bittersweet, Songs, Uncategorized, Video Recording

Song: “The Prize”

“The Prize”

Behind the Song

When I began writing this song, I had a very different idea in mind. I started off with the line “Don’t go picking petty fights / with you people you call friends.” I was going to sing about how easy it is to get angry at the people we love and admire — particularly heroes — when they fail to live up to our lofty expectations.

I’ve felt that way about people I admire. I get all jazzed about a set of ideas they propound …. then I find something I don’t like so much … feel disillusioned … and finally, stew in my piquant juices of anger and judgment. So I thought I’d write a song to myself about it.

But I couldn’t get the song to gel. And as I filled my song journal with different versions, I scribbled down “release your grip / on your painted sword.” Interesting. That led to the image of “armor” — i.e. emotional armor — that we grow in order to protect us from getting hurt.

So I reworked the song top-to-bottom with that idea in mind.

Plus, now I have a song that mentions a sword, armor, and a castle. My ten-year-old self approves.

Just a little on the dark side

Lyrics

You forged a suit of armor
when you were just a child.
It kept you safe from the devils in the wild.

But now you're at the castle,
you've reached your journey's end.
But with that visor down, you can't tell foe from friend.

Release your sword
let it clatter to the ground
there's no enemies around
you're safe and sound.

Strip the armor from your chest
you won't need it anymore
if you wanna fit through that door
that takes you to
the prize.

You say they're out to get you,
that I am just naive,
seeing fairies in my land of make-believe.

But I'm not saying there's no monsters,
I'm not saying there's no pain.
I'm saying you can find companions in the rain.

Release your sword
let it clatter to the ground
there's no enemies around
you're safe and sound.

Strip the armor from your chest
you won't need it anymore
if you wanna fit through that door
that takes you to
the prize.

Let me drop the other shoe:
your love will leave you blue;
sometimes you'll hurt so bad you'll swear you'll drown.
But don't you know that it will pass?
The dark skies never last.
And when dawn comes you'll be glad you stuck around.

Your steed can smell the stables,
it's stomping for a rest.
So drop the reins, and you'll complete your quest.

There's music in the courtyard,
dancing in the hall.
The gate is open, there's no need to storm the wall.

Release your sword
let it clatter to the ground
there's no enemies around
you're safe and sound.

Strip the armor from your chest
you won't need it anymore
if you wanna fit through that door
that takes you to
the prize.
Songs, Sweet, Uncategorized, Video Recording

Song: “Happy Independence Day”

“Happy Independence Day”

Behind the Song

We didn’t brave the crowds at our town’s 4th of July Parade this year. Maybe next year once the kids get the vaccine.

So we threw a parade in our backyard. I improvised this song as we marched, then added a few stanzas today.

It’s a light, celebratory, hopeful kind of 4th of July song.

Lyrics

Happy fourth of July,
let your rocket fly.
Hear the freedom ring as we say,
Happy, happy Independence Day,
Happy, happy Independence Day.

Happy fourth of July,
raise your flag up high.
Watch the colors dance about and play.
Happy, happy Independence Day,
Happy, happy Independence Day.

Happy fourth of July,
hold your head up high.
As we widen freedom's mighty way.
Happy, happy Independence Day,
Happy, happy Independence Day.
Songs, Sweet, Video Recording

Song: “I Dreamt of Superman”

“I Dreamt of Superman”

I have received a lot of Superman birthday cards over the years, probably close to two dozen. And that’s fine with me.

My friends and family know I was a passionate lover of superheroes in my boyhood, and Superman was “the key, the granddaddy of them all.”

Why?

He is powerful, yes.

He is good, yes.

And he is full of purpose.

Maybe just a hint of melancholy

Lyrics

I dreamt of Superman again last night,
he was flying through a pale blue morning sky.
The rising sun set fire to the 'S' upon his chest,
and struck a searching glint from his eye.

Where are you flying to, Man of Steel?
Who needs saving today?
The Last Son of Krypton bursts from the earth,
blazing the hero's golden way.

Now I'm not a hero, I can barely help myself;
I never mastered any martial art.
But when I think of his enduring toil, with no thought of earning spoil,
a flicker ignites my frozen heart.

Where are you flying to, Man of Steel?
Who needs saving today?
The Last Son of Krypton bursts from the earth,
blazing the hero's golden way.

Maybe we've got heroes hiding in our breast,
brave like the man with the high red boots.
Maybe we can fly with our feet upon the ground,
and inspire in our ordinary suits.

Where are you flying to, Man of Steel?
Who needs saving today?
The Last Son of Krypton bursts from the earth,
blazing the hero's golden way.
Songs, Video Recording

Song: “Yesterday’s Machine”

“Yesterday’s Machine”

Behind the Song

In “Yesterday’s Machine,” I take a nostalgic view of old tech. I remember back when I was a kid and you pushed buttons on a machine, you felt it pushing back … something clicked or whirred … you could imagine (or pry open and see) the guts of the machine. Life seemed simpler then, and there are times I yearn for it.

But I’m no Luddite. I welcome and embrace a Star Trek future. Let me put myself on record for that, Mr. Spock.

But I admit: I fumble with technology. For example: I tried to overdub a separate audio recording and paste it into this video. I spent a good hour on it, but the video came out looking and sounding like those parodies of badly dubbed Kung Fu movies. (I thought it’d be funny to use that video nevertheless, to highlight the meaning of the song … but concluded the result would be too distracting.) I did have fun learning something new, but learning a new program or tool opens up a deep rabbit hole, and there are only so many I can dive down.

So do you have a favorite piece of nostalgia tech you long to resurrect?

If so, join me in mourning the passing of Yesterday’s Machine.

With a smidge of sea salt sprinkled in

Lyrics

Do you remember the gentle tug of a rotary phone?
Dialing digits you learned by heart to your grandma's home.
Back then when you pulled a lever or pushed a button down
you could hear the rumble of a gear, that sweet metallic sound.

Nowadays a button's just a phantom on a screen,
won't be long 'till we plug our brains into someone else's dream.

So let's all mourn the passing
of yesterday's machine.
Let's polish up our memories
of the wonders we have seen.

They don't make 'em like they used to
(and even if they never did),
let's raise a toast to the passing host
of yesterday's machine.

The future may be brighter, but it's like staring at the sun.
I feel I'm just starting a game some kid already won.
Is the world really running faster, or am I just running slow?
Do I spend my evenings repeating things I already know?

Nowadays a button's just a phantom on a screen,
won't be long 'till we plug our brains into someone else's dream.

So let's all mourn the passing
of yesterday's machine.
Let's polish up our memories
of the wonders we have seen.

They don't make 'em like they used to
(and even if they never did),
let's raise a toast to the passing host
of yesterday's machine.
Let's make the most of the fading ghost
of yesterday's machine.
Let's raise a toast to the passing host
of yesterday's machine.

Songs, Sweet, Video Recording

Song: “Summer Sun”

“SUmmer Sung”

Summer is upon us. Let us celebrate its return.

Camping in the woods …

Picnics at the beach …

Familiar faces around the bbq …

… and the beginning of a return to how-it-was-before.

Lyrics

It's June, school's over
the lilacs have passed.
The pollen's gone from our windshield
spring blitzed by fast.

The sprinkler sprouted cobwebs
I'm clearing them away.
I'm ready for the summer sun
today.

O, Summer Sun!
C'mon, begin!
Bleach my hair!
Brown my skin!

O, Summer Sun,
winter was so gray --
I'm ready for your warm embrace
today.

Picnic at the ocean
dig a pit into the sand.
Roast a pack of hotdogs
scrape the marshmallow from my hands.

I'm sweating like a can of beer
pulled from the cooler's ice.
But don't you hide behind the clouds
I'll gladly pay your price

O, Summer Sun!
C'mon, begin!
Bleach my hair!
Brown my skin!

O, Summer Sun,
winter was so gray --
I'm ready for your warm embrace
today.

Fall is cozy
when leaves turn gold
and wood-smoke perfumes the air.

But I'm not done
with your marathon days
and the canopy of green full-leaf trees.

O, Summer Sun!
C'mon, begin!
Bleach my hair!
Brown my skin!

O, Summer Sun,
winter was so gray --
I'm ready for your warm embrace,
come on down and kiss my face,
brighten up this somber place,
yeah I'm ready for your warm embrace
today.
Songs, Sweet, Video Recording

Song: “Star in Your Heart”

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I wrote this a good ten years ago. This is an “advice to self” song. It’s got a fair message of “mindfulness” in it, though I didn’t have that concept in mind at the time.

Sometimes — probably not all the time — it’s good to slow it down, see what’s missing, and remember that you’ve got something really, really special to offer.

Lyrics

Slow it down
look around
See what you've been missing.

Take the time
to search your mind
locate what you've been wishing.

It's okay
to take a day
and swim the deepest ocean.

'Cause you might learn
what it feels to burn
on a single pure emotion.

You've got a star in your heart
brighter than any sun.
It's time to take the cover off
and shine on everyone.

Your empty creed
won't fill your need
so it's time for a brand new notion.

But you've got the key
that will set you free
from the chains of your stale devotion.

You've got a star in your heart
brighter than any sun.
It's time to take the cover off
and shine on everyone.

The storm is sometimes raging
along that fateful road,
it's no easy load.
But the scenery is amazing
it's a much brighter home,
than you've ever known.

Climb a hill
and take your fill
of the day that's laid before you.

Take a breath
and one small step
and you're on your way to someplace new.

You've got a star in your heart
brighter than any sun.
It's time to take the cover off
and shine on everyone.
Songs, Video Recording

Song: “Gravity”


“Gravity”

I was sitting in traffic on a Friday, driving to pick up groceries at QFC, when this line came into my head: “I am helpless when I fall into your eyes.”

My first instinct was to write a song about love-sick obsession, where the singer’s love is not requited. That’s something I haven’t felt in a long time, if ever. I don’t like the idea of that kind of dependency either — so why should I write a song about it?

So I worked on a version that made it about a person coming to grips with being in a relationship. I wrote it metaphorically, staging the song as a journey; first, falling from the sky; second, washing up on a shore; third, climbing a hill; fourth, descending into a valley. Different stages of a relationship.

I finished the song, but it felt “blah” to me.

So I went back to the original concept: obsession and dependency. It’s not really the song I wanted to write, but it’s the song that wanted to be written.

I know, I know … that sounds a bit pretentious and artsy-fartsy. But that’s the way it played out. I’m not sure whether to force a song according to a concept or go with my first instinct. Sometimes following my instinct has generated a song that sounds pretty trite. Sometimes pushing myself to think of something fresh has given birth to a better song. I don’t have a rulebook yet.

NOTE: I’ve included the lyrics for the alternate version of the song at the bottom of the page. If you’re interested in hearing a recording of this, let me know in the comments and I’ll record an audio version of it. If you prefer one version over the other, let me know also in the comments.

A little bit of sweetness

Lyrics

I am helpless when I fall into your eyes
I won’t get very far today.
I should go, ’cause we both know
what’ll happen if I stay.

You’ll be the end of me
I’m caught in your gravity
Gonna try to enjoy the ride
And hope that I can make it
out in one piece on the other side.

I am restless when I walk these streets alone
chewing my worries to the bone.
I am reckless to be standing at your door
asking you, begging you for more.

You’ll be the end of me
I’m caught in your gravity
Gonna try to enjoy the ride
And hope that I can make it
out in one piece on the other side.

Why won’t you ever let me stay here?
Why won’t you ever let me say “dear”?
You know I cannot keep on circling
over this barren land,
like a buzzard,
hoping for a helping hand,
like for something small to come crawling out and die.

You say you’ll miss me, when you kiss me,
then you make me watch you walk away.
I am drifting I am spinning in the void,
with no light to find my way.

You’ll be the end of me
I’m caught in your gravity
Gonna try to enjoy the ride
And hope that I can make it
out in one piece on the other side.

Lyrics for the Alternate Version of “Gravity”

I am helpless when I fall into your eyes 
You've got me captive as a moon.
I am streaking through your dark untraveled skies
wrapped in a blazing hot cocoon.

I'm caught in your gravity
held fast to where I want to be.
Though some days I may try to break free,
but always I return to solid ground.

Your tides have swept me up a steep and rocky shore
a wild country I must tame.
So I'm sweating up this mountain in my mind
gotta reach the top to stake my claim.

I'm caught in your gravity
held fast to where I want to be.
Though some days I may try to break free,
but always I return to solid ground.

I am sliding down the slopes of my own way
to a meadow full of green and gold.
I think I'll stay, if that's okay
and watch our afternoon grow old.

I'm caught in your gravity
held fast to where I want to be.
Though some days I may try to break free,
but always I return to solid ground.

Songs, Video Recording

Song: “Free Range Chicken”

“Free Range Chicken”

You ever think about how many words and expressions come from chickens?

Don’t be a chicken.

I feel cooped up.

It’s time to fly the coop.

Don’t brood over your problems.

And many more. Now that I’ve lived with three backyard chickens for three years, I understand how those expressions got their meanings.

Chickens are cowards. They get squawky they’re shut up in their coop. And when they turn “broody” — sit on their nest for days straight because they believe they’re hatching an egg even when they’re not — they stare daggers at you.

Most of these expressions are kind of negative. Chickens don’t come out looking to strong or worthy of emulation. But they do have a lot to offer — fresh eggs every day or so during laying season — that’s not too shabby. They keep a lot of bugs out of our garden. They create compost. They recycle our food scraps into eggs for our breakfast.

Now, I didn’t set out to write an anthem for chickens with today’s song. And it’s not really about chickens. It struck me as strange and a little funny to be using a chicken as a viewpoint character. But I like it; maybe because the chicken, to mix a metaphor, is an underdog.

The first two lines came to me: “I’m a free range chicken / don’t fence me in.” And I got an image of a character with a chip on his shoulder. Yeah, he may not be the strongest of the bunch; he may not really be able to “fly”; and yeah, he may have been bred and domesticated for someone else’s goals. But he’s going to live his own life, dammit. So just let me be.

Humans are kind of a domesticated species too, it seems — a species that has domesticated itself, with its long childhoods and its immersive cultures. As children of parents and children of cultures, we can feel like our lives are not our own. But dammit, they should be.

This one’s SALTY

Lyrics

I’m a free range chicken
don’t fence me in.
To a free range chicken,
fences are a sin.

You may have bred me
to feed your own design.
But just ’cause you gave me life
don’t mean it ain’t mine.

I’m a peckin’, I’m a scratchin’
if you corner me, I’ll fight.
But I’d rather keep on searching
for that open light.

Don’t clip my feathers.
Don’t trim my wings.
I may only fly for a second or two,
but while I’m up there, I’m a king.

I dash for cover
when the eagle swoops down low;
but I’ll be back in my good time,
so just let me go.

I’m a peckin’, I’m a scratchin’
if you corner me, I’ll fight.
But I’d rather keep on searching
for that open light.

I’m a free range chicken
don’t fence me in.
To a free range chicken,
fences are a sin.

You may have bred me
to feed your own design.
But just ’cause you gave me life
don’t mean it ain’t mine.

Just ’cause you gave me life
don’t mean that life
ain’t mine.

Songs, Video Recording

Song: “Colors”

“Colors”

Sometime in my middle teens it dawned on my that my life seemed to go in peaks and valleys. Sometimes I felt great, other times I felt rotten. (I’m not talking about bipolar disorder, mind you, more the normal ups and downs that all flesh is heir to.) This realization wasn’t so much a bolt out of the blue, but a gradual recognition, like noticing you’ve been speaking prose all your life.

I didn’t care much for this. Why couldn’t I have only peaks? Why couldn’t I fill up those valleys? Surely there was a solution out there.

I spent many years looking, in one way or another. My favorite strategy tasked me with hunting down The Ideal System. The Ideal Diet. The Ideal Belief System. The Ideal Career. And so on.

Common wisdom will tell you that such a quest is a fool’s errand. Accept the peaks and the valleys, don’t worry so much about them, and do your best.

Well, maybe — but is there a System that articulates this thought?

Several, actually. The one that’s working for me is a form of talk therapy (or in my case, “book therapy”) called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, or “ACT” for short. ACT grew out of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) tradition. As its name suggests, ACT invites you to accept the challenges you face and then choose which values you want to act on. It then gives you a toolbox of skills to help you do that.

Today’s song “Colors” expresses some of what I’ve learned from ACT. Specifically, that when we try to erase the bad parts of life, we can end up erasing the good parts too, or at least the ability to feel the good parts. (If you’re interested in learning more, check out the book A Liberated Mind by Steven Hayes, one of the founders of ACT).

Still, the valleys suck. I’m in one right now: day two of recovering from my second shot of the Moderna COVID vaccine. I’m grateful to have the vaccine, and I’ll be excited once the two weeks are up and I can go running through the streets kissing strangers — kidding! — but yesterday was pretty awful. I didn’t feel much like accepting any of my feelings then or today.

Anyway, better days ahead.

Kind of the definition of bitter-sweet, isn’t it?

Lyrics

Some days the gods smile on me
pouring sunshine on the land.
The world's my private oyster
spilling pearls into my hand.

But other days are darker
my mouth is full of soot.
My words are slurred and mumbled
I drop anvils on each foot.

But I'll take 'em both, the bright and dark, before I take the gray.

So give me red, give me green, and the biggest grin you've ever seen.
Give me all the colors I know how to feel.
Give me blue, give me brown, lift me up and slam me down --
Let me get a grip on everything that's real.
Cause I don't want to face
the endless smear of gray
So give me all the colors every single day.

Now the gray can seem so promising
when it promises no pain.
Smooth the hills into the valleys
so you trod an even plain.

But in that land of twilight
I find it hard to tell
What's water and what's poison
'cause heaven tastes like hell.

That's why I'll take the bright and dark, before I take the gray.

So give me red, give me green, and the biggest grin you've ever seen.
Give me all the colors I know how to feel.
Give me blue, give me brown, lift me up and slam me down --
Let me get a grip on everything that's real.
Cause I don't want to face
the endless smear of gray
So give me all the colors every single day.

Now I don't seek the downpour
I'd just as soon stay dry.
But it's hard to feel the sunshine
when I avoid the sky.

So if I want to see the heavens
and I am tangled in a wood
I've gotta get good at feeling
'stead of trying to just feel good.

That's how I'll see the bright and dark, instead of only gray.

So give me red, give me green, and the biggest grin you've ever seen.
Give me all the colors I know how to feel.
Give me blue, give me brown, lift me up and slam me down --
Let me get a grip on everything that's real.
Cause I don't want to face
the endless smear of gray
So give me all the colors every single day.