Sunday, June 12, 2011

. . . And What We Don't Know

Wrrote a new song this morning, not intending to write a song, but just intending to wake up. But I went to sleep on a Saturday night alone (my earth angel was a jet-flown distance away for the weekend) and I had been stretching out in glorious lonliness searching on YouTube for the most intensely sad song by Townes Van Zandt I could find to learn and ended up hearing this incredible version of a different tremendous song I had never heard before by Steve Earle called "Goodbye" which he got to sing in duet on television with EmmyLou Harris, sometime in the 1990s. So many things about it are astonishing that I had to listen with my hand bracing the center of my chest. it's that painful and that gorgeous.

Earle was likely about 20 years from finding and marrying Allison Moorer, and that's kind of an eternity, or might as well be in a life that has had all the tough breaks and hard living his has. Even though he was much younger than he is now, he looked older--beat, bloated, and with unwashed hair hanging down, and harmonica holder around his neck--yet brilliant, tender, sad, and in the kind of misery only an angel like EmmyLou Harris can temporarily save you from.

EmmyLou is in this video a silver haired unicorn princess of alt. country music--then and now, impossibly, painfully gorgeous, but this was like, oh my god, as pretty as her voice is, that's what she looked like, and totally tuned into him during the duet as if to say, I love you Steve, God loves you, music loves you, and all I care to do right now is sing this pretty song about regret which is one of the greatest songs that has ever been, which you happened to write, with all the sincerity there is in the world, and appreciate the beauty and sadness of it while I look right at you.

Now if you think I'm exaggerating, you can just look at this right now:

So I listened to it 208,345 times according to the YouTube hit counter, and tried to get all the timing and chord changes right. It's got some unexpected things in there, sudden E minors where there were none in the first chorus. Also in the line about Mexico, the melody goes all mariachi all of a sudden where it wasn't in the parallel line before.

And then I went to sleep but first played myself the recording of the anthemic piano thing I had played and jotted down in the afternoon. I thought if I heard it right before I went to bed that I'd wake up with words or a riff.  And I did, only it was for a completely different song. . . This one.

Wrote it after stumbling awake in the dark, getting my tea, sitting down , written down in morning journal writing, and refined on the bed in front of a video camera with a guitar. Had it by 8:35 a.m. I don't think it has that much to do with the anthemic piano thing or the sweet consolation of country music regret sung by supernatural angels and fallen men. But its something. 

". . .And What We Don't Know" 6-12-11
Music and Lyrics by
Michael Alan Silverstone
©2011 Mr. Silverstone Music Publishing/ASCAP

Now just to get songwriting productivity thing in perspective, before thinking I'm all that and a bag of chips. . .

In an autobiographical chronological summary of his career on his website, entitled "Lies and Inventions" Elvis Costello says that some time in the summer of 1993 he wrote six songs in one day.

These include, "13 Steps Lead Down", "Clownstrike", "Sulky Girl" and "Too Soon To Know".

Those are great songs, really complicated, gorgeous ones too. I've gotten three ideas for songs in one day, but writing 4 masterpieces and 2 complete songs??? Geez, I'd need an air cannon to reach a bar set that high.

Maybe he was kidding, lying or inventing, but somehow I don't think so.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sometimes Yagottagetdownonyourknees

I wrote about 20 songs when I was 20, then, with a few exceptions did not write any for 30 years. At this moment, I can't really understand or explain what accounts for the gap.

Actually, it's quite common to go 30 years without writing songs. If you find 1000 people over the age of 30, there are probably at least 991 of them who can say the same thing. What even I am struggling to understand or explain is why I started up again.

This is almost impossible to explain. I used to listen to new songs by people who's music I liked and view them as complete magicians. I never thought I would be able to write a song, even though I had done it when I was too young to realize how challenging it was. Something happened, that was a kind of anti-trauma, that is, an unexpected, accidental event that leaves life changed. . .for the better.  Since this is a blog after all, I might as well use the tools of the medium to tell this story. Click on this video and you'll see what I mean.

And here is Marc playing this song. There are 2 different versions he did on network tv such as this one:

But here's one he did in a more intimate setting at a concert that I really like:

Marc told me once that he had met a lot of people who had done it, and he was convinced that I could have been someone who could have had a recording career. I found that flattering at the time, and thought he was just being a kind friend, since it never occured to me to have that intention. It seemed way too dependent on things I didn't know how to rely on--like megabucks lottery-level luck. But Marc's words also gave me the permission to activate the ability to make music that I apparently either always had, or had steadily developed in the course of singing and playing my son to sleep when he was young, and singing along with the radio for 30 years.  Seeing my name on this song with Marc's really changed something in me. And the songs I held back from being written essentially burst through the dam of being held back all those years. I began waking up hearing melodies, It became familiar to have two or three complete song melody structures come to me in a day. I started recording, refining, rewriting, I started playing piano. I essentially learned how to play piano in three years after playing guitar for 30.

It all seems very mysterious to me. . .how songs come to be, how great it feels to create music, how much of it surprises me even when I'm supposedly the person it is coming from. I don't understand how it is possible. I don't understand why it is so powerful--but it is among the greatest things I know of.  I'm not feeling very articulate about this, but don't mind as much as I might have before I stopped believing in the power of words alone to convey what I mean anyway. What I believe in now is the power of heightened occasion, of harmonics and natural human melodic phrase, of the blend of repetition and emotion and the magic of the repeated hook and friends and rhythm and emotion and incantation and, o.k., words, too.

As I say in the video, "Well, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it." I didn't want the story of "Live Out the String" to swamp what I was trying to share with the music, so I waited until I had enough music behind me that it could be part of what I do. But I think it feels like that time is here, or at lease close enough. Some times ya gotta get down on your knees, especially when you are teaching 2nd grade.