Martin 000-18
Top page

In search of old songs

Camping in acoustic heaven

Singing
story songs


Remembering
Johnny Cash


Revisiting
Bob Dylan


Rippling
the pond


Relating to audiences

Reflections
on reviewing


CD reviews

Folk links

Contact us



Folk wisdom

Critiquing your song
by Holly Tashian

It's one thing to write a song, letting the words issue forth without too much censoring, and letting the melody flow where it wants to go. But the song isn't finished until it's had a good lookin' over, i.e. critiquing.

Holly TashianThis can be one of the most challenging steps in song writing, and probably the one most of us would like to avoid. Critiquing your song is, however, the most important step and the one that makes a good song better and a better song great.

To make the job easier, here are a few tips on critiquing that I've learned while working for the Nashville Songwriter's Association International as a song evaluator. If you're interested in learning more, visit the N.S.A.I at www.nashvillesongwriters.com.

Read through this list and be honest as you evaluate your creative effort. Hopefully you can answer "yes" to most of these questions. If not, it's time for the eraser!

A. Theme (underlying idea or concept)
  1. Is the idea one that a lot of people can relate to?   2. Is it a unique or "fresh" approach?
  3. Is the idea believable?
  4. Did you avoid confusing the listener with too many themes or details that don't lead to the hook?
  5. Are the characters interesting and/or believable?

Note: Occasionally I hear a song that is offensive in one way or another, and I wonder who would want to sing such a song. It's a good idea to remember to put your singer in a good light. Most singers will turn down a song that makes them look like jerks!

B. Lyrics
  1. Is there a memorable title or hook? (Exceptions are certain love songs or story songs).
  2. Is there a strong opening line? (Who, what where, when…)
  3. Do the words sound in-fashion or up-to-date?
  4. Are the lyrics something you would hear in a conversation today?
  5. Are the lines concise and does every word count? Did you eliminate rhymes that are too predictable? (true,/blue, heart/ part, rain/pain).
  6. Is the use of clichés kept to a minimum?

Note: One of the most common problems I come across in critiquing is what we call "telling the listener what's happening" rather than showing by example. If you say "they fell in love", it's just a fact. But if you say, "They kissed" the listener has an image to intensify the lyrics.

C. Melody
  1. Is there a strong marriage between melody and lyrics?
  2. Has an appropriate mood been established through the rhythm and tempo?
 3. Is the musical hook memorable?
  4. Is there an interesting melodic change between verse and chorus and/or verse and bridge?
  5. Does the melody build into the chorus?

Note: A memorable hook is also called a "motif" and it repeats with variations throughout the song. A good example of a motif is the first few notes of "Sentimental Journey." Notice how this phrase and rhythm gets repeated throughout the song, with slight variations in pitch. This makes for a very memorable song.

D. Overall Impact
  1. Does the song have a beginning, middle, and an end?
  2. Are all the verses strong and non-repetitive?
  3. Is the message powerful?
  4. Does the song generate emotion?
  5. Is the storyline good?
  6. Does the song resolve itself to the listener's satisfaction?

Note: Variety is the spice of life, and this goes for lyrics and rhythms as well. If your verses have lots of words coming together rapidly (bunching), it is a welcome relief to draw the words and rhythm out during the chorus or bridge (running). We call this technique, "bunch and run." A good example of that is "Sunny Side of the Street" or "Blue Skies." Notice the variety within the song.

One last word(s): If you are too close to your song to critique it, ask someone else, whose opinion you trust, to listen to it with this list in hand and have them give you honest feedback. This is a powerful tool and one worth using every time you write a song. Good luck!

[© 2006 Holly Tashian]

Holly Tashian lives in Nashville and writes with her husband, Barry. She has had songs recorded by the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Roland White, the Stevens Sisters, Daniel O'Donnell, Ty England, and many other country and bluegrass artists. She and Barry teach creativity classes at Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camp, Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, and Summer Acoustic Music Week. Her e-mail is holly@tashian.com. For more information, visit her Web site at www.tashian.com.

Comments? E-mail the editor at djohnson@folklinks.com.

Return to top page

 

Tricking your muse
by Holly Tashian

I'm one of those people who has to clear their desk, do the dishes, make the bed, eat a good breakfast, and put on their makeup before they can get anywhere near the guitar or notebook to write a song. Chaos and unfinished business seem to clutter up my mind making it very difficult for creative ideas to penetrate my consciousness.

So now that my desk is clear, and I've paid the bills, run off a load of laundry and answered my email, I'm ready to write about this illusive muse called "Creativity." How do we connect up with our creative selves? How do we find fresh new ways of approaching the universal themes of love, lost love, and a few other subjects?

Well, I've devised a few tricks that seem to work for me. Here they are, neatly numbered in no particular order.

1. Look around. What do you see? If it could talk, what would it say? I'm looking at my cup of tea that has the words: "You Will Come Back," printed on the side. Hmmm, could be a song in that. So I start writing a stream of consciousness about coming back to my hometown, how it's changed, how they've torn down the old Dairy Queen where we used to hang out after high school. At some point my ramblings begin to make sense, and I actually come up with an idea that's worth writing a song about, that's universal, and that has an emotional impact. Try it! You'd be amazed at the stories a paperclip, or a piece of art can tell once you look at them as alive and talking to you.

2. Another trick I use is to create a random list of titles. I like titles that have colors in them, that have places in them, or certain objects. "The Red Car," "Balloons on My Birthday," "I Love Chicos," "That's Why I'm Here," "Take It from Me," "If Loneliness Could Talk," etc. When I've got about 10 titles, I choose my favorite and start writing everything that comes to mind. Eventually, I try to shape it into a chorus. Then I write the lyrics to support the chorus. This is my favorite way to write.

3. I find that journaling is a good dumping ground to let all those whiney voices and complaining thoughts get onto the paper and out of my head. It opens the way for bigger and brighter ideas to come forward. It's like clearing off my desk. Once the junk's cleared out, ideas start coming up and the next thing I know, I'm putting them into a rhyme scheme.

4. Sometimes - and it's pretty rare - I hear a melody that inspires lyrics. It's usually a catchy rhythm that could be used as a skeleton to hang lyrics on. For example, there are some terrific old gospel songs that have standard meter that can inspire a whole new set of lyrics and a different set of notes. That way I don't have to reinvent the wheel. After all, isn't creativity putting two things that already exist into a new combination?

5. One of my favorite tricks is to put on my songwriter's antennae. I have a little notebook with me, and I go out shopping - say to Kroger or Home Depot - and just listen to the conversations around me. I jot down anything that sounds like it could be a song. For instance, I heard someone say, "Loneliness brought us together." Referring back to number 1 on this list, I think of loneliness as personified. What would it be like to be "Madam Loneliness"?

6. Then there's reading. My favorite resources are The New Yorker and The New York Times. They have some dandy writers to feed the imagination. And of course radio and TV are excellent places to listen for lyric ideas.

7. Lastly, I suggest that you join a songwriter's circle, or start one of your own. Get together with other musicians and get some feedback on your songs. This can be very helpful and very telling. By the way, the best advice I've gotten on songwriting was from my sister, who said, "Don't try so hard, just write about what you know, for pete's sake!"

So that's the short list.

As for actually writing a song, that's a whole 'nuther subject. Personally I like Sheila Davis's "The Craft of Lyric Writing" and Jimmy Webb's "Tunesmith" for some solid advice on how to write a good song. Good luck and may the muse be with you!

[� 2004 Holly Tashian]

Holly Tashian lives in Nashville and writes with her husband, Barry. She has had songs recorded by the Nashville Bluegrass Band, Roland White, the Stevens Sisters, Daniel O'Donnell, Ty England, and many other country and bluegrass artists. She teaches creativity classes at Ashokan Fiddle & Dance Camp, Puget Sound Guitar Workshop, and Summer Acoustic Music Week. She can be reached at holly@tashian.com. For more information, visit her Web site at www.tashian.com.



Fathoming folk friendships
by Bernice Lewis

It's a gloomy April day during what is affectionately known here in the Northeast as mud season. I am sitting at my computer trying to figure out how to make a short tour to the midwest this fall. I drop a line to my friend Beth, whom I met a few years ago when we were contestants in a songwriting contest in California. She lives in Indiana. Less than 24 hours later, Beth sends me a short list of active venues and contact names along with an excited offer to share a show or two in order to squeeze in some time together.

My pal Katie writes that its 92 degrees and sunny on her mountain top in Arizona, and that she can't believe she is still writing and performing at (add some well chosen expletives here) 80 years old.

I know it's time for the Wildflower Festival in Richardson, Texas, where I am lucky enough to perform every other year. Last year it was so warm that I had to raid my friends' closets for skirts and tank tops.

And then there is Kerrville. I can tell by my dreams, which feature a weekly panic attack over arriving late and being unable to find a campsite. It's never really happened...I just dream it every year out of the sheer excitement of wanting to be there under the Texas sky listening to the sounds of acoustic guitars and beautiful voices and real songs made up by real people about real things.

The folks I meet often ask me how I do it? How do I manage to tour the entire United States (and then some) playing music? They cannot believe that I do it without an agent, that I rarely stay in hotel rooms and often don't rent cars, and hardly ever eat three meals a day in restaurants. I try to explain...I fumble with words like "network" and "support" and "fan base." But these words are too antiseptic... I don't know how to tell people about the families I have in every stop, how different they each are, and yet how tied they are to this music and its survival.

There are people who are perfectly content with the music on the radio and the CD selection at Wal-Mart. There are people who cannot live without live music and the spoken word. For them it is a kind of food...a necessity. These are the people I know, depend on, work for and with. I sleep in their guest rooms (I've often said that I know America from her guest rooms), borrow their cars, hold their babies, record their stories. I know when someone marries, divorces, gets sick, loses a job, comes out. They are my friends. There's an old adage about never doing business with your friends. I cannot fathom doing it any other way.


Bernice Lewis is a Massachusetts-based singer-songwriter. Her most recent CD is Religion & Release. Learn more about her at http://www.bernicelewis.com.


Encountering Italy
by Harvey Reid

Here I am banging at the keyboard at 12:33 a.m. trying to grasp the fleeting sensations of this whirlwind trip to Italy, at a particularly poignant moment. Today was hard, a 14-hour work day with waking up at a crummy hotel in the middle of nowhere, jumping into the vehicle within 10 minutes, and spending close to seven hours in a van, mostly on freeways, with two different Italians, one who speaks pretty good English and the other almost none. I am dying to have a conversation in real English with someone, so I guess it is whoever reads this.

I did a demonstration/concert in a music store in downtown Milan today at the music shop of Prina, a 55-year-old woman who sells a lot of acoustic guitars in her old-fashioned shop. I am doing eight such things in seven days, plus some gigs and a guitar festival, and it is quite different from a typical day in York, Maine or a coffeehouse gig in Vermont. I think it went well and they liked me, but I feel somewhat like a freak show in world dominated by mass culture or at least mass-media glimpses of non-mainstream music. I barely fit into America, but in other countries they know nothing of my world of public radio airplay, coffeehouses and non-mainstream music and culture. This place has no counterculture - not that we do, but at least the world of coffeehouses, open mikes, house concerts, non-profit folk gigs and public radio airplay is feeding thousands of us in the US, and as far as I can tell there is no such thing here in Italy.

I was trying to explain to my host here about open mikes, and about house concerts, and people selling CD's out of their cars and over the Internet. They don't even have people teaching guitar at music stores here. That alone supports thousands of independent musicians, or at least keeps food on their tables to go with the gig income they have. I bought a house by working outside of the system, and cannot even imagine a world where there is nothing but mainstream. Their idea of "alternative" is Ry Cooder or David Lindley or Stevie Ray Vaughan, and though I like those guys a lot, I don't consider that they are part of the same system that supports me or most of my folk music friends. I guess I should feel lucky that there is an underground folk scene, even though I usually don't feel lucky to have a meal ticket at the folk lunch wagon, since it is not even a middle-class existence. Somewhere below janitor seems to be where most folk musicians end up on the income scale.

Italy is a place of cultural struggle, but they don't realize it. And it is sadder to see an old culture be blitzed by TV than it was to watch the recent demise of the hardly even existent American culture. The signs of the termite-rot of Western TV culture are everywhere, but so are the remains of their own culture. Kids with Michael Jordan and Levi's T shirts. Maybe they can just take a few things from Hollywood and not lose their way of life, but somehow I suspect it is a more slippery slope than they realize. They are just getting their first supermarkets and traffic jams on the freeways, and I don't think they get it that they will put the local butchers and cheese-makers out of business. When I mention that I see the invasion of Hollywood, they say - "Oh, it's just the kids that like video games...."

It seems to me they don't get it. Cultures rot from the bottom, starting with kids. Two generations where the kids don't learn to cook or do the other customs, and they can vanish. Italy is in no danger of losing its language, although a steady creep of technology words is invading. When they discuss computers or music technology I can actually understand because so many of the words are from English. They are chatting away non-stop on their cell phones (they are absolutely everywhere - five times as many as in the US) and smoking like chimneys, and they tell me little things like "The young people don't drink wine so much. They like beer." which tells me that the kids are buying into the beer commercial thing, and before you know it, the small wine producers will have a smaller market and the big changes will start slowly grinding away.

Hell, 50 years ago in the US there were no refrigerated trucks to carry food everywhere, and you could probably get local cheese and bread and milk, too. It would not surprise me at all if the TV and American Wal-Mart steamroller blitzed all these countries. It's too powerful, and no one has ever seen it before, and no one knows how it works. TV is a Trojan horse, and it's unclear if the diversity and non-mass marketing control of the Internet can come fast enough to prevent the Budweiser commercial machine from taking control. That's a comforting thought - to think that the Internet might somehow save the world from TV.

I guess my trip here could almost be summed up in an experience I had today in Milan, where almost no one spoke English. I needed some duct tape, and I was in a music store, and I thought it might be simple to request some, since I assumed that musicians everywhere relied on it. Not only did they not know what I meant, but it was 15 minutes before I gave up. I tried to draw a picture of a roll of duct tape (hard to do), and pantomime using it to tape down some wires, and describe the color (gray, silver, like plastic and cloth both...). They brought me packing and cellophane tape, and it turns out I have a million-dollar business idea. Not only will I sell shower curtains to the Italians I will sell them duct tape. And I will mail a multi-pack of Wal-Mart duct tape to my Italian friends for Christmas.


Harvey Reid is one of the outstanding writers and performers in acoustic music today. Find out more about Harvey and his recordings at http://www.woodpecker.com.


The key to becoming
by Bob Franke

The key to becoming "national" is to become local in a lot of places. The key to becoming a viable local performer is talent and a mailing list. Show the local venue that you can fill the seats more cheaply than a "national" act by demonstrating that you have the numbers in your computer and can put out a mailing that will do the job.

Hype the mailing list, do the data entry (or hire somebody to do it if your day job doesn't give you the time), and use the technology and a sense of responsibility to take back the power that too many artists have given up. Identify and develop a relationship with your audience, and you will become much more attractive (assuming the aforementioned talent) to any promoter.

I toured regionally and part-time for many years, then started adding regions. I worked nine years in a candy factory until my tax returns told me that I was making more money at music, at which point the PC enabled me to trick myself into responsible business behavior, and I started doing this full time.

The scene has changed a lot since then. There's been an historic shift of power from labor to capital, but at the same time the means of production have gotten a lot cheaper, requiring less capital. Information is more freely available. There are more gigs and it's possible to find them, and it's easier to get your information to your audience.

The good news is that the same imagination that can put a song together can keep an old car on the road and enable an old PC to spew out a mailing. Software companies love musicians because of this fact. The bad news is that doing these things is no easier than your day job.

Large corporations are doing their damnedest to reshape this music into their own packageable image. If artists don't work as hard with similar tools to keep the music faithful to real life, the culture is in trouble. Some of it is about money and power, and an artist has to be familiar enough with those issues to survive long enough to say that it's about other, more important things as well. You can't do this in ignorance, and you can't do it alone. Keep talking to each other. Good luck.

[© 2000 Bob Franke]

 

After more than 30 years in the business, songwriter Bob Franke knows whereof he speaks. His latest CD is Long Roads, Short Visits. Learn more about Bob at http://pobox.com/~telepole.


Creating a new venue
by Steve Key

I walk into a room - a church, a museum, a restaurant, any kind of room. Usually my first thought is: "I wonder what it would be like to do a show here." Although I am a performer, I'm usually thinking not of playing the show myself, but organizing it, presenting it, just for the sake of the show.

Recently I've presented monthly concerts in the sanctuary of a Unitarian Church, weekly songwriter showcases in a corner cafe, and house concerts in my living room. That was all in my previous home in Nashville, Tennessee. I've returned to live in Washington, DC, and my eyes and ears are open to finding the Next New Venue.

It's been five years since I moved from DC to Nashville. Several of the church-based coffeehouses that were here five years ago have closed. The trend now is house concerts - maybe six or seven monthly series have started around DC in recent years. But my wife and I live in a two-bedroom condo, so I don't think a house concert is the way to go this time.

Why did the church-based coffeehouses close? Presenter burn-out, dwindling audience - hard to say which comes first. It takes a lot to build a following for a venue and keep it growing. It's difficult for some of us to delegate important tasks, to build a core group of volunteers, and to connect with the community who could be your audience.

Performers can't bring in the audience all by themselves. And presenters can't do it alone. There has to be a combination of performer publicity and the presenter's organization that brings the people together for a show.

I started a venue in the Riverdale neighborhood of the Bronx called the Uptown Coffeehouse. My wife and I were members of the Society for Ethical Culture, and it was the Society's 100-seat meeting room that we used for concerts twice a month. The leader of the society let us use it without charging rent, because he was sure we would fail to get an audience anyway.

Another couple from the society took up the task of making and selling the baked goods and refreshments. My wife and other members of the society were willing to take tickets, sell performer albums, etc. I borrowed a sound system and did the sound and hosting myself. I also booked the music and did the publicity. I probably took on too much of the work, but at least I had a core of six to eight volunteers to help in running the show.

I knew I wasn't going to get the New York Times to carry our concert announcements, but the Riverdale neighborhood had a weekly paper that would. In fact, the editor later showed up to play one of our open mics. We had two radio stations - WFDU in Teaneck NJ and WFUV right there in the Bronx - which had folk shows that would mention our shows, sometimes even do ticket giveaways and interview performers the day of the show.

I tried to book a variety of performers to build a varied audience. My thinking was that if I could get a variety of people in the door and they enjoyed the show, they might come back to hear somebody they didn't know just because they liked the venue. So we had solo acts, touring acts from Boston and local singers from Greenwich Village, topical singers who had played the popular Clearwater Festival, Celtic duos and trios, a Woody Guthrie Tribute show, and now and then, an open mic.

Our first sold-out show was in our second season. It was on Super Bowl Sunday, and the act was the Wood's Tea Company. They had a strong following, but I think we had built an audience that was ready to hear an act that did some traditional folk, Woody Guthrie ballads, popular Irish folk songs, cowboy poetry and funny stories. I believe the sold-out show was a combination of our grass-roots organization and the performers' work in audience building.

I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm for contemporary folk music with friends and total strangers. It's a drag to book somebody and then have only a small group show up to hear them. So I have to think a lot about what I'm doing, where I'm doing it, how I'm going to make all the connections necessary to have a successful show.

If I keep all those elements in mind, I may be able to create a new venue with sold-out audiences again. Hmmm, I wonder what it would be like to do a show in that room over there?

[© 2000 Steve Key]

 

Steve Key followed the success of his song "Record Time," recorded by Kathy Mattea, to Nashville. He recently returned to Washington, DC. Steve would welcome hearing from you at stevekey@aol.com.


Feeling the power
by Richard "Hershey" Shirman

Copyright ©2001, Blues Image

I was inspired by The Rolling Stones and Yardbirds. I saw both when I was fourteen, over the objections of my parents, and was hooked.

I am now middle-aged and disabled. Were it not for music, the great musicians who continue to play the songs that I write or select, what a miserable so-and-so I'd be.

This is not a unique tale, but it does demonstrate the real power of music. After all, but for music you wouldn't have read a word of this, would you?

I don't intend to bore you here with my efforts (eventually successful) to force myself on the music business. I'd rather share the emotions that it has generated and try to explain the various degrees of togetherness that encompasses the world in which I have chosen to live.

When still only fifteen, I joined my first group - an r'n b outfit, made up of guys aged up to twenty (almost adults in those days). They accepted me as an equal because I knew my music and did a reasonable job as front man.

I went from there to forming my own group, recorded, almost made it, traveled the country, met stars, but found that my chosen field is a universal adhesive.

One can still talk about the greats one met along the way. When I first encountered Jimi Hendrix in a London nightclub, I got all excited as I thought that I'd just met Little Richard!

I was out of the business for almost ten years, met an angel, married her, but became more and more frustrated with my lot. She hadn't known me when I was performing. She found her husband a nicer guy once he was back performing.

My grandiose nature demanded BIG so I ended up with a ten-piece outfit. I found a tremendous camaraderie. The fact that some of the musicians were working with household names made no difference. Smoke-filled university, club and pub dressing rooms became the focus for the biggest social club in the world.

My business was on the rocks but my sanity held out for a long time thanks to the unique bond that music brings.

Eventually, the business went. So did my house, the car, etc. Bankruptcy followed. I entered into the strangely focused world of the nervous breakdown where I wrote songs, but my angel, our progeny, and music kept me here!

I woke up one morning, paralysed down one side. Though I'd been diagnosed a year before, multiple sclerosis had announced itself.

In hospital I lay there thinking not "Will I ever walk again," but what kind of band I would have next, who I'd have in the band, what size it would be - this was the opportunity I'd been waiting for!

Some of the old band mates came to visit me at home, made music with me, had me almost falling out of my wheelchair with laughter, and generally helped speed my recovery.

When, after five years, I made an album, I received a call from the ex horn section leader, asking "Would you like horns on it" You may not see each other for twenty years, but you meet again, time stands still, and the jokes come thick and fast!

This my old friends fitted in gratis between working with the likes of Gary Moore, Bill Wyman, and Beverly Craven.

My physical movement is limited, but I still have my music. Some of the best players around still admit to being in my band, and, thanks to the real power of music, you have been reading about the luckiest man alive.

[© 2000 Richard Shirman]

 

Former front man of the British band The Attack, Richard Shirman now leads Hershey and the 12 Bars, whose debut album is Greatest Hits Vol. 2. You can e-mail "Hershey" at shirman@ntlworld.com and visit the band's Web site at hersheyandthe12bars.com.


Producing a concert
by Jeff Brown

Let's say you're a member of a non-profit organization and you're looking for ways to generate income, community awareness, and hear some great live music. Why not produce a concert?

If you've never done one before, you may not know how easy they are to produce. That's not to say it's not a lot of work, but all in all, it's usually worth it. What can you do to make it as easy as possible? For one thing, don't spend your time re-inventing the wheel! There are several great resources out there. One is called Note by Note, produced by the folks at Redwood Records. It has lots of information. Another guide is available on-line at: www.alaska.net/~jbrown/concert.html

Here's a quick run-through of what you need to think about, whether you want to read a guide or not.

Let's assume you have in mind someone to perform at the event and that you've already negotiated with his or her agent or with him or her directly. Next, you'll have to secure a place for them to play, a way for them to be heard (such as a sound system), make posters and contact the media in your community.

How do you want to price your event? Perhaps the best bet is to look at other similar events in your community and price accordingly. What kind of tickets do you want to have? At the door? In advance (where?) A different price for adults and kids?

You might need to decorate the stage, arrange for meals and accommodations for the performer(s), and clean-up afterwards.

When I run sound for an event, I like to think of the audio chain, or how the audio gets from one place to another. It's similar with producing an event. Write down all the things that you think you might to make the event successful, ask your friends if they have suggestions, and try to put them in an order. A lot of times, it's paying attention to the little details, like where the power outlet is in the hall, that make events troublesome or trouble-free.

Do you have an emcee? My rule of thumb is to never be the emcee if you are organizing the concert. You want to worry about making sure the concert is happening smoothly, and although it's a fun ego trip to be on stage, it's best if you leave that part of the concert to someone else. Make notes for the emcee well in advance of the event so it's not a last minute thing where you forget to thank someone crucial.

Are you planning on serving food? Who will make it/pick it up? Who will serve it? Do you need a permit from the facility? Will you be serving alcohol? That alone will open up a can of worms, if that's your cup of whatever.

Of course, before you get too far, make up a budget. This will help you plan things as well as figure out ahead of time whether your event will make or lose money.

It's fun bringing live music to an appreciative audience, and important for our art to survive. If you're inspired to produce an event and need more information, please check out How To Produce and Promote Small Concerts at www.alaska.net/~jbrown/concert.html

Have fun!

 

Jeff Brown is co-program director of KTOO-FM in Juneau, Alaska. You can e-mail him at jeff@ktoo.org or visit his Web site, www.jeffersonbrown.com.


Paying 'mechanicals'
by Paula Joy Welter

I went to get my faithful and dauntless Honda CVCC's oil changed at a Placerville, California, garage one day with guitar in hand. Afterward I was on my way to a guitar lesson with my favorite guitarist in the world, Nina Gerber, in the Bay Area, a long drive away.

As the mechanic, Tony, wrote up the paperwork to begin the maintenance on my Honda, I asked if he minded if I changed guitar strings during the wait. He said he didn't mind at all, so I sat in the reception area and did just that.

Just as I finished changing the last string and was bending down to put my guitar back in its case...Tony walked back in, finished with the oil change...and said, "You can't put that guitar away until you play me a tune," in a kidding way, but meaning it. I said, "Okay. I've played in stranger places!"

I sat down and sang a tune I wrote for a far-away sister called "Deep Within Wisconsin Green." When I finished, he said that he would love to hear another.

For some reason, I felt like playing a tune I wrote called "Joanna's Gift." It's a true story that happened to my friend, Joanna, which I put to song after hearing about the moment from her (see lyrics below).

I played the tune. When I finished, I glanced up, ready to get going. I was a little embarrassed when I realized that Tony looked to be on the verge of tears, and not ready to speak. Since most men I know don't like to be seen in that space, I looked away and made some small talk, putting my guitar, finally, in its case.

When I asked him how much the bill was for the maintenance on the Honda, he said, "Nothing is owed, just sign this," and handed me the invoice listing the repairs. On the bottom, in the line where the payment total is usually written, it said "Two songs."

I didn't feel that was fair enough compensation, so I got a CD out of the trunk of my car to give him, which he happily accepted.

I later told my friend, Joanne, the inspiration for this song, about this moment. She was living downstairs from me at the time, and we shared moments over tea sometimes. It was just a moment that stuck in my mind as powerful in unspoken ways.

Interestingly, Joanne told me that she knew Tony, too, since she also takes her Honda there for repairs. She happened to know that he had lost his wife a year or two before and was now raising a young daughter on his own. All this time, I thought he was happily married. I didn't know he'd been through that loss, though I'd taken my car to him for years.

Before sharing the music, I never felt Tony was the kind of guy that really said much to anyonekind of private and to himself. After that moment of music shared, however, Tony and I always had a nice conversation whenever I'd go in. He'd ask me about my music and travels, and I'd ask him about his latest adventures, which he talked about much more readily.

Eventually he married again and had another child. Now he looks a lot happier and more carefree whenever I've gone in to get more work on my Honda done.

Here's the song:

JOANNA'S GIFT

Verse I:

SHE STOOD IN LINE AT STOP 'N SHOP,
GROCERIES AND HER PRIVATE THOUGHTS,
WHITE ROSES FILLED JOANNA'S CART,
BUT NOT THE ACHING COLDNESS IN HER HEART.

Verse II:

THEN ABOVE THE MARKET'S NOISE
JOANNA HEARD A WOMAN'S VOICE
"SUCH LOVELY FLOWERS YOU HAVE TODAY,"
AS FINGERS REACHED TO STROKE THE SWEET BOUQUET.

CHORUS:

SOMETIMES STRANGERS TOUCH OUR LIVES
LIKE SOOTHING RAIN FROM SUMMER SKIES.
SOMETIMES STRANGERS HAVE A WAY
OF HEARING WHAT WE CANNOT SAY.
SOME HAVE FLOWERS, SOME HAVE NONE,
BUT THE FRAGRANCE AND THE SORROWS SHARED
ARE COMMON CORDS THAT BIND US ALL AS ONE.

Verse III:

JOANNA KEPT HER TEARS INSIDE,
BUT SAID "THIS WEEK, MY MOTHER DIED. "
THE STRANGER SAID, "I MISS MINE TOO,"
AND THEN THEY TALKED AS ONLY WOMEN DO.

Verse IV:

JOANNA PAID AND TURNED TO GO,
BUT FIRST SHE LET SOME KINDNESS GO;
IN GIVING HALF HER FLOWERS AWAY,
SHE FELT SOME ACHING COLDNESS MELT THAT DAY

CHORUS REPEATS, then again:

SOME HAVE FLOWERS, SOME HAVE NONE,
BUT THE FRAGRANCE AND THE SORROWS SHARED
ARE COMMON CORDS THAT BIND US ALL AS ONE.

© 1994 Paula Joy Welter
P.O. Box 660004, Sacramento, CA 95866-0004

Paula Joy Welter is an "occasionally touring singer/songwriter mostly now performing on the western side of the U.S." Learn more by visiting her Web site at www.paulajoywelter.com or sending her an e-mail at paulajoy@quiknet.com.


Comments? E-mail the editor at djohnson@folklinks.com.

Return to top page



folklinks.com > connecting people through music®