For the March video, I have written a new song by giving a poem by my daughter Aurora (pictured above with her younger sister Musetta) a simple, musical setting, ideal for my 1929 Regal parlor guitar.
About the Song
Only two months ago, when I was writing about my old All the Fixin's song Long Hitch, I noted that I rarely write songs in the Americana vein anymore. I believe I said it is hard for me to feel creative in this style, and I implied that this style is a little played out for me. However, it turns out that what is really played out for me is my inability to produce lyrics that can give some heft to the simple musical settings characteristic of this style. These types of songs are less about clever melody and structure, and are more about what you have to say. And mostly, I don't have that much to say. But my daughter does, and she has written many, very lovely poems, that I have never really given much thought to pilfering for my songwriting. She doesn't use particularly lyrical structures, and she rarely uses words that rhyme. She tends to create beautiful, challenging word pictures that are intensely personal, yet have a certain universality. In other words, she writes poetry, not lyrics. At least not the sort of lyrics I usually write. Yet I've sort of always wanted to write a song like Tom Waits, or Richard Thompson, or Lyle Lovett, or pick your favorite poetic singer songwriter. And on my desk, right next to my folder full of 2017 tax crap, has been a print out of my favorite Aurora poem "My long view comes up a little short", which I leave out to read whenever I go by. And last week, while reading the poem, I picked up a guitar and started thinking about how I might make a song out of it.
Here is the poem:
My long view comes up a little short
When asked recently for a clearer perspective I offered a glass of milk. When asked for my birthplace I put my hands in the dirt. Asked for my namesake I sang into a bowl.
My grandmother rode horses under a sky tacked to the land like a billowing sheet. At eight years old, I broke my wrist off the back of a skittish mare.
Ask me to come over and I'll say my legs gave out. Ask if I'm lying and I'll place a marble in my mouth. Tell my to swallow and I'll pull a flower from my throat.
My mother was born under a sky like an open maw. My mother grew up on a land as tan and muscular as a horse's flank. I was raised in the space between oak trees and convenience stores.
When you ask me what sky I was born to, I'll point to the northern lights. When you ask where my home is, I'll take a photograph of your mouth. When you ask me to come back, I'll say I've forgotten how to ride.
I am a third edition of a small boned woman staring at the sky. I am a second edition of a woman with a fear of horses.
Ask me again, but I won't get back in the saddle.
The first bit that I had was the title, which I began singing in a manner like Warren Zevon, rocking out a little. Then, using essentially the same chords, I thought I might use the "Ask me to come over..." stanza as a chorus, which I did not need in the end. I knew I needed some different, yet related melodies for the My grandmother... and the My mother...stanzas, without realizing that I was creating different themes for each generation. In fact, there was a lot of structure to this poem that I had not appreciated until I put it to music. I struggled mightily with how to sing the words.How to phrase things. As I said, I started out aping Warren Zevon. And I will often slip into Richard Thompson on lines like "off the back of a skittish mare". In the end, the phrasing that really gave me a sense of how to pull this off was imagining how Lyle Lovett, circa Joshua Judges Ruth, would approach it. The song is still fresh enough that some of you will notice that I am still imitating Lyle in the performance.
About the guitar
It's a nice little parlor guitar. I think it is made mostly of birch with a spruce top. Very chunky neck. I love the stencil work, which has aged nicely and looks pretty against the amber colored wood. These guitars always produce a lot more sound than you would expect. They also provide great definition and they really like finger picking. I haven't played this guitar in a while, so it was nice to have a reason to get it out. I still need to have its' neck reset, but for first position, the action is just fine.