Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Street Song and Street Songs

June 3, 2019

I haven’t posted anything about my book, Street Song, here in quite some time. One reason is that nothing’s happening. My agent has the book and is shopping it around, but so far there haven’t been any takers. This doesn’t worry me at the moment. It’s an unusual book—not the type of book that editors are going to fight over. I put more than 12 years of work into it, and I’m confident that it will resonate with some editor who is able to see beyond the contemporary book market. That’s not to say I doubt that the book would be of interest beyond a small pocket of unusual people. In some ways, it’s a bit of a mystery story—it’s told like one—and I think it would have more general appeal than some industry people might suppose. It’s also about living a meaningful life, and the desire for that is something that never goes away. It’s inherent in the species.

Another reason I haven’t posted anything is that I’ve been totally absorbed in a project that, while starting out as supplemental to the book, has proved to be integral to it. Street Song is in part about my short-lived effort to make it as a musician. It’s also about how the music of the 1960 and 70s reflected the lives and aspirations of a lot of people. It was almost like a religion. In some senses it really was. While writing about my own performances and the songs that moved me and sometimes changed my life, I was bothered by the fact that you can’t really do justice to music with words. I got the idea then to record a few songs as a supplement to the book. A friend of mine, Bruce Kaphan,  has a recording studio, and he was one of the readers of my manuscript as I was working on it. I told him what I wanted to do and asked if he’d be interested in helping me with it. He agreed and we set to work with only a half-baked idea of what I was trying to do. I thought at first that it would be just me and my acoustic guitar doing some of the songs I used to play on the street. But from that simple seed there grew a mighty tree—something I never could have imagined. I thought I was finished with music. Over the years, I’ve only played sporadically. But I’ve been practicing every day for hours on end, and now we have 12 songs with the backing tracks finished and awaiting my final vocals. While working on the song order I found that, without doing it deliberately, the songs I chose to record tell the same story that the book tells. Here’s the list:

Street Song (one of mine)
Strawberry Fields Forever (Beatles)
Poppa John (another of mine)
Farewell (Dylan)
Jackie Wilson Said (Van Morrison)
Sweet Thing (Van Morrison)
Highway (singer/songwriter Lane Tietgen)
On a Slow Boat to China (songwriter Frank Loesser)
You’re So Peaceful (another of mine)
Within You Without You (Beatles)
I Pity the Poor Immigrant (Dylan)
The Arrow You Want (one more of mine)

It’s an unusually eclectic mix of material that covers folk, Tex Mex, psychedelia, jazz, rock, r & b, swing, blues and bluegrass.  The instrumentation includes acoustic and electric guitar, pedal steel guitar, ukulele, organ, piano, drums, bass, saxophone, harmonica, accordion, lap steel, shakuhachi, harmonium, Weissenborn, mandolin, flugelhorn, trumpet, baritone horn, dulcimer, and electronic tamboura. We should have the whole thing mixed and mastered this summer. I’m calling the collection Street Songs and my intention is to make it a free download to help support the book. I’m quite pleased with how the songs are turning out. I’ll write more about it in the near future.

 

 

“Scribble, Scribble, Scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?”

April 5, 2017

I sometimes say that the only thing I’ve ever done that was harder than writing the book I’m working on, Street Song, was living out the events the book describes. It’s probably true, but it’s hard to know for certain while I’m still in the midst of it. Writing a book (as opposed to a “read”) is one of the most difficult things you can do. So much is involved and it all has to be organized in an organic way. This book is difficult not because it’s extremely personal, which it is, but because how you present your personal stuff has to be done with a special kind of care or it comes off all wrong.

When I started Street Song I thought it was one thing. Working on it, however, it turned into another and another and another. But then, a book, if it’s any good, is lots of different things. The book is partly my attempt at making sense out of my life, partly a warning to others, partly a long letter of explanation to someone I alienated that I didn’t want to alienate, and partly a plain old job. (We all need something to do.) Hopefully it will give some people inspiration—not because of anything I did, but because of what I saw.

As you’ve always heard, writing a book is an incredibly lonely task. You’re inside your head nearly the entire day—even when you’re not writing—and it goes on for years. In my case, nearly 11 years now.  It has led me to places in my daily life that I never expected to go to, created problems I never would have anticipated, as well as misunderstandings that I haven’t known how to correct. (I often feel at a remove from the world around me and can’t reach across the gulf.) This is not to say that there are no joys involved. They have happened, but they are few and far between. Writing is grueling. The greatest joy for me , I think, is the last pass, after you’ve finished the last draft and are fine-tuning the language and massaging the subtleties. I’m nearing that point. About a year away now—maybe less. I’ll be happy when it’s over.

Giving Up the Day Gig

February 2, 2014
The Early Beatles

The Early Beatles

We’re coming up on the 50th Anniversary of the Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show (February 9), and there’s a fair amount of noise being made about that right now. I was one of those who was affected by that night in a major way. I was twelve then. Before the show, I was one way; after the show I was another. I loved the Beatles’ music, and it launched me on a path that I stuck with for nine years.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished a book called Tune In, a new biography of the Beatles by Mark Lewisohn. The book is more than 1500 pages long (which doesn’t include the extensive footnotes and back matter), but covers their career only up to the end of 1962! There are two more volumes in the works. Positively Churchillian. Lewisohn’s goal has been to throw out all the old ideas and myths about the Beatles and to start all over. His research is incredibly thorough and he goes into depth on the world they grew up in. He’s a decent writer, too. (There is a shorter 800 page version, which is more widely available than the 1500 page “director’s cut.”)

The thing I learned about the Beatles that struck me hardest was just how dedicated they were to playing music and not doing anything else. The most common piece of advice given to any aspiring musician, or to any artist, is “Don’t give up your day job.” What I’ve always seen though is that the great ones took the risk. They bet everything on doing their art and nothing else. Sink or swim. The Beatles did this to a degree that I hadn’t previously known. In England, as in most countries, one’s place in society is decided at a very early age. There is virtually no freedom to drop out for awhile and see what happens. (There’s less and less of that here now, too.) Each of the four Beatles rejected a trade or a safe place in society. What they wanted to be—a professional music group—didn’t even exist then. There were only solo artists. So while everybody was telling them that what they were trying to do was futile, they kept at it resolutely. I think that this ultimately was the source of their strength and magic. Hard to do.