Search

Joseph E Bird

Let's talk about reading, writing and the arts.

Category

Music

i can’t work like this

Adena Springs

Yesterday I drove from Lexington to Louisville along the Bluegrass Parkway.  It was mile after mile of picturesque, bucolic, pastoral scenery, on what had to be the most beautiful day of the year. It is impossible to have gloomy thoughts while making this drive on a day like that.

Utterly impossible.

How can one ponder the human condition when the day is perfect?

How can a writer let his imagination wander to the struggles of mankind when the grass is so green?

Writers need the the grit of the dark alley.

Writers need the longing promise of the empty train platform.

Writers at least need some rain, or run-down barns, or the crusty old farm hand thinking about his past.

There’s another part of Kentucky – eastern Kentucky – that’s ripe for stories.  But not this stretch of highway.

No way.


Photo Credit: Walt Roycraft.  The photo is the property of GRW, my employer.  The architects of GRW design, among other things, equine facilities.  This is the site of one of our projects, the Adena Springs Horse Farm in Paris, Kentucky. Very much like the scenery I passed on my way to Louisville.

these boys can play

I’ve kind of been viewing Pokey LaFarge as a little bit of a novelty act.  They may be completely quirky, but these guys are incredible musicians.  Don’t believe me, check it out.  That dude on the harp is insane.  The bass player is slapping like it’s nothing.  And yeah, the guitar player is pretty good, too.

morning jam

it’s monday.  time to get at it again.  you think you need a break?

no.

according to nathaniel rateliff and his night sweat buddies, you ain’t worked hard enough.

this is how you write a song

First Aid Kit

Here’s how these things work in the ultra-connected world of blogging.

A couple of weeks ago I posted an audio video of my cousin’s 1968 recording of his song Heather Girl. Across the pond, fellow runner and music lover Saoirse listened to Heather Girl and asked if I had ever heard First Aid Kit.  Good timing on her question. Yesterday they were on CBS This Morning.

Thanks, Saoirse.

Heather Girl

When my novel Heather Girl is made into a major motion picture starring Amy Adams, this is the song that will play as the opening credits roll and Heather walks down the street to the coffee shop, the wind whipping through her hair. Credit to my cousin, Joe Clatworthy, who wrote the song and recorded it as a member of the group The Muffetts, though they were also known as The Mojos.

The cabaret was quiet, except for the drilling in the wall.

Remember when you used to sit and listen to music with your headphones on, the 12″ x 12″ album cover in your hands as you went track to track? You’d be mesmerized by the cover art. You’d study the liner notes. You’d follow along if the lyrics were printed on the cover. After a few days, you’d know every song by heart.

No. Most of you don’t remember because that was before your time.

But back to our story.

The festival was over. The boys were planning for a fall.

Something’s up. Then we’re introduced to the ringleader.

He was standing in the doorway, looking like the Jack of Hearts.

Back in the golden age of vinyl, songs didn’t have be under three minutes. And everyone knew that serious music, serious songs, ran at least five minutes. Those were the songs you never wanted to end. American Pie comes to mind.  Chicago’s Ballet for a Girl from Buchannon ran a glorious thirteen minutes.

Backstage the girls were playing five card stud by the stairs.
Lily drew two queens, she was hoping for a third to match her pair.

It was always best if you were alone. Total absorption into the music.

Big Jim was no one’s fool, he owned the town’s only diamond mine.

If you wanted to hear a track again, you’d have to wait. You can’t (or shouldn’t) pick up the tone arm and place the stylus in the same groove that had just played. You’d risk distorting the vinyl and degrading the sound quality. You had to let the grooves cool.

Rosemary combed her hair and took a carriage into town.

You had to let the grooves cool.

You couldn’t wait to play the song again, but you had to. Made you want to hear it that much more.

The hanging judge came in unnoticed and was being wined and dined.
The drilling in the wall kept up, but no one seemed to pay it any mind.

And those songs would tell a story as good as anything you ever read in a book. No music videos, you had to paint the scene in your head. You were the casting agent, the set and costume designer, the director. It was all yours. You just had to follow along.

The story I’ve been telling is a Bob Dylan classic, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, more than eight minutes long.  It had hidden in my memory until it came up on my Pandora station during a four-hour trip yesterday. It’s a great driving song.

I won’t tell you what happens.  If you want to know, click the link below. But wait until you can listen without distraction.  It’s just better that way.

She was thinking about her father, who she very rarely saw.
She was thinking about Rosemary, she was thinking about the law.
But most of all, she was thinking about the Jack of Hearts.

 

 

How to win a Nobel Prize for Literature

In the early 1960s Bob Dylan heard Robert Johnson for the first time.

“From the first note the vibrations from the loudspeaker made my hair stand up. The stabbing sounds from the guitar could almost break a window. When Johnson started singing, he seemed like a guy who could have sprung from the head of Zeus in full armor.”

In his book, Chronicles, Volume One, Dylan comes across not as a musical genius, but as a man who was always doubting, always searching, always trying, always learning. When the music of Robert Johnson shook his soul, he needed to know why. Dylan had this to say:

“I started meditating on the construction of the verses, seeing how different they were from Woody’s [folksinger Woody Guthrie]. Johnson’s words made my nerves quiver like piano wires.”

Of course there is some measure of genius in Dylan, but it wouldn’t have come forth had he just sat back and waited for inspiration. But he didn’t have to be told that creativity involves hard work, because part of the reward of being creative, is in the toil it takes to create.

“I copied Johnson’s words down on scraps of paper so I could more closely examine the lyrics and patterns, the construction of his old-style lines and the free association that he used, the sparkling allegories, big-ass truths wrapped in the hard shell of nonsensical abstraction – themes that flew through the air with the greatest of ease.”

And this:

“I didn’t have any of these dreams or thoughts but I was going to acquire them.”

And look where it took him.

 

the girl from the bakery

tripping down the sidewalk
in the lower part of town
going to the guitar store
my e-string’s come unwound

a tune is humming in my head
for words i’ve yet to write
and then i see you through the glass
all dressed in bakers white

ohhh mercy sakes alive
look what you’ve gone and done
my breathing don’t come easy
when i see you making buns

i slow my steps and strain to look
without giving it a thought
i see you, and you see me
i know that i’ve been caught

maybe i should walk on by
be a gentleman this day
the heck with that, i’ll take a chance
this boy, he came to play

ohhh mercy sakes alive
you be messing with my head
i don’t think i can stand it
when I see you knead the bread

your hair is pulled back in a net
there’s flour everywhere
you glance at me and roll the dough
i barely take in air

you got that look that speaks to me
and yeah, i speak to you
together we can bake all day
have our cake, and it eat, too

ohhh mercy sakes alive
when the rolls comes from the oven
my legs are weak, can’t wait to eat,
but it’s you, oh girl, i’m lovin’


copyright 2017, joseph e bird


Editor’s Note: In his Noble Prize acceptance speech, Bob Dylan said his work is meant to be sung, that it’s not complete as a simple rhyming poem.  Same here with my so-called songs. Of course I ain’t no Robert Zimmerman, but I am, in fact, fooling around with music for these little ditties. Someday I may present them as fully imagined. Probably not, but you never know.

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑