Here's a Bad Sign - I'm Writing Songs Again
You know things are going badly when I start writing songs. I've probably written around 130 tunes and I look back on the early stuff and come to several conclusions: 1.) I made the right decision to quit marijuana, and 2.) There is nobody as pretentious as a young song composer. Once in a while, I see an old verse and get a mild little kick: "We can go on, just the way things stand, splitting the rent, but would you want a man, performing for you like an actor in a play? Would it be a good scene then? Would you be swept away?"
I do admit if I ever won Powerball I would spend a fortune to track down major artists and hire them to record one of my songs or another. I have a song that Smokey Robinson could tear up - like that's going to happen. This is just a personal little dream of mine. When famous songwriters die and the obit lists their lasting contributions it's always pure magic - the best sort of life. More than a film or a book or a statue, the idea of leaving behind a high-impact song really sends me. By the way, do you know who else here in town is a secret songwriter? John Callahan, the cartoonist. He's told me some of his lyrics and as you would probably suspect, they're amazing.
I once was present when Mel Torme rehearsed a band he was performing with that night, and it was quite an experience. Yes, he was demanding, and the scores had extra notes written on them in pencil which made it somewhat difficult for the musicians. He even said to one trumpet player, "If you can't play it, give it to someone who can." Awkward! But the thing that knocked me out was thinking, there's the guy who co-wrote "Chestnuts Roasting On an Open Fire." How many composers bang out a Christmas classic?
Of course, I never found a way to get my songs recorded right. It helps to be a music star yourself, and there's nothing like sitting out in a crowd watching someone like Paul McCartney, or Paul Simon go through his song catalogue. Could you imagine being a songwriter/performer like Carole King and know everyday of your life that the Beatles recorded one of your songs, "Chains"? Or Aretha Franklin, although I doubt I could have written, "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman". Imagine the composers out there who had a song recorded by Sinatra or Elvis? Wouldn't that just rule?
The "Chestnuts" song - also called "The Christmas Song" - was recorded by Nat King Cole. So I was looking at a person in Mel Torme - a monster singer of his own - who had written a classic recorded by Nat King Cole. Ridiculous.
Admittedly, I don't bang out any holiday songs. And as much as I love my wife, after you're married a while, you don't hop up in the morning and say, "Honey, today I'm going to write you a love ballad!" The only thing that still moves me enough to write a tune is politics - the sorry state of America. The awful, worrisome, tragic, frightening slide this country is taking into fascism. Sorry, but if there's anything roasting on an open fire now it's probably a torture victim. We are in deep, deep trouble, folks. How does the song go, "It takes a worried man..."?
So yesterday during my walk up Mt. Tabor, I banged out a new tune, "Whatever Happened to Liberty?" Here's a verse: "Why are you so scared? Don't you still want to be free? You want to be safe, so you're giving up your liberty? What about the men who froze at Valley Forge? Now you want to sell them out to King George? You'll never be safe, if you're no longer free. Whatever happened to liberty?"
Now if I could just get Pete Seeger to record it.