I am convinced my soul was constructed to belong entirely to a life of making up songs, just as the cowboy’s was to rope calves and the sun was made to lay its palm over the window in my studio this late afternoon.
I spent time this week with two lawyers and someone from A&R. All of them pushing papers with big words and lots of numbers to keep the conversation going.
I have to confess there’s something about being with the fine people who work at these jobs that leaves me feeling alone. I’m the only one of my kind when I’m with them: an outlier, not easy to lasso into their carefully scripted conversations. I stand at the crescent of my hoofs at these meetings, head jerking away from the halter, ears searching for the stablegirl’s caress.
It’s different when I’m among my own kind, musicians and other artists, or when I’m home doing all my comfortable alone things: making up songs, tuning an instrument, reading, or just looking the day away in a pasture empty of everything but wildflowers and witchgrass.
At these times, I feel peaceful and occupied with all the things I know I’m meant to do.
* The title of a book by the amazing Nathalie Handal
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.
Songwriters worry a lot about finding their voice. We all find our voice, though. By the time you’re ten or more years into your craft, you find it.
But that’s not the trouble. The trouble is getting rid of it.
Of course the song idea in my head has been done before. The question I have to answer is, “have I done this before?”
A mere cut and paste from something I shared before would be pointless.
Bringing my true self to my work, every time … shaping my sound until my own two ears say, “yes, that’s great, this surprises us.” That’s what I’m after.
Passionately pursuing a new song my whole life … that’s everything.
You left to run horses / We both had reasons to run / I hear only hooves now / No rider comes / Oh, runaway heart / Again, I’ve lost you / There you are, gone, the last holdout / And I’m holding on to things gone missing / Lover, you left so much
words and music by Tony Starling Kidd
© Buffalo Spoon Records
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.