Saturday, July 30, 2011

First Steps

When I started playing music and writing songs again in May, I had no intention of making a serious business of it.  The very first song I started to work on was a pointless piece of crap using the Missouri town of New Madrid as the setting for the narrator to talk about what a loser he'd become there.  The ready metaphor provided by the town is that it sits on a huge fault line that, when it ruptured in 1813, made the earth shake so hard that the Mississippi river is said to have ran backwards.

Although its gone through scores of rewrites, the song remains unfinished.  I think it's never come quite together partly because I was mispronouncing New Ma-DRID and partly (mostly) because I wasn't writing what I know.  But because I had an idea and pursued it, while working on a dud, other ideas came to me.  I view "New Madrid" as the awful song that became the grandfather to some decent ones.

One evening, amid some raging drama with my seventeen year old son, I sat down and started strumming.  For years I had wanted to capture in a song how I felt about what was unquestionably the pivotal event in my life.  On Friday April 1, 1977, April Fool's Day, I walked down my rural driveway to catch the school bus.  I was fourteen.  It was a beautiful, cloudless Colorado sky.  My Dad had had left for his job as an appliance repairman hours before while I was still sound asleep.  The next memory I have is an assistant principal at my junior high poking his head in the door during a test in my second period.  I was whisked out of the classroom and told my father was taken to the hospital.  Someone, I don't remember who, drove me the long fifteen minutes back to my house to get my Mom, who was on the telephone in tears. As vivid as certain of these memories are, it's odd I don't remember who drove me, then us, to Penrose Hospital in Colorado Springs, twenty more minutes away.  We hurried in to a waiting room outside the ER.  My Dad's friend from work, Jake, walked over to us from down the hall.  My mother had only to see the look in his eyes to collapse in grief and tears.  I had to wait for Jake to put his arms around me and whisper in my ear "he's gone, Bill."

Flash forward thirty odd years.  Amid some ordinary family chaos, I sat down and picked up my guitar.  The line "Your deep growl of good morning" popped into my head, followed by "A hug with weathered hands."  I don't know how many times I tried to write a song, poem or story about him, but this time something clicked.  The chorus emerged:

I wish the day you died
Was just a joke on April Fools
How I hoped it was a lie
And I prayed it wasn't true
Then I saw your body lying still
They said there was nothing they could do
I still wish the day you died
Was a joke on April Fools

The finished song is here.

I showed the lyrics to my wife.  She cried.  Thinking she might be too close to the actual event and emotions, I played it for friends who seemed to like it.  A bit later, at a gathering for her parent's fiftieth wedding anniversary, I nervously played it in front of a small audience.  In spite of what was undoubtedly a less than stellar performance, it moved both my father-in-law and my wife's stoic brother to tears.  I still don't know if it's a great song, but I think it's pretty good.  And, quite unlike "New Madrid," it came from writing what I know.

A few more songs started to follow.  After I had seven done and had stopped tinkering (for now) with most of them, I started to think about trying to promote them.   I took the first step of registering copyrights.  While it's a little confusing at first to sort through Forms PA and SR, etc. (even to a lawyer), it's relatively easy to register your copyright electronically through the Federal Copyright Office.  I filled out the forms and uploaded home recordings I made with Reaper and my Zoom H2, along with pdf files of the lyrics. 

I registered my songs, but then what?  I started thinking about uploading them so at least I could direct someone--anyone who might feign interest--to an URL where they could listen.  I'm neither a strong singer or guitar player, so this part really brought out my insecurities.  I found a dizzying array of sites to "showcase" your songs, Soundcloud, Purevolume, Lastfm, Reverbnation, etc.  Browsing through some I found pages for the likes of Radiohead and other established artists which told me right away I surely didn't belong there. I found "" and it seemed more my speed.  I listened to a few of the artists.  Some were clearly professional and polished.  Others were not. A few I could even call more or less in my league.  So swallowed hard and posted.  The world didn't end and I wasn't met with a stream of derision.  Someone actually posted a positive comment. I was emboldened a little and went on ""  To my shock and gratitude, a few people I don't even know "fanned" me.

These are all baby steps.  I have no delusions about any kind of music career this late in life.  I actually mostly like being a lawyer.  But I am enjoying the hell out of the process of making music.  If, as a result, I ever even sell one song, it would be gravy beyond belief.


  1. That's good writing, Bill. Much like your song, it was your real voice. You can write in another voice, but I think you have to have a connection to it to reach people. Think Springsteen stories. Not a lot about him, but a lot about his journey and the people in those experiences. Stay after it.

  2. I love 'April Fools' Bill, it comes from the heart where all good tunes come from. You are a songwriter, no doubt about that. Myself, I mostly love listening to the unknown songs of musicians like yourself who don't pretend they're someone they are not. Your voice actually suits your material incredibly well. Call me old fashioned, but I prefer to listen to songs rather than watch a music video. Here's one girl who would actually come to one of your gigs and listen if she was ever in Missouri.

  3. Thanks for the kind words guys. I'm keeping with it and hopefully playing a few open mic nights soon.