shadows and light

If I’m in a town and there’s somebody I like who has passed away, I’ll visit their grave. Sometimes I photograph it, sometimes I lie beside them and think about their work, their special loneliness now, or bring flowers.

It’s nice to visit where people are or you believe them to be. Just because they have died, doesn’t bring the relationships to an end. I’m happy to surround myself with their ghosts.

My muses are all ghosts. To love them is easy; they’re final, perfect. It’s when I learned to make up songs that I began always to live among them.

When I’m making up a song I imagine them listening with eyes down and smiling sweetly, looking at me lovingly with their abstract sorrow, as if ready to speak kindly, though they never speak.

I look for evidence of their presence in every line I compose. I’ll sit at my writing table, under a tree or in a café, and wait for a sign. It comes in different ways: a shape moving near me like a question, a tone I can hear, but never trace, in my voice.

Sometimes it’s a vague presence that moves up ghost-like from a well of silence on a small stage somewhere and into the heart of the listener — reminding me there is another world, and it is in this one, one sustaining the other.

shadowslight

 

two winters

part of me is here, part of me is missing / since the last time I saw you / you went, I stayed / like the frame of a stolen painting left behind / two winters, a fractured truth ago / but I can’t stay here any longer, the place knows too much / two winters, a fractured truth ago

words and music by Tony Starling Kidd

© Buffalo Spoon Records

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

 

truth and lies

There’s a misguided belief that just because you play an acoustic guitar and sing in a near-whisper close to the microphone, it makes you more honest than singer-songwriters who attempt to create an experience of truth in some other way.

Here’s the truth: Some songs are meant to calm you down. Some are meant to stir you up.

Some are transcendental, and some are just really dumb.

The religious hymn, praise to the king … songs filled with the sorrows of a dissolving marriage, or an inventory of lovers … they all have a place.

The dark, brave, thoughtful and serenely startling songs … tracks we can dance to, anthems we revolt to, beats we bounce to and sounds we make love to … they all have a place.

We may crawl out of a song feeling more in love, or younger, or angrier, or wiser, clutching a secret message of small meaning or nothing, nothing. We might seem lost. We might seem happy. There are a hundred different states of human yearning, and people need to feel them all.

What matters is that when a songwriter comes along with a pure heart and something to say, we listen.

truthlies

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