Wordsmithing and storytelling

“He went to Paris, looking for answers to questions that bothered him so.

He was impressive, young and aggressive, saving the world on his own.

But, warm summer breezes and French wines and cheeses, put his ambition at bay,

And, summers and winters, they scattered like splinters and four or five years slipped away.”

This is the opening stanza to my favorite Jimmy Buffett song, whose title is in the first line “He went to Paris.”  The wordsmithing and storytelling of this song is so engaging and I love how easily Buffett sings it to let the story unfold.

Another song I adore is written by Kenny Loggins  as a tribute to his brother Colin and his first child called “Danny’s Song.” It was made popular by Anne Murray, but I enjoy the Loggins and Messina version a little more. The last stanza defines my wife which is a key reason for my enjoyment.

“Love a girl who holds the world in a paper-cup.

Drink it up, love her and she’ll bring you luck.

And, if you find she helps your mind, you better take her home.

Don’t you live alone, try to earn what lover’s own.”

Words and music. I enjoy a nice instrumental, but to me the words matter, especially when they tell a story.

A final taste is courtesy of Jim Croce in a less known song called “Lover’s Cross.” Here is the opening stanza.

“They said it was bound to happen.

It was just a matter of time.

Well, I have come to my decision

And, it is one of those painful kind.

Well, it seems that you wanted a martyr,

And, that is the one thing I just couldn’t do,

Cause, baby I can’t hang upon a lover’s cross for you.”

These three songs are from a small number I can sing word for word. You will laugh, but I would sing them to my kids as I rocked them to sleep, as I grew quickly tired of nursery rhymes. Gordon Lightfoot, David Gates and The Beatles also lend themselves well to such a mission.

The lyrics I typed are from memory, so there is a chance they are not exactly correct. What are some of your favorites where the lyrics come easily to you?

 

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Songwriters and Performers

Periodically, I have written posts about the songwriters and performers who combined words and music so magically. The posts that have received the most notoriety on my blog are not necessarily the biggest names, although they are indeed popular.

The post on Bob Seger has been my most visited musical post. When I think of the line from the movie “Eddie and the Cruisers,” about the key to a great song is words and music, I think of a short list of names including Seger’s. “Rock and Roll never forgets” sang Seger. He is right .

The second most read, but with a bullet, is a tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Four terrific songwriters and musicians in one group. This post may pass Seger’s soon, but in fairness to Seger it is four against one. Plus, the music of CSNY has a more cultural message. Their self-titled first album with the four of them with “So Far” tacked on the end of the title is one of the finest end to end albums ever, in my view.

The next in kind is the post about Gordon Lightfoot. He is indeed a troubadour, but his songwriting has been covered by many including Peter, Paul and Mary and Elvis Presley. He is still touring, so try to catch his laid back sing-a-long. He speaks about his songs and life, which are also poignant reflections.

The fourth most frequented post is by an artist who left us much too soon, Jim Croce. His music spoke clearly about loneliness, heartache, love, melancholy and relationships. Had he not died so young, he would be as popular as any song writer.

Below is a link to these posts. They may also link you to other musical posts, so please feel free to reminisce and share your favorites.

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/a-beautiful-loser-bob-seger/

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/08/25/teach-your-children-a-tribute-to-csny/

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2013/01/31/rainy-day-people-tribute-to-gordon-lightfoot/

https://musingsofanoldfart.wordpress.com/2012/09/29/jim-croce-a-voice-quieted-too-soon/

A memory from when the kids were small

My blogging friend Erika prompted a great memory with her Song of the Day post. This morning’s entry is “You are so Beautiful” sung wonderfully by Joe Cocker. A link is provided below. While this song was likely intended for romantic love, it works quite well for all kinds of love, in particularly the love of a parent for a child.

Although my kids are in college or just graduated now, I have the memory today of singing to them softly while I rocked them to sleep as babies. This was one of the songs that I sang. Definitely not being known as a singer, I sang a repertoire of songs that I knew the words to as well as could be sung softly. So, the ACDC and Deep Purple songs did not qualify, although Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” works well until the final verse.

My wife and I bought one of those glider chairs that we put in the nursery. That was one comfortable chair. In that chair, I sang a number of songs, based on how quickly the kids would nod off and were certain to stay that way. My list varied for my own sanity, but would include songs from artists like Jim Croce, Gordon Lightfoot, Peter, Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, John Denver, Loggins and Messina, The Beatles, Bread, Harry Chapin and others that popped into my head or that I may have heard on the radio.

Invariably, I would include Joe Cocker’s song, as it had great meaning. But, Jim Croce’s “Time in Bottle” and “Photographs and Memories” were frequently sung. David Gates of Bread would appear with “If” or “Diary,” and Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle” served as a reminder to not forget what is important. The Beatles would often be included as their own evening of song drawing from “Yesterday,” “Something,” “Norwegian Wood,” and many others.

John Denver would sing through my voice “Follow Me” or “Take me Home, Country Roads,” while Gordon Lightfoot might pop in with “If you could read my Mind” or “Carefree Highway.” Loggins and Messina might be there to with Anne Murray’s “Danny Song” or “House on Pooh Corner.” And, Peter, Paul and Mary would show up with Bob Dylan’s “Blowing in the Wind” or Pete Seeger’s “Where have all the Flowers Gone?”

I am evidence that you need to not sing well to entertain a sleepy child. The key is some semblance of a soft tune and words that soothe. These are moments I cherish. When we are driving with one of the kids to school and one of these songs would come on the radio, if I was melancholy, I would tell the rider that I sang this to them when they were little. They are the best of memories and I cannot wait to rock a future grandchild to sleep.

https://erikakind.wordpress.com/2015/09/22/tidbit-song-of-the-day-7/

I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then

I have always been a big fan of interesting song lyrics. The coining of a phrase that says more than the few words used in the song make it memorable.The above title comes from a Bob Seger song “Against the Wind” as he laments it was more exciting not knowing some things when you were younger about love and life. The following sample lyrics are not necessarily my favorites, but they are a few that represent my fascination with good wordsmithing.

“See, the number on the matchbook is old and faded,” is a line from Jim Croce’s song “Operator.” He is struggling to find the number of an old girlfriend who ran off with his “best old ex-friend Ray.” Since it was written on a matchbook, it means it was probably written down in a bar, maybe when  she let him know she was leaving.

“Just like a paperback novel, the kind the drugstore sells,” comes from Gordon Lightfoot’s “If you could read my mind.” He has several like this in the song, but to me he describes the cheesy romance novels you can buy in a drugstore where the hero saves the day. This is a melancholy song about people who can’t reclaim the love they once had, so the hero references are fantasy and not reality.

“Clowns to the left of me, joker’s to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you,” is a Stealers Wheel song whose title is the last phrase of the song lyric. The song can mean so many things, but it shows that we are in this together and we need to ignore the fools on either side telling us what to do. It is also a good metaphor for our political stalemate.

Bob Dylan wrote and sang “How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry.” The song made famous by Peter, Paul and Mary’s rendition sung on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial beside Martin Luther King is called “Blowing in the Wind.”  There are great references throughout this song, but I like this one the most as African-Americans have been maltreated for so long and it seemed to resonate more.

When people think of Rush, they do not first think of lyrics, but their many songs are replete with excellent wordsmithing. In the song “Free will” the words that resonate with me are “if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.” I found this very poignant as many do not realize that by not doing something, they are making a choice. A good example is choosing not to vote believing it makes no difference. Yet, by not voting, the lesser of two candidates can be elected making a problem worse.

Of course, no list would be complete without some reference to a Beatles song. In “Lady Madonna,” Paul McCartney sings “Lady Madonna, children at your breast, it’s a wonder how you manage to feed the rest.”  This line speaks volumes of the difficulties in raising children, but especially in poverty or near poverty when you are a single parent.

Let me close with romantic song from David Gates of “Bread.” The lyric goes “When my love for life has all run dry, you’ll come and pour yourself on me.”  This lyric from the song “If” resonates with me as we pick each other up. He has done all he can and needs help, so his lover comes and pour herself on him to bring his spirits back to life.

I would love to hear your reaction to these and for you to share some of your favorites. These were top of mind, so I have overlooked many great lyrics.

 

A Reflection on Two Hundred Posts

My most recent posting hit a milestone as the 200th post I have made on Musings of an Old Fart. I want to thank the many visitors who have dropped by and even more thanks to those who came back again. As others who post know, not everyone comments, which is OK, but those who take the time to do so are greatly appreciated. I try to comment most of the places I visit, as I want the writer to know I hung around for a while. But, even if you don’t share your thoughts, I appreciate your perusing the blog.

I find interesting what turns out to be the more widely read topics I write about. As I review my top five most read posts, three I felt more optimistic about given the topic, but the other two surprised me as they seemed to strike an unexpected chord with folks. I would add that some of the more widely read posts were due to the reposting or endorsement by others. I owe a big thanks to each of you who gave this Old Fart a shout out. You are the best.

The most read post was based on my favorite play and movie – Les Miserables and Social Injustice, which was written on January 13, 2013. The music is so good in the play, it truly overshadows the depth of social injustice in the story. The most recent movie drove home the injustice and this post was well received more so than any other I have written before or since. It still gets many visits each week, which is wonderful as a writer. It is appreciated and I aspire to replicate this feat each time I write.

The second most popular post of mine is Healthcare is more than a pawn, it is a problem written on August 8, 2012. This post was in the middle of the Presidential race and voiced my frustration that healthcare was a pawn in a political game, when it is truly a huge problem in our country and still is. The lack of concern over the issues at hand (50 million people without coverage) served as reminder of what politics is – defeating your opponent’s idea, no matter how good and, in this case, no matter how much it resembled your own idea. If people defeat the idea, my question is what do you propose to do to help with the underlying problem?

These two posts, with the help of others, were issues that I hoped would resonate. The fifth most widely read post of mine, which I also hoped would resonate is The Rich and the Rest of Us written on October 20, 2012. This post is based on a book on poverty in America written by Cornel West and Tavis Smiley. The sequel post did not fare quite as well, but the identification of the most misunderstood issues of poverty was well-received by readers. I hope people picked up a copy of the book as it is a must read.

The two posts that surprised me were written in tribute to two people – one alive and one dead. Tribute to a Great Boss written on December 5, 2012 was written a couple of days after a jubilant and melancholy send off of my old boss who retired. In retrospect, I think people crave an ideal boss, so they wanted to see how one acted. He does not know I wrote this and he would probably would shake his head and say “damn” but he is due this tribute. He was funny, supportive and would help you succeed. Thanks for sharing his story with me.

The deceased person was written about in Jim Croce – A Voice Quieted Too Soon, penned on September 29, 2012. It turns out many of you feel about Jim Croce the way I do and it showed. I probably know more of his songs word for word than those of any other artist, as they had so much meaning. Our friend Z says she likes these “tribute to songwriter posts” the most of what I write. I will try to keep them coming for you Z, only if you must promise to continue telling your wonderful stories with pictures and words.

Let me turn the spotlight for a minute on the many wonderful writers and photographers I visit at least every other day, in addition to Z. I shared with Hugh and Barney, two of my favorites, that what they write on their posts is consistently of high quality and beats the pants off most pundits I read in the paper and online. They cover a greater number of important topics than the pundits and try to be as judicious as possible in their writing. I know if I start listing names of some of my favorites, I will omit someone who I think is top drawer as well, so please forgive me, but here goes: Emily, Jenni, Judy, Amaya, Donna, Roseylinn, Lisa (there are two more besides Z), Vincent, Varun, Jots, Toby, Grandma, Tazein, Jasmine, Clare, our Tennessee liberal at D&O, Chicks with Ticks, plus others who I will be most embarrassed when I realize I failed to mention them. There are some new ones I am learning more and more about like Cristian, Cranston, Rosemarie, Harsh, et al, so I hope to see more of what you do. Some of these excellent writers need to write more, as I go through withdrawal pains when their day-to-day lives interfere with their writing. You are missed when you stay away, but always appreciated when you return.

Well, thanks for letting me wax on in this 201st post. And, many thanks for reading the first 200. Your time, interest, encouragement and commentary is greatly appreciated. Best wishes, all. And, keep on writing.

Harry Chapin made it “A Better Place to Be”

Like Jim Croce, another favorite story-telling songwriter of mine, Harry Chapin also left our world much too soon. Chapin died on July 16, 1981 of cardiac arrest that occurred either before or after a car accident on his way to perform a free concert at Eisenhower Park. He was only 38 years old. He never had the huge popular success that many performers crave, yet I don’t think that was his motivation. He wrote very meaningful songs which usually told stories or had lessons for us all. And, he was one of us – a guy we wanted to hang out with and let him regale us with his stories.

If your ever saw or heard him in concert, he was equally known for his story-telling between the songs. He would very often share how this weird story came to be, many that actually came from true events. One of my favorite songs of his – “I Wanna Learn a Love Song” is actually based on the true story of how he met his wife, Sandy, when she hired Chapin as her music teacher. Their family consisted of five children (two together and her three children from a previous marriage).  In fact, his most popular song, “Cat’s in the Cradle” was based on a poem Sandy had written about her childhood, but a lesson for her husband and all of us fathers – “when you comin home Dad, I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then, Son, you know will have a good time then.” As we all know, the Dad/ Son are switched at the end  “as I hung up the phone, it occurred to me, he’d grown up just like me. My boy was just like me.”

His first big hit was “Taxi” about a man who wanted to be a pilot and is now driving a taxi. He picks up a fare that turns out to be his ex-girlfriend who wanted to be an actress. It is a very melancholy song to which we all can relate. Other favorites include “W.O.L.D” about an old disk jockey who has seen better days and “Thirty Pounds of Bananas” about a funny trucking disaster that spilled boxed bananas everywhere. Yet, my two favorites are vintage Harry Chapin. I will save the best for last, as it appears in this title.

One of my two favorites is called “Mr. Tanner” which is a song about a man who loved to sing while he worked. And, all the shopkeepers nearby loved to hear him sing. Yet, when they encouraged him to perform, the critics were not as kind. As Chapin points out…

“But, music was his life, it was not his livelihood. And, it made him feel so happy and it made him feel so good. And, he sang from his heart and he sang from his soul. He did not know how well he sang; it just made him whole.”

You find yourself pulling for this man and are so heartbroken that his joy of singing was shattered. At the end, he only sang softly, so no one could hear him.

My favorite, though, is “A Better Place to Be.” It is a story about loneliness, a midnight watchman and a rotund waitress. The watchman tells the waitress his story as she says “I know I’m not no beauty queen, but I sure can listen good.” He tells how he met this beautiful lonely girl who, surprising to him, agrees to come home with him because “I’m goin nowhere and anywhere is a better place to be.”  After the most memorable night of is life, he leaves to get breakfast and when he returns, finds she has left, shattering his dreams.

The waitress dries tears from her eyes and eventually says “I wish that I was beautiful, or that you were halfway blind. And, I wish I weren’t so Goddamn fat, I wish that you were mine. And, I wish you’d come with me, when I leave for home; for we both know all about emptiness, and livin all alone.” After he finishes his last sip, he says “And, I know we both have been so lonely. And, if you want me to come with you, then that’s alright with me. Cause I know I’m goin nowhere, and anywhere is a better place to be.”

This is one of the most true to life, heartfelt songs you will ever hear. The song has many nuances and flavors. I hope I have given you taste of the genius of Harry Chapin. But, let me not stop there. On top of all of his storytelling songs and performances, Chapin was also a humanitarian. He was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his work on ending hunger in the US and abroad. He started an organization called “Long Island Cares” to combat hunger there and in 1977, Jimmy Carter asked him to be on a Presidential Commission on World Hunger.

So, through his songs and through his actions, Chapin told us how to make this world “a better place to be.” His epitaph is taken from his song “I Wonder What Would Happen to the World” and reads: “Oh, if man tried, to take time on Earth. And, prove before he died. What one man’s life could be worth. I wonder what would happen to the world.”  Harry, you live well beyond your 38 years. You keep on teaching us. You made the Earth “a better place to be.” Thank you.

Jim Croce – A Voice Quieted Too Soon

As I am tired of writing about politics, I wanted to follow the inspiration of Jenni at www.newsofthetimes.wordpress.com and Lis at www.carrpartyoffive.wordpress.com and write about one of my favorite songwriters who passed away far too early. During the Grammy Awards in early 1974, Ingrid Jacobson Croce, the wife of Jim Croce walked to the dais to accept a posthumous Grammy for Jim’s last album called “I Got a Name” which he just finished recording. It was even more appropriate that she did as they actually started as a duo in the mid-1960’s in the Philadelphia area and gave up when Jim became a truck driver and welder after it became too hard to earn a living as singers. Fortunately for us he continued to write songs and look to play.

Jim Croce died in a plane crash on September 20, 1973 in Natchitoches, LA with five others including a friend and fellow songwriter, Maury Muehleisen. His career was literally just beginning to take flight, so the crash was terribly tragic and stood as a horrible metaphor. The folks who may know his music today would probably list a few of his  popular songs – “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown,” “Time in a Bottle,” and “I Got a Name.” These are excellent and he was just branching into other people song’s with “I Got a Name.” Yet, his body of work is fairly robust for such a short period of time. He combined a storytelling performance style, with a coffee-house voice and tremendous lyrics and music. For those of you who know his music only a little or not at all, I would suggest you check out a few other songs that were a little less famous, yet will paint a clearer picture of one of the most underappreciated artists of this generation.

“Lover’s Cross” is usually at the top of my list of Croce favorites as he finally decides to painfully leave his lover as he can no longer hang on a “lover’s cross for you.” He sings  “I’ve come to my decision and it is one of the painful kind. Well, it seems that you wanted a martyr, but that’s the one thing I just couldn’t do.”

“New York’s Not My Home” expresses the loneliness of living in New York trying to make the big time. He and Ingrid went there as they tried to make it as a duo.He laments “I lived there about a year and I never once felt at home” and “It has been so long since I have felt fine.” His singing would accentuate words and syllables in an easy flow with the music.

“Working at the Car Wash Blues” has some of the best acoustic guitar playing and lyrics about those “steadily depressing, low down mind-messing working at the car wash blues.” It is best metaphor for getting an education.

“Photographs and Memories” is a remarkable song for its short  length. His voice brings a sadness as he laments about the only thing he has left of a relationship. “All that I have are these, to remember you.”

“One Less Set of Footsteps” descriptively portrays the realization that I need to leave this relationship saying there will be “one less pair of jeans on your door” or “one less voice who’s talking” in addition to the absent footsteps “on your floor in the morning.”

“Operator” is more famous, but it is probably the best window into Croce’s ability as he tries to reach his old lover who has run away with “my best old ex-friend Ray.” Many have heard this one, but I like to listen more closely to some of the phrasing of his conversation with the operator when he says “you have been so much more than kind.”

There are many others to choose from “You Don’t Mess Around with Jim,” “Roller Derby Queen,” “Alabama Rain,” and “Rapid Roy” in addition to others mentioned and others not. Since I like to read and write, I am a huge fan of great lyricists, but we all need a great tune and singing style to tie it all together. I do like some simple songs and I do like blues and jazz which may have no lyrics at all. Yet, I like the combination of great lyrics and great music. I remember the line from Eddie in the movie “Eddie and the Cruisers” as he talked to the Wordman – “words and music – we need each other. Words and music.” Croce embodied words and music and he could tell the story as well as anyone.

Give Jim Croce a try or revisit your own photographs and memories and reconnect. I told Lis in a post the other day where we discussing one of Jimmy Buffett’s songs, the songs of Croce, Buffett and others were the songs I sang to my children as I rocked them to sleep or tried to stop them from crying (man, I loved that glider). I knew the words and could make a reasonable attempt to sing them. They must have worked as they went to sleep or stopped crying. I can assure you it was not the singing voice, but as Eddie said it was the “words and music.”