The re-writing of Blue Lights

       Few of my songs have resonated so quickly and consistently with family, friends and fans as has “Blue Lights.”

       From the first tryout at a weekly jam, to playing it at other venues with band or solo, in front of strangers and folks from my past; even through a heavy rewrite, folks have related to this nostalgic tune about dating and making out in parked cars.

       Though there is no monetary reason in the world to go into a studio these days, I’ve long said I’m not in this to make money. And this song, and its fans, cried out for a fully produced track.

       So I went to Reveal Studios in Marietta where my long-time producer and friend David Leonard does his magic. So talented: he plays piano, guitar, bass, mandolin, and uke and has an ear for what could be and what shouldn’t be (which can be as important).

       And David is the reason for the rewrite of this song after all the acclaim. First of all, I love David and respect him explicitly. Secondly, I’m an artist who desires feedback and having been a journalist, working for the daily beast with a voracious appetite, I also can take a punch.

       Which is what it is called for when you producer implies in no uncertain terms that you need to rewrite your chorus. It should go without saying, the chorus is to a songwriter what a first-born is to a parent.

       Not only the chorus, but also the third verse!

        Here is one of his hints that a re-working was in order: Writing about a particular line in the chorus: “(it’s) a simile wrapped in a metaphor wrapped in an enigma. I get it, but it makes my head hurt.”

          I’m still laugh every time I read that, and of course I have kidded David unmercifully about it.

          But the primary reason I accept and believe firmly in rewriting is that it always makes it better. And this song that everyone liked so much was made better through the process of tryouts and tinkering and playing out and rewriting.

          Blue Lights is for all my friends from College Park and North Clayton. Our idyllic childhoods were too soon splintered by war, protests, drugs and leaders who lied to us.

          Yet when we look back now, we are looking mostly for the good times, and Blue Lights represents that.

 

A rewrite lesson:

The Chorus needed rewriting because the song never really named the place.  If you didn’t have my live introduction, something was clearly missing. And you could get twisted up with what all is sparkling and where.

 

    Blue lights on the runway   
    Sparkle like the stars in the sky   
    In your eyes I can see   
    All I need to know tonight

 

Became:

    Blue lights on the runway
    Looked like the stars had fallen to earth
     Just for us, on those  nights
    At a place we called Blue Lights

 

And the third verse David said could be more eloquent and don’t just simply say time moved on (duh); say something about it.

 

The years flew by and we all
went our separate ways
far from home just like everyone
you know did those days

 

Became:

 

And now, we’re older
a little wiser to the ways of the world
But that, doesn’t make it
any better than the way it was

 

Better?

No Doubt!

 

If you care to read the song blog on Blue Lights click here

What Goes Around (a demo)

This was written in response to yet another early death due to heroin. (I don’t use the term overdose, as that implies there is a standard dosage.)

Seems these newsmakers’ deaths happen with some regularity, followed by the usual astonishment and disappointment.

I was lucky that I couldn’t stand needles, or I might well have tried heroin in my younger, experimental days. Luckier still my children, who lost several friends in high school and college to the drug, never partook.

It surprises most people to learn that heroin was first sold by the Bayer (aspirin) Co. out of Germany. It was marketed as a cough suppressant for children! Its chemical affects on the lung are one reason why addicts are known by their cough. It’s similar to overmedicating a symptom that ironically increases its traits. Or over using an antibiotic renders it useless.

Anyway, this song traces how the addict(s) slides down that very slippery rope. It also contains one of my favorite reversals, which is what I call turning a cliché or axiom upside down, as in this song, where it says:

           it so easy to be right

          and so hard to do wrong

 

This is somewhat based on the notion that addicts must go to great lengths to get their dope. Same idea about how methodical and well organized criminals often are.  It’s harder work than most folks realize.

Seems like it’s a lot easier just to do right!

 

The above is just me and my guitar.

 

What Goes Around

So many things he said he’d never do
heroin was of them and she probably said it to
now look at ‘em on a saturday night
he’s throwing up and she’s getting high

 

    Now he’s the one who worries a lot
    And she’s the one heating that black tar
    What goes around comes around again
    Doesn’t really matter if you’re sorry then
    Or if you swore it wouldn’t happen again

 

There’s so many things a man will do
that when says he’s done he’s never really through
you don’t have tour Afghanistan
to be a lost soul in this promise land

 

    now he’s the one looking out for cops
    she’s the one who’s coughing a lot
    What goes around comes around again
    You can’t buy salvation at the five and 10
    But better not wait til the very end

 

        it so easy to be right
        and so hard to do wrong
        we’re all made in the same light
        but when darkness comes
        we don’t all know how to run

 

    now he’s the one keeps hearing gunshots
    she’s promenading in the parking lot
    What goes around comes around again
    and when the music stops it won’t start again
    when the preacher’s finished we all say amen

 

 

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Where Angels Fear to Tread
(a demo)

This song came out of discovering some new ways to play old chords, in this case, playing a traditional blues shuffle pattern up on the neck of the guitar.

(Funny, only recently have the directions on a fretboard become second nature. For too long, I was always being corrected, if not correcting myself, that “up” and “down” is in relationship to pitch. So the higher up on the neck, the higher the pitch of the string and the closer you hands are to body of the guitar. Whereas when I wandered through the darkness, I thought “up the neck” meant towards headstock, as in the physical location of up.)

“Where Angels Fear to Tread” is a combination gospel/apocalyptic song, as reflected in the scene and tempo, slowed down to almost a lamentation. I’ve always been interested in that phrase, “where angles fear to trend.” It says a lot in a few words.  

I could see this as a theme to a zombie movie, or segment of Walking Dead.

 

The above is just me and my guitar.

Where Angels Fear to Tread

I’m traveling light
trying to find
somewhere to hide

I need some place
to lay my head
and rest my eyes

from all these visions
of God’s own children
lost in paradise
      

       (2nd time around):
       it may not be much
      but it’s all I have
       she said so kindly
       as I laid down on her bed

 

I’ve seen the lines
forming outside
the gates of hell

I don’t play with fire
or rush in where
angels fear to tread

I’m holding my breath
out here on the edge
scared to death
   

    (second time around):
    she said stay with me
    with eyes open wide
    here in this place where
    you and I can hide

 

 

 

 

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The Way You Do (a demo)

A little rhythm & blues.

Somewhat outside my norm, but not so that it feels unnatural. Just the opposite in fact.

I’m trying here for a romantic tune immersed in the real world. Describing love beyond the hot fires of passion and physical characteristics and without metaphors. Not how someone makes you feel, but why? Not how they look. But what they do. No moons or stars in the sky, no wide waters.

Most women find it odd than a George Clooney doesn’t realize or think much about the fact that he is drop-dead gorgeous. Imagine us ordinary schmoes. Hence, my favorite line:

you tell he’s handsome when he can’t see himself the way you do.

This is a mature love that is letting the other be himself, like watching endless games on TV.

And though there’s a lack of nagging, she isn’t without her convictions, and I’ve always wanted to write a song with the line: “walk a my in another man’s shoes.”

 

The above is just me and my guitar, though I can hear some sax

The Way You Do

(intro refrain):

I’ve never seen a woman love a man, the way you do
I’ve never seen a woman love a man, like you do

You love him like you’re never going to leave him, like some do
You take him in you arms and you chase away his blues

(outro refrain):

No I’ve never seen a woman love a man like you do

(intro refrain)

you stand beside your man and never put him down, like some do
you tell he’s handsome when he can’t see himself the way you do

(outro refrain)
(lead)

(bridge):

and all you get back in return
Is a man with an undying love

 

(intro refrain)

you let him watch his endless games on the tv, when he wants to
and when he comes to bed late you just roll over and make room
(outro refrain)

(intro refrain)
you never complain or nag him or make him jump through hoops
but you will remind him to walk a mile in another man’s shoes
(outro refrain):

No I’ve never seen a woman love a man like you do
No I’ve never seen a woman love a man like you do
No, I’ve never, seen a woman, quite like you

 

 

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Hiding Out in Paradise Lost
(a demo)

There is a mysterious, mystic part of the creative process that is outside the individual artist. It’s what makes creating so intoxicating, and why one can get lost for hours in the process. You look up and wonder two things: where the time went and where did that line come from.

I also believe artists, without intention, reflect not just their experience and beliefs, but those of their surroundings, such as the fears of some or the desires of others. That belief is supported by my experience, which I have mentioned before, that I don’t write songs so much as I catch them. Many other songwriters express it similarly.

“Hiding Out in Paradise Lost,” not the subtlest of titles, falls squarely in the ranks of the protest songs that speak more to an emotional response to a changing world rather than a specific political topic. While I am no conspiracy theorist, I am not immune to the sense of an increasing disconnect in the public square. And I’m not even talking about the obvious, literal current events. That sense was evident to me long before the first candidate declared, and even longer before they caucused in Iowa.

While such disenfranchisement has been reflected in earlier songs (“Old Men,” “No Flood This Time,” for example), this one is as explicit and direct as can be.

       Apocalyptic even.

 

The above is just me and my guitar.

Hiding Out in Paradise Lost 

(Chorus):

Here they come they’re riding those horses
Here they come they’re driving those tanks
Here they come they’re flying those drones
everybody knows they’ve emptied the banks x2

They took our jobs and they took our land
Somebody’s needs to draw a line in the sand
Otherwise we’re all just double-crossed
Hanging out in paradise lost
Hiding out in paradise lost

(chorus)

First they preach law and order
Next thing you know they’ve burn down the church
Then the holy-rollers hoot and holler
Just like sharks with blood in the water x2

(chorus)

We’ve been warned and we’ve been told
The longer you live the longer you’re old
Now they’re saying that’s all wrong
They can’t afford you, the money’s all gone
Nobody loves you when the money’s gone

(chorus)

(bridge):

   Nobody knows how long this’ll last
   Everyone’s waiting on the next newscast
   In the meantime, we’re saying our prayers
   Cause heaven only knows if God even cares x2

(chorus)

 

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I Miss My Friend (a demo)

What if?

That’s how a lot of songs get written. Asking the what-if question about this or that situation.  You don’t always have to write from strictly personal experience.  You can imagine, and in this case: What would happen if you married your best friend?

You hear some people say they married their best friend.  I’m never sure if that just means they became “best friends” after they were married, or if they really were friends who then fell in love.

Marrying your best friend is not the same as teenage puppy love maturing into a long-lasting marriage. It’s certainly not an impulsive, first-sight love. Rather it implies the couple knew each other as friends and then somehow over time fell in love.

Seems to be at odds with the chemical reaction that is so acutely associated with falling in love. I guess two brains could have a delayed reaction. About each other.  At the same time.  

Anyway, this is a a tongue-in-check blues riff on what happened to the singer when he married his friend.

 

The above is just me and my guitar.

I Miss My Friend

you were my friend before you were my lover
and I love you baby now more than ever
but I sometimes I do declare
yeah sometimes baby, I miss my friend.

you love me just like there’s no more tomorrow
and lord knows it can be a talent show
so this might not seem fair
but sometimes baby I miss my friend.

you were my friend before you were my lover
and I love you baby now more than ever
so it might seem like I’m splitting hairs
but sometimes baby I can’t help but miss my friend

everyone says I met my match
and I don’t know how lucky I am
they say you saved me from a fate worse than death
but be that as it may, sometimes I miss my friend

 

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