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November 22, 2011

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants

Did you hear the one about the guy who wrote hundreds of songs but never shared them with anyone? Well, until recently, that guy was me. I have begun the task of transferring years of words and music from my brain to my hard drive. Here is a song called "We've Died," which is about the feelings of loss that I felt when my second marriage ended a few years ago. It's not purely autobiographical, but the emotions are real.



It was Elvis Aaron Presley who pulled me into the world of music. I can only speculate, but his death in 1977, when I was only four, was accompanied by an unprecedented amount of media coverage, and I believe that was one of my first brushes with the concept of death. Radio stations played his music around the clock for weeks, and I listened. Although Elvis was not a songwriter, he employed some of the best songwriters of his era. Elvis' greatest contribution was the embracing of so many different genres of music. Rockabilly, bluegrass, country, pop, gospel, blues, r&b, even world music, "It's Now or Never," anyone?

Once I was hooked to E's ear candy, any thoughts of being a normal little boy were soon discarded, as I stocked up on Elvis records, magazines, and bubblegum cards. I even had a little statue of The King on top of my dresser, replete with fake little rhinestones. You never saw a kid get so excited as when I discovered his movie oeuvre. Yeah, those flix are cheesy, but c'mon, it's The King!

Childhood obsessions fade, and mine did eventually, and for many years I was very uninterested in listening to music. How do you top Elvis? I do remember really enjoying an 8-track collection of novelty tunes my brother brought home. My parents played records and tapes around the house, but I was more interested in drawing, reading comics, watching tv, and playing with my friends.

Then The Beatles happened. No kidding. 1988, and the Beatles happened to me. Totally out of sync with my generation's own musical revolution (Sorry Madonna and Whitesnake), I discovered that everything I knew about The Beatles was wrong. They weren't just four mop-top having, grey suit wearing, head bobbing freaks singing "Yeah Yeah Yeah!" and making girls faint. Their sound evolved year by year, becoming more complex, tearing down walls, building bridges, and illuminating truths with maddeningly catchy melodies. If Elvis had handed me the key, then the Beatles had flung the door wide open!

The Beatles had been influenced by other artists and so I traced that path. Ray Charles, Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Fats Domino, Little Richard, Carl Perkins. All revelations. The Beatles had contemporaries and I listened and learned from them. The Beach Boys, The Who, The Kinks.  The Beatles had influenced artists so I followed them, too. Squeeze, Elvis Costello, XTC. All kinds of threads emerged. I followed labels. Motown. Stax. Sun. My tastes became more eclectic. De La Soul. Randy Newman. Frank Zappa.
I worked my way into the present day, careful to avoid fake hype, refusing to buy something only because it was new and commercially successful. I demanded authenticity! Screw Vanilla Ice, give me They Might Be Giants! Milli Vanilli no! Joni Mitchell yes! Backstreet sucks. NRBQ rocks. Other people my age wanted music to dance and make out to, I wanted music to help guide my life, to give me the answers I was seeking. And it did.

It elevated my consciousness, conveying an aural history of mankind, putting me in touch with emotions I did not know I had. I felt as though I had climbed to the top of the mountain. I found nirvana, and it wasn't Nirvana. It was the truth in beauty, and the beauty in truth. Most impotantly, the music I was drawn too reinvigorated my soul, giving me joy to combat the sorrow. Did you know the blues was a music of joy?

This then is the goal of my music. To tell the truth and make it beautiful. No genres, just catchy melodies capturing life. Stories of love, stories of loss. I won't be dressing up in egg shells. I'm not trying to be a gazillionaire. I only hope that one or more of the hundreds of songs I have written and continue to write might make someone a little less jaded, or in touch with their life's purpose, or a little less unhappy. I won't be working hard to manufacture an image that shallow people can accept and idolize. That's not what a good songwriter does. I am only hoping to write a song as good as a Beatles song, a song that might be sung after my day is done. If that song can put my daughters through college one day, that will be gravy.

I am standing on the shoulders of giants.

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