signals

There’s a path behind the place where I live, and a black gum tree on the path. Up against it stands some big leaf aster. I don’t know if you know what that looks like, but this tall beauty has bluish flowers, and large heart-shaped leaves. It’s just a gorgeous color.

Whenever I get to this spot where this tree stands, I get a type of … signal. I can’t explain it but I pay attention, because I know something’s going to happen; I’m going to get some words or a melody, or something.

What I love most about being a songwriter is that I stand all my life in the direct path of signals, the strangest, most beautiful alphabet in the universe. I get to translate pulsations into notes and lyrics that restore and console, reconstruct and heal.

The signals don’t always quickly reveal themselves, and when this happens it’s no use blaming the walk. No matter what, I have to stay on the trail and follow the things that motion me on. They often make no sense, and I don’t always feel like following them, but they always lead somewhere.

When I pay close attention, I see that no two walks along the path are the same. Each brings a hidden blessing; a miracle which is unique to the path on that day, and which cannot be saved for later.

If I don’t notice the aster, this bluish signal, if I don’t use this blessing today, it will be lost.

horse winter walk

simple lives

I give my songs such simple lives, they give me such beautiful tragedies. They seem to have a way of letting me know what’s going on.

Each helps me tell the truth as I see and hear it at that moment.

Two Winters is the oldest song on my little record. It’s about a heart encountering, accepting, and learning to live from its brokenness.

Please listen, share, buy.

words and music by Tony Starling Kidd

© Buffalo Spoon Records

alibi

I have wanted to write about the people who owned our old farmhouse before, but I couldn’t realize the song, which more and more seemed to want to talk about some essence of their moving on, not their past.

Reaching into the past, I am able to salvage:

The dim farmhouse, morning radio on …

Black-blue meadow stalking every step the living make  …

A whispered rush.

And that farmhouse, like an old brown photograph, suddenly fills the senses.

winterhorseredbarn

As a writer of two or three-minute songs, I’m not interested in holding on to something for very long, or walking back into the past too deep. I’m in it for the permission to be transient.

It’s like this with singing, too. The whole idea of holding a note is strange to me. Singing isn’t about that. It’s about passage, about carrying the note out of you and forward.

When I chronicle the past I’m really just connecting dots, picking the beautiful things out of it and presenting a coherent arc in a neat, little song. Of course, life in the farmhouse was much noisier than that. The past is merely an alibi for the present.

The future, well … it’s messy, but it’s better to move on to it, better to leave what’s left behind any way except a slow way, leave the fastest way you can.

As with the breakups I sing about, the staying moved on … this is the hardest thing of all.

 

strange and familiar

There’s something deeply satisfying about writing songs without being hemmed in by expectations of a specific linear form or any particular idiom of music.

Yet it isn’t as simple as “out with the old, in with the new.” Here lies the beauty, complexity and excitement of songwriting:

Making up something that bears identifiable traces of its roots yet stays unmistakably my own … writing a song that puts me deep enough in the woods, and at the same time a clearing in the forest where people recognize me.

Most people bridle at unfamiliar things. The new blasphemes, it always does. The art is in straddling the two worlds, new and old, and this takes some precarious grace.

The moment of truth is when an unplucked string is finally strummed, it calls, and a strange and familiar heart answers.

stable

 

unwanted things

There is no burden like unwanted things. Which is sad because, against all real evidence, things have feelings too. They don’t love in the human way, still:

That blue thrift shop sweater out at the elbows has a story. I try to imagine the places it has been, and who wore it before it was mine.

Those rundown cowboy boots slouched in the closet talk in accents from the Old West. I stare at them appreciating all the wrong roads they may have taken. Usually, I find a song in them.

Pale-portrait faces stored in the attic gaze sadly at each other, old, tattered books think softly to themselves in between readings, and under its yellow blanket, the whittled-down pencil dreams of writing again.

Not one of these things transcends its thingness; the artist who connects with them becomes all these things.

They become a part of my inheritance as a songwriter. Forsaken, they now take me in their arms.

winterhorsefield

a little faith

Some days I’m certain those who don’t have faith know one thing more than me. Most days, one thing less.

Faith is the way to get where you’re going as an artist. Without faith, the leap to greater art never works.

I don’t pretend to know how a new song comes into my life out of nowhere. I don’t want to know. I have complete faith that the song will come.

Because when I do, another one comes, and then another. Sometimes it pays to just have a little faith.

acts of faith

shameless

My songs are unapologetically intimate and unfailingly hushed. To me, quiet, sparse and unadorned just feels right. My recordings and live performances, too, a ritual of simplicity. I want you, the listener, to feel each heartbeat in the wake of every heartache. It’s what I’m about.

That margin has always been mine, and I have never let what’s happening in the mainstream shame me out of it.

I could work in the center, and make up something everyone might like, but it would wreck my art. It’s the edges that are impenetrable.

God, please don’t deprive me of the edges. It’s where I belong. I have nowhere else to go.

shameless