Saturday, February 19, 2011
Who is it that you are and what became of your dreams? Do you still carry them or have they only become another part of the eroding landscape of youth?
You have now become her and she can laugh at herself. She’s beautiful with her hair up cleaning windows or glowing in the black dress, bought for special occasions. If there’s humor in the room, she’ll find it. Humor in the world, she’ll eat it up with a laugh nobody can ignore.
She will stop to pet the neighbor’s dog and make the old woman down the street feel wanted. She’ll make fun of herself for being a dork but knows how to excite me in 5 seconds. If I act like a guy, she’ll forgive me and remind me that I’m too old for whatever it was I did. She knows I’ll still be here, especially after a week’s worth of “one of those days.”
She has curiosity in the world and is a fan of kisses for no reason. Love is my one requirement and is easy for her to fill. We’ll cling to each other in this often slippery world.
Love is the heart’s only law.
Love is the soul. Love the sweet breath of air just before dark, as I wait for you. Love is laughter and music and I want to release to feel the colorful and gentle melody in your heart. Just come out and show yourself whoever you are; I’m right here waiting.
A kitten , a vixen, maybe a mother, who can see the innocence in a child and find her own in the scrapbook of black and white photographs she hid because she was no longer a size 5. Now the vanity is gone and time has become her friend because she knows that she’s beautiful inside and out. I love her loudly and she loves when I brag about her. She has turned into the beautiful woman her mother tried to convince her she was when her heart was broken in the ninth grade. Now she can’t remember his name.
I’m not part of her unbroken circle of friends, but can dance with them just the same; proud that my first and last dance will always be hers and each one in-between belongs to us. She was born with eyes that shine and she will die with eyes that shine. I surprise everyone by telling them she’s my best friend and also my wife.
“Let’s sleep late on Saturday and I’ll bring you breakfast in bed.”
You tell me, “No. It’s early to rise with a big breakfast because we need it to have strength for shopping later. We must find all the good stuff at the garage sales before anyone else does. “
We’ll split up the minute we enter the flea market and meet at the same place after circling around and finding the perfect gift we bought for under five dollars and hide in our pocket, coat or behind our backs. Only 5 questions can be asked before guessing and we’ve never guessed right We’ll reveal them with the excitement of Christmas before an afternoon nap. Then in the quiet slumber, we’ll dream of water, trees, the fragrance of lilacs in early May, a rainy forest, the first snow on a Saturday night, the smell of baked bread, a thunderstorm moving over the fields, how the third step in the old house still creaks. . . and the sun, of the warmth of the sun!
I love the roots in your hair. You have become a woman of the world, with a little girls wonder and the cheerleader spirit who can get me going again. You measure time with our heartbeats and moments, not with the elegant watch on your wrist that drives your work load each day and that you’ll leave on the dresser when you get home.
Sometimes you want to be alone, but welcome me after a while, because I can detect the tears in your eyes from what mine don’t see and hear the quiet, sobbing you think is sentimental, but that I will always understand.
I will wipe away every tear yet my stupidity may still cause you to cry on occasion. I will always put life on hold to listen. Why are you crying now? Is it the memory of the dog you never got to kiss goodbye when you went away to college? Or is it because your parents didn’t tell you when he died because you were too busy to call them?
Or is it the flicker of life that’s awakened you, as you suddenly realized we are in the middle of the third act and can’t start over? I want to walk in the light with you.
I can hear you from the bedroom as I collect my thoughts in the kitchen.
“Ohh, are you roasting garlic or are those onions that I smell? Remember, don’t boil the pasta too long. You know I’m one part Italian.”
The first sip of Riesling on your lips covers the real flavor of you and I want to kiss it off when you enter the kitchen so I may taste your sweetness instead. I fell in love with you for many reasons and all of them are perfectly, imperfect.
“Come to bed; I want to be held. You can skip the floss on your perfect teeth tonight.” You pause and laugh at the cute absurdity of what you just said, knowing I love you but will disregard your request for at least another 60 seconds.
As I look into the bedroom I see your smile and your reading glasses give you the sexy librarian look you know I love.
“Maybe we’ll play library cop tomorrow,” I say.
As you remove your dime store readers you whisper: “In that case I’ll steal some more books “
You’ve turned the electric blanket up high on your side and I don’t care. Together, we thank God for letting us find each other. I shut off the light while Sam Cooke warms the AM radio waves, helping us to fall asleep. And we know each morning we wake, we will be given the chance to make things right again.
Sunday, February 13, 2011
One of the many things Stewart and have in common is our incredible admiration of Bruce Springsteen. During the past several weeks I’ve been living on the sustenance of Stewart & Bruce; music that means something and for better or worse has sustained me, as I’ve been forced to get to know my broken heart. Listening to them feels so right because of where I and so many others I know find themselves; living in a town with a bitter wind, broken dreams out on the street and a fractured faith. Thank God their music brings hope within the helplessness and color even forms in the grey matter.
As Springsteen fans we had to wait 30 years for the tenderness and unfinished story that “The Promise” delivered. But looking back to that era, Bruce gave us a different kind of promise showing us that faith isn’t always happy or clean and it isn’t always pretty, but the results of it can produce an extraordinary beauty when revealed.
Tonight I'll be on that hill 'cause I can't stop
I'll be on that hill with everything I got
Lives on the line where dreams are found and lost
I'll be there on time and I'll pay the cost
For wanting things that can only be found
In the darkness on the edge of town
Broad streaks of faith have always been on the face of Bruce and Stewart’s music and they'll generously reveal themselves to you if you want to listen. Lately, I’ve been looking for meaning in everything I do; hoping it brings a chance for me to reach a place where I can move forward instead of building bridges made of leaves over the emotional chasm I’m trying to cross.
The problem with writing about faith is that so many artists have cheapened it with songs that do nothing but make it memorable and easy to obtain, while using the same worn out rhymes. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the writers of those songs, but often question their depth. This is because faith isn’t something you talk about, have, find, get or buy into; it’s a verb.
It’s taking that uncertain step and occasionally looking behind you, not to be reminded of the past, but to see how far you’ve come. As I listen to The Promise, I hear two friends who understanding that in order to let go they needed to be moving toward something else at the same time.
All my life, I fought this fight. The fight no man can ever win
Every day it just gets harder to live, this dream I’m belivin’ in.
Thunder Road--- for the lost lovers and all the fixed games.
Thunder Road--- for the tires rushing by in the rain.
Thunder Road, remember what me and Billy we’d always say
Thunder Road, we were gonna take it all, then throw it all away.
2010 started with great hope and a lot of firsts for me. For the first time in my life I had a woman I loved and who loved me with a shared passion. She took me to my first Kentucky Derby, just after the stresses of my former employer sent me to the hospital to get injected with radioactive material and test my heart. My second book sold out and a second pressing was completed to fill the soft but steady “demand.” My third book was completed and pressed in June, I had my first play produced in July, and suddenly people were interested in other things I’d written.
As life ramped up with my girlfriend we began sharing hopes and visions more often, and we were close to fulfilling a lifelong dream we both had of buying that “little place in the UP” and living happily ever after with 3 months of bad sledding from June-August. But life started unraveling. In August, I was unceremoniously fired under the new “management” of the agency where I had worked without any disruption for almost 10 years and I didn’t take it lying down. In September, the UP dream fell apart. In October I lost the woman I loved, leaving me with a lot of time on my hands to contemplate life, its meaning left me wondering why I’d hit rock bottom but kept on digging. Through a miracle, I became reunited with my her at Thanksgiving. Suddenly, each day was a gift again and because we knew that love was a choice. It actually felt better than falling in love the first time because the heart can be incurably deceptive. I was seeing the world in wide screen and our relationship was ramping up every day. I began writing again and many people thought I was finally finding my own voice or relevance. I lost 50 pounds and was the happiest most productive and busiest unemployed person in the Midwest. I was hittin’ on all cylinders.
At Christmas, I was blindsided again when she got scared and uninvited me (via an email) for the holidays. It came the night before I was to leave. My bag was packed and a diamond ring was inside it, but it was not to be. I guess it was better than getting a text at the altar telling me “sorry ,but I can’t,” and after weeks of trying to keep my end of the promise alive, I’ve learned that nobody can’t chase a scared, unsure and runaway heart anymore than they can fix a broken one.
I’ve been trying to convince myself that that the opposite of love is freedom and not hate. But each day it’s like an addict trying to forget the smoke, the bottle or fine white line. It still feels like I’ve been robbed of everything except my pain, but I can finally feel a momentum shift. But for the grace of God, go I, but I still don’t buy green bananas and the first thing I do every day is to scan the obits for my name. If I don’t find it, it tells me God still has a plan for me and maybe today will be the day it is finally revealed.
I’m trying to hold my head high tonight, but faith in faith itself feels like a feeble crutch, because even faith has its weaknesses---like when I woke up this morning and realized it's is Valentine’s Day and I’ve got a really beautiful diamond ring in my dresser that’s never been worn.
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
I’ve been listening to Bruce Springsteen’s new record, The Promise, over and over. If you’ve read anything about it you’ll know its material he recorded but abandoned 30 years ago ---about the same time I first met the people at the party. It was written and recorded between Born to Run and Darkness on the Edge of Town. As Bruce states in the liner notes, it’s “tough music for folks in tough circumstances” and it was custom made for that night. After a few heart to heart conversations with friends, we were right back in each other’s lives --- old friends who had never outgrown the circle.
The songs on Springsteen’s new collection, The Promise, are about love, tenderness, doubt, hope, passion, loneliness, discovery and trying not to give up on life even though sometimes it feels like every part of you wants to. After I left the party, I swear I could have selected any song and matched it to any one of my friend’s situation. The Brokenhearted, It’s a Shame, Breakaway, Because the Night, Talk to Me, Outside Looking In, Racin’ in the Street. The Promise. . . and on and on.
Being able to see people with whom I shared a special bond was a joy without measure. Yet slowly as the night went on, I felt the room filling with doubt and uncertainty. Many of us were wounded in some way or another; the end of a marriage, the loss of a parent, unemployment, illness, addiction, confliction and contradiction. After spilling guts like old friends can do, I’m pretty sure when we left, each of us retrieved our own burdens from the invisible pile that had grown in the middle of the room. Some acted as if they didn’t care while some washed away the pain with a beer and a shot, allowing their buried laughter to briefly surface. Some searched quietly for help and some knew they’d be ok in time; while others of us were still trying unsuccessfully to move on.
30 years ago when he recorded the material, Bruce was talking about some of life’s simple truths that I’d not yet learned. In the span of 30 years I grew to love him because of the undeniable connection his music forged with me as I grew up. Now, 30 years down the road, the subject matter has become the soundtrack to my life.
“Save My Love” was the first song I heard from “The Promise.” For my money, it’s the greatest 2:38 of music to be released in the last three decades. The first verse feels doubtful and fearful: “There’s something coming through the air, that softly reminds me—tonight I’ll park out on the hill and wait until they find me. Slipping through the ether, a voice is coming through. So keep me in your heart tonight and I’ll save my love for you.” The redemption arrives in the next blistering stanza “So turn up your radio, darlin’ dial me in close. We’re ridin’ through the airwaves and we’re traveling’ coast to coast. Over river and highway, your voice comes clear and true. Though we’re far apart tonight I’ll save my love for you.”
Having just gone through (and still going through) a sad and terrible break up with the woman I thought I was going to marry, it surprised me how the song gave me hope during the dying days of our relationship. I was still hanging on to the promise I made to her and her abrupt departure made me feel like a fool, until I realized promises sunk like stones when they’re only held with one hand.
The song resonated with me because it was once a reflection of the love we both knew. “Hold me in your arms and our doubts won’t break us. If we open up our hearts, love won’t forsake us.” It provided the sliver of hope that I needed, but now I know I’ll never talk to, or see her again. In a fantasy, I wanted her to dial me in close and hear the same bittersweet message the song held because we lived in different cities. I thought if she tried, she’d be able to feel it through the radio waves, in the wires, in the air, somewhere . . .anywhere.
People have told me there’s beauty in pain, but I have yet to find it. I love her and I hate her and some days I’m not proud of either one. The same people told me there’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in all of this, but the only thing I’ve learned is that losing someone you’re in love with robs you of everything except your pain.
“The Little Things My Baby Does” is a song that no woman in love could deny. It’s a Phil Spector-ish mid tempo rocker, reminiscent of The Ronnette’s “Be My Baby,” but a little slower. It is the perfect, cheek- to-cheek-sway-with-your- own- baby song. You feel the tenderness found in the sentiment like you feel your lovers heart beating next to yours as you dance.
“The way she kisses so tenderly, the way she gives her love to me
The way she sighs when I hold her tight. Good times or bad will be all right.
Faces on the street they push hard and they shove Then disappear with the little things my baby does.
The party has been over for a while and presumably everyone who was there is now home with someone they either love, missed or maybe hated; didn’t want to live with, never should have married yet can’t live without--- someone they’d give their life for or someone they don’t realize they are ignoring. Or maybe they just don’t know each other and haven’t given it enough time, or effort; or perhaps they don’t understand the significance of a promise.
It’s now going on 2:30 AM. This is the first night I’ll slept in my own bed since she said goodbye. Hers was always the last voice I’d hear telling me she loved me before we went to sleep. My baby’s voice is gone and she’s muted mine in the process. She’s probably at home, sleeping peacefully with her new dog taking up my side of the bed and getting on with her life.
I’m still restless and I can’t sleep. I look at the clock in front of me but it’s too blurry to read. The sliver of light coming through the window will no longer shine on her face as she turns for that one last kiss goodnight. Every kiss from her was the greatest one my life would know until her next one.
Bruce is still playing in the other room.
“When the promise is broken you go on living
But it steals something from down in your soul
Like when the truth is spoken and it don't make no difference
Something in your heart turns cold.”
And like Bruce, when the promise was broken, I cashed in a few of my own dreams.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
I just don’t get it. And I’m not just talking about the way we’re getting bludgeoned from all sides these days by lunacy and scandal, but the frequency we’re forced to endure is astounding. On a lesser, but from the same “scratching of my head” philosophy, recently I was looking for a contractor/handyman to do some work on a bathroom. I called a few people to get a bid here is what happened. Keep in mind I live in Michigan, where we lead the nation in unemployment, foreclosures and divorce.
#1 person is someone I’ve met a few times and each time we talk he complained about how all the newly unemployed people in Michigan were “hurting his business” because they were underbidding him.
He lives less than a mile from the place I needed work done but didn’t want to come and give an estimate on the first few days I offered to meet him until it was “a good time for him.” We set up a time and he called a few hours before and cancelled because of a family matter, Being compassionate, I completely understood and asked him to contact me at his earliest convenience, preferably at a time (2 days from then) that we set while still on the phone. He didn’t phone back when he said he would. Fair enough.
#2 person was called and didn’t call back.
#3 person, a recently unemployed architect, answered his phone and we arranged a time to meet. After leaving the key for him to get into the house because I couldn’t be there, he sent me a detailed bid on the job.
I called #1 again asking if he could re-bid. He said he thought I was supposed to call him back and asked me why I didn’t! He then told me he was too busy but had a person to recommend (#4)
I called #4 and told him I needed a written quote and that the job was approaching with some urgency, but nothing immediate but needed to be done soon. Since he came recommended from #1 (who I thought I knew) he agreed to meet me 2 days later to take a look. When he didn’t show up 20 minutes after our agreed time, I left the premises and phoned him, telling him I left the door open and asking him to please take a look and let me know. He told me he’d email a bid in “a few days.”
When 6 days had passed and he had not contacted me, I phoned him asking if I could get something in writing from him as I requested initially. He said “ok” and a day later sent me a bid (though he couldn’t remember my name) that consisted of a dollar amount and nothing else.
He left me a message a day or two later stating if I wanted to talk about the quote I could give him a call, but would appreciate it soon because he had “other jobs” he was working on in the area.
I accepted the bid of #3, you know, the honorable guy who actually showed up and gave me something to look at? He offered to meet again with the owner of the property to walk through everything again and explain it in detail.
As an afterthought I emailed #4 back simply stating (very nicely) that since he basically didn’t tell me anything of substance in his “bid” I went with another contractor. Ten minutes later he called me telling me how unprofessional I was for not calling him back after he sent me the original “bid” and wished me good luck getting the work done.
Please tell me what’s wrong with this picture. Are my expectations too high? Why do I get hit with the “indignant switcheroo” when all I’m trying to do is offer work to someone?
Is it just me, or has common sense become all too uncommon?
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Completing this book gave me a sense of satisfaction. It was a challenging year in many ways; between work (we had a massive fire) family (my father fell ill with a non-curable disease) and the pressure I put on myself to complete this book in a timely manner (only 6 weeks late). But alas, common sense won out over my creative demons and voila, it’s done
A trip to the Wisconsin cottage around Memorial Day gave me a couple days to rest, while another trip in mid June, (which turned into a power work session) enabled me to complete it in time for a summer release. I almost scrapped the whole thing and started over. I could have continued working on it, tightened up the writing, get more stimulating photographs or continue doing rewrites until I got sicker of myself than I already was. However, I have a goal of releasing one book a year and I did not want to fall too far behind. This was my first attempt at combining poetry and photographs; a hybrid I don’t see often, so I’m still unsure how it will play out with those who read it.
Riches I do not seek, nor critical acclaim, though acceptance is always nice. Creating a connection with the reader is my main goal with any of my writing or photography. I’ve had mixed reviews so far from those who absolutely love it to many varied responses. One person told me they cried when they opened it and began flipping through the pages. “Because it sucked so bad?” I asked? “No,” they replied, “It’s because the beauty just struck me in a profound way.”
Some thought it to be “really good,” or “better than they thought it would be,” while others were expecting a better quality product or only “whelmed” with the content. Some liked the poems but not the photos as much and vice-versa. I was a little perplexed, however, when someone close to me only commented with these words: “ Would recommend you get a "PLEASE DO NOT BEND" stamp, make some labels, etc. for shipping out single copies of your book.”
Duly noted; and I haven’t quit my day job.
The challenge now is to promote it in a meaningful and effective way. I’m exploring options including poetry readings; photo exhibitions and I’ve been invited to sell them a writer’s conference in Northern Michigan later this fall. I know I need to get moving on all accounts, but currently I find myself wrapped up in working on my next book, which I already have half shot though I’ve not begun writing it yet. It will be a combination of photos of rural and small town Wisconsin and include short essays. But more on that later, I’ve got a lot to do.
Places I Hide is dedicated to my best friend, Scott Mitchell. We met in high school and became closer in 4 years than most people can become in a lifetime. This is probably because he was as close to having a twin brother as humanly possible. Sadly, he was killed tragically in a car accident between his freshman and sophomore years of college after he had too much to drink. It was an event that affected and continues to affect my life in a deep way and something that even after 23 years I’ve never fully shaken. But I’ve been told that response is normal, however nothing in my life has ever been what I would consider “normal” since that day.
Scott and I were a lot alike. We were both drummers, pranksters, loved music, chased girls and spent endless hours talking about them. We were sensitive, which is probably why we connected so well. We also were on the swim team together as well as in the symphony and marching band. Often during concerts or swim meets our mothers who sat together could not physically tell us apart. We had the same sense of humor and same passion for life and family and friends. We were indeed soul mates. I often wonder if we would have drifted apart like so many close friends do after high school and it’s a concept that while on one hand I cannot fathom ever happening, recognize it was a remote possibility. But even in death we have not strayed.
I suppose nobody deals with death very well, except perhaps morticians and I’ve often wondered how they deal with it when it hits close to home. I’ve always maintained that 19-year-old boys were not supposed to die the way he did, which made it tragic and in being tragic left so many people with so many questions that were never answered. I remember all the details surrounding it like it were last week, though the same emotion I felt then has morphed into something else as I grew up but he did not. When he died a part of me died, but as I’ve lived, a part of him continues to live in me.
Scott had been to the cabin with me and visited many of the places you’ll find in the book. He also wrote and pondered a lot about life like I did. Though we were laugh a minute friends, before he died we talked a lot about life and death and God. His father had died of a brain tumor only 2 years before he did and though he was courageous as a 17-year-old kid could be, I knew of the pain that existed behind his eyes.
I also know too well how his death created a void in search of comfort that was never found for his mother as she’s courageously lived her life. I’m still close with her. In fact I walked her down the isle with his little brother Lee when she was remarried a couple years ago. It’s something I’ll never forget, largely because it’s something I know Scott would have done had he been alive. That day, though not walking in his footsteps, I was walking for him. And today, while remembering him, I am reminded how much I miss him.
Monday, March 24, 2008
Driving north on I-75 late at night relaxes me. There are very few cars on the road after two in the morning and on a clear night my radio pulls in AM stations from far away places while signals skip through the atmosphere and bounce over the great lakes between the ice and the static many just call "life in Michigan." While driving north early last Thursday morning (the official first day of spring) I got weather reports and local news from places as far away as Boston, Toronto, St. Louis, Minneapolis and a French Canadian station (presumably from the far reaches of Quebec) where the only random words I could understand from the sultry woman’s voice in the song were: (in no particular order) J’taime, (I love you) toujour (always) and oddly, l’argent money).
Soon I was crossing the 45th parallel through the cold, dark morning. The "45-P", as some call it, is a spot half way between the equator and the north pole and is marked by a sign known only to people who vacation frequently or live in northern Michigan. The drive was without incident except for the brief encounter I had with a large wolf, who, out of darkness decided to play a sideways game of chicken with me just north of Gaylord. It tested my braking and swerving abilities and fortunately we both won, but not by much.
The first day of spring was waiting for me when I arrived in Deer Park. It came by way of a stiff wind out of the west. It was the kind of wind that made your eyes tear-up, causing you to squint and try to shade them with your gloved hands because you didn’t think sunglasses would be necessary with a forecast of only 24 degrees. The wind gusts made the snow scatter in puffs that subsided almost as quickly as they came. There were “snow ghosts” moving across the lake that were like maverick squalls raging randomly, sometimes in opposite directions even as close as thirty feet. Meanwhile, spirals of snow, like tiny tornados, danced across the yard to the sounds of the north woods ballet, still to faint for me to hear.
By mid afternoon the smell of fresh home made bread filled my cabin as the wind wrapped it in muted groans that tried to make their way through the windowpanes and doorway. I looked toward the lake out of habit but a ten foot snow drift obscured my view until I went outside and cleared it away as best I could. (I knocked it down to about four feet). The first night was overcast and it was pitch dark outside. When night came I sat at the table and the groans of wind became a bit spooky. I was tired, so I washed them out of my mind with a few belts of Famous Grouse scotch and slept until morning.
Luce county’s Muskallonge Lake is the centerpiece of my next book. Both the lake and the cabin have been a tonic for my life like few other things can be. The hand-built wooden structure has been a vacation spot for family members as well as a refuge for me when the world becomes too blurry. As a kid I’d take photos with my Kodak Instamatic camera and each year they’d get better. They were of the usual things found on a roll of film from a summer vacation of a 10-13 year old; the setting sun, fish that were caught, secret places and the smiles and unpredictable faces people made when the camera was pointed in their direction. As I got older, my brother's influence helped me to develop a better eye for photography. The pictures got better and I’d keep them---study them---dream about them--- and wear down the corners of them while listening to Gordon Lightfoot records counting the days until we’d return to the cabin.
The cabin has changed little over the years and the same can be said about many of our family traditions. A favorite of ours is cranking up the 1940’s era victrola in the in the morning. The selections are limited to Sousa marches, polkas and a favorite of mine to this day, the DeCastro Sisters (think the Andrews Sisters only brunettes from Cuba). These scratchy 78's still wake the late sleepers so we can all enjoy breakfast together, which consists of pancakes and bacon, stacked high on a paper towel and too crunchy for anyone to pass up. Following breakfast, we talk over coffee and wait until the final teenager finds their way out of bed in time to eat the last 3 slices we’ve been eyeing but saved for them as the final drops of pancake batter sizzle on our cast iron grill.
Today those Kodak Instamatic photos are a treasured time capsule as I look at how the family has changed, grown, aged and in some cases passed on to a better place.
Today there are permanent snap shots of the north woods in my mind that "daydream me" through tense moments and help soften the hard patches of life when I'm waist deep in them.
Today my memory is a camera that takes new pictures with yellowed edges.
Saturday, February 23, 2008
Love, Pain and the Whole Crazy Thing.
Song by song by song
Once in a Lifetime
Before I even listened to the first 8 measures of Keith's new single; "Once in a Lifetime Love," I have to admit I let out a long sigh and I rolled my eyes—ever so slightly.
I'm telling you this so you can brace yourselves for what music critics are going to write (if they haven't already); which is that this song (when it was a new single) is not his best effort, falling short of some of the more brilliant songs in his repertoire. You must admit the title alone is one huge cliché, yet a lot of Urban's songs/hits from other records have been anything but that: Who wouldn't wanna be me? Days go by, Rainin' on Sunday, Better Life and many others.
Push "play" and the first verse and chorus become cliché machines, spitting out Nashville boiler plate phrases just like professional athletes tell interviewers how they're taking things: "One game at a time." Of course if I had a nickel for every lyric, that connects eyes and touch, long shots- payoffs, tomorrow being a brighter day and leaps of faith, I could easily afford 2 front row seats from the most expensive ticket scalper in town when Keith tours again—and maybe I'll take you with me, because despite only being "whelmed" by the first single, I still love Keith Urban and will be there on my feet the next time he rolls into Detroit.
OK, after the first nonplussing verse and chorus, I'm adjusting the bass and treble to trying and optimize the sound 'cuz I know it's a hit—but it still isn't working for me. Now, with verse 2, things are a little different and become a tad clearer. The song starts talking in reality based rhymes and makes me curious to see where he's going with it, so I follow. His is a new spin on an old phrase, but there's brutal honesty in the line:
"Everybody's lookin' for what we found,
Some wait their whole life and it never comes around."
But then we're lead into another chorus, which, like the first, is lyrically banal and for my high expectations; and dare I add (in this company), weak. I say this as someone who, unlike many critics, had my brain spanked into admiration with other amazingly poetic lines from other songs. He's brilliant'; so please, no hate email.
Lyrically, this tune leaves me looking for something I can really sink my teeth into. But, what literally saves the song for me is how musically, he turns the common, phrase "Don't fear it now, we're going all the way," into a powerfully redemptive statement. It delivers a rhyming zap of rock-n-roll theology with enough conviction for even a know-it-all like me to believe.
With the exception of the mandolin, "Once in a Lifetime" is strongly reminiscent of U2 in their mega-hit days, with large, swelling chord progressions, a sweating drummer and guitars with cleverly inverting chords, affects and licks executed in Urban's masterful, precise fashion.
For my money, the song finally hits pay dirt during the bridge, when he puts me right there in a pew at the church. Suddenly, I feel the soft utterance of love's hidden truths. These are truths, which can only come from the adoring eyes of a woman while she creates a new memory with her man on their greatest day.
So what is finding a "once in a lifetime" love about? To me it's undoubtedly a KU, seed of promise; knowing for every dreamy lovesick man or lonely woman, a love exists somewhere. The idea that a true love may be out there for all of us gives us hope and sometimes hopes is a promise that is just not yet fulfilled. But for now it's planted in this simple offering, which has grown like a beanstalk as a favorite of mine.
In a rare private backstage moment, I spoke to Keith briefly last year about the new record and he expressed with enthusiasm that he was anxious to be working with Dan Huff again. If ever a producer and performer were to make beautiful music together, theirs is such the match. Huff really deserves a good amount of credit as well, as it was he, who in my opinion helped Keith perfect his own blend of guitar-driven, slick country rock that put him on the elevator after Golden Road.
How can you not love a song, like Shine? Right now, this may be my favorite track on the whole record for a couple reasons. First, I'm instantly immersed in a great vibe from the moment it kicks in. Ya gotta love when a rocker like Keith can work a viola and cello into a tune like this (and a ganjo to boot). Many other country artists rely on big string arrangements, hoping they will give the song the "something it's missing." That's not necessary in this case.
Songwriting 101 tells you that a great tune will sound great whether played with an acoustic guitar, an old piano in your living room, or in a recording studio with all the top technology available. This is yet another example of how he and producer Dan Huff work so well together.
A slower paced gem, it's a wonderfully placid segue to the rest of the record coming off the high-energy like the opener. The groove gives me the same "feel good" sensation of when the chorus hits in "Who Wouldn't Wanna be Me?" (Also co-written by Monty Powell and KU) It's not too much and not too little, but just right, musically and lyrically. I guarantee its "sway-ability" with lighters a-flickerin' at concerts will be high. Shine is the kind of song that reminds you to slow down and as you sing it loudly with the person next to you (no matter how crappy your voice may be) look 'em in the eye and smile. When the last note fades let them know how you're the silver lining of the dark cloud that's been hanging' over them. If he ever changes his live show and eliminates "These are the days" as a closing tune, I can completely see Shine as its replacement.
The gist of it? You'll know you're really in love (or rediscover it) when at the end of your long day, the person who might not have the energy or capability to change it will find a way to do so anyhow.
Love makes everything easier.
The title alone suggests this is a cut (assuming it had it not been on a KU or Sarah Buxton record of course) that's to be ignored, but it's awesome.
Had it have been anywhere else, I would have ignored it, simply because of the title, which strongly suggests it could have been written by one of the many angry young female singers who, (for reasons unknown to me), take up shelf space in record stores and miraculously have a positive market share for record companies. Creating and making new music is great and encourage by me, but I'm pretty sure there's better ways young celebrities can use their influence other than encouraging adolescent girls to get naked, get tattoos and add to their already job-debilitating body piercing. (OK—sorry for that rant).
Obviously, I KNOW this is not the case of co-writer Sarah Buxton, who originally recorded the song. Anyway, leave it to a couple of female songwriters (with some input from a male co-writer) to be pull this one off. Originally written by and recorded by Sarah, Stupid Boy was more of a statement about and to the man who did her wrong, telling him what a doo-fus he was. Keith's version shows the other side to the story as the brilliant juxtaposition of him singing it to himself, makes it work so well; amazingly well.
Instead of singing about Buxton's hurt, as she did when she spilled her guts, his voice is that of an apologetic fool who "had her heart and soul right in his hands." We've all been stupid when it comes to love, that is just—well, pretty much how it works. Boy meets girl, falls in love with her, becomes a doo-fus and treats her poorly because he's a doo-fus--- we all know the type.
It's no secret that love and relationships are complicated, but it's my belief they don't have to be. So this concludes part 2 of 6 as I whittle away at sharing my thoughts on this new record. Thanks to everyone who has responded to my posts and who has contacted me privately. Your stories and reflections are great to hear and your kind words are inspiring. A new KU friend shared some thoughts with me this week. She mentioned how Keith's music has an interesting way of forcing us to think about things we may or may not be aware of, or want to talk about. And this is good. I've heard stories of families who were separated and estranged for whatever reason only to be reconnected somehow through an event that involves music or a particular song lyric. Keith's "Song for Dad" comes to mind as one, as I've read about how much it's been plated at funerals. The one thing I think we never talk about as much as we should is death. But who really wants to?
It rang true for me in November when my high school band director died. His name was Richard Perkins and he taught music for 22 years at Dondero High School in Royal Oak Michigan. You would not be reading this today had it not been for his presence and influence in my life. More than teaching me to play an instrument, he taught me about discipline and respect for others. It wasn't about growing up and making a decent living, but more about being decent as you live. More importantly, he taught, told and showed me how much I mattered in this world.
He also mattered a lot to me.
Never married, he had no family in the area and I spent a lot of time with him at the hospital, rehab, the assisted living facility and ultimately, at hospice listening to our favorite composer, the incomparable Percy Grainger, on a portable CD player the last time I saw him before he slipped away. He was a man who shaped lives quietly and led his life the same way, without fanfare or expectations from you, other than insisting you tried and gave everything you did your best shot. He was only 63, barely retired and was looking forward to enjoying his retirement. Music was his life. This experience was yet another gentle reminder of the fragility of life around us. His spirit and love for music is something I proudly will carry for the rest of my life.
I mentioned this in my last post, but it holds so true I think it's worth mentioning again. As I've gotten to know Keith's music better I think it would be his belief that it's about faith and it's more than just being good to one another. Isn't it great that we have music to help us when we can't find the words?
Got it Right This Time
As I mentioned earlier, songwriting 101 tells you a great song will hold its own sound significance whether played in your living room on an acoustic guitar or piano or while recorded in a studio with all the top technology. Got it right this time is a prime example of that phenomenon. It reminds me also of when Phil Collins (Genesis) released his first solo record; "Face Value" in the early 80's. He recorded it at home and the intimacy and honesty of it was lightening in a bottle. So was Springsteen's Nebraska; (though stylistically the two records sounded very different) which was done on even lesser grade equipment. Both are hailed as incredible works.
I read where one critic said this song was raw. If you asked me, the most overused adjective ever used to describe a sing with minimal production is "raw." I think it's a bad one for a few reasons. First, I don't know about you, but when I think of raw, I think of food. The Food Network junkie that I am, there are few raw foods that are great. Vegetables and fruit, yes, but eating meat, poultry, bread and fish raw will put you in the hospital. So why there's an obsession with critics to use that word, I'll never know. (if you're ever in Michigan, I'll cook for ya and bend your ear about music all night and nothing will be raw).
I think Got It Right This Time is a simple, but great tune. It's sparse, honest and actually the first tune Keith Urban has recorded that sounds, well—like urban music! This is more like a lost Stevie Wonder gem than something you'd expect from an Australian country rocker, don't you think?
It's widely accepted and understood that urban music comes from black recording artists. Back in the 90's John Michael Montgomery had a slew of hits, like "I can love you like that," "I Swear," and there may have been more, I can't recall. Anyway, the urban group, Boys To Men, made those songs mega-hits again in a completely different genre! I'm using this as a comparison to how "Got it right" has that same feel.
So back to Songwriting 101. . .A strong example of this is how a few years ago my good friend, author and musician, Stewart Francke, told me about seeing James Taylor when he toured and played in several major cities symphony orchestras. Face it; a lot of younger people (no offense to anyone) might not have been open to it as a "valid" musical experience, as it was too "soft." Yet, JT played some songs by Gershwin, Kern and Steven Foster, all incredibly romantic and lush.
Ask anyone who knows what's what about music and its origin and he or she'll tell you how Foster essentially created what we now know as "popular music." Pop Music. The point Stewart made to me was musical subtleties like dynamics, pure musicianship, harmony, melody, possessing a working history of the form and understanding of the art of arrangement are so absent from most of what we hear today and always hear on KU records.
God Made Woman
My good friend Stewart Francke (geeze, I'm using him a lot tonight) said it best in his essay "Chicks and Dough," in the prelude to his boxed set "The Works 1995-2000" when he stated: "Behind every successful man is a woman in shock."
Amen, brothers and sisters.
Francke, much like Urban makes records for reasons other than those most celebrated pair of rock and roll incentives.
What man in his right mind who loves women or who's ever loved a woman (there's a big difference) could not relate to this? Equally, what woman would not be floored by the compliment, if sincere? There's a fine line he treads in this song, as anytime you mix direct quotes from the Holy Bible, someone is bound to take offense. The same holds true for the extreme feminists who can become an equally riled bunch. Most times it's justified, as women are not a "topic" or a "body" to be subjugated, at least that's what I believe. I've not yet heard about this happening and I hope it doesn't, because this song was done tastefully, respectfully and creatively.
When the song was written, I don't know if the intention was for the writers to pay homage to the great Bob Dylan or not. But immediately, I recognized the "Nah nah nah" refrain of the song as a melody taken verbatim from the chorus of a semi-hit for Dylan around 1985 from his record called "Infidels," called Jokerman. Naturally, I'm dating myself with that observation. Of course I could try and convince you I was really musically advanced for my age and when that song came out I was only 2, not 20.
Used To The Pain
It's ethereal like a dream, but has some nightmarish qualities.
This sounds to me like a lost Fleetwood Mac gem, circa the late 1970's, both musically and lyrically. It's reminiscent of some of Lindsay Buckingham's incredible songwriting style and lyrical complexities done in a way only Keith can pull off with his guitar chops. Try playing this one side by side with "You can go your own way," and maybe you'll see what I mean.
Beyond that observation, this is probably the darkest song he's ever written or co-written and it haunts me for a couple reasons. Musically, it seems to have a dramatic determination to it, which artist's usually only use with something they are earnest about or when they want to be taken seriously. I do not doubt his sincerity at all. This song holds the gripping, pressured; necessary urgency needed but displays it in a very somber way. He wastes no time sinking his teeth with words that demand your immediate attention "And so I wrote this song for you," and by the time the chorus hits we've really got something to chew on.
And every step I take, I feel a little less afraid of givin' into love.
Yet, the next line is a little confusing to me, as presumably after the previous statement, you'd be apt to believe he's warming up to the idea of the commitment he's been unable to make or unwilling to keep.
Believe me when I say it gets better every day, once you get used to the pain.
So it asks a tough question; why would something be getting better only if we are asked to "get used to" the painful aspect of it? The answer? (as if you didn't already know) love, falling in love and losing love are all painful things. But why?
This song talks of the ying and yang of love and what's worse; the pain of being alone or the pain of indecision. It's the centerpiece of the record when you look at the "Love, pain and the whole crazy thing" naming of the CD as a whole. Let's break it down.
To me, a hopeless romantic, it seems like love should be about exuberance, joy, violins and flowers. And sometimes love is. It seems falling in love can occur with all those "Me too's" as you and your date talk all night, realizing how much you have in common. And sometimes falling in love is just that.
Breaking up with someone, just plain hurts. For a while, there's only the losing of love feeling that remains and sometimes it's hard to move one way or the other. It doesn't seem so difficult to manage until it happens to you.
The Whole Crazy Thing
As we get older and look back on our lives, we begin to make sense of those painful times because in losing something, a new opportunity is created for something else to grow inside of us. Either you eventually move on and accept the loss or you don't. Bruce Springsteen said it best in his lyric from Tunnel of Love; "You've got to learn to live with what you can't rise above."
And the impossible thing you can't realize until much later is sometimes it takes us getting lost to figure out who it is we really are.
OK, this song was annoying to me the first time I heard it largely because of the bothersome, rhythmic chick-chick a chich-ahhs that are like nails on a blackboard to me. I've still not warmed up to it and can only imagine it made the final cut because of the great instrumental licks and the ganjo pickin' and pluckin' like the old bluegrass inspired days. Pass.
Won't Let You down
I read in an interview with Keith how he even admitted this lyric was un-original. Un-original? It's old and overused in both country and pop music these days. This is part of why I'll not back off on my stance of how this is a good album from Keith as a whole, but is slow to move me beyond the places I found myself during "Be Here." If you think I'm overly critical, it's largely because I can only compare this to his other, more poetic words. Sorry, but "I won't let you down" and "I'll catch you when you fall" are just weak.
This song moves along quite nicely until he hits the line: "And if you lose your way on some rainy day, just look above and I will be the sunshine breakin' through." At that point it shifts into a new gear; turbo, overdrive, high octane or whatever you want to call it. Suddenly becomes a song with no brakes.
What saves this song is the redemptive way he sings it because he makes you believe it. Turning a simple lyric the way he does gives me hope that on his next record, especially after what he's been though as of late, we will be blown away. Until then, we still have this one to enjoy for a while and see how he works the new songs into the live show.
Can't Stop Lovin' You
By now, almost everyone who's read a review of the new CD knows Leo Sayer and Phil Collins both had huge success with "I Can't Stop Loving You," decades apart, with two totally different arrangements. Sayer, who's known for his numerous whimsical pop tunes struck first with it in the late 1970's. His version was, well. . . quite successful, but it lacked heart and left me a bit was hollow. (Or maybe it was his multi-colored rainbow suspenders that ruined it for me).
Phil Collins, a great influence on me as a drummer and songwriter when I was a musician had an amazingly well produced, slick version (in 4/4 time rather than the ¾ or 6/8 time signature, depending on where you went to music school). His version had the guts Sayer lacked in his. In PC's version, his voice resonated soundly as it drove his trademark, crushing drumbeat. He nailed it with gusto and it went to #2 on the AC charts a few years back. Keith's version has guts and soul and heart--- and a weeping guitar solo that's as sad as it is triumphant while evoking the true emotion of the lyric through the fret board.
The third time will surely be a charm and has #1 written all over it if his label decides to release it as a single, which they're should consider as it is perhaps the most "country" sounding cut on the record. I love this tune more and more each time I hear it. The writer behind this gem? Billy Nicholls. Don't worry, he hasn't heard of you either (:
True story. A couple months ago I left church feeling reverent and a bit somber. It was one of those golden autumn days where wind gusts shook the trees three blocks at a time. Leaves blew across the roads in bushels. It was the time of the year when you knew Mother Nature was up to something and could bring a change in the weather at any minute. Sparrows flew in delicate, reckless flocks and October's clinging murmur seemed to fade more each day.
This song began playing as I started my drive home through town. As if on cue, I drove slowly down the road and noticed a woman, probably in her 20's, walking slowly on the sidewalk. She was clutching her purse in her chest as if it would provide the kind of comfort that at times only the human touch can bring. Though she didn't see me, as I got closer she stopped walking and I sensed something wrong (and I didn't know why) I slowed down just enough as I passed her and in my rear view mirror, I could see her crying as the line "I saw you walk across the road, for maybe the last time I don't know," was sung. It was like a scene out of a Meg Ryan movie.
As the song played out, the lyric became clearer to me in a way I could visually relate to; like real time music video unfolding in front of me. Suddenly, I was caught up in the true emotion of the song and really felt the quandary the lyric posed. As I circled around the block to pass her once more as I thought about rolling down my window to see if she was OK, but by the time I was approaching again, a young man had appeared out of nowhere next to her. He wore a black leather jacket and was tough looking, but was clearly wiping tears from his eyes. As the guitar solo was wailing on and on, he put his arms around this woman; the song providing the soundtrack of the moment during this starkly real circumstance. She was biting her trembling lip as I drove by. Her purse was on the ground while the wind blew her hair every which way. Tears flowed down her face and her arms held onto him as though her life depended on it.
Long past midnight I thought about it again. I was desperate for sleep but it could not be found. Then I began to wonder if it really happened or if I only imagined it. I'll never forget the way she was clinging to him as if her life depended on it. Then it hit me; maybe it did.
Was I just in the right place at the right time to see this rare drama unfold? Maybe, but the reality is trying to live without someone but realizing we can't is an occurrence that's all too familiar. Some of us pretend to do it every day and get good at it while some of us toss and turn all night, hoping the next morning will bring something to push us beyond it. And sometimes as we struggle it seems like changing the past might be an easier option.
Since the vinyl LP went the way of the dinosaur, so too did the way many full-length recordings (records, albums, LP's) were recorded. Another way to think about it is how when rock and roll first started in the 50's all the songs were "singles" based, or what was know as a 45 rpm record. The record companies cranked them out as fast as they could, often releasing more than one at a time by an artist as it drove sales figures. (i.e. The Beatles in April of 1964, when they held the top 5 positions (#1 Can't buy me love #2 Twist & Shout #3 She loves you #4 I wanna hold your hand #5 Please please me) today a record company will release a single, let it run its course on the charts until it peaks and dwindles before releasing another one, usually about 2 and one half months for a top 10 hit.
Faster Car is pure fun, would make a great single and a even great dance-remix and I'm sure will be included in the new tour and will be a crowd favorite. Then again, what KU tune isn't? It almost reminds me of some of the whimsical Brian Wilson lyrics in a classic Beach Boys way though musically sounds nothing like them. The Beach Boys most popular subject matter? Cars and girls. I think Faster Car is KU's first "car song," though someone can correct me if I'm forgetting one.
Today it's my belief marketing departments have more control and influence than they had in the old days and that's why the industry is often odious. Traditionally A&R departments (artist & repertoire) were full of real "song people" who helped the artist in selecting what songs to record based on creativity and the merit of songwriting. Now, any boob with a drum loop, a downloaded sample and a microphone can record a "song," and fabricate a hit based on its sexual overtones or amount of skin on the CD jacket.
Today the industry puts a lot of weight on music videos, auditorium and call out research, movie tie-ins, and potential use in commercials etc. While I love Faster Car, it would not surprise me a bit if it took on a new life by way of a music video. Personally, I've never been a big fan of music videos. To me, a song is meant to stimulate your imagination and music videos take that away. As a result people now identify songs by videos, not lyrics. Faster Car is another on a long list of potential singles his record label may release. It's almost a sure thing. Fun, fun fun.
Raise the Barn
Not an unlikely pairing with Ronnie Dunn, this song is triumphant, almost like an arena rock anthem. I love how it pays homage to the country music that one was everywhere but barely exists today (square dancin', toe tappin', boot slidin' and who doesn't love a little hay rollin' once in a while?) That is one of the things I love about KU; the fact that he has a respect and reverence for traditional country and other roots rock. This became evident to me when I first saw him live. During the part of his set that was acoustic, he'd often break of into different tangents; like Dolly's "Jolene" or Dave Edmunds classic "I hear you knockin.'" Hey, what we think, we become.
It's these varied influences that helped shape his style, which is still evolving today. He's a well-rounded student of rock and country music. The musical climate for someone his age growing up in Australia in the 1970's was not much different from how it was in American. I think of his music as a hybrid of usually smart pop tunes with catchy melodies and often poetic and meaningful lyrics---like what was predominant on American airwaves in the 1970's (The Eagles, Jackson Browne, Fogelberg, Chicago, Springsteen, Dylan, etc.). Though he's seemed predictable at times on this new CD, I've forgiven him and am trying more to just enjoy what I hear rather than analyzing it. It's hard, because that's what recovering musicians like me do!
KU has filled a big void of the 30-45 year old demographic of people who grew up listening to rock and roll in America. Popular music went by the wayside for them in the 90's when America's top 40 turned to rap and they needed something with a musical backbone that still meant something lyrically, something to cling to in the changing field of new names, one hit wonders and pretty faces. Thank God for KU.
I Told You So
Which one of us has not been faced with the awkwardness of an unexpected visit or phone call from a former lover? And how many of us secretly would really savor a good "I told you so," once in a while, especially at the expense of the one who left us. There's brilliance in the chorus: "Don't say that you're sorry and I won't say I told you so." They are very common and complete thoughts on their own. Yet I've never heard them blended so eloquently by a songwriter before and connected the way he does, underscoring while realizing the acceptance of love's imperfect consequences.
Of most songs on his new CD, KU sounds most "like himself" to me in on "I Told You So." It's a song in his comfort level without any surprises, consisting of a catch melody that has not strayed much from the KU, guitar driven style he's created in his body of work. It's a rocker with instruments galore (ganjo, accordion, fiddle, tin whistle and Uillean pipes) all blended among the traditional guitars, bass and drums.
Love does grow foolishly sometimes which is why the words "for better or worse" are really the glue of wedding vows. Sadly, since TV and other media forms have created a newer and higher American fascination with celebrity romance, the institute of marriage has become so cheapened today. Its no wonder people treat it like a leased vehicle. Hollywood, MTV and the dilution of societal values desecrate the sanctity of marriage each day. The sadder part is that we allow it to go on.
My parting thoughts on love as a single male today? You have to give your love a voice if you want to make love stay. Vince Gill was right when he said: it's not really love if it tears you apart. Love never broke anyone's heart.
The song, "Everybody," reminds me of how we're more alike than we are different: We live a good part of our lives by instinct, feel and express emotions differently and are all warm blooded. No, this isn't about science (next to math, history, geography, social studies and English, science was my worst subject) this is largely a few thoughts of mine about us--- everyone who's a KU fan.
This is a simple song of comfort, longing and belonging. It's nothing new, complex or grandiose, it's just an idea advanced by truth. To me it's about how we frequently feel like we're walking through this broken world alone, yet seldom realize we don't have to. Hopefully we're smart enough or lucky enough to love and be loved between our giant leaps of faith and each hesitant step into the dark, daring night we often face. And everybody needs somebody, sometimes.
You don't have to find your own way out. You've got a voice let it be heard.
Everybody—what's in a word? It's an across-the-board concept, meaning no matter whom you are, how stupid you've been, how overweight, rich, popular, funny, joyous or heartbroken you feel, you're in. It's an all-inclusive category, as some things in life really do pertain to everyone.
At any time in our lives, we have no way of knowing if we are experiencing something for the first time or for the last. Everybody reading this comes from a different place, yet we all live on a planet washed each night at dusk by the same blushing sky and everybody reading this has something in common because of music. Music does something more than just entertain the masses; it's a source of comfort and something we can love and hold onto, no matter what, in this often slippery world.
Music by definition is "The art of arranging sounds in time so as to produce a continuous, unified and evocative composition, as through melody, harmony, rhythm and timbre." But to me it's so much more. It's a conduit of souls, a breeding ground for love and is often spiritual, regardless of what you believe in. Music is a phenomenon of place because often when we hear a great song it has the power to take us somewhere we can't point to in a room or find on a map. And everybody needs somebody, sometimes.
As we grow older, people, places and things we love can suddenly be ripped from our lives without mercy; it's unavoidable. Today the world changes too quickly and too frequently for many of us, disrupting our plans and derailing us from our chosen course. Good people with fragile lives are continually expected to pick up their pace each day in order to keep up with America's obsession with speed, convenience and youth. Why is it nobody is obsessed with patience and understanding?
So don't give up now you're so close to a brand new day.
We all live in a world where the light at dawn gradually pushes its way up through the night's heavy darkness; we awaken to resume our lives in a new day filled with opportunity. This immense and repetitive pattern of dark and light is nothing short of a new birth--the ceaseless chance at making things right again and again for everybody.