We want to last, and for things to last … and I don’t know how to do that except through art.
I’m singing in a little town tonight, a whisper on the map. I’ll drive two hours through the countryside to get to it.
It’s the little towns I like. I can understand these places, settle in and lose myself in any one of them. They make me want something of what’s passed.
Maybe one day I’ll put the town, its lampposts undermined by twilight, half-hidden in my lines, and a song will become my history with the place. And maybe the song will give me the illusion that I never left, and the moment will last forever.
My life has been filled with longings. It’s consoling to be going tonight, on my way to another place I will miss.
Love goes on / It’s the lovers who go
words and music by Tony Starling Kidd
© Buffalo Spoon Records
An approximately three-minute song is as fleeting as a galloping horse against infinite time.
But it can capture forever a moment that’s gone forever.
I got myself a new guitar today. Well, not really new: an old Gibson J 45, rich and deep on the low E and A strings, with round shoulders, a wine-red finish and tortoise teardrop pickguard.
She’s a rescue from a city pawn shop. There she stood, so beautifully abandoned, in reverent silence. I imagined her maker reclaimed wood from an old church pew in order to create her.
She came with an exile’s suitcase, and a belly filled with songs.
The music just lives in these old guitars. If you really want to write a song, if you have no ideas and can’t go thinking or don’t want to, go to a pawn shop. Go ask a guitar. Buy one used, because she has music in her.
Think of her as your grandfather’s cane, take her on a walk. She will talk to you. She’ll tell you about places she has known, the wrong turns she’s made and who she’s seen. About the café chairs she’s rested on, and baggage carousels she’s ridden, her wild ways. How one night in a downtown club, she found grace. And why her strings are sad and full of regrets. Could be the one who played her before had no heart.
Tune her up and, warbling out the old, she will begin anew. Tell her to find you a B minor, A major song. Maybe the next day suddenly you’ll have something.
People will turn to see where the beautiful notes came from. They’ll feel transfigured. Those that heard will say the holy spirit spoke to them as from an eternal tree. Anyway, that’s what my new song will say.
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.
When I’m making up a song, I keep an ear to the ground for what people cast off.
An overheard remark in a train station, the half-sentences of friends workshopping love’s particulars in the local coffee shop: They’re the finder’s reward.
I listen in like an ecclesiastic to the human heart as it bares its splendor and its brokenness.
I listen, and write. And as I write, I polish what I’ve found, and as I craft it into a tune hopefully expose a genuine, consoling truth in the brokenness.
I pick up things others don’t ordinarily notice, like the flowers that thrive by the roadside as we pass on our way somewhere else. Sometimes it’s the only way to encounter the truth.
I am so flawed as an artist. My songs are imperfectly performed. My wispy voice is sometimes shaky about pitch.
My recordings are a set of first-takes, a thoroughly homemade affair. Nothing feels mastered. Listen closely, and you might hear barn swallows, the sound of wood scraping on a floor, probably a chair.
I don’t have many true fans. Is it because everyone else hears my flaws? I could deceive myself into thinking that. Or, that it’s because I don’t fall neatly into a category of music … I’m not exactly country, or folk, or anything else.
But categories don’t matter. Most important work is done by people who don’t easily fit in. No great piece of art is flawless. And no great artist is universally liked or understood.
I’m happy to have a few true fans who don’t hear first-takes, but jewels, and who can’t wait to hear what I make up next.
Who are tuned in to me, flaws and all.