I got caught in the rain, fell in the creek
I wasn’t reborn
Instead I got sick like a dog and ran off to war
You laid your hands on my face
It wasn’t enough

They took me home, I kissed the ground.
Got dirt in my teeth. I spit it out.
I looked to God. No one looked back at me.
I show devotion down on my knees
When do I get to stand up?

I hit the bars, they reciprocated, and laid me out good.
I saw stars. The universe waited, and let me in on the truth:
“What you think you deserve is just one man’s opinion, and most nobody cares.”

I felt the pain, never saw the wound
But I can still touch the scar
If something hurts you over and over again, well then, that’s who you are.
I look for reasons and explanations but nothing is there

The countryside burned, so I took some wine
And went to see the sunrise
It came like hot blood through the trees
And then the beating heart died
I pray for resurrection, I pray for rain
Then I say good night

I don’t play this song live very often, mainly because it’s so reliant on instrumentation and I don’t have a band. So revisiting it to write about has been a nice surprise. The lyrics are better than I remember, my voice sounds really good, and the guitar lines are sparkling. At the time I wrote it, I thought the opening lines were the finest poetry I had ever written, ever. I was pretty high on myself. What can I say, you get caught up in a moment, ya know? 

I have a 30-year old acoustic that is my daily driver, and more often than not it’s in drop-D tuning with a capo on or about the 3rd fret. It’s an Ovation Celebrity 12-string that I had permanently fixed up with 6 tuning locks, so I never use the full 12. As such, the neck is a little bit wider than a standard 6-string, which works for my hands. The action on it has always been miraculous. It’s a cracked, buzzy, old, worn, and loyal companion, and a thing of beauty.

Stapled to the corner of this song is a fond memory of a summer night in the waning days of Covid, sitting on the back steps watching the kids in the yard doing their thing, making their noises and bird calls and what have yous while I’m finger-picking out little nothings on the guitar, and recording everything in my iphone’s voice memos app. The riff for this song came out of that noodling, and I probably have a million variations of it from that night, recorded in my iPhone, of which I hope to revisit .01% before I die.  

So out of all the variations, this one jumped out from the pack. I no doubt will say this quite often, but when you have something good, you kinda just know it? There’s a tremor. Somethin’ in ya moves, and you kinda stop the presses for a second.

This was an early stage in my friction-filled re-entry into the airspace of “the practice,” and the giddiness of finding something good was an ancient, vestigial memory, from before not just the pandemic, but the cataclysm itself, when tribes wandered the desert, when men hunted mastodon. It rocked my world. I used to work like this all the time, but when it happened in these months as Covid wound down, I cradled any creative “something” like the frangible egg of a vanishing species. 

Equally important, however: whatever kind of radar or extrasensory perception it is, it seems to always activate on the condition that I wade through a bunch of duller, not necessarily bad —  although it is sometimes horrid — but lesser, stuff. As Steven Pressfield says in the War of Art, you beckon to “The Muse,” but she is judicious and patient and she does not come immediately. She wants to see that you’re working first. You earn her presence.  

Looking back from this vantage, with a few more songs under my belt now, I see it as just another part of the process. You hack your way through the weeds and you find the swan’s egg. It’s special, but also, nothing special. Do the work, yield a result. 

I have also learned that when you find a good riff, or the colors start to work on your canvas, or shit finally starts to gel in whatever it is you’re doing, it is a crucial moment. Resistance will try to fool you that by just finding the egg, your work is done, go have a hot wing or a tofu dog; the pressure is off. Resistance will tell you all kinds of shit to get you away from your work. 

Case in point, my little swan’s egg: I was so happy with it, I took my forty-second iPhone voice memo of my back-porch lightning strike and played it during my commute, over and over again. How giddy was I. After all, by repeatedly listening to this little snippet, I could let it sink in, and I’d come up with new ideas, inspiration, and be able to make use of my time commuting. I was “working!” How sweet the smell of bullshit can be. “Working” like this, I didn’t make any progress for two weeks. See how Resistance does its thing? 

The real shit happens at my desk, I know it, we all know it; Resistance knows it, and that’s why it wants me in the car listening instead of working. 

But why does Resistance want me in the car instead of at my desk? Why do I (and I think, most artists) have this potential for self-sabotage? Because we also have an internal engine that, for lack of a better term, we can call the ego. That ego likes things the way they are, wants things to be predictable, wants to maintain control and does not like to give up the reins. It likes things easy and self-serving. And it manifests in all kinds of ways, whether it’s finding excuses to not go to the gym, rationalizing that late night ice cream raid, the third glass of wine, etc. It makes us believe we have earned “down time.” And so on.

When you write, draw, dance, learn a new language, etc., you are entering the realm of the unknown, with the chance for growth, yes, but also all the associated potential for frustration, discomfort, and failure. Your ego doesn’t go for that. It’s a basic, elemental, pre-Cambrian part of every human brain — or mind, more specifically —  that doesn’t like change. It’s neither conscious nor the mark of weak morals, it just comes with the software. 

I should make clear that none of this is scientific and none of it is my own original thought: Steven Pressfield talks about this in his book the War of Art and all I can say is that is makes a helluva lotta sense to me. I can’t recommend that book highly enough for anyone who tries to do anything creative. 

OK, so, eventually I sat down and started working on the lyrics. I have a little tiny obsession with the novel Gravity’s Rainbow, the one in Knives Out that Benoit Blanc says no one has read. I’ve read it three times, once with the aid of a companion book and a book club podcast, and I also read critical analyses, and less-critical analyses of analyses, and I think it’s a masterpiece and one of the greatest works of art ever attempted. Lots of people think it’s overrated and unreadable and I can’t say I blame them. If you’re looking for a satisfying linear novel where everything is tied with a bow, avoid this one. And like male authors of various eras, Pynchon has a pubescent fantasy thing going on with his female characters in which their legitimacy is determined on their sexual potency. If you can get past all that, there is amazing prose experimentation, crazy-ass inventiveness, and a vast structure of themes and motifs that is mind-boggling.  

So, there was one analysis of the book that went into how often the ostensible protagonist came in contact with water. As the novel progresses and makes less and less sense, the protagonist changes identities, and goes out in the rain, falls off a boat, and other experiences which are supposedly symbolic of birth and rebirth and so forth. 

Rain and bathtubs are fairly common birth and rebirth vehicles in movies, tv, etc., so like, whatever? I’ve been caught in the rain a few times and it served only to make me feel like a dope. So that got the ball rolling with the opening lines. I still think they’re good but man at the time I thought I was writing Shakespeare or something. I guess that temporary delusion is healthy in that it gets most of my shit off the ground. 

Anyhow, I don’t think it was a conscious thing but looking back I can see myself working out some issues: 1) what is the lived experience vs the grand existence we are “supposed” to have; and 2) what I think may be my life’s mission, articulating the impartiality and indifference of the universe. 

As for the title of this song, initially it was a placeholder. I was meh about it; it didn’t have that “whatever” I felt a title should have, and it was on the list of things to change. But as time went on, it endured. The line it concludes is one of the better lyrics I’ve written, and for some reason its banality and lack of poetry just works for me. 

A bit more on the title, and maybe, well, everything: the world does not give a shit about me or you. Most of us will die without making a mark on it. Most of us also live in ignorance and perhaps delusion about how monstrous history has been to nearly all of the people who have existed. I guess we differ from animals in that we try to build civilization, language, ethics, etc., and rise above the callous disregard of nature, try to make some kind of “arc” in the universe toward justice or progress, but then we go and do horrible shit to each other. I’m sure it’s been a net gain over an animal existence but I’m also pretty fucking sure we are capable of better. Regardless, looking at a historical record of evidence, the world as we know it, collectively, is far more apathetic than sympathetic to the human experience. I think Covid broke a lot of people’s brains because it showed that regardless of money, faith, or one’s own image of self-worth, we are all just numbers on nature’s roulette wheel. A lot of people pretended that wasn’t the case, and they had to assert themselves in tragically comic ways, but I won’t get into that; we were all there. 

So anyway, to think otherwise, to think we are entitled to some kind of pass from anonymity and/or history’s brutality because of our sophistication, wealth, faith, or the one awesome whatever one might have done ten to fifteen years ago, well, that’s ego, a little coffee pot engine within us all, eternally putt-putting away, aching for recognition and validation from an incomprehensibly vast and unsympathetic void that has none to give. So we build narratives to distract ourselves from our own vulnerability and insignificance in the appallingly indifferent universe in which we live. Whether it’s faith, wealth, success, etc., we hang on to these things because it’s tough to swallow that we’re not special and no one is paying attention. 

OK so this is fucking bleak, right? Yes and no. Joseph Campbell put it pretty well: the world is a mess; it has been, and will always be so. Our job is not to fix the world but to straighten out our own lives. This sounds selfish, and it is, but without fixing yourself you can’t do much for anybody else. 

So let’s bring this bleak, uncaring universe back to the creative process. If you lose, the world doesn’t care. If you win, the world doesn’t care. It doesn’t even notice. 

And within that structureless, safety-net-less void, resides a vast amount of freedom.

I could go on about morality, ethics, personal philosophy, but let’s stay focused on creativity: most people do not care about your art. Nobody’s watching if you make mistakes, post your projects to the web, embarrass yourself (artistically speaking) on social, or whatever. So do all that, make all the mistakes, and fail as big as possible under the armor of anonymity. The world is not paying attention to your false starts and dead ends; make the most of that. Everyone else is as involved with themselves as you are with yourself, regarding the adventures of others with the same amount of curiosity that you have for theirs, most likely even less. I’m hardly the first to say this, I read a similar train of thought on the writer Austin Kleon’s blog, and I’m sure he was introduced to this idea somewhere else, and so on. 

So the world has given you a gift: tons of space to find your inner artist and shuck off the ego. Make mistakes, rework old ideas nobody noticed to begin with, go where you must in order to produce satisfying work for an audience of one: yourself. If your goal is some kind of fame or glory, I think that’s a hollow motivation but you have plenty of open road to crash and burn before you get there. Whatever your goal is, churning away in anonymity is far more often the rule than the exception if you want to get there. Case in point: a long-winded blog about minor-key dad rock recordings that no one will ever read. 

OK, so. Back to the lyrics. So maybe I started out on a high horse. Well, I definitely started out on a high horse regarding the lyrics. But the funny thing is this song turned out to be about casting off pretentiousness, artifice, whatever, and understanding the real stuff. And it was oddly much easier to write pretentious sounding crap, which gives me the willies when I read it back now. It bears repeating but you just gotta face up to the fact that some of the stuff you produce is shit. It’s OK. It gets you to the good stuff. That’s the process. 

“If something hurts you over and over again, well then, that’s who you are.” I feel like I nailed it with this line. If there is something more true about the human condition, just let me know. 

On the other end of things, I was reading Trout Fishing in America by Richard Brautigan and this set of lines caught me. 

It has been raining here now for two days, and through the trees, the heart stops beating. The trout in those telephone booths were good fellows.

Makes as much sense as anything else in that book, but I liked it. It felt grand, a dramatic visual that could finish things off. Steal a little here and there, put it in your pocket. No shame in it. 

Initially, drums went though the whole song. Because the structure is so repetitive I was very conscious of adding and taking away elements to keep things dynamic. Ages ago I enrolled in a “Brand Writing” course and they gave us a cheat sheet that warned you a good idea is not enough. Once you have it, turn it backwards, upside down, reverse the word order, replace words in the order, change the color, on and on. If it’s good enough, it will stand up to a lot of tinkering and you’ll be better off for it. Songs are the same. Hold something back, add it here, take it away there, turn a sound inside out; there is no formula to a right answer, just keep at it. 

This is where things started. 

At some point I tried working in a bridge or a change. Didn’t take.

Anyhow, drums and the guitar solo were the first things I got done. I knew there was a country-ish kinda twang I wanted and I worked that out first. I am not a soloist so this took forever. But it got to where I wanted it. 

Despite what I consider to be a really good set of lyrics and a really crisp sound, this song nags at me. I got locked into the structure and couldn’t break it. It’s too repetitive. The song needs a bridge, or some kind of break down. I tried at it several times, I failed at it several times, and at some point you gotta move on. The universe does not care, but the muse is tapping its watch. 

“We’re not in forever territory here, kiddo. Keep things moving.” 

Yes, ma’am. Time to go.


MP3 Download

Should I feel so young when clearly I’m so not
All the time I planned to waste is all the time I’ve got
Maybe it’s a cosmic joke
Perhaps God misspoke
His work is overrated either way
Other than that I don’t have much to say

I know what it means to feel for someone
And I wish that I could
Cause right now I think I’m feeling it for everyone
They all seem so lost
Confounded at the cost
Of figuring out the lowest price to pay
Other than that I don’t have much to say

I take great offense at this mess we call existence
If you seek out meaning or justice
You will only find resistance
And all the evidence says it’s random nonsense
I present myself as exhibit A
But other than that I don’t have much to say

Every now and then I can’t help but to think of where she’s gone
She’s a spirit in orbit coming around again on the horizon
I carry her in my heart
Which is the old man’s art
Choosing what to toss and what must stay
Other than that I don’t have much to say

I know these lyrics aren’t setting the world on fire or anything, but I am proud of them. I feel like I attained a level of directness and succinctness that I don’t often get, and kept it cute, clever, and serious but not melodramatic. I like the vocabulary, not too pretentious; still manages to tap into bigger things while keeping it pretty down to earth…and also the melody and chord structure are simple but I am satisfied with the way I worked them into shape.

The germ of this song was an audio note taken in the car: “other than that I don’t have much to say.” I call it “the germ” because that note was all there was: no chorus, no chord structure, nothing else in mind that would eventually become this song. I drove to work, and I don’t think I got back to it for another month or so.

So you know it’s good when a little meaningless line with no real poetry or transcendence sticks with you. And at the time I was (and still am grateful to be) in the zone where I don’t let Resistance push me away and I start doing dishes or making a snack for the kids that they don’t want.

Instead, I sit on the edge of the bed with the guitar and the iphone, and see if I can make something happen. And, this time, something happened. I got the little tingles that people supposedly find in ASMR, but I find in whatever this process is.

Good enough. So I move to the desk with the notes app open and start futzing around, still have the guitar on my lap, it’s awkward but I type and play, type and play, and bit by bit the iceberg starts moving.

I write variations of lines where I’ll change a word, or repeat a line with another verb or ending. I try not to delete anything, so my notes have lots of repetition. What I’ve posted above is not yet close to the final product, but you have to be comfortable with producing a lot of shit. And stuff that’s worse than shit; because not only is it shit, you know it’s shit, and it’s shit of such toxicity that it makes you feel like everything you produce is garbage and what are you even doing, you might as well stop right now.

So you have to be cool with that feeling and not take it personally. God willing and I keep this thing going I will often talk of “Resistance,” a concept from the author Steven Pressfield and his book The War of Art. Resistance is the thing inside you that tells you that your idea is dumb, your lyrics are meaningless, no one cares (well, this part is mostly true, but that’s for another post), and why are you wasting your time, you’re better off listening to a podcast and doing the dishes or making the kids another snack they aren’t asking for and won’t eat.

Resistance isn’t just limited to dads trying to write songs on their computers; everyone has it, and I imagine most people experience it when it’s time to go to the gym or meditate or open Duolingo. It’s you stopping you from doing what’s good for you, and when you’re a dad trying to write songs at his computer, trudging through demoralizing shit lyrics with your awkward-ass guitar on your lap is apparently very, very good for you, because lemme tell ya, Resistance is waging siege warfare.

I was nervous about the chord structure and melody being too simple. The i-iv chord change is so common I thought if I sing on the change instead of through it, maybe that would subvert things a bit. The second part of the verse reminded me of “Sante Fe” by Dylan. And the chorus is more of a Dylan-like refrain than a proper chorus. This is another manifestation of Resistance: a little voice that says, meh, this has been done before, it’s all been done before, you’ve subconsciously assimilated something you’ve heard as your own, and it’s a rip-off, and every one will see it clear as day, except you. But whatever, doubt comes with the territory: so I played around with melody and the chords a bit to see if it all felt genuine enough.

Here is a primordial version.


In this version I’m not really concerned with the lyrics, just working on a melodic line. Very lazy, letting the music take my voice to places, try syllable patterns, make horrible noises. Never meant to see the light of day. Sonically, the guitar part is actually kinda pleasing, but I thought it sounded too jangle-rock 101, not quite right. Also it’s a little too busy, not giving enough body to the song. I worked the riff into the bass line instead, and let open chords ring out.

The sound I really wanted for this song was inspired by Neutral Milk Hotel’s “Holland, 1945,” an amped up acoustic that was sparkly, fuzzy, and dense. You can get a really full guitar sound by playing along on a second guitar track but using a capo. Same key, different chords, so it fills out a lot nicer than just playing the same chord progression twice.

The keyboards at verse four were a lot of decisions. In GarageBand you can lose yourself in the options you have when it comes to synths and keys, oh my lord. This section probably took as long as the songwriting process itself. In my mind every instrument track needs to have its own story arc, so that it’s not just looping and taking up space for no reason, which leads to obsessing over little details that no one will ever hear. But there are worse things in life than getting lost in swirling keys for a weekend, and when we’re coming out of the bridge and land back into the verse with that extra chord change tucked in there, with all those keys ringing and the harmony vocal, man, that’s a chef’s kiss.

The zooming whirly loop introduction was a last minute addition because I wanted a better kick off than just a drum fill, and also, to make it sound “live,” like the take was happening in a room with everyone all together. Also, it sounds a little magic shop-ish to me, as if to say, we’re headed into something quirky and not quite serious.

The first line of the song captures how I was/am feeling, after an 11-year drought, to be once again productive creatively: putting the work in and getting something out. It’s invigorating. I’ve played this song on guitar by myself a couple dozen times, and that first line is like sliding down a boat launch and takes me right into it. Every lyric rings true, I stand by every word. I sometimes get overwhelmed by life, its breadth, its harshness, and its contradictions. And I’m definitely not young anymore. But rejuvenated is good enough.

MP3 Download

There was something in my cells, waiting
Patiently for the notes of your voice
Living silently with no air in the dark
Listening through the blizzard of white noise

Something beautiful is ready to bloom

There is sunlight trapped inside what you bring
A soul in every stone, a dream for the waking

Something beautiful is ready to bloom
And what was buried there will be renewed

There’s a tide rolling between you and me
Traveling deep through the earth, endlessly

Something beautiful is ready to bloom
And what was buried there will be removed

The pandemic broke my brain. I lost my father, I lost my business, and I went into a tailspin. Some people, apparently, drifted through the pandemic like it wasn’t happening. I was not one of those people.

However, it turns out, a broken brain can be fixed. Better than before, even. No shit? Yeah shit.

Now. With a few notable exceptions I hadn’t written anything since 2012. Or better to say, I hadn’t written anything that turned me on. I had been in a few bands in the early 2000s, started a record label, toured the country a few times, and I figured in my current role as a father and husband and business owner and otherwise responsible adult, that facet of my life was over. Add the trauma of the pandemic, and I had pretty much given up. On many things.

So. My broken brain. Not quite post-pandemic but pretty close, I had finally, thankfully, blessedly, caught Covid and recovered, been deemed immune for 60 days, and ventured out into the world for the first time in a few years to re-meet friends I’ve had for decades. GBV at Irving Plaza with the ole gang, guys and girls I had met while seeing the band in NYC in the 90s. I figured I would slip right back into action. However I quickly realized I couldn’t remember names of songs I loved, people I knew, or even bands I had been in. When the first notes to familiar songs rang out, I didn’t recognize them.

It was terrifying. I thought I was having a stroke. I think of it now as a tunnel: there was a vague, distant light from which clarity beckoned, but there was no signal where I was, and all the synaptic communication that would normally occur instantaneously was either delayed or just not getting out. Eventually, as the night progressed, I emerged from the tunnel. I don’t give myself much credit for breaking through on my own. Maybe it was being in a “normal” setting again, or hearing so many songs I associated with the before-times, maybe it was the mosh pit (it was probably the mosh pit); but I was able to finally surface and most significantly realize I had been living in that tunnel for far too long, and what a gift it was to have even a fairly conventional sense of perception. Amen.

Weeks and months of therapy and medication followed, and helped to truly right the ship. Moving on.

So. This song. Following that experience, I had a lyrical idea about dormant cells, waiting for a signal to re-awaken. The signal: a song? Too on the nose. A vibration? Vague. A voice? Better. Maybe it’s a lover, a mother, a messiah, a penguin calling to its chick across an Antarctic ice sheet, or an obscure, aging, indie-rock demi-god come to earth with the pipes of an angel; one can see it any number of ways, interpret it into one’s own shit. Much better. At the time I was commuting to my first post-pandemic job — or as I like to think of it now, the daily drive to the denouement of my former life — and having Siri take audio notes. I saved it there. I liked it. I had taken many notes before, which I quickly forgot. This one stuck.

Other imagery I was toying with at the time: I had recently finished Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace, and the final scene of Don Gately coming to on a beach with the tide way out…whew. The inevitability of tides, the impartiality of the earth, the universe; but inside a person, flowing through a person, and who they find and love; when it is fate, destiny, meant to be, and when indeed it is, that it is as natural and inexorable and immutable as anything else natural, incalculably stronger when it’s between two people who have the real thing, true, down to the core of the earth; a mountain, running so deep and wide it follows you and connects you where ever you go.

The main chord was your basic E-minor fingering formation, but up on the 7th fret. Paul Simon would know what the chord is called. Whatever it is, its jangly, slightly sour, dissonant tone got me. Could have been that time of day. When a lyric or a chord gets me like that, that’s the shit, pal.

So now I had a lyrical idea and a guitar chord, both of which were exciting in a way lyrics and guitar chords had not excited me in a decade, and from somewhere, I had the motivation to thread them all together. I just hung on and workshopped it. I had forgotten that I knew how to do that, the method to making art, and calling the muse; that might sound hippy-dippy but I will probably talk about it in some other post, god willing. This is crucial: you can’t wait for the muse/inspiration. I think most people confuse that with writers block, when they wait for inspiration to hit. I certainly have. You must sit down with what you have, even if you have nothing, and work. The muse will come if you earn it. Inspiration as a bolt from the blue is vastly overrated, and I don’t know if anyone knows what inspiration truly means anymore and how to use it. Inspiration is just the first step of many, and hardly a guarantee of anything. This maybe a little too inside my own head, but hey, we’re blogging here, let’s go.

I do everything in Garageband on an imac, using a Scarlett box; a generic, no-name bass; a Gibson Studio 335 with no f-holes, and the fuzzed out guitar on this track was played on my daughter’s 3/4 Ibanez. All the drums are the Garageband “drummer.” You can spend a whole day, easy, finessing drums in GB, but it’s worth it if you have the time. I don’t know how to EQ or compress things yet so I’m sure there’s a lot of clipping. But not bad for a demo.

Here’s an early take on my iphone, when I was scared shitless the idea would leave my head like a dream.

I don’t tell myself narratives anymore, but that this was the first song in a long time that the muse kinda handed to me on a platter (or I handed to myself, however you prefer to see it), well, that feels good. And so far, since then, whatever block I had put on myself has lifted. Way better than before in that regard. No more waiting, y’know?