All About the Song
Brian and I just came back from a road trip that took us to the Hey Hey Club in Columbus. Our Ohio fans are just fantastic! They brought out a lot of new folks to catch our show and really showered us with support and enthusiasm. We also had fans there who had traveled from Virginia, Wisconsin, and New York, which is always an honor. Soupbone came up from Cincinnati along with his wife Monica. Both Soup and Monica are blind, and they always manage to make the trek with no problem while the rest of us are counting on our GPS systems. Their arrival is a sign that the show is going to be a wild one. Soupbone once again brought the house down by playing brushes on an old whiskey barrel right at the foot of the stage. We stuck a microphone into the side of the barrel, and it was amazing to hear a full trap sound coming from a barrel under Soup’s skillful hands.
One fan saw our flier for the Songwriters Weekend that is taking place next month. “But I don’t write songs,” she said. “I shouldn’t go.” “I bet you do,” I replied, “but you just aren’t aware of the songs you’ve written. You definitely should come to the weekend.”
It would be wonderful if everyone could make it to the Songwriters Weekend. Why? My belief is that we all write songs. Each of us has some sort of soundtrack running through our minds, a personal radio station that plays some familiar songs, but surprisingly a lot of original material too. Being a songwriter is just taking those songs to the next level and perhaps preparing them to be shared with the world. It is a special opportunity to be able to spend time with fellow songwriters, even those who don’t realize that’s what they already are.
Why is it so important? Songs, more than poetry, books, movies or stories, are all about our daily, personal lives. They resonate with what we are doing, how we are feeling, and how we relate to each other. Sure, you can get 50 people in a room to read together from a book, or perhaps recite a poem. But 50 people sharing a song, singing a song, is a true connection, something that we don’t have with Facebook or Twitter.
Songs can be funny to help lighten a situation. Songs can inspire people to great achievements. They can also correct injustices. In ancient Ireland, the bard who was slighted by a chieftain would sit outside the keep and compose a scathing song about the slight he endured. So powerful were the words that the people could lose trust in the chieftain. Such a humiliation was so feared that any chief would treat a traveling musician with great respect. The songs of the civil rights movement are a great example of the power of music to change the world.
When I was about five years old, I wrote my first song, Tallcorn Moose. I had been to Wyoming and had seen a moose and immediately fell in love with the animal. I created a story about a moose that was “faster than a motorcycle, plane, train, car, bus, or rocket.” I would go around my house singing this for my family. Perhaps this is why my brothers staked me out in the backyard spread-eagled with croquet wickets. Thank God my songwriting has improved a bit.
I also wrote songs to show how I was feeling. When we moved to Woodstock and I hit my awkward teens, I would make up horrible love songs and sing them underneath an oak tree for a herd of cows that bordered our farm. They weren’t that impressed. Thank God my audience has changed, too.
Songs can help heal. When Brian and I travel to Alzheimer units and play our songs for the residents, even the person hardest to reach smiles and breaks into song, especially when we play an old number that might jog a childhood memory. For a moment, sunshine comes through the clouds and that lost person is found.
Songs can connect generations and preserve history. It is amazing how Irish ballads written centuries ago are still played with as much passion as when they were first introduced. One of the most exciting parts of playing Celtic music is being connected to an ancient lineage where people wrote songs to express themselves. The songwriter is long gone, but the song remains and still resonates. That is powerful magic.
But the most important part of songs is the transcendent ability they have to unite on a level that is beyond our daily lives. It is a shared sense of being in the moment with each other, a truly spiritual quality. After 9/11 when the House of Representatives gathered out on the stairs of the Capitol, they sang “God Bless America,” a simple song that truly touched the range of emotions that were experienced that day. Perhaps we need them to sing every day?
Getting in touch with your songwriter can be a deeply satisfying experience. You are exploring the essence of who you are and how you see the world. Hearing it in song, even if sung to yourself, is satisfying to the soul. The reward is that much sweeter when it is acknowledged by others. As I said to the audience at the Hey Hey, “Without you here, this show would have been—boring.”
So yes, I am encouraging you all to come join us for the Songwriter’s Weekend. I also am extremely humbled when people can relate to my songs. Even Tallcorn Moose.