Gig Journal #1: Feeling Sorry For Bruce Springsteen

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I’ve easily played 2,500-3,500 live gigs over my career, I can’t accurately count.  For a number of years during the mid-to-late 1970s I was living and Boston and played 250-300 gigs a year, all across New England and well beyond.  Those gigs ranged from performances at the Hatch Shell in Boston before 7,000 people to hideous, interminable gigs at total shit-hole bars under bizarre circumstances.  I many times played for a rapt audience of 2,000 people one night and the next night might find myself slogging it out in some bar where people would ask the bartender if I would stop playing so they could watch the TV.  I kept somewhat active Gig Journals during those years, and they record some remarkable experiences.  Many of these journals were written shortly after the gigs; others, years later.  Many of them are, I think, utterly hilarious.  Some are horrifying.  A few might even be called inspiring.  If I can figure out a way of someday turning this into a blog where other musicians can post their own recollections, I’d like to do that.  Some of the wildest stories I’ve ever heard are from fellow musicians.  I wish I could share just a few of the stories sidemen have told me about being on the road with famous musicians, but that would surely lead to multiple lawsuits.  It’s a book no one can ever write, but it’s an amazing one.

I have tons of Gig Journals.  Here’s one of my very favorites.

Union College — October 19, 1974

My band’s Boston agency, Lordly and Dame, booked us a couple of nights in upper state New York, at Union College.  We were booked to play Friday night “unplugged” at the Union College Coffee House, and then the following night we were to play full band in the Union College Chapel, as opening act for an up and coming singer-songwriter named Bruce Springsteen.  He had recorded a couple of albums but I had never heard of him.  He seemed to be more of a local New Jersey phenomenon.

We had a blast on Friday night at the Coffee House gig.  It was really nice and intimate, maybe 100 people there.  We joked with them about how we had just come off several gigs opening up to the Jefferson Airplane offshoot band Hot Tuna, and how during our sets their fanatic fans (more than once) were screaming “Tuna, Tuna, Tuna!” 

The next afternoon we did a sound check and then Springsteen’s band came in for theirs.  They seemed kind of disorganized.  All they did was a quick run-through of about one-third of “There Is A Rose In Spanish Harlem” and they split, apparently satisfied.

Not knowing anything at all about them, I thought maybe they were a cover band.  They were traveling in some kind of shitty tour bus.  I wasn’t paying too much attention to them, but it didn’t seem like they were living in the lap of luxury, just like us.

Our opening set that night was really kick-ass, and it was obvious we had a lot of fans in the audience, because more than once we heard friendly voices taunting us with “Tuna, Tuna, Tuna!”  After we received our third encore, though, I suddenly worried about the Springsteen guy.  I was hoping he would be able to put on a decent show and win over the room, because at that moment it seemed to be totally ours. 

We off-loaded our gear into our van because we had at least a 6-hour drive ahead of us going back to Boston, which meant we would arrive home around 4 in the morning.  As the other guys were finishing up the load and warming up the van, I slipped back into the Chapel for a moment to check out Springsteen’s scene.  I took a seat at the very back of the Chapel.  It is a beautiful room, I’m guessing 800 seats or so, classic New England elegance.  What I heard blew my mind.  To the best of my recollection, Bruce opened up with a ballad.  I recall at one point he was down on his knees.  Regardless of what he was doing, it was an utterly transformative performance, and he had the whole room in his hand.  So incredibly powerful and human and vulnerable.  An astoundingly happy musical moment for me.  And far as I could tell, our band was immediately forgotten!

I was around Bruce a couple of times after that and I neglected to ever ask him about that gig and about that opening song.  Soon he would become “The Boss” and 10 years later when I had moved to LA and saw him perform at the LA Coliseum, it seemed like all he did was high octane material.  I wish all my friends could have been with me that night in Schenectady all those years ago. 

Good luck to you, Bruce!  Hope your career turned out great!  Feel free to post a Gig Journal here any time you want.  Sorry our keyboardist walked off with your dopp kit!

Postscript:  It tuns out, that concert was legendary to many Springsteen fans.  There are a number of bootlegs available from evening and many testimonials online, none of them mentioning “Tuna.”  For an example, see http://brucespringsteenserenade.wordpress.com/2012/04/14/excerpts-from-glory-days-a-history-of-bruce-springsteen-in-the-capital-region/

“NO STRAIGHT LINES” Album Release April 14th

No Straight Lines Album Cover (low res) copy

It’s been way too long since I’ve posted here.  My sincere apologies!  I actually created a really detailed post a while back with great visuals and links about how many pieces of equipment broke down during the making of “No Straight Lines,” my upcoming album.  But I somehow exited WordPress without saving and you know what happened.  If you see the humor in this you are surely my kind of person.

Regardless, my “long-awaited”new singer-songwriter album NO STRAIGHT LINES is coming out April 14th and now the fun part (for me, at least) starts.  The sharing.

I’ve pasted in below some of the early publicity about the album.  If you are inspired to click on the colored hyperlink above you can hear excerpts of all songs off the album.  For each song you will also find album credits, lyrics and session notes about either the writing or recording of each particular song.  Hope you enjoy!  And if you subscribe to my Mailing List you’ll get updates, bonus tracks and other stuff over time.  Salud!

Bill Gable: A Map of Life with No Straight Lines

Straight lines. They’re a man-made conceit – highways, railroads, the quickest distance between two points. But nature likes to meander, to take a slower course. And No Straight Lines is a path that suits musician and singer-songwriter Bill Gable. His new record is inspired by those destinations never quite reached.

“Every record is a journey,” Gable remarks. “I wanted to carry the listener with me. I often thought of these lines from a poem by Portuguese writer Fernando Pessoa: ‘To be great, be whole; exclude/Nothing, exaggerate nothing that is you. Be whole in everything. Put all you are/into the smallest thing you do. The whole moon gleams in every pool./It rides so high.’ Through attention to detail in the storytelling and production, in my own small way I tried to do that.”

Gable began writing No Straight Lines in 2004, a year after his second disc, This Perfect Day, was released. Much of it was composed in Morocco, Spain, and Portugal, in the hotel rooms where he lived, soaking in the countries, their culture and their music.

That travel resonates through the songs. The lyric of “I Threw Your Heart,” for example, burrows deep into the pained flamenco tradition, while on “I Was Born To Love You” Gable’s voice takes on the cracked patina of a flamenco singer, with cajon and footwork providing the rhythmic base.

“I read a lot of flamenco lyrics, a lot of Lorca, Pessoa and Sufi poets.” Gable recalls. “I let them seep in and this is how they came out. But in everything I tried to include influences from where the songs were composed.”

And that includes America, where the fragments of two songs came together to make “A Million Miles Away,” the easy warmth in Gable’s singing evoking ‘70s era Stevie Wonder. It’s a disc of shades and moods, pop music in the same way that Brazilian MPB is popular music – sophisticated and intelligent, with heart and depth. Its music dives into the soul, rather than gliding over the surface.

But that’s probably no surprise. Raised in the Midwest, Gable is a classically-trained pianist and cellist who played in symphony orchestras growing up before heading out to the West Coast with a literature degree in his pocket. He worked with jazz group the Yellowjackets on many albums, garnering three Grammy nominations, writing a number of compositions for them and other artists ranging from Chicago to the DeBarges.

In spite of that background on piano, the songs for No Straight Lines were all written on guitar.

“It’s more intimate,” Gable says. “It gives a more personal song.”

And the tracks of No Straight Lines are studies in emotion and life. The characters in Gable’s songs are people on the trail of certainty, but rarely finding it. “I realized I’ll be on the very verge of beginning/every second the rest of my life” he sings on the album’s title cut, a summation of the understanding that comes with age.

It’s a document of a journey that can never end, but he has some strong companions along the way. Along with Gable’s own voice, guitar, cello and Portuguese guitarra, Steve Rodby (Pat Metheny Group) and Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets, Bruce Hornsby) play bass, Larry Goldings (James Taylor, Norah Jones) contributes on piano, and Greg Ellis (Beck, Mickey Hart) adds percussion, along with several other guests, and the Eclipse Quartet delicately grace “Road Of Pain” and “End Of The Day” with strings. Not to mention a special appearance by Motown legend Leon Ware (I Want You) on background vocals.

Gable is a traveler with an open heart and open ears, and he pulls the listener along with him, conjuring up the sights and smells of Fes with the shadings of the oud or the ney flute, the crisp palmas of Granada, or the cumbus and clarinet of Istanbul.

Finding musicians to provide some of the more unusual instruments sometimes proved a challenge, even in cosmopolitan Los Angeles.

“I knew I wanted flamenco footwork on some of the songs,” Gable says, “but there wasn’t anyone here who really knew it. Finally a friend called me up and said ‘There’s this guy called Manuel Gutierrez who’s just arrived from Spain. He’s the real deal.’ The minute he pulled those little wingtip dance shoes out of that bowling bag I knew he was.”

For all the care in the details of the arrangements, Gable acknowledges that No Straight Lines is very lyric-driven, like all my albums.” They’re the picture and the music provides the frame. And powerful pictures they are, too, such as “Like a snake, my heart has split its skin/somewhere far away it blew” (“Came So Close To Loving You”) or “The truth was never true enough/and you were never you enough” (“Sustenance”).

It might have taken 12 years for the words and music to finally surface, but the wait is worthwhile. It’s easy to understand why Steely Dan’s Walter Becker called Bill Gable “a great songwriter [with a] marvelous ability to incorporate exotic musical elements and seemingly disparate influences.” Not going in a straight line makes for a much richer journey.

Don’t Do This At Home

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All this talk about music is really making me hungry.

Scroll up through my last few posts and you’ll see photos of “Juliana Soup” and “Cozido à Portuguesa.”  That’s what I ate in Lisbon working on “NO STRAIGHT LINES.”  But now let’s get down to business.  Directly overhead is a photo of a Brazilian “Feijoada Completa,” often called the national dish of Brazil.  Now we’re talking real, “massive-coronary” food.  Maybe the tastiness of Brazilian cuisine explains why Brazil reputedly gained independence from Portugal without a single bullet ever being fired.  (Recognize I’m trying to rein myself in here.  The Bahian food (e.g., vatapa, moqueca, and xin-xin de galinha) I had at the Covento do Carmo during Carnaval in Salvador in 1984 was some of the best food I’ve had in my life; and the Galinha de Cabidela (Chicken In Its Own Blood) at Nelson Faria‘s family farm outside Brasilia that same trip equally gratifying in its own way.)

I started cooking feijoada completas in the mid 1980s and surely have made that meal more than 100 times, probably even twice that.  I have many stories to tell about past feijoadas and some really great hangs, too many to go into here…and many stories about where I’ve had eaten great feiojadas, including at the Tropical Hotels in both Manaus and Foz da Iguazu during the 1980s.  (Years later I was at Iguassu Falls staying on the Argentina side and traveled over to the Tropical Hotel in Brazil just to have another go at their feijoada!)

In my last post I briefly mentioned Toninho Horta.  I met him at a party at Sergio Mendes’ house the same night I met Ivan Lins and Djavan in about 1982 I imagine.  I never saw Djavan again.  I ran into Ivan briefly at the NARM Convention in 1989 when he was being promoted by Warners and I was being promoted there by Private/BMG.  And once around the same time at a feijoada at John Pisano‘s house.  Ivan still barely spoke English at that time.  I remember he described how people disappeared during military rule in Brazil as “suddenly they never returned.”  That about sums it up.

Many years ago Toninho was staying with me in LA, which seemed like a great reason to have a feijoada.  Actually, Toninho later confessed to me he wasn’t all that fond of feijoada, preferring healthier food.  This came as a surprise to me, especially because when I stayed with him in Belo Horizonte in 1984 he took me to a local restaurant to make sure before I leave Minas Gerais I eat this:

feijão-tropeiro

What is this? It’s a “Feijao Tropeiro,” a Mineiro feijoada – as if a feijoada alone wasn’t already an immediate heart attack – WITH eggs on top!  Yow!  Shame on you, Toninho!

I always loved this lyric I wrote for Toninho’s “Aquelas Coisas Todas,” here recorded by the artist Kenia (with my old friend and bandmate Paul Socolow on bass):

http://grooveshark.com/s/Distant+Horizon/48bw26?src=5

But I digress. At this particular feijoada, Frank Zottoli (who, like Paul Socolow, eventually became fluent in Portuguese) showed up with a friend of his, Leon, who was a Brazilian chef.  Leon made an absolutely killer hot sauce that night that everyone commented on.  I was totally wrapped up preparing the basic meal (there were more than 30 guests) so I didn’t see how he made it but he left the recipe.  I’ve had it pasted in my Brazilian cookbook for decades now.  The key ingredient is in bold italics.

Leon’s Hot Sauce

Marinate the following ingredients:
Cilantro, chopped as fine as possible
Garlic minced into paste
Red onions minced as fine as possible
Malagueta peppers minced as fine as possible

Put above 3 ingredients in bowl and add:
2t rubbing alcohol or 3-4 t cachaca, whichever available
Green or red pepper, minced fine

Mix with cilantro (save 1/3 until the end)
Add 4-5T olive oil to alcohol mix
Salt, cumin, crushed black pepper or white pepper
Lemon or lime

Mix and add remaining cilantro at end

Before anyone does this at home, here is something I quickly found on the internet: “When ingested, isopropyl alcohol can cause: “drowsiness, unconsciousness, and death. Gastrointestinal pain, cramps, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea may also result. The single lethal dose for a human adult = about 250 mls (8 ounces).”

Thank god we were totally safe!

Cozido

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All this talk about literature is making me hungry.

The above photo is of Portuguese cozido, a typical Portuguese stew.   It can be made from a range of vegetables and meats including pig’s ear, pig’s tail, blood sausage and other various “unmentionables.”  Ahhhh…

When I went to Lisbon to write, two friends I made there, Ana Bárbara Ramalho and Pedro Simoes Dias, separately both wanted me to do the very same two things (so I did them): go to a particular Japanese tea house they loved, and eat a genuine Portuguese cozido.  In its eclectic use of unmentionables, a cozido is not all that divorced from a “feijoada,” the national dish of Brazil in which I have seen pig’s tails.  I was later surprised to learn that the Portuguese actually also have their own various versions of feijoada, some made with white beans.  Nao posso acreditar!  By the way, my Brazilian Portuguese (not that it’s all that great any more) was utterly useless in Lisbon.

It rained a lot of the time I was in Lisbon, perfect cozido weather.  I stayed in my room a lot, working on “NO STRAIGHT LINES.”  I wrote most of the lyric for a song called “Tale Of My Life” that didn’t make it on the album (but which I’ll release separately next year).  Over the process of making the record I wrote three entirely different sets of lyrics for the song that became “Road Of Pain,” one of them in my little room in the 2-star Albergaria Senhora Do Monte, situated on the highest of Lisbon’s seven hills.  Here was the view, without the rain.  The good life.

 albergaria-senhora-do

Speaking of feijoada, the guitar part in “Road Of Pain” was very Brazilian-influenced, a holdover from my past.  I was expecting to hear lots of Brazilian and maybe some Angolan or Mozambican live music in Lisbon, one of the principle reasons I was exploring possibly relocating there during that trip.  Although Brazilian music is nowadays ubiquitous worldwide (though I spent a lovely evening listening to two guys playing bossa novas out of the Real Book in a tiny restaurant on Santorini all the way back in 1979) I either didn’t know where to look or Lisbon wasn’t a great international music town — disappointing given how musically rich Portugal’s former colonies were and are.  (And speaking of the “Real Book,” a song I wrote with Jimmy Haslip for the Yellowjackets years ago called “Sonja’s Sanfona” is included in Chuck Sher’s classic “New Real Book.”  I wrote the opening of that song in a hotel lobby in Belo Horizonte (speaking of Brazil) in 1984 waiting for Toninho Horta to pick me up to stay at his house.)

But I did hear some wonderful fado in Lisboa though, in the back streets of the Alfama and once in a jam-packed club in the Barrio Alto where the players didn’t start playing until 2:30 am!  Lisbon is most definitely a late night city.

A couple of the currrent era fadistas I quite like are Mafalda Arnauth, especially her “Encantamento” album, and Ana Moura.  (For me Amalia Rodriguez is too much an acquired taste from another era, or I’d recommend her initially as well.  Fado can be a bit like crawling through fudge for all its sentimentality, though this from someone who admittedly speaks limited Portuguese.)  Here’s one of the many beautiful songs off of “Encantamento” called “As Fontes.”

When I got back I wanted to incorporate some kinds of Portuguese influences on “No Straight Lines” beyond the mere fact of having been inspired so deeply by Fernando Pessoa (see my last post) and having spent time in Lisbon.  I early on wrote a couple of songs in a fado style for the album but never felt comfortable singing them and abandoned the idea.  I also really wanted to use Portuguese guitarra on the album, but had no ideas for players.  I called my good friend Don Cohen (who has written great introductory books on not only fado, but also tango and gypsy music), who told me to forget about trying to find anyone nearby or even in California who could play the instrument well (though I did find one guy who could do that), let alone play it outside a fado context.  I toyed with the idea of doing a long distance session with someone from Portugal but for various reasons it was too cumbersome.

So, for better or worse, I bought one and played it myself — not all that well, mind you, and surely not anything like a real fado player, but passably, I hope!  What an amazing instrument, very particular, and incredibly fun to play.

BG 6ML

On Bronzes

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Fernando Pessoa appears to be Lisbon’s largest tourist attraction.  In front of the Café Brasileira, pictured above, sits a statue of Pessoa in front of one of the most popular restaurants in the Chiado where tourists and university students flock to get their pictures taken seated next to the man whose writings they have likely never read.

In my last post I mentioned Pessoa’s amazing “The Book of Disquiet.”  It is remarkable that Pessoa only published one book (“Mensagem”) during his lifetime.  When he died he left behind a trunk filled with his unpublished and unfinished manuscripts, some of which became the basis for “The Book of Disquiet,” published 50 years after his death.  By clicking here you can access one person’s selections of pithy quotes from that book (though many of my favorites are more humorous).  I guarantee if you buy this book and can get through the first 50 pages or so (I always find it starts a bit slowly) you may find yourself richly rewarded with your own list of discoveries!

“The Book of Disquiet” was “written by” Bernardo Soares, one of Pessoa’s “semi-heteronyms.”  Pessoa wrote under numerous heteronyms.  According to the ever-authoritative Wikipedia, “heteronyms differ from noms de plume . . . in that the latter are just false names, while the former are characters having their own supposed physiques, biographies and writing styles.”

My favorite heteronym is Alberto Caeiro, about whom Pessoa claimed “Alberto Caeiro was born in 1889 and died in 1915; he was born in Lisbon, but lived almost all his life in the country.  He had neither profession nor any sort of education.”  (From a letter to Adolfo Casais Monteiro, January 13, 1935.)  As Alvaro de Campos, another of Pessoa’s heteronyms and himself a disciple of Caeiro, once observed, “My master Caeiro wasn’t a pagan: he was paganism.  Ricardo Reis is a pagan, Antonio Mora is a pagan, I am a pagan, Fernando Pessoa himself would be a pagan if he weren’t a ball of yarn rolled up inside himself.”

I highly recommend Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown’s “Poems of Fernando Pessoa” (though it may no longer be in print).  Below is a short stanza from Alberto Caeiro’s “Keeper Of Sheep” (and here is someone’s more extensive compendium of selections from that work):”

When I sit down to write a poem
Or when ambling along the main roads and bypaths,
I write lines on the paper of my thoughts,
I feel the staff in my hands
And glimpse an outline of myself
On top of some low-lying hill,
Watching over my flock and seeing my ideas,
Or watching over my ideas and seeing flock,
And smiling vaguely like one who doesn’t understand what’s said
And likes to pretend he does.

During my Lisbon trip I was reading Jose Saramago’s “The Year Of The Death Of Ricardo Reis,” a book based upon the life of one of Pessoa’s heteronyms — a fiction balanced on top of another fiction.  Bravo!  After Saramago died, Portugal declared two days of mourning and billboards like the one below appeared along the boulevards:

 ObrigadoJoseSaramago“Thank you, Jose Saramago”

What makes Portugal so proud of its writers?  Saramago won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1998, but were there public outpourings like that here when Nobel Prize winner William Faulkner died in 1962?

I was primarily raised in Bloomington, Illinois.  In its airport there is a seated bronze — more or less just like the one of Pessoa in Lisboa — of Adlai Stevenson, who hailed from there and was certainly a remarkable man.

IMG_0622MLTaking nothing away from Stevenson, I’d love to think there will someday be a bronze outside some cafe of David Foster Wallace, who lived and wrote in Bloomington for many years before moving to California.  Now that he is dead people make pilgrimages to his office, which, ironically, was in Stevenson Hall.  Oh well…”The World was not made for us to think about…” (Pessoa, “The Keeper of Sheep”)

PS: Here are a couple of cool links to the syllabi Wallace was using during those days: http://flavorwire.com/373519/learn-from-the-best-10-course-syllabi-by-famous-authors/view-all; http://www.hrc.utexas.edu/press/releases/2010/dfw/teaching/

Lisbon 2005

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In 2005 I traveled to Lisbon to continue writing songs for “NO STRAIGHT LINES.”  I was considering moving there at the time, where I thought I might try to set up a European legal practice representing high-end clients needing advice on U.S. intellectual property law.  I met with several of the largest Lisbon firms and explored various strategies with them, made a few friends I still keep in touch with today, and wound up doing a few Portuguese deals afterwards as result, but eventually decided against the move.  I was also hoping to meet up with Mafalda Arnauth on that trip to see if she might be interested in singing on the album, but she was out of the country on tour.

But all was not lost, of course, because I was there mostly for Fernando Pessoa.

pessoaFernando Pessoa

Tucked away in a corner of Praça do Comércio (back behind the red trolley car in the photo above), the main square of Lisbon that fronts the Tagus (i.e., Lisboa’s version of St. Marks’ Square in Venice), one can find the illustrious Restaurant Café Martinho da Arcada, Pessoa’s favorite haunt.  I of course needed to eat there at least once, though I chose not to try the juliana soup (see below), cod and fried eggs with cheese Pessoa usually ingested there.  I can’t remember what I had, but it was probably the grilled sardines or caldo verde, neither of which I could ever get enough of in Lisboa.

sopa-juliana

I am in the process of re-reading one my favorite books of all time, Fernando Pessoa’s remarkable “The Book of Disquiet.”  Pessoa’s work has been swirling around my head ever since I first discovered him in the early 1980s.  I often read Pessoa while I was working on “No Straight Lines,” and plainly see his influence on certain lyrics on the album, especially I suppose “At The End Of The Day.”  But it has been now more than 10 years since I last read cover-to-cover this tour de force of prose.  I’m savoring it page by page.

For anyone who has never encountered the amazing work of Fernando Pessoa here is an exquisite short poem of his from 1933 found in “Poems of Fernando Pessoa” (translated and edited by Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown), Ecco Press, one of my very favorites:

To be great, be whole; exclude
Nothing, exaggerate nothing that is you.
Be whole in everything. Put all you are
Into the smallest thing you do.
The whole moon gleams in every pool.
It rides so high.

I owe my discovery of Pessoa to Dori Caymmi who, at a feijoada at John Pisano‘s years ago (more on that subject and John later), told me Pessoa was his favorite poet in the Portuguese language.  That led me to first read Pessoa’s poetry, and later everything of his I could ever get my hands on.  This being back in the 1980s, a fair amount of his work still wasn’t readily available in the U.S. in English translation then, including “The Book of Disquiet,” though that has changed.

It turned out that I had already by then heard a fair amount of Pessoa without knowing it.  It wasn’t until I traveled to Lisbon in 2005 that I discovered the album “Various Artists – A Música em Pessoa”

and realized I had been listening to these songs for years without knowing the lyrics came from Pessoa — songs by Jobim, Edu Lobo, Dori and his sister Nana Caymmi (my favorite female singer from Brasil, at least from the MPB era) and many others I knew so well.  Vicente Soto Sordera”s “Pessoa Flamenco” is another great offering, showing Pessoa’s influence extending into the flamenco realm.

I’ll write more about Pessoa later.  I’m far more interested in his literary output than others’ use of his work as lyrics, but it’s gratifying to see the world embracing this visionary poet and thinker.

Sense Memory

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This blog purports to be about the making of NO STRAIGHT LINES but so far I have mostly written about the places in which I spent time writing.  But this isn’t and shouldn’t be another travel site.  It’s about one singer-songwriter’s extended process of creating a “concept album.”  There is probably no good reason to do one any more, not in this commercial era.  It’s too much work to justify projects like this in a world where tracks get broken up into single tracks and shuffled.  So in part it’s a fond goodbye to an era.

Many years ago I was sitting in my apartment in Cambridge, Mass. in the middle of winter recording demos of my newest songs.  It was very late in the afternoon.  I had my headphones on, facing the windows, with the light filtering in.  Suddenly my head was intoxicated with the smell of my high school girlfriend’s skin and hair.  Right in the middle of recording some song that had nothing to do with her at all, I was transported a million miles away back to my her and to my adolescence almost ten years earlier.  The sensory experience was so intense, coming suddenly out of nowhere as it did, had I been standing it might have buckled my knees.  And here was what made it so amazingly potent: During the entire time she and I had been together I had never once noticed the smell of her skin or her hair.  It was only years later, on that otherwise unremarkable day, that I experienced it for the very first time and recognized immediately what it was.

So this post is about sense memory and about providence, about how good things eventually come to us — and about the writing of one particular song off my album — “A Million Miles Away” — as the song came together over a several year period in a most unusual and gratifying way.

It began in Frigiliana, during that period I’ve written about in which I spent many weeks in that rented 600-year old house writing material for this album.  One of the musical ideas I was working on at the time consisted of the arpeggiated introduction and opening chords for “A Million Miles Away,” though I had at that time no lyrical ideas whatsoever and no sense of song structure.  I just loved playing this little passage, over and over again, though I never was able to turn it into anything.  Eventually I would wind up setting it aside.

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One day I was having lunch at La Taberna de Sacristan, a small patio restaurant I liked in the square just below the cathedral. Daydreaming in the noonday sun, I found myself ruminating on how the pursuit of art and beauty can lead a person to a place beyond return where only those things will satisfy the soul, with no way back.  The idea wasn’t at all clearly formed, but it did make an impression on me as having some power of truth to it, some potential basis for a lyric.  When I went back through my journals later to see what I wrote that day, I found I had scrawled the words “a million miles away…in a world of books and ideas.”  Very little.  My journals are filled with these kinds of things, almost never leading anywhere.  I bet only 1 out every 100 ideas I’ve written down like this ever amount to anything, yet it’s all part of the process.

A couple of years later, back in LA, I was writing a song on the piano, one I never finished about misplaced patriotism.  The song was starting to take shape and I had a number of lyric ideas jotted down.  One afternoon I recalled that little abandoned guitar introduction I had been working on in Spain, and wondered if perhaps that arpeggiated section might work on this new song.  I began playing it over and over again on the piano, just as I had in Spain on the guitar, and found myself dreamily transported back to those days.  For some inexplicable reason, out of nowhere it suddenly occurred to me that the lyric idea I had in the square in Frigiliana that day about being “a million miles away” might work perfectly with the arpeggiated guitar part I had been working on up the hill in my house at the very same time, two fragments I had never previously connected.  It was as if those two ideas were inherently linked together, not only by temperament, but by time and place – and yet it took years for this recognition to dawn upon me, and in the most roundabout manner imaginable.  The song became something else, heading off in its own direction, but these are its curious origins.

After all these years I am still in awe of the writing process, forever humble in its presence.

If reflections like this interest anyone, this story was based upon one of the Session Notes on my website that can be accessed from my MUSIC page.  I have some kind of Session Note for every song I’ve ever released.