and he did a wonderful job reciting my prose.

I figured that was it. My composition worked just fine as a poem.

Until it didn’t anymore. Somehow I figure it was always meant to be a song. On a year when my family gave me a Baby Taylor travel guitar for my birthday, I decided it would be appropriate to be able to sing the song during the bike trips.

With some minor tweaking, I figured out a way to make it fit. That led to the added intro:

“What if it fit in the form of a perfect song
The trial of surviving a ride through a day long storm…”

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Written by johnwhays

June 19, 2017 at 6:00 am

Birthday Bob

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DSCN4774eHappy 75th to Robert Allen Zimmerman today.

Bob, I would’ve performed more of your songs over the years if I could have mastered the art of remembering all those lyrics.

I’m inclined to agree with pretty much everything I’ve heard from Bob Dylan. Luckily, I started paying attention after all the drama of his transition to using an electric guitar at concerts. By the time I was listening, the songs he was writing and music he was making seemed like a perfect fit.

I avoided all the fan angst.

I always appreciated that he somehow succeeded in performance despite violating everything a choir director would demand from a vocalist. It is a small minority who are able to make imperfection work and not simply sound imperfect. Obviously, the appeal isn’t universal, but based on the number of fans and longevity of Bob Dylan’s career, there is a large majority of listeners who “get it.”

The flaws become the features. I don’t know how it works, I just know that I am drawn to certain imperfect vocalists, and repelled by much of the rest.

Unfortunately, it has never been something I could harness for myself. I never mastered singing with that “imperfect” kind of character to a level that ascended beyond what repels me. I tend to flounder in the “almost there” category most of the time.

As a result, I relish the opportunity to enjoy professionals whose off-center vocalizations are good enough to succeed in the industry. I love the sound of a well-slurred word or phrase, and it makes me laugh to imagine a vocal instructor ever confidently endorsing such a thing.DSCN4777e

It seems to me that the first time I ever attended a live performance by Bob Dylan was 30 years ago, when he was touring with the Grateful Dead and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. They came to town for a show on my birthday and Cyndie bought tickets as a present.

My life-long pal, Paul Keiski, made me a custom shirt for the occasion. Then 4-days before the concert, Cyndie unexpectedly gave birth to our darling daughter, Elysa, which led to Cyndie handing her ticket off to her brother, Ben. Ever since, I have endured endless good-natured ribbing for going to that show without her.

It’s the kind of thing a fan does for troubadour like Bob Dylan. Happy 75th old man!

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Written by johnwhays

May 24, 2016 at 6:00 am