Dating Your Own Songs
Q-I’m sure there are songs that you include in every show. Is there any song that you get tired of singing night after night after night? Along those lines how do you keep the songs fresh for yourself?
A-Yes, there are songs I grow weary of.
It’s a relationship of sorts that you have with songs you perform. There are nights when I’m happy to hang out with them, I feel close to them, we go for long walks together and hear Cat Stevens songs in our heads, we share appetizers and Chardonnay. There are nights however, when I resent the songs and want distance from them and their clingy ways.
I played Tiger Tom Dixon’s Blues at almost every show for about 7 years. A few years back I had to start leaving it out of the show. It got to be too much. It’s a fairly long song, it’s not very melodic, it’s repetitious and it takes a lot of air to sing. Sounds great right? On the plus side, the song is quite vivid and the narrative is strong. There are some great stories that go along with the song so it had become an integral part of the show. Tiger Tom Dixon’s Blues carries a certain weight with it. It’s a story of loss, failed redemption and alcohol. It’s also a story of desire and wanting to be something bigger in the world than what you are born with.
In some sense the character represents where I come from both geographically and metaphorically. Tiger Tom Dixon was my great uncle. The song was written based on stories my father told me growing up. My father was a great storyteller. He had childhood friends named Punk Canelia and Scarface Joyle. How could you not have great stories when your friend is named Scarface Joyle? Like most family stories, Tiger Tom Dixon’s tale is part myth and part truth.
My relationship with the song grew more complicated when Slaid Cleaves recorded it for his Wishbones CD and breathed new life into a song I was starting to carry around like a girlfriend’s suitcase. Folks who had discovered the song through Slaid wanted to hear it at my shows as well and so it was reborn. Tom Dixon died young but he wouldn’t stay dead. Maybe that’s another, further metaphor. I can get on board with that now that I think about it.
There are other songs I play every night. Most performers have songs that function in their live set in a way that fills a certain role. I like the show to feel like life feels. I want heartbreak, hope, redemption, humor, tragedy, mystery, loss and triumph all represented. And not like a Lifetime Movie event. I want all those things represented with all the depth and nuance that life brings them to us. It’s a lot to ask but what’s the point of pursuing something less? So yes, there are songs that I grow tired of. We take a break from each other just long enough to miss each other then we get back together and fall in love again, listen to Air Supply records and split appetizer’s again. We’re committed to each other as long as we let each other breathe once in awhile.