“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 6 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 available for free on Bandcamp. The first two are available on Soundcloud:
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!
(a selection of recent cover-albums is below my original albums)
Here are my original-composition albums
“while i sit here with me” (winter/fall 2018)
This album brings together companionable songs I wrote during both the winter of 2018, my final months in Pittsburgh, and the following fall, as I tried to sort out the emotional complexities of closure, 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 recently @ 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 all-time my 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
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 three 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 is a PDF of the lyrics for all of my currently released songs, including those from “Emily and Me,” 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
MixTape #6: “Four Days in February (Blue)”
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.
Mixtape #4: Elvis
Mixtape #3: Real.Dark.Dylan.
Mixtape #2 recipe: Roll out one layer of Herman’s Hermits. Rock in a layer of another sweet song of the same vintage. Repeat until she kisses you . . .
Mixtape #1 recipe: Take one song from the ’70s. Add one song from the ’20s. Keep going until it gets dark . . .
These are a few of the many mixtapes I made in Pittsburgh
Peaceful easy feelings
One of these days . . .
A few under “blue” for my brother Joe