“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. I learned dozens of songs, love songs, happy songs, sad songs, old songs, new songs, anything I could adapt to my three fingers and my voice. After Carol passed away, I kept singing those songs by myself, as a way to re-enliven myself. One day I decided to record myself singing, mostly 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. And, well, now here is where it has taken me. I include below an assortment of recent “cover” albums.
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 six “albums” of original songs in the meantime, all below as well. The best way to listen to my original music is on my Bandcamp page: better sound and graphics, and you get all the lyrics.
“Self-isolation: songs measured in COVID-19 time”
I wrote this assortment of songs about various kinds of isolation during the first week or so of April 2020, the height of the pandemic here. The penultimate song, “Good Times,” uses the frame of Stephen Sondheim’s “I’m Still Here,” from Follies, to sandwich my own stanzas on the virus-constrained life we are still living now.
Here’s my first COVID-19-seclusion cover album, some raspy-voiced, sweet, sweet songs, mostly from the 30s and 40s:
Olympia Neighborhood Slideshows Soundtrack
These are the songs (most recent, backwards) that serve as soundtracks for my Olympia neighborhood walk slideshows, which are on a page you can access from the drop-down menu. Some are original compositions, most are covers of some of my favorite songs.
and here’s another winter 2020 cover album . . .
One of my all-time favorite singers, from the beginning, as a boy in the late 50s, that cool voice, such sweet songs, a pure distillation of that moment in my personal history, listening to the radio, everything still possible . . .
I was recently invited to share my music story on the mysoundposter web site. Here is the link:
Here are the rest of my original-composition albums
As with my poetry, I write the songs that come to me the way the come to me and sing them the way they say they want to be sung. I like all kinds of music from bluegrass to doo wop, and I especially like songs from the Big Band era. So all my albums have a different sound profile.
I wrote this batch of songs in January, 2020: A Fully Educated Man
This started out as an homage to the 20s and 30s “radio music” I had been singing for a cover album I was making (see “My Blue Heaven” below) and took a bit of a dark turn toward some love-closure songs.
“The Other Side of Goodbye” (spring/summer 2019)
Most of these songs pretty much wrote themselves, five of them in June, 2019, different key for the guitar, different voice register (kind of a country/40s Big Band vibe), different kinds of lyrics. The album has a darker aspect to it, reflecting my mood at the time.
“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-summer-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 I feel 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 Experience.” 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, a few 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 a few of my Olympia-made cover-albums
Olympia mixtape#14: No Two Ways About Love
Here’s another group of songs from the 30s-50s, the kind of songs that make me feel happy even when I’m not, which is why I sing so many of them.
Olympia mixtape #12: My Blue Heaven
This album started off as an homage to 20s and 30s “radio music.” But as is often the case with me, it took on a life of its own. The original version of the album, “Radio Waves,” is just below. I decided to do a complete makeover, singing the songs in a more natural voice register for me, deleting the darker songs and replacing them with a couple of 60s classics .