Win Anyway

I’m putting myself out there on this one.

This home demo from 18 years ago (of a song written 20 years ago) is about as rough as they come. As I like to say, as a musician I made a good lyricist. This is the only demo of this song I have, so…

I wrote the song with a particular view of beating the odds, bucking the system, climbing the mountain. Mainly, it expresses my world view that some things are worth fighting for, or against, regardless of the chances of winning. It also expresses my personal view that nobody but me tells me what I’m capable or incapable of doing.

In more modern times, this song has been hanging around in the back of my mind as one particularly suited for the gun control movement. A protest song in that grand tradition. We shall overcome.

But I haven’t really done much about that idea.

So, today I am.

For any of you who write songs, I offer this up as a co-writing opportunity long after the fact. Please feel free to have at it. Use the melody, the lyrics. Use a line. A word. The title. It is my hope that you can hear through the performance to something resonant. It has always felt unfinished to me, so finish it if you will.

Or, let it stay as it is. I fully realize some songwriting attempts are dead ends, and deserve to stay in the dustbin.

I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t try.


In Spite Of Myself

I will be the first to tell you, I’m not always the easiest guy in the world with whom to live. I have my idiosyncrasies and annoying habits like everyone else. I am prone to melancholia. I hate to be wrong. I eat all the cheese.

Another thing I’ve long known about myself makes me my own worst enemy sometimes.

I am just not very good at accepting help.

I am even worse at asking for it.

I do take pride in knowing I am not a slave to my weaknesses. I face them. I try to admit them. I try to minimize them if they can’t be eliminated.

It is with this idea in mind that I created my latest endeavor…against my own better judgment.

As you may have read in a prior blog, a year ago I had some of my home-recorded song demos professionally produced via the great Nashville Studio Live. As a music lover deep and true, this has been one of the greatest life experiences I’ve had.

Since then I have been actively releasing the songs (and others) in to the world in the hope something good becomes of them. More than anything else, I hope that someone who otherwise would not have heard them gets some enjoyment from them.

Now I am hoping to bring more pro demos to life.

I became aware of Kickstarter not that long ago. Being the geek that I am, I was immediately impressed with this use of technology and social media. Authors, filmmakers, musicians and the like have had success gathering critical mass for support of their artistic projects. That people of much more renown than I (Marshall Crenshaw, Griffin House) have had success there only adds to its legitimacy.

My own project has been launched in the hope it will virally spread to people far and wide. This is not the type of Kickstarter project that is going to bring in big pledges. It will absolutely require a grassroots sensibility and many, many folks giving $1 or $2. It will require those backers, as well as folks who can’t or don’t pledge, to help spread the word via Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, smoke signals, whatever it takes.

It will require help.

I’m asking for your help.

Born Anew: Professional Songwriter Demos, Vol. 2

Follow the link to check out the Kickstarter project

Thank you!

OK, What If They Suck?

As I write this, Cliff Goldmacher is beginning to mix the four songs we recorded via Nashville Studio Live this week. The next phase of this endeavor of mine is about to get under way. It is, without question, going to be a path lined with frustration, confusion, wasted effort and a Super Sized helping of tilting at windmills.

The path may also be strewn with negativity, but I don’t care about that.

Music is one of my life’s great passions. It is, for me, not just background noise but more the soundtrack that has guided my steps along my journey. The lengths to which I have gone, figuratively and literally, to enjoy it are probably outrageous to some, but “if there were no music, I would not get through…”*

Of course, taking music so seriously and embracing the work of respected songwriters, some of whom are legendary, doesn’t mean that one can actually do that well himself. I sure as heck know that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player ever. Let’s just say I was not.

When we conferenced via Skype after the band finished its work yesterday, I told the guys that we’d let the world decide whether the songs we tracked were any good or not, but that I knew the performances would be exceptional. They are. The gift that Cliff, George, Barry, Dave, Nick, Kevin and Tim have given to me with their respective skills and talents is one I won’t even try to diminish with words. They took what I made up in my own head and they made it beautiful. How can you possibly thank someone sufficiently for that?

Music is subjective. It is art, not science. There are plenty of people who don’t get what the big deal is about Bruce Springsteen, or can’t get past Bob Dylan’s voice. On the other hand, there are legions of fans for bands like Dave Matthews, Phish and The Grateful Dead, none of whom I would go/have gone to see if they played a free concert in my backyard.

It doesn’t matter so much what is “good” and what is not. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to wrestle that definition in to some sort of consensus. What we’re left with most often is what we like. If enough of us like something, it will last.

So, bring it on, world. Take your best shot. I won’t say it isn’t going to sting along the way, but I will take the punches and keep right on moving.

I hope you like my songs.

* Shawn Colvin, “I Don’t Know Why”

The Road to Nashville…sort of

Picking the songs for NashvilleJohn Prine would have us believe “it’s a big old goofy world,” and I guess I’m fully bought in to that philosophy, given how many times I’ve found myself saying that very thing.

Exhibit A, at the moment anyway, comes as I await with great anticipation my forthcoming demo project via Cliff Goldmacher’s Nashville Studio Live.

Back in the mid ’90s to early 2000s I wrote a bunch of songs. I bought a four track recorder. I had more guitars than a hack like me should ever be allowed to look at, forget actually touch. I had some things to say and I worked long and hard to say them. Then, I put them away.

The thing is, they wouldn’t leave me alone. I won’t say that the home song demos I recorded haunted me, but they certainly wouldn’t let me be, either. They didn’t just sit there in the back of a drawer collecting dust and fading in to my own personal oblivion. It hasn’t been until very recently that I have understood why.

A song isn’t finished until someone hears it.

For those 16 years since I wrote the first of my songs, I have largely guarded them like some dirty little secret. Finding Cliff and NSL, though, has put some things clearly in to context for me.

I am a “non-performing songwriter.” This is something I have always known, but only recently have hung the name on. More than that, I have only recently made peace with the fact that this is something that is 100% OK. You see, I’m a guy who loves the work of Bruce Springsteen, Lyle Lovett, John Hiatt, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Jackson Browne and Gretchen Peters. Those folks are all tremendously gifted, acclaimed and accomplished songwriters…who can rip your guts out, or make you weep with joy, when they perform the songs they’ve written. I couldn’t do that and I really didn’t know what to do about it relative to my own work.

In steps George Marinelli, founding member of Bruce Hornsby and the Range, longtime member of Bonnie Raitt’s Band, and all around great guy. One Friday not long ago, George on Twitter tweeted for “Follow Friday” a suggestion that folks follow Nashville Studio. I followed the link in their Twitter profile and this set the wheels in motion for my now impending songwriter demo sessions in early August (we’ll be cutting four songs). Thank you, George.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that reading the past year or so about the career arc of the great Matraca Berg has also inspired me to take this leap. While Matraca is a fine performer with a fantastic new album (The Dreaming Fields) recently released, her induction in to the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame was largely earned by writing songs that other people made famous. Her new album comes a mere 14 years after her last fully new collection of songs was released.

Nashville Studio LiveThe technology to be able to cut songwriter demos in Nashville, while not taking on the cost of actually being in Nashville, is something that was not available to me when I was writing and recording my songs. That’s huge. More importantly, though, Cliff and his service have made me very comfortable with the idea that it’s OK to let the gifted guys who are playing on the demos bring them to life without me.

While I intend to market the songs once finished (Keith Urban, call me), I have no preconceived notions that anything much will become of them. I realize mentioning my songwriting in the same essay as I mention Matraca Berg and the others is more than a little bit over the top (and perhaps even laughable), but I try very hard to live my life in such a way that I don’t let myself make other people’s decisions for them. So, we shall see what happens.

If the only thing that comes of this is a wonderful experience, with musicians I respect highly, who have played on some of the music I love, then I cannot possibly wish for any more than that.

Well, I do wish I’d written “It’s A Big Old Goofy World.”