In preparation for my someday trip to New Orleans, I’m reading “Empire of Sin: A story of sex, jazz, murder and the battle of Modern New Orleans.”
It covers the years 1890 to 1920. Fascinating. The Rev. J. Chandler Gregg, one of the leading black ministers of the day, is quoted as saying: “It is no easy matter to go to heaven by way of New Orleans.” I wish more songs would fall in my lap like this one. This song was written about as fast as I could put down the book and grab my guitar.
The above is just me and my guitar.
It Ain’t Easy to Get to Heaven
(Chorus): It ain’t easy to get to heaven if you got through New Orleans. It ain’t easy to get to heaven If you go through New Orleans I may not get to heaven Cause you know the flesh is weak
It ain’t easy to make a living if you’re out on the street It ain’t easy to make a living if you’re out on the street That’s why they built them fine houses Down in New Orleans
They say those houses, in New Oreleans are houses of ill repute They say those houses, in New Oreleans are houses of ill repute I say that just depends on your point of view
They say don’t drink, don’t do drugs and whatever you do stay way from them girls. In other words don’t have no fun. I say what they don’t know won’t do ‘em no harm
The origin and title came directly from being knee deep in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew and wondering who was going pay for all this mess. Not just clearing and cleaning and repairing our place, but the whole island.
Then as I was writing it, it became something more than just about the storm. For you people of the Book, you might sense the Creation story, Eden, Noah and Job.
Not too worry, though, this isn’t some sappy sentimental song of faith and happiness (have you noticed it really doesn’t work that way?), but rather a foreboding warning of those dark nights when you feel a very real abandonment.
The search for Why is ongoing. Probably the most asked question in Heaven!
The above is just me and my guitar.
Somebody’s Gotta Pay
Chorus: Somebody’s gotta pay Somebody’s gotta pay Somebody’s gotta pay for all this mess that’s been made.
The lights are out A dark mind roams Then there comes a howl that sears your soul It’s not for nothing we must atone.
Well there was a woman And there was a man And they took a notion to see for themselves Now we all must pay but they were led astray.
Well it did rain But it was the wind That drove the waves Where they’d never been And what was left was made to start again.
(Bridge): Now you can cry About your fate But it won’t change a thing (cause someone must pay) Cause it’s too late.
To believe in him You need know There’ll come a time When he’ll just let go Who would have prophesized We’d be so easily sold.
This little ditty uses Monday as a metaphor for when life doesn’t seem to be working out just right. And in this case, all bad things seem to happen on Monday.
It also speaks to that particular day of the week that hardly anyone wants to see arrive. It’s just a bad day all around.
It’s the reason why “it’s never Sunday long enough,” is my favorite line, as it sums up so well almost everyone’s feelings.
It’s Always Monday
It’s always Monday when you’re coming down It’s always Monday when the boss comes ‘round It’s always Monday when you’re too tired to move It’s always Monday when you’ve been acting a fool. It’s always Monday when your car won’t start It’s always Monday when things fall apart
It’s always Monday when you need to go fishing And it’s always Monday when the clock stops ticking It’s always Monday when you see the crack of dawn It’s always Monday when you want to go home It’s always Monday when she lays down the law It’s always Monday when you need a back door
And Tuesday is Monday in disguise And Wednesday is like thorn in your side And Thursday like watching paint dry
It’s never Friday when you’re ready to run Never Saturday when you need some sun And it’s never Sunday long enough
This song came to me soon after my brother Frank died.
Though he hadn’t been in good health, his passing seemed as sudden as it was heartbreaking.
As the younger brother, so much of who I am came from him. Melissa commented that his eulogy, written and delivered by his friend Mark Blakey, could be read as mine when the time comes.
I have written before about how songs seem to be given to the songwriter. This was surely the case here.
It is a lamentation in the best tradition of the blues, evoking the red moon often associated with the end times in Christian literature.
Soon after writing this, we experienced a Red Moon or total lunar eclipse of a super moon (Sept. 28, 2015). It is also referred to in layman terms and religious circles as a Blood Moon. For my song, it became a Blood Red Moon.
The above is just me and my guitar.
Blood Red Moon
Oh mama, I don’t know how to pray Oh mama, I don’t know how to pray But it sure feels like I ought to be down on my knees
Oh mama, you can’t hide your tears Oh mama, you can’t hide your tears Cause everybody knows, your son’s done gone ahead
Oh mama, why’d he have to go Oh mama why did he have to go Lord, seems like the good never grow old
Oh mama, what’s around the bend Oh mama, what’s up around the bend where the river flows when the moon turns blood red where the river flows when the moon turns blood red
Where do songs come from?
The ideas and particularly the lines that jump out and grab at the listener often baffle the writer as to their origins. I’ve written before about “catching” songs as they float by. This is a metaphor used by many songwriters.
I find the mysterious part of creativity as fascinating as I do terrifying: What if I can’t do it again? This is why I like looking back at the birth of my songs. It helps me remember how to get ready to catch the next one.
“You’re in New Orleans” was such a gift during unsettling times.
Here’s a list of things that probably played some part in this song’s birth. In no particular order in the fall of 2016: — Hurricane Matthew: — Reading Moby Dick on my iPhone as I waited patiently in line at the makeshift post office. — U. S. Highway 80 ends on Tybee. The other end is in San Diego. > Studying a map of U.S. Highway 80 fantasizing a road trip. > Noticing where New Orleans is in relationship to 80. >Wondering if I was ever going to go to New Orleans again. (I went for a brief stay when I was probably 25.) Plus, let’s face it, you can’t live through a hurricane and not think of New Orleans. — Thanksgiving week we entertained out-of-town guests in a cottage not our own as we waited for Everything to get Fixed. For some reason, the phrase “when I go to Alabama I think about Mississippi cause you’re in New Orleans” popped into my mind. I wrote that down.
I ran that phrase by someone who sort of got it but didn’t see any potential. However, Melissa immediately recognized it as the beginning of a story. So then, it was just a matter of finding ways to sneak off and compose. I wrote this song on my iPhone during that Thanksgiving week, six weeks after Matthew, while entertaining out-of-town-guests. Proving if you are prepared to catch it, a song will find you any where.
For example: Where does this come from? and still stop in Slidell and see your uncle Ahab and get you some Spodiodi wine.
By looking up the distance from Birmingham to New Orleans, I got the line: “If I leave Birmingham sometime in the a.m., I could be there by suppertime…” and still have time for what? Map shows Slidell on the way. Great name. Have to use it if for no other reasons than Lucinda Williams uses it a lot.…the whale hunter in Moby Dick is named Ahab. And what would “Uncle” Ahab have you might want, that rhymes with “supper time?” Wine. What kind of wine would Uncle Ahab from Slidell have?
My first thought was: muscadine wine. But that was too “soft.” I needed some cajun juice: Spodiodi wine. Spodiodi: I have never had any that I remember. That qualifier is probably said a lot about the port wine and bourbon drink. But I do remember the old ditty: “drinking wine spodiodi, drinking wine.”
If you didn’t follow all that, don’t worry. It’s not easy trying to explain the inexplicable.
The above is my and my guitar
You’re in New Orleans
When I go to Alabama Think about Mississippi Cause you’re in New Orleans Maybe I ought to come and see you cause it don’t look like you’re ever gonna come see me
You had to go to Louisiana Cause you said your momma said she was feeling poorly But after two long years it sure seems like to me your mamma ought to be feeling better
If I leave Birmingham sometime in the “a m” I could make it there by supper time and still stop in Slidell and see your uncle Ahab and get you some Spodiodi wine
The cresent city that was built below sea level is stronger than a hurricane. but every one that blows up, up from the south they say it’s gonna be the last.
If I could just get myself down to where you live I sure wouldn’t worry about that. Cause my biggest worry, is that you’ll be in no hurry To get back to where we was at.
When I go to Alabama think about Mississippi Cause you’re in New Orleans and it really ain’t that far, if you are driving in your car and don’t have to take the train.
But given I’m in Carolina and haven’t lost my mind yet I think maybe it is too far But next time in Atlanta I’ll head to Alabama cause Louisiana’s right around the corner.