29 Jan Steal This Song – Redux
What goes around, comes around…
My next few blog posts will be re-postings from a few years ago. In 2013 and 2014, I had a blog about my travels as a musician. However, my ISP stopped supporting (and removed) the software I was using to blog, so those posts just disappeared. There was one thread in particular that I regret losing, so I’m going to hit rewind and re-share those posts here. They were about a song-writing project that I did during a tour of the Midwest. Away we go…
A couple of my friends have always joked that I need to write a “road song”. They say that every travelling musician is required to have a good song about life on the highway, and I do travel a good bit, especially in the summer.
Of course, I had never really taken the idea seriously.
But in the summer of 2013 I had planned to drive from Colorado to Traverse City, MI, performing a series of shows along the way. That’s almost 40 hours of driving round trip! I do quite a bit of driving around the country, but this was a long haul by my standards.
I usually occupy myself on long drives by working on little projects. They’re usually silly little endeavors, but they’re fun and break up the monotony. So I decided that on this trip I would write a road song …seemed like a fun idea, and I certainly had the time.
The project would be fairly simple. I would jot down things that I overheard or saw along the way, and use them as inspiration for my requisite road song.
So on June 24, I packed up the car and headed into the prairie…
I overhear a lot of strange things travelling on the road. When you’re sitting in some café or diner by yourself, eavesdropping becomes a bit of a hobby. I once heard a waitress tell a customer, “I told my daughter she could go to the orphanage, but she better not bring back another orphan!” …seriously.
So I brought along a notepad and just jotted down things I overheard people say, things I saw, or just general thoughts of inspiration. I had no idea how all of these things could possibly connect into a coherent theme.
As I walked out the door the last thing my son said to me was “I’ll see you in a week”. So I decided that had to be the first line of the song. Other things I jotted down were…
“I’m in the middle of nowhere. Do you know how far that is?!?” – Overheard from a guy on his cell phone at a truck stop in Eastern Colorado.
“I’m not expecting too much of a change” – Overheard from a lady at a sandwich shop in response to a guy asking how her mother was doing. I thought it was nice of him to be concerned, and her response seemed so sad.
River – I followed the Platte River a good part of my trip through Nebraska, and in Iowa they had just had some pretty bad flooding.
Hitching up trains in the rail yard – In North Platte, NE I visited the “Golden Spike”. It’s a tower overlooking the giant rail yard there and a local tourist attraction. Worth a visit if you’re ever there.
Theft – When I left North Platte (before sunrise), I tuned in to one of the local radio stations, because the guy who ran sound for me at the Fox theater there did the morning news. I just thought it’d be interesting to hear him. One of the stories was about the theft of some bricks intended for the Veterans Memorial there. I thought, “What kind of a person would do that?” So I decided theft would be a theme. I later decided the name of the song would be “Steal This Song”.
Can’t keep the birds – Apparently sometime in April there is a massive migration of cranes through Nebraska. Someone recommended to me that I stop at a particular rest area and see where the cranes normally come through. Seems a little tourist industry has cropped up around this event, but in the end you can’t keep the cranes from moving on, so it’s a short lived happening.
Dancing in the Square – Walking around Iowa City after a show there, I stumbled upon a Latin dance party in a square on the pedestrian mall. I sat and watched for a while. Everyone seemed so happy.
Toppling Goliath – In a pub in Iowa, the guy next to me starts chatting me up about brewing beer. He was very interested in the hand-crafted beers in Colorado. When I asked him if there were any good Iowan beers, he recommended “Toppling Goliath”. I ordered one, and he was right. It was really good!
Leaving just when things get good – Sometimes it seems like all I do on the road is say goodbye. Before a show, I usually get to meet nice folks, and during and right after a show there’s usually a lot of positive energy and kind words from the crowd. But after the show is done, I just pack up and move on. I felt this particularly after my last show in Iowa because the folks at the venue took me out to lunch. It was so nice getting to meet them and chat. But then, like always, they had to get on with the rest of their day, and I had to get back on the road.
Driving into a storm – Just outside of South Bend Indiana, I drove underneath one of the scariest looking clouds I have seen. There wasn’t any rotation, but it just didn’t look right. Then the sky opened up and I could barely see through the rain and wind. It was a little frightening.
A cup of beer – I was having dinner at an Irish pub in Indiana when a guy sat down beside me. He looked like he had fallen on pretty hard times. He asked the bartender how much a cup of beer was. A moment later when I looked over he was gone. But that phrase, “cup of beer” stuck in my head. It just sounded out of place.
If I’m lucky I’ll have a place to lay my head – After leaving Indiana, I headed to Traverse City, but I wasn’t 100% sure I had a place to stay. I had been assured that there would be somewhere for me to crash, but nothing was nailed down. In fact, I didn’t even know where I would be performing or where to meet anyone. I typically over-plan things, so this was a very unusual leap of faith for me.
There were a few things that I jotted down that didn’t make the lyrics, and one of them worth mentioning was “Master Retarder”. This was a train term I overheard the guide at the rail yard in Nebraska say. It’ll take a better songwriter than me to work that into a song smoothly.
Peter GriggsPosted at 10:15h, 30 January
Some of my favorites songs are bits and pieces of seemingly unrelated verses patched together by a chorus. It keeps the active listener fully engaged in a sleuthing exploration to find out “what it really means”. As you know Steve, I have from time to time enjoyed listening to that guy Neil something. The song Christina and I sang at Wild Goose last week, Broken Arrow throws verses at you that leaves the listener quite puzzled. John Lennon painted with fantastic imagery in I Am The Walrus. String all those lyrical subjects together and take us for ride.
adminPosted at 18:56h, 31 January
Yeah Pete, it’s always interesting to find out how a song’s lyrics come about. If you haven’t already seen it, check out the Sonic Highways series from Dave Grohl (Foo Fighters). He explores the music and cultural scene of a city in each episode and then writes the lyrics to a song based on the experience. You listen to the song in a whole new light, having the inside on what the lyrics represent. You’d love it!