“Give me all the notes on the keyboard, and I can do nothing. Give me three notes and I can make a symphony.”
Some time ago my wife Carol told me one of her music teachers quoted Tchaikovsky as saying something like that. I just Googled it and could find no evidence that he or anyone else said it. I’m glad I didn’t know that until now. That quote ultimately made my singing these songs possible.
About 8 years ago, I hurt the index finger on my left hand in such a way that it would not fully bend without pain. The only real impact it had on my life was I couldn’t play a lot of basic chords on my guitar. My doctor said the finger could be surgically repaired, but that didn’t seem worth it to me. I never played much and wasn’t good at it in any case. So I thought I’d just quit playing and leave it at that. One day I was fooling around with the guitar and discovered that I could still play a few chords with my remaining three good fingers. I remembered Carol’s quote and thought, OK, maybe three is enough. I figured if I learned to finger pick I could make those chords sound different enough to cover a range of songs. I found a few easy songs to start with (cowboy songs, like “Red River Valley,” some old spirituals, etc.) learned them, and enjoyed it. So I found others from many genres—rock and roll, country, blues, folk, big band, show tunes—along the way and did the same. In the beginning, I didn’t sound very good, I could tell, so I’d close the door of the back room when I played. After a while I got a little better and Carol started to come out there to listen. When she developed some health problems that kept her laid up for much of the day, I’d go where she was to play some of the songs. I learned dozens of songs, all of which she heard repeatedly, love songs, happy songs, sad songs, old songs, new songs, anything I could adapt to my three fingers and my voice. She enjoyed them and I enjoyed singing them for her. After she passed away, suddenly and unexpectedly, I kept singing those songs by myself, as a way to cope with my grief. I had started recording audio books of my poetry, so one day I decided to record myself singing, as a way to remember my time with her, and, really, just to hear another voice in the house, which was what my odd singing voice sounded like on the playback. I sent a few CDs to my brothers, who liked them. Then I began uploading my favorites here, so I could listen to them when I was driving to the woods for my daily walks. And, well, now here is where it has taken me.
I started writing my own songs about three years ago, just out of the blue, and found I liked that process quite a lot. I’ve written several “albums” of original songs in the meantime, all below and also available for free on Bandcamp:
N. B.: If you have musical training or talent, enter at your own risk. I have neither. As the old song says: “I sing because I’m happy; I sing because I’m free.” Well “happy” at least to be able to inhabit all these amazing feelings, and “free” at least to add what I want to my own website!
I usually put my most recent “cover-album” on top here, then my original- composition albums, then a selection of some my other cover albums below that.
Olympia mixtape #10: “No Two Ways about Love”
Here are my original-composition albums
“The Other Side of Goodbye” (spring/summer 2019)
Most of these songs pretty much wrote themselves, five of them in June, different key for the guitar, different voice register (kind of a country/40s Big Band vibe), different kinds of lyrics. As I’ve said elsewhere, the songs I make tend to tell me how they want to sound, and I do my best to respect their intentions. I’m not sure what to make of this one, but I like to listen to the songs, so I’m leaving it up for now.
“while i sit here with me” (winter/fall 2018)
I wrote most of these songs during the fall of 2018, several months after I moved to Olympia, a few during my final month in Pittsburgh the previous spring, as I tried to sort out the emotional complexities of closure, on both ends of my move, those layers of loss that pile up at certain junctures in our lives, needing to be addressed together. It’s a “dark” counterpoint to “The Kiss,” my light, Olympia-sweet love songs, just below here. If you could hear all of the songs on both of these albums playing simultaneously, that’s what the inside of my head is like most days now, all the contraries right there together, all at once.
“The Kiss” (summer 2018)
I made this album with songs I wrote in the summer of 2018, just after I moved to Olympia, Washington. Mostly, they are softer, kind of sweet, love songs, directed more at this beautiful place, now my new home, than to any specific person.
The album was reviewed @ Divide and Conquer, an indie-music review site. Here is the link:
And here is the link to my follow-up interview @ Divide and Conquer:
“Wistful Thinking” (summer 2017)
This was my first original album, made with the songs I wrote during the summer and fall of 2017, about six months after I started writing songs. They have to do with love and loss, which we so often experience simultaneously, humanly, in this world.
“Emily and Me” (fall 2018)
This album is a hybrid, with songs I made based on poems by Emily Dickinson, one of my all-time favorite poets and, really, people. In most cases I stuck close to her texts. In the cases where I took considerable liberties, it was either to clarify for myself what I thought might be at the heart of her poem or to engage in an imaginary, intimate conversation with her about things we share in common.
“Songs” by William Blake (winter 2019)
Another album of amazing “songs” by a magnificent poet, all but one taken from Blake’s “Songs of Innocence” or “Songs of Experience” (first published in 1789.) In this case, I adhered pretty strictly to the original texts, with a couple of minor exceptions, as well as repeating sections and/or lines in some cases to finish out the songs.
Here’s the first song I wrote about 3 years ago, in its original, raw, first-take form. I think it’s cool and says exactly what I wanted to say around that time.
Here’s a song that doesn’t fit any of my albums well, but I want to include it. I wrote, sang and recorded it, this version, exactly as it is, all on one very dark night during my final weeks in Pittsburgh. I like it for that, how it came so completely, all at once, and for what it inspires me to keep doing.
Here is a PDF of the lyrics for all of my currently released songs, including those from “Emily and Me” and Blake’s “Songs” appended at the end of the document.
The playlists below are all covers, arranged by whatever happens to strike my fancy
These are my cover-albums from Olympia
Olympia Mixtape #9: “Bump”
Olympia Mixtape # 8: Christmas in Jul(lullab)y
A few years ago I said I had “all the time in the world.” And I did. Now that I’m not working, you can’t imagine what an overabundance of moments I have, endless streams pouring out in every direction, three dimensional time, way more than I need to keep me fully right here, right now. So sometimes I’m also floating ahead, next Christmas, say, even though it’s still July, my annual album envisioned, might as well make it. Maybe I’ll do another one then, too, maybe not. Doesn’t really matter. Sometimes also drifting back, to infancy, say, like here, all these lullabies I really wanted to hear me singing to myself this month, mother and child all at once, my loving Christmas-in-July gift to me, time and gender dissolving in this soothing mist I live in now. It is all very sweet. Sleep in heavenly peace.
Note: “grah mo chroi” in the “Ballyeamon Cradle Song” is Gaelic for “love of my heart,” and “toora, loora, loora” means something like “Bye for now.”
Olympia Mixtape #7: “Daydream Believer”
Olympia MixTape #6: “Four Days in February (Blue)”
Olympia Mixtape #5: Hurt
Mississippi John Hurt was a Delta sharecropper, self-taught musician, played mostly locally. He was "discovered" and recorded these songs, and many amazing others, in the mid-1960s when he was over 70 years old. I take heart from him.