Sunday, June 23, 2013

Living and dying in 3/4 time

I've mentioned I used to write song lyrics. That was a long strange trip filled with awful decisions, missed connections, bad timing and amazing mistakes. It was also exhilarating. There may be no feeling like hearing your words in a well crafted song applauded by a crowd. It was good. I felt I had potential. I also thought I was Raymond Chandler so suspension of disbelief may be called for.
I started in High School. It was the Sixties a heady time of foment and revolution in life. I was not popular. Surprise. Usually the smartest kid in the room I tried to perfect the image of the angst ridden teen. I sorta pulled it off. I may have felt the need to be liked a little too much to succeed fully at that. Teenagers are so dramatic.
I wrote dark, foreboding, despair filled poetry. A true joy to read. Had a shrink read my work, with today's diagnostic tools, I would have been immediately medicated and slapped into therapy.
It was the Sixties and I was angry. Immersed the issues of the time. The War. Civil Rights. The Draft. Hell, I had the radical notion  that women were people and deserved full equality. Wacko. I was appalled and devastated in '68 with the murders of Martin and Bobby. I was beat and tear gassed at demonstrations at Ohio State. More than once.
Then there was the music,Dear God, the music. I am an unabashed Boomer. In my humble opinion, the 1960's was the most explosive time of creativity in popular music ever.  The Beatles. The Stones. The Who,. Bob fucking Dylan. I listened to the lyrics. Everyone had a message. At time's you had to dig in and decipher. That had risks of misinterpretation. (See Charlie Manson)  Other times the message was overt. I found I was writing lyrics. I learned structure and evolved. I wasn't very good but I evolved.Also my eclectic tastes were developing. It spanned from Dylan to Boyce and Hart.
This kid was hanging out with Garage Bands.  A roadie. Helped put together set lists. Tried to learn how to flirt. Crashed and burned at that. So the band and I tried to put music to my words. It simply didn't fit . Not late 60s,early 70s sorta lyrics.
We moved into the Seventies. I was still writing but Rock was changing. There was the rise of the Singer/Songwriter. We also saw the rise of pretentious, overproduced Rock. Yes, ELO and Queen were not my idea of Rock 'n Roll.The Beatles and CSN&Y broke up. The Eagles were taking wing though.
I had discovered Outlaw Country. I moved there, away from Rock, though I still listened. In the Outlaw movement brilliant writers were working. Kristofferson. Willie Nelson. John Prine. David Allen Coe. Billy Joe Shaver. Tom T. Hall. And there was the Rock side of this coin. James Taylor. Mac Davis. And of course, Jimmy Buffett. I listened. I wrote. I learned. Me, as a singer/songwriter was not an option. At best my guitar playing was mediocre. My voice made Kristofferson and Prine sound operatic.
Eventually I found myself writing with one of the guys from the Garage Band Days in his basement. His wife bitched about the noise and wine consumption. (Wine was cool) I'd bought a used big Sony reel to reel (Google it)and we wound up doing a demo tape of his music and my lyrics. I went to Nashville. For a week. Arrogant or what?
I found myself in the Holiday Inn Centennial. Across from Centennial Park and the reconstructed Parthenon. (Nashville is called the Athens of the South) I found myself walking 15th and 16th avenues. Dusty one way streets since renamed Music Square for the tourists. I saw the publishing houses shoved into old frame working class homes surrounded by mature trees. Pools of cool shade and shadows dappled the sidewalks.. I saw the big names on the signs. Loretta. George. Johnny. I drank beer in the little tavern on 16th Kris tended bar in . Talked to Writers. Learned.
I pitched the tape. No takers. What a shock. I came home. Undeterred.
The following year I met a guy in a band. We became friends and shared a townhouse. I learned a lot from him about structure and composition. He had a trio. At the gigs women seemed to hang out with the band in quartets. I learned to flirt. Well. I learned about music and life. My roomie looked over my scribbled lyrics. He liked my style but nothing clicked. It happens. I turned on my reel to reel and did a demo. Me and my guitar. Singing. As to my skill as a composer the keyboard player in my roommates trio once described it thus. "C, F, G and an occasional A minor." Off to Nashville I went. For a week. Again. I seem to have a history of arrogance or overconfidence. Or both.
Back at the Holiday Inn Centennial, I hit Music City Row again, tape and dreams in hand.
I talked to the owner of a small pblishing house. She had some writers in the stable who'd written chart hits. She said , not to disparage my picking and singing I was writing commercial top forty lyrics,.My playing and singing sucked. That was not exactly news to me.
That was whrn I made one of the biggest mistakes in my life. (Excluding my first wife) "Would I like to sign as a staff lyricist?"" No, I said. Right now I'd like to work with people I know." Moron. Never let a twenty year old kid make decisions like that without someone to advise him.
I partied in Nashville and after having money wired from Columbus to clear my bar tab at the Holiday Inn, I came home.
My roommates band was cutting a demo at a cutting edge studio just built south of Columbus. They had for Pure Prairie League to finish before the could start.H
 e said they needed another song and did I have anything laying around He had not seen. I rummaged around and handed him a set of lyrics. It clicked. We worked the lyrics and music hammering out the song in under an hour. I'm still proud of it. The demo made the rounds. We entered the song we wrote in the 1974 American Song Festival.  Out of the 60,000+ entries we won an Honorable Mention in the Professional category. Along with Sheb Wooley and Darryl Hall among others whose names escape me this far out. RCA wanted to hold the song for Elvis. Mistake number two. We said no. To be honest Elvis was at the end of his career, but still....
I moved on and got married. I also wrote less and less. I finally stopped. There was something about my life then that blocked me. i just dried up. Wasn't her fault. It just happened. We divorced. I continued to hang out with musicians.  I simply love music. I moved to writing prose though. My songwriting days behind me.
My old roomie called me out of the blue one day. Johnny Paycheck was interested in a couple of our songs.  The Song festival one and another about the closing of the American frontier. Here's where my impeccable timing comes in. Paycheck cut a couple of my .partner's songs with one in a straight to video movie. Then Johnny Paycheck shot a guy in a bar in Greenville Ohio. They put Johnny in the can prior to his putting my songs in the can.  Life can be an evil bitch with a twisted sense of humor. My love of finely crafted lyrics remains. But sometimes, sometimes I feel I let something fine and wonderful slide out of my life.

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