The Spider and the Ghost of the Fly
(a demo)

    I have co-written my second song.

    After being unsuccessful at producing lyrics to fit a melody I had, I stumbled upon a solution. I had been reading this extraordinary early American poet, and was quite taken by one poem in particular. I happened to try playing my melody with this poem, and whala: a co-write!

    Vachel Lindsay was a turn of the century American performance poet: His poems were meant to be performed and several were put to music. He was very popular and several books have been written about him. Apparently, his performances were a “curious blend of athletic exuberance, [patriotism] and evangelism.”

    Some music historians have even designated his “General William Booth Enters into Heaven” as the first rap song.

    One of his more popular poems – “Abraham Lincoln Walks at Midnight” — was not only put to music but also inspired a sculptured statue.*

 

Here’s my adapted take on his poem “The Spider and the Ghost of the Fly.”

 

The Spider and the Ghost of the Fly

(words by Vachel Lindsay; music by Thomas Oliver)

 
Once I love a spider
When I was born a fly
A velvet-footed spider
With a gown of rainbow-dye

She ate my wings and gloated
She bound me with a hair
She drove me to her parlor
Above her winding stair

To educate young spiders
She took me all apart
My ghost came back to haunt her
I watched her eat my heart.

 

*

The statue of Abraham Lincoln was designed by Fred Torrey of Fairmont, West Virginia, in the late 1930’s. His sculpture is based on Vachel Lindsay’s poem “Lincoln Walks at Midnight, and depicts Lincoln pacing at night in a robe, under the strain of a nation torn apart by war. It sits in front of the state capitol in Charleston.

 

That Siren Whine

I originally wrote this song after the Blood Moon (spring) tides of the fall of 2015. You might have seen pictures of the causeway underwater. Nothing like a causeway being flooded to underscore the fact that you live on an island. A friend from Hilton Head suggested I write about being stuck on a island.

“That Siren Whine” was the result.

So, it seemed almost prophetic a year later, when we were visited by Hurricane Matthew, which was as unpleasant as it was unwelcomed.

A little tweaking, a little re-writing and “That Siren Whine” was updated to reflect that storm.

(On a personal note, we are back in our house and out of our last box. In another month of so, we’ll attack the yard – clean up and plantings.)

The above is just me and my guitar

       That Siren Whine

High winds, high tide
everybody’s looking for higher ground
running around like they’ve lost their minds
and all you hear above the roar is that siren whine

the causeway’s flooded, streets are closed
everybody’s looking for the friend with a boat
cuz the water’s gonna cover up this town
and all its dirty little secrets are gonna drown

(1st chorus):

when they say leave they mean they’re gone
so if you stay behind you are on your own
but don’t go crying and pleading to God
when that hurricane comes knocking at your door

(repeat 1)

when it’s over and everyone returns
they’ll be greeted by the birds
flying in circles, closing in
nothing like a flock of buzzards to rub it in

clearing skies, a rack line
picking at everything’s been left behind
you can’t tell the scavengers from friends
nothing like a catastrophe to bring out the best in men

(2nd chorus):

It ain’t pretty and sure ain’t nice
when Mother Nature tears up paradise
so be careful where you bury you treasure
because you really can’t trust the weather

(repeat v1)

Through a Glass Darkly (a demo)

      In this song, I’ve taken three real, though disparate situations and weaved them together to underscore the often inexplicable, serendipitous nature of life. Some see a hidden hand in some such occurrences, using such plain words as fate.

     The phrase, “through a glass darkly,” comes from the Apostle Paul writing to the church in Corinth, in which he says that while some things are inexplicable, they will become clear; apparently when we die or enter into some supernatural state.

     (Though real, these experiences didn’t happen to me; I was merely an interested observer.)

     “Through a glass darkly” is part of chapter 13 in the first book of Corinthians that has become one of the most often used Scriptures for weddings. It ends thusly:

“And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.” 

 

The above is just me and my guitar.

 

       Through a Glass Darkly

They say you are married
and expecting a child
I know if we’d stayed together
that baby would have been mine

(chorus):
So how do we know which way the wind blows
or where it really comes from
We see the leaves move and the trees bend
but we only feel the breeze now and then

 

They say he drank more than he should
hell they can say that about almost anyone
if it ain’t the booze, it’s the crack or meth
there’s always something about an early death.

(chorus)

She lived a good life
she was a mother and a wife
yet that chariot is taking her home
her grandchildren she’ll never see grown

(chorus 2):
So how do we know which way the wind blows
or where it really comes from
we see through a glass darkly
but things will be made plain
when we live a world without pain.

 

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Though I Might Have (a demo)

     Most singer/songwriters venture into autobiography. Some more than others.

     Even if you are primarily a story-telling singer/songwriter, you will occasionally write the autobiographical song.

     This is one of mine.

     While I’ve never shied away from my past, nowadays I talk more freely about certain episodes. And if I’m being loquacious at a gig, I have been known to explain my incarcerations have taken place in two different types of lockup. The most obvious would be a jail. Or drunk tank. The other sometimes follows closely, especially if you are a middle class, white-collar employee with mental health coverage.

     The latter – Atlanta’s Ridgeview Institute in my case – was a whole lot nicer than Atlanta Fulton County Jail. No contest.

     But still, when they turn off the lights, they lock the doors. Because you ain’t going nowhere.

     One of the benefits of reaching a certain age is that it no longer seems presumptuous to claim you have lived a long and often hard life. And while there is some humor associated with such a past, this song speaks to a truth, and I am grateful daily for the life I now share with Melissa.

     FYI: “Though I Might Have” became the title because “Once Upon a Time” (the last line in the refrain) had been taken one time to many!

 

     The above is just me and my guitar.

 

Though I Might Have

 

I’ve spent more than one night
Where they lock you up inside
I’m not bragging or complaining
It’s just I got nothing left to hide
So I’m not going to tell you any lies
though I might have
once upon a time

 

Yeah it wasn’t that long ago
I didn’t know up from down
I might’ve sworn I’d been to the planet Mars
Or a survivor of Jonestown
But I’m not gonna feed you any lines
though I might have
once upon a time

(bridge): I’m not proud of all I done
     to reach this point in life
but I’ve lived long and hard enough to tell
the darkness from the light

 

If I played liar’s poker
I’d lose every hand
Drawing to an inside straight
Just like Custer’s last stand
But I’m not looking to start any fight
though I might have
once upon a time

 

I can’t drink beer or liquor
Had to give up cigarettes
But there’s a lady who loves me
So I consider myself blessed
And I don’t worry about what I did last night
Though I might have
Once upon a time

     (2nd bridge):
When you’ve wrestled with the devil
     And contemplated your own death
     Life’s a whole lot sweeter
     when you can forgive and forget

 

Yeah, I’ve spent my last night
Where they lock you up inside
Cause there’s a lady who loves me
And now she lies by my side
So I don’t worry about what I did last night
though I might have
once upon a time
No I don’t worry about what I did last night
Though I might have
Once upon a time (x2)

 

 

 

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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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