“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 10 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, 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. Then I began uploading my favorites here. And, well, now here is where it has taken me.
I started writing my own songs about four 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. The best way to listen to my original music is on my Bandcamp page: better sound and graphics, and you get all the lyrics.
Here’s a cover-album, “Little Bits of Love,” an assortment of calming songs by recent artists I made to share with family and friends to temper the strained mood in early November. I made a series of YouTube slideshows with these songs illustrated with photos I take on my daily walks. Here is the link if you also want to watch the videos.
Most recent album of original songs: “Self-isolation: songs measured in COVID-19time“
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 another recent cover album–“Tangled Up With You”–with mostly sweet songs from the 20s through the 60s, my favorite sounds. The inspiration and the title song come from a program on quantum entanglement I was watching recently, such a mysterious and lovely concept. I have a deep dark streak, which may be why I search for music that softens and counters it. And, well, I am (and always have been) a romantic at heart.
Here are the rest of my original-composition albums:
“A Fully Educated Man” (January 2020)
This started out as an homage to the semi-sweet 1920s “radio music” I had been singing (that Al Jolson-y voice!) for a cover album I was making and took a bit of a turn toward some darker maybe-20s-flavored love 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). 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 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.
I was recently invited to share my music story on Mysoundposter.blog Here is the link:
The playlists below are a few of my Olympia-made cover-albums
Olympia Mixtape #16: “Up the Lazy River,”
Olympia mixtape #15: Buddy Holly
One of my all-time favorite voices, such cool songs …
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 #7: “Bump”
This one replicates the playlist that the main character listens to in Cory Holding’s “Bump,” which you can listen to here:
I include here (for now) my first two Olympia playlists, which I think capture my rapture with this place.
Olympia 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 . . .
Olympia Mixtape #1 recipe: Take one song from the ’70s. Add one song from the ’20s. Keep going until it gets dark . . .
Every now and then I happen to listen to an old playlist on one of my walks, one I’ve “trashed” somewhere along the way, and think: “Hey, that’s not as bad as I thought it was.” So I resurrect it here for another temporary go-round.
This is an album I made right before I left Pittsburgh, almost 3 years ago now. I didn’t think much of it then, but was listening to it today and liked it. So it gets a reprise here for now. It’s called “Long as I Can See the Light.”