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Joseph E Bird

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song writing

this is how you write a song

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.

 

 

Savannah

new york

you want to be
where the lights are so bright

where life lives on
through the night

and songs fill your heart
with delight

oh Savananh
is that where you’ve gone
my Savannah
i’ll see you at dawn

carolina

i know the sand
and the beaches call for you

the warm sunshine
and soft breezes, too

a time to reflect
and renew

oh Savananh
is that where you’ve gone
my Savannah
i’ll see you at dawn

i’ll pack my bags and be on my way
drive all night and into the day
grab some coffee, put gas in the car
if i could find out where you are

california

where dreamers go to find
what might be

and watch the sun set
by the sea

leave their troubles behind
and be free

oh Savananh
is that where you’ve gone
my Savannah
i’ll see you at dawn

i’ll pack my bags and be on my way
drive all night and into the day
grab some coffee, put gas in the car
if i could find out where you are


copyright 2017, joseph e bird

Probably not.

He came to me, this poor man.
Poor in the sense of having nothing.
He was dirty.
His pants were ripped.
He was ashamed of his appearance.
He was ashamed of his life.
I wish I could say he was rich in other ways.
But no. Probably not.

Another stopped me on the elevator.
He studied my face, as if he knew me.
His mind had betrayed him.
It was why he was there, in this hospital.
Reality had left him long ago.
Then he knew. I was Stevie Ray Vaughn.
You might think that such folly is liberating.
But no. Probably not.

A woman on the sidewalk
Said she needed some money.
Fifteen dollars for the bus pass.
Not just the spare change pitch.
She seemed sincere, if a little desperate.
She got her fifteen dollars.
And fifteen minutes in prayer.
It could just be another con job.
But no. Probably not.

Do my pennies make me rich?
Do your dollars make you poor?
Who is wise and who is foolish?
Do we know the way of truth?
Are you righteous in your mind?
Does evil stain your thoughts?
One could say that all is vanity.
But no. Probably not.


copyright 2017, joseph e bird


Note:  These are true stories, and it pleases me to tell of the kindness that others have shown to those in need.

North Wind

fog for web

talk to me now like you are my friend
talk to me now let the stories begin

we walked through the storm till we saw the bright sunshine
kicked sand in our shoes and we danced on the coastline
we talked of our dreams and slept under white pines
took a train to the city and sang songs to the skyline

but the cold north wind, it came in like a thief
blew away all my trust and broke my belief
and i don’t care
i don’t care
i can’t care
anymore

.

talk to me now like you were my friend
talk to me now let the lying begin

it’s not what it seems, what you see it ain’t true
you said give it a chance, but I knew we were through
the things that you did i just couldn’t construe
then you tossed me aside like a ragged old shoe

and the cold north wind, it came in like a thief
and chilled my old bones and left me in grief
and i don’t care
i don’t care
i can’t care
anymore

.

talk to me now i said to my friend
talk to me now i can trust you again

i’m older and wiser and now i am strong
we try to do right but we know we’ll be wrong
whatever we have it won’t be for long
and love only lasts when it’s sung in a song

and the cold north wind, it came in like a thief
but i bundled up warm, cause you’re my relief
and i don’t care
i don’t care
i can’t care
but i do


copyright 2017, joseph e bird


Note: Again, not autobiographical. Just another somebody done somebody wrong song.

This is no good at all.

Ever say that about your work? Consider this:

Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.

Steven Pressfield

We need to talk.

a glance of the eye, the innocent look
the curl of your lips, was all that it took

That’s the first two lines of a song I wrote a few weeks ago. The narrator is beguiled by a look, a smile. It’s a wonderful thing, even if upon reflection, it seems a little superficial. Though the moment may come and go, like so many moments in a lifetime, it might be the beginning of a relationship.

we talked without words, there was so much to say

In this case, it was just the beginning. They moved beyond the magical, natural physical attraction, and they talked. They had a real relationship. Because the conversation is the relationship.

In the case of the song, it was a romantic relationship. But the conversation is also the platonic relationship. The familial relationship. The business relationship. The political relationship. The faith-based relationship.

If you want a relationship, you need to have the conversation.

Years ago I had a friend with whom I had one thing in common: our faith. We had long conversations about the fundamentals and the subtleties of our faith. Because of that, we were friends. Our situations changed, however, and he moved away and we lost contact.

Twenty years later, the contact was restored. I quickly learned that we no longer had common ground regarding faith. But there were other things. He was (and still is) an excellent writer. So we had conversations about writing. The relationship was maintained. But over the past few years, we have come to realize that our viewpoints had diverged too far to maintain meaningful conversations about anything. Neither of us said it, we just quit talking. Which is ironic, because he was the one who first articulated that fundamental truth to me. The conversation is the relationship. I still consider him a friend, but we no longer have a relationship.

That kind of thing happens all the time. Maybe Chauncey Gardner was right. Maybe it’s seasonal. Spring, summer, fall, and finally winter, when things go dormant.

And then there are all of you out there in internet land, most of whom I will never meet. At various times, we have joined in conversation about many things: music, writing, faith. Any given exchange may be only one or two sentences, but over the course of weeks, months, and years, we get to know each other because we talk. Sure, it’s in bits and pieces, but we talk. And because of that, we have relationships.

Weird how you can have friends, yet never sit across the table from each other. Never see an expression of surprise or concern or contentment. Never know what their laugh sounds like. Never hear the sound of their voice, even while you’re having a conversation.

Maybe it’s not weird at all. It’s just good.

Here’s wishing for more of the same in the years to come.


Footnote: The author Susan Scott is credited with the concept of the conversation being the relationship. In her book Fierce Conversations, she discusses the importance of the conversation in all relationships.

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