The Life You Save Might Be Your Own

All Songs © Thomas Oliver 

Traveling Kind

she was a looker
a tall glass of spring water
the kind of lady a boy dreams about and men desire
but she had a weakness
for men already taken
so she was always saying goodbye

and she’d said: so long now
I’ve already left
You knew I was the traveling kind
first time we met.
you take care now and watch you step
cause you never know
who you might meet next.

I was a free man
not her normal one-night stand
so she didn’t know what to think when I didn’t leave.
I said I don’t care
who you’ve been with or where
she just smiled and said you’re cute but a little naive


there’ve been other women
but none could hold a candle
to that traveling lady and the thirst she left behind.
some time in the night
no matter who i’m holding tight
I know come morning i’ll be saying goodbye

and i’ll say:


Where You Are

cellphones, emails
we stay in touch
anyway we can.
when i’m gone
you’re in town
when I come back
you’re on your way out
i’m not so sure how it got this way
all I know is I miss you every day

where you are is where I ought to be
oh no this life we’re leading
ain’t all its cracked up to be.
where you are is right where I need to be
cause this missing you is killing me

we come together
every chance we get
living separate lives
with separate careers.
two garages
miles apart
two sets of kids
play in separate yards
this life ain’t exactly what we planned
our day will come but until then

(chorus 2) :

and where you are I always want to be
and the good lord willing one day I won’t have to leave
cause where you are is right where I need to be
this missing you is killing me
yeah, this missing you is killing me.


The Life You Save Might Be Your Own

it’s just too hard, or too late
she says I can’t, or won’t change
there’s nothing left, to debate
she’s on her way.
I loved the way, we were
when she was less sure
and I was more than she’d hoped for
as she used to say.

now she’s waving goodbye
like she might be back in a while
but we both know better than that
she’s way too strong.

someone’s left and someone’s gone
doesn’t matter who was right or wrong
when love ends and you’re all alone
the life you save (just) might be your own

I was never that tough
always needed someone’s touch
and I was always in a rush.
to jump back in.
Being alone ain’t that bad
being lonely (now) that’s something else
been there and I ain’t doing that
not ever again.

now i’m waving goodbye
knowing it’s for the last time
what she’s looking for hope she finds
and it won’t take long



Now Like Then 
(written with J. David Leonard)

I remember every word
You said to me back then
How your love for me had changed
And even though it was the end, you said
We could always be friends
Even now, it still sounds strange

Now like then
My tears begin to fall
Remembering when
We thought we had it all
You threw away
The life that we had planned
The only thing that I have now
Is then

I was getting in my car
In the Wal-mart parking lot
When I heard you call my name
I looked around and saw you there
And simply said hello
Then the feelings rose and I had to turn away

(1st chorus):
(2nd chorus):
Now like then
I want to be the one
I can’t understand
Just how it came undone
You threw away
The life that we had planned
The only thing that I have now
Is then


Ms. Heartache

here she’s comes you better head for cover
she ain’t nothing but a world of trouble
ms. heartache’s on the prowl again
you better watch your step son
she’s looking for another man
(chorus) (a):
she’ll love you like you never been loved before
you’ll just keep coming back for more
but one day she’ll say you through
you’ll find out what heartache can do
(chorus) (b)
it’ll hurt so bad you can’t get out of bed
it’ll hurt so much you’ll wish you were dead
and then one day when you can finally stand
you see her with another man

(Verse 1):

I know what i’m talking about
she chewed me up and then spit me out
Ms. Heartache left me with a smile and a kiss
i’ve been licking me wounds
and hiding out ever since

(chorus): (a):
(repeat Verse 1)


 Then I Remember

days are bad, nights are worse
I just can’t seem to work, late enough
when i’m home all by myself
something in every room reminds me you’ve left

like the photograph, of us at the beach
walking in the ocean, up to our knees
you hair is blowing, in that summer breeze
we were so in love, it’s hard to believe

then I remember I can’t forget
cause remembering is what I do best
then I remember what I know too well
no matter how long you’ve been gone I ain’t over you yet

there’s hardly anything I can do
that doesn’t remind me, of me and you
i’ll be driving and i’ll hear some song
it’ll take me back to a time when nothing was wrong



Low-down, Mean Dirty Blue

well i’m just a man who tries to do right
always get home before daylight
and I love my baby as often as I can
but sometimes things don’t work out like I planned.

my baby said why do you treat me so bad
I said I didn’t know I did that
I thought I was your loving gentleman
she said lord help me, what you don’t understand

it’s just the blues, honey, it’s just the blues honey
it’s just those low-down, mean, dirty blues


landlord said you’re late again
I said i’m doing the best I can
he said yeah but it ain’t good enough
I said yeah but grandmama said you can’t get blood for a turnip


I saw those lights flashing in my rear view mirror
I said to myself, thomas, you shouldn’t be here
and that cop he seemed to agree
and he gave a ride downtown in his backseat

my lady came to the city jail
said i’m here to go your bail
but you gotta promise to straighten out
I said, honey, you took the words right out of my mouth.



Can’t Break a Broken Heart

not long after they married
she knew something was wrong
he’d rather stay out drinking
than to be with her at home
get out while you can
her family and friends
told her, it wasn’t her fault
but she worried, it would break his heart

you can’t end what didn’t start
you can’t leave a home that never was
you can’t tear up what’s been torn apart
you can’t break a broken heart


so, she tried to love him
out of the bottle he’d crawled inside
it almost cost her her soul
still she paid one helluva price
not long after she left
she heard he ended it
and she blamed herself for his loss
but of course it wasn’t her fault



Audience of One

you said i could
even when they said don’t try.
you said just sing your songs
and let the world go on by.
you said they sound good to me,
i’ll be your audience of one
maybe some day they’ll hear
what i’ve heard all along.

so this song’s for you
even though the others are too.
when all is said and done
you’re my audience of one.

now it don’t look so hard
not where we’ve come from.
that’s the way it always is
when you’ve come this far.
I hope I never forget
being lonely and lost
and how much it meant
when I first heard your applause.


 Stolen Kisses

you’d think by now i’d know better
than to let my heart get in the way
you think a man my age would have learned
not to go around tempting fate

cause the heart’s a strange and funny thing
it seems to have a mind all its own
and just when you think it’s done with hurting
it’ll remind you that you’re never too old

and i’m working on another broken heart
and this time, it’ll be, just the same
stolen kisses in dimly-lit places
followed by an old familiar stream of tears

Now I should never, be left alone
cause my heart tells me things I don’t need to know
like this minute there’s someone waiting for you
but you’ll have to break some promises to go



Man Enough

don’t remember when I learned it
men ain’t supposed to cry
don’t remember where I heard it
men don’t run and hide
men are supposed to be strong
talk straight, walk tall
and they never ever give up
well I guess I ain’t man enough

someone forgot to tell me
love changes all the rules
and if you follow where your heart leads
well, it’s bound to get bruised
no they never said
you’ll wish you were dead
then we’ll see what you think you’re made of
well I guess I ain’t man enough

things aren’t always as they appear
I know that now, wish I’d known then

so many things I was told
turned out not to be the case
like when you said I was your world
and no man could take my place
now I can’t hold these tears
can’t tell my heart how to feel
never knew love would hurt so much
well I guess I ain’t man enough


Tell Me the Stories of Jesus

tell me the stories of Jesus
about how he saved all mankind
tell me the stories of Jesus
I need a little love in my life

1. tell me how he made the lame leap
how he raised the dead from their sleep
about how he stopped that woman’s bleeding
and about how he got lazarus breathing.


2. tell me how he made the blind see
about how he cured those with leprosy
tell me about the boy and those fish
and about how he freed the oppressed, oh yeah

tell me how he loved the children
washed the feet of those who loved him
tell me about the two at emmaus
and about how he walks with us.
3. tell me how he hung on that cross
about how he suffered the cost
on the third day he would live again
tell me that story again and again

we all need a little love in our lives
a-amen, a-amen.


Finally Over Losing My Mind

All songs © Thomas Oliver

Finally Over Losing My Mind

I didn’t need to read the note she left
I’d already seen the handwriting on the wall
i’d had a old-time feeling, she was leaving
but that didn’t cushion the blow or break the fall

but I don’t drink any more like the well was running dry
and I dont’ sleep for days at a time
and I don’t walk those floors, talking to myself
yeah, i’m finally over losing my mind

now I never imagined giving up so much
when she walked out and left me on my own
still had my friends, my job, my dog and my truck
but just like the wind, they done up and gone.


now when they stop and ask, how’s it going
I tell them, one day at a time goes by slow
it’s easier to breathe under water than to watch those bridges burn
but they say pretty soon i’ll be good to go.



Holding On 

sitting at home all by myself
staring at your photograph
my friends say it’s time I moved on.
but they didn’t love you like i did
can’t imagine what i’m doing here
in the dark, trying to hold on.

holding on to memories
even though they might kill me
i’m holding on, holding on
i’m holding on to you.

friends are right I need a new life
problem is, you’re still my wife
but where you’ve gone and for how long heaven only knows.
some folks I guess were meant to roam
others like me, we just stay at home
and do our best, to hold on.


sometimes I can’t help but fantasize
what it’d be like when you realize
just where it is you belong and with whom.
I pray every night and day
that you’ll come back and i’ll hear you say
thank God, one of us was holding on.



A Little More Reminding

I need a little more reminding
Of what we’re doing here, honey
So if you’ve got the time dear
Show me again.
I need a little more reminding
Of what brought me here, baby
So if you don’t mind dear
Don’t make me beg

Well the world’s gone crazy, again
But it always comes down to a woman and man
Well, I’m him and you’re her
Come on baby let’s shut out the world

I need a little more reminding
Of what really matters
So forgive my whining,
Just show me again.


I need a little more reminding
Of what binds us together
So don’t wait for a sign dear
Show me again.
I need a little more reminding
Of what song we’re singing
So if you’ve got the time, dear
Just hum it again

Well we’ve both loved and both lost
we know exactly what love cost
Well I’m ready to ante up again
Come on baby deal me in



You Can Tell Me Anything

you can’t tell me much, about drinking
cause i’ve closed down one too many bars
and i’ve seen those blue lights a flashing
in the rear view mirror in my car.

you can’t tell me much, about hurting
cause i’ve hurt more people than I can count
and i’ve got my own scars we ain’t talking about
cause you really don’t want to know where they’re from

but you can tell my everything about love
and you can tell me anything and I’ll listen
you can tell me everything about you
and when you’re finished
tell me again.

folks can’t tell me much, about anything
cause i’ve spent my whole life telling them
and I know it ain’t right, to be so hard-headed
but that’s just the way I am.

(chorus x 2):


What’ll It Take

you’re always looking over your shoulder
at a past you can’t hide.
whenever I say I love you
you get that look in your eyes.
it says you been hurt one time too many
you’re not falling again.
for any more fast talking man with a line
you’re not giving in

you’re not giving us
a chance at love
cause your heart might break
so please tell me, what’ll it take.

you say you need a little more time
before you trust again.
I know exactly what you mean
cause i’ve felt the same.
you see you aren’t the only one
whose been hurt by love.
the only difference it seems to me
is i’m not giving up

i’m not giving up
on a chance at love
even though my heart might break
so please tell me, what’ll it take
you’re going to have to get used to this
i’m not going away.
I’ll send you flowers write sweet love letters
I call you every day.
I swear by all that I hold holy
over time who’s to say
that broken hearts can’t be mended
and stay that way

(2nd chorus):


A Girl Like You

what’s  girl like you doing in a place like this, this  late
what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this, this  late
don’t  you know better than to come in here looking that 1way
it’s almost closing time and you know what they say

I been in this place since the sun went down yester1day
i’ve had one too many beers but I chased some blues away
I  know this place can be a fool’s paradise
and before I say what i’m 5thinking, I oughta think  twice

are you the kind my mamma told me to avoid
she said girls like you come on easy but leave real hard
and what’s left behind ain’t never the same again
if mamma saw me sitting here with you she’d say i’d lost my head

(instrumental. Step up a key)

sometimes we pick ‘em and sometimes they pick us
and most times it don’t matter except when it does
like when you’re lonely and anyone will do
but then again not just anyone is someone like you.

what’s girl like you doing in a place like this, this late
what’s a girl like you doing in a place like this, this late
it’s closing time and everyone’s heading home
I should know better but i’d really hate to leave alone.

(TAG)what’s girl like you doing in a place like this, this late

Living in Love

you weren’t the first but you’ll be the last
no more losing at love for this man
I found the one I was meant to find
and now i’m living in love all the time

I once bragged no woman could keep me long
I might love her for a while then i’d be gone
I thought love was a game everyone played
until you came along and set me straight


i’ll admit there were a few who left me first
but it didn’t hurt half as bad as i’d heard
I know I wouldn’t feel the same if you left
i’m pretty sure i’d die a thousand deaths



Hearts Along a One-Track Mind

I know this may sound strange
considering where we’ve been
but lately it feels like it did way back when.
now all i can think about
is when i’ll see you again
and if you feel the same as you once did.

like when our hearts raced along a one-track mind
then we just might stay up talking all night
go get some breakfast around noon
doing what only lovers do.

so please don’t laugh when I ask
but why don’t we go on a date
and have some dinner at your favorite place.
later we could talk
over a cup of coffee
i’d like to hear what you have to say.


it feels like we falling
feels like we falling
feels like we falling
in love all over again.



A Bigger Fool Than Me

if there’s a bigger fool than me
i’d be his biggest fan
and ask him for his autograph
i’d ask to shake his hand.
i’d ask him how he does it
when he breaks his lover’s heart
and then expects to walk right back
and make a brand new start.


a bigger fool than me might not be that easy to find
i’ve searched all over for someone as crazy, or twice as blind
or someone who never knew all the heartache he’s caused
someone just like me, he wouldn’t see
he’s the biggest fool of all.


a bigger fool than me might explain
how he gets through the night
when all i can think about is you
and wondering if you’ll all right,
and if you might’ve found someone new
who’ll love you better than me
and won’t make as many mistakes
as any fool could see.



Just Say I Love You

little girl of mine came for some advice
said that man of hers was making a mess of her life
seemed he couldn’t settle down and she was having her doubts
wanted me to tell her what to tell him so he’d straighten out.

you could say my heart breaks every time you leave
or you could say i wish sometimes you’d think of me
or you could i’ve leaving and it serves you right, you fool
or you can say: i love you

little man of mine said Dad we need to talk
women in my life sooner or later take off
finally found one i can’t live without
so tell me what to tell her, so she’ll stick around.

you could say i’ll work hard and buy you everything
or you could say i promise to treat you just like a queen
or you could say i swear i’ll always be true
or you can say: i love you

now it may sound like i think i know everything
but that’s not exactly the way my life’s been
i’ve lost more than one love in my day
so if i’ve learned anything it’s what not to say.

cuz you can say i’m sorry just so many times
or you can say nothing’s wrong and stand by those lies
or you can pretend you got nothing left to lose
or you can say, i love you
or you can say, i love you.
just say, i love you.


A New Star
(a carol)

there’s a star, in the sky, some say a new one
and people all over the earth are taking notice
and three men are going to walk across the desert
cause they say it’s time for rejoicing

the angels in heaven are signing
and the saints are all clapping their hands
cause that star is hanging over Jordan
above a little town called Bethlehem

the three men, found a child, some say a king
they knelt down and thanked God for his son
then they walked all the way back across that desert
guided by a light that shone clearly as the sun.


there’s a star, in the sky, some say a new one
and it’s still shining, for us, both day and night
and people all over the earth, well they can see it
and at this time of year it’s especially bright.


















Jonathan Byrd is the real deal

Jonathan Byrd flies under too many radars for reasons that are beyond me.  That the taste masters of folk and Americana revere him is testament to the fact that they let the music speak for itself, irrespective of pop charts and record labels.

He is the true traveling troubadour, eking out a living on the road that he seems to thrive off.

And the North Carolinian ventures far and wide, from the Yukon to Switzerland, traveling with fellow musicians in vehicles too small, delayed trains and planes that are eagerly met by music lovers, who ferry him wherever.  He carries a guitar, wears the same caved-in straw hat and worn out boots, while lugging a suitcase full of CDs.

Jonathan Byrd

Jonathan Byrd

If you friend him on Facebook, you will receive the double treat of reading his travelogues which are in the best tradition of the traveling artist, who writes on the many places and people he visits and comes to know as only a traveling minstrel can.

Like many singer songwriters before him, Jonathan grew up in a religious household, with his preacher father and piano playing mother.  His father lost his mind, according to his son, became a philandering drunk who eventually recovered.   Jonathan’s “Father’s Day” song on his “Cackalack” CD does what so many of his songs do: renders a real hurt into a  healing without a hint of maudlin sentimentality.  In other words, he ain’t sappy.

He spent a tour of duty with the Navy.  He played in rock bands. He discovered old-timey music at a fiddler’s convention and it changed his life.  Here was real music.  No gimmicks.  Down to the bone.  Not trying to impress anyone, except those who needed warning that this was a No Bullshit zone.

Check him out.  He’s the real deal.    As one reviewer wrote: “Some people write good songs, Byrd writes phenomenal ones.”


Here’s one of his early songs that garnered him some serious attention:

The Ballad of Larry by Jonathan Byrd

Larry is a veteran, I seen him at the store
A six pack of malt liquor- it’s the Prozac of the poor
A can o’ chili and a can o’ beans and a pack of cigarettes
Four cheap cigars- he writes a check
He climbs into his van, it’s a blue Econoline
They’re both on their last legs, if looks are any sign
There’s a flag on the bumper and, just to the right
A bald eagle with a nail file says, “it’s time to fight.”

(chorus):You think you’ve got nothing to give
Look around how people live
Loneliness is poverty
Say, “hey,” say, “hey,” to me.

I had an old piano, it just didn’t belong
A couple missin’ keys that seem to be in every song
Even when I had it tuned, it didn’t sound that good
I was tempted to scrap the guts and burn the wood
I put it in the paper, a piano for free
If you can haul it, you can have it, and people came to see
Some folks played “Chopsticks” or “Body and Soul”
Always, they’d hammer in the empty holes

“I heard you got a piano,” he said with suspicion
He was shakin’ from the cold and probably malnutrition
I said, “Hey, Larry, won’t you come on in
Can I make you some coffee?” but he wasn’t listenin’
He went to that piano like he’d seen an old friend
He drew his name in the dust, he told me where it was made and when
He said, “I haven’t seen one like this since I was a boy.”
His face was twisted into joy.

Well, we talked a few minutes, then the coffee was hot
I said, “Hey, Larry, won’t you show me what you’ve got.”
He showed me what he had alright, with conviction and soul
He banged the barrelhouse blues, baby, he rolled like Jellyroll
He played songs of love and country, “from sea to shining sea”
And not once, not once, did I hear a broken key
A broken old piano and a broken old man
Rolled away smokin’ in a broken old van


At Tybee’s Beach Bum Parade

Tybee loves parades.  Especially, the Beach Bum Parade, the one that commemorates (in a commiserating sense for us locals) the start of the tourist season.  It’s held the Friday before Memorial Day Weekend.

It’s a water fight.  Plain and simple.

And you have to experience it to get it.

The crowds lines Butler Avenue (Highway 80 along the beach) with large buckets, in many cases trash dumpsters, full of water.  Most have water soakers and water cannons.  They await not so patiently the parade of floats, little more than pickups and flatbeds loaded down with buckets and dumpsters full of water and folks carrying water soakers and cannons.

Beach Bum Parade 2013

Soaking commences at 6:30, though some skirmishes breakout among the bystanders who can’t stand having a loaded water gun without drenching somebody.

It’s a free for all.  They soak you.  You soak them.  You soak each other.  Everyone gets wet.  Completely wet.

Two rules:  no ice water and no shooting the cops.

Crazy.  Fun.  Silly.


I was without weapon.  So I used the next best thing: my fingers as pistols.  I would shoot into the flatbeds, whose drenched occupants would look strangely at the unarmed man pointing his cocked fingers at them right before unloading on me.

julia's token at Huc-a-poos

julia’s token at Huc-a-poos

I returned “fire” with the exclamation:  “You’re dead.  I win,” which my daughter and her friend thought hilarious.  Which of course then became a mantra for the rest of the day of being silly.

That night, Julia and her friend Maria left the traditional dollar bill on Huc-a-poos bar with the inscription:  “You’re dead.  I win.”

Life on Tybee Island is living on the edge of America

Life on Tybee Island,  off the coast of Georgia, is literally living  on “the edge of America.”

Tybee Island: The Edge of America

Tybee Island

I first came across that description when Melissa and I were traveling with our friends David and Judy McNaughton.  We were island shopping, so to speak.

And we visited Folly Beach, a small island beach outside of Charleston, S.C.

The sign welcoming us to town described Folly Beach as “the edge of America.”  I was so taken with that description that I wrote a song by that title.  I refer to it as my noir song, as it captures the feeling of fleeing  to an island to escape from some pursuer or a tormented love affair.  Mysterious yet comforting.

The song is the title track to my new CD — “The Edge of America.”

I’m also appropriating the description as a blog category for my website:  “Letters from the Edge of America.”

Here, I can write about life on the island, or anything, really.  But I promise no politics.  Ever.  Or really anything remotely akin to issues of the public square.

We don’t have a public square on Tybee.  We do have a roundabout at the beach, near the pier.  But no public square.  And I’m good with that.


The guy who started me on the path to songwriting was Merle Haggard.

While others in my college dorm were intently listening the to Doors, the Stones and Led Zeppelin, I was hiding out in the laundry room listening to Merle’s 1970 Fighting Side of Me. Not because I was a reactionary redneck.  In fact, I was racing as fast as I could toward being a long-haired, dope-smoking hippie.

No, I was listening to that red, white and blue record because of one song:  “Today I Started Loving You Again.”

Merle Haggard (public domain

Merle Haggard (public domain

It was the first song I learned how to play on my Epiphone dreadnaught.

Not only did it adhere to the 3 chords and the truth formula of Harland Howard, but also its lyrics were simple:  a chorus and verse.  Period.

Today I started loving you again
I’m right back where I’ve really always been
I got over you just long enough to let my heartache mend
Then today, I started loving you again

What a fool I was to think I could get by
With only these few millions tears I cry
I should have known the worst was yet to come
And that crying time for me had just begun

(Repeat Chorus)


Doesn’t get much shorter than that.

Perhaps that’s why it is so powerful.

And Merle’s concise rendering of the most powerful emotions can also be heard in “Silver Wings,” which is another chorus-verse song, or verse-bridge depending on your point of view:

Silver wings
Shining in the sunlight
Roaring engines
Headed somewhere in flight
They’re taking you away
And leaving me lonely
Silver wings
Slowly fading out of sight

Don’t leave me I cry
Don’t take that airplane ride
But you’ve locked me out of your mind
And left me standing here behind

As fate would have it:  The Fighting Side of Me album also contained some not-so-conventional top 40 country tunes that helped ground me in real country (that blending of country, folk and blues).  Songs like Bo Chatmon’s “Corrine, Corrina,” Jimmie Rodgers’ “T.B. Blues,” and Woody Guthrie’s “Philadelphia Lawyer.”