For some reason, I have been thinking about this song...a lot. It occurs to me that it is, in fact, the sequel to "Lost in America." The shift from third (He silenced her raging sea, etc) to first (Journey led me, etc.) person indicates the evolution from shallow (Lost in America dude was kind of a poser, let's face it) to, at least, striving for some Meaning (capital M was intentional).
The first verse is the dead give-away.
Journey led me (Lost in America is all about journeying, traveling, being "on the road") to a crossroads in a sandstorm (turning up my collar to the cold)...
Empty-handed, looking skyward for an angel (may as well just say for my angel of the blue sky, referencing acoustic bookend on Lost in America.)
Dust cloud settled, I was saddled with a riddle
Is what we do the way we are (Lost in America guy, AKA ME, reflecting on the mistakes of his misplaced youth)?
Then the chorus -
My dreams got swallowed up by cheap desire (cheap wine...), long with my innocence and faith. I walked on water and through cold, blue fire on the road to heaven's gate.
And so it goes...the final verse clarifying (as many of my songs do) that the journey is really all within. It's all right there. I was never even gone - from the town where I'm still living. Interesting, too, that the third verse shifts again to third person...though, of course, i didn't really get that at the time. I hardle ever do.
And now, without further ado, Heaven's Gate:
My wife and I traded cars this morning. When I got in the one usually designated for her, I was surprised (pleasantly so, I must confess) to hear my voice singing through the speakers as the engine churned to life. "Spring Lies Waiting." The very end of "Even Though." Trumpet solo reprise. "Something Right" came next.
There are times when you hear yourself and you feel an odd detachment, or sometimes even disapproval - an overly critical unplanned look under the hood. But there are other times when you just listen; encountering the old song as you might an old friend - one you're genuinely happy to see.
"Something Right" ended. Clicked back a few tracks to "Looking for Mercy" (surprised by a lyric or two which I've unintentionally altered over years of sporadic performance,) then "Pale New England Sky," then back to #3, "Lullaby, My Love" (my wife's favorite.)
I listened to the chorus lyrics and was surprised by an emotional association with my kids, remembered listening to that with them when the song was new and they were too, helpless little babies, asleep in my arms.
Find what's inside you...
It was easy then to wish the sentiment of the song for their future selves.
Don't hold too tight...
And then I heard the words as a kind of reminder or mandate to keep wishing it for them now - and resist the strong reality-based urge to fall away from deep idealistic hopes.
Know I'm behind you...
No matter what. No matter who tells you its impossible. Dream. Dream. Then dream some more.
Sleep well tonight...
Way too long. And yet, absence, in this case, in no way indicates dormancy.
I’ve been working.
…songs. Not writing at the clip I once did, but, writing. New songs include “Start Again,” “In the Days Before the War,” “Giant Love,” “Heaven’s Gate,” “Failsafe,” and “Too Soon.”
Of course songs lead to the next thing…
…records. Or should I say, record. The new one’s called “Start Again” and will be out before the end of March. Details, including an unusually-set release party concert, will be announced at the dawn of the new year.
It’s good. For real.
Chris Parker is producing and I am the lucky recipient of his burgeoning genius. The dude knows how to arrange a song…not to mention play the hell out of pretty much every instrument. From the outset, we decided we would consciously reference old records we both loved. Records like “Astral Weeks” by Van, “Harvest” by Neil Young, “Saturate before Using” by Jackson Browne, “Pirates” by Rickie Lee Jones and “Darkness on the Edge of Town” by Bruce Springsteen.
With such deep roots, how could the record not grow big and strong?
My creative work trifecta is completed by…
…screenwriting. Still, roughly 4 years later, honing in on what will be the workable, producible, definitive film version of “Ransom Seaborn.” It hit me today that though the film will differ significantly from the novel, it is about the exact same thing – choosing between hope and despair in what often feels like a screwed-up world.
That’s kind of what everything I write is about…ever.
In conclusion, as I mentioned, the new release is called “Start Again” and I mean it. I am wiping the slate clean and emerging from this hibernation more than rested, renewed!
Happy Holidays everybody. May 2013 shower us all with the peace and the love and the joy we were born to know!
There's a Springsteen song called "New York City Serenade" that sprawls like a messy Jersey symphony at the end of "The Wild the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle." It's a demanding, compelling, ambitious piece of work. There's a moment in the early portion of the song when the acoustic guitar first comes in that used to shoot straight though me...chills every time. I would sit on the edge of my bed listening, waiting, ready to receive. And every single time the same physical reaction overtook me - a kind of inexpressible euphoria just from the sound of a guitar and all it seemed to mean, a big wooden door opening out onto a vast, mysterious vista.
And here I sit on a back porch with headphones blaring, listening to the new Springsteen record...a record made almost 40 years since E Street. There's a song called "The Land of Hope and Dreams" that comes toward the end and features one of Clarence Clemmon's last solos. There's this bass note that falls beneath the words "People get ready" that literally moves me to tears.
I smile through them, staring out at the world so far away from this euphoria which is exactly the same as the one felt long ago.
What does it mean? What am I saying? I don't know. I'm just inspired by a man whose songs can still hit me at the very deepest level, beyond words, beyond anything...and lead me in a singular moment to the land of hope and dreams.
Also, as a sort of post script, the final 3 songs on the new Springsteen are as powerful as anything I've heard in a long, long time. They drain me. A death-cry howling challenge to hope in the face of hopelessness.
Jenny and Mark. Old friends from Pittsburgh, living in LA. Music lovers.
2004? 2005? I kind of forget when we started them.
But it clicked. People came. Some from a decent distance (Phoenix... San Diego...) Some were displaced Pittsburghers. Some I'd met along the way in other cities.
Marathon set. From-the-vault requests. Sing alongs. Variety.
We put on maybe half a dozen more in LA. There was also an offshoot event in Phoenix in '06 or '07. And, one of those initial audience members moved to the Cleveland area and started hosting house concerts there. And each one, without fail, is special and memorable - at least from my perspective.
I'm leading to 2 points.
1 - come to Paul Moser's house for the next concert Saturday, April 7th.
2 - consider hosting one of your own. It's a really fun way for me to stay connected with all the music I've written over the years and also to boldly try out new material (one of the Paul shows included the premier of every single song that would going on to become "Being Normal.")
No pressure. Just think about it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with questions or ideas!
My creative life has had some beautiful, unexpected twists and turns - random sidebars that enrich and amaze me. A week of songwriting in a French castle. A sweet little acoustic tour with Rob James through the hills of New England. A drunken weekend in a burned out floor turned into recording studio in Grove City, PA.
The list goes on and on.
Took a dollar for a fall
I been paying for it all
And I still hear the devil call
But I don't care
When did the TJA twist begin? When I called Rich to ask for directions when I was out in LA? When Rich showed up at my set at the Knitting Factory or the Hotel Cafe or wherever it was? When Brownie Mary and the Gathering Field would cross paths in Pittsburgh or Ohio or wherever we both happened to be back in the glorious 1990s?
But it was probably when Rich and I finally arranged to meet and write on one of my trips to Los Angeles. In his apartment near the Sunset Strip, on a rare overcast day - with him intuiting music like a blind gold rusher and me wearing headphones and seeking out words and melodies with my raspy Jet-lagged voice. "All I Want" was the first song. And listening to the recording we made as I drove around Valley Village in Jenny and Mark's car I knew I'd stumbled, again, onto buried treasure.
We made a really good full length record and then a sugary sweet EP follow up. Check 'em out here:
I remember once, after heated debate and with a good bit of trepidation, the Gathering Field chose to drive home through a snow storm after a Saturday night show in Jamestown, New York. And it wasn't just any snowstorm - we're talking at least a foot with the snow still pouring down. And yet, the "go for it" camp won.
The roads were covered and deserted. Slow going. At some point, the snow stopped falling and the sky cleared. The moon was full and bright and it, in conjunction with the white-snow scene surrounding us - gave a natural shimmer to everything.
I forget who was driving, but for long stretches we would cut the lights and marvel at how perfect and bright it all looked. I still do that sometimes. Cut the lights when I'm driving alone late at night - catch a glimpse of a quiet, pure, untampered with world...thinking that the view would probably not have been much different a hundred years before.
With this in mind I added the following passage to my third novel, "Ghost Tree," after the story was written and we were very close to sending it to print. The character we're with is Kenny Maxim, Ghost Tree drummer. He's listening to the final mixes of the band's first record.
| He drove and looked at the softly brightening sky, and thought of fundamental things - if not quite timeless, at least enduring. Tires on pavement and hands on a steering wheel; faint morning moons and breaking dawns; windblown songs through open windows - the same now as they ever were.
There were no other cars. He pushed off his headlights so that the changing scene before him was illuminated naturally. He surveyed the hillsides rich with black-green trees and hidden pathways, and thought of the Algonquians or Iroquois who walked them long ago. He thought of his father
An organ riff jarred him from his reverie
"Yeah," he screamed to nobody. "We did it!"
Kenny Maxim drummed his steering wheel and sang along to his first record as the sky grew brighter and day began.
Played an acoustic show with Rob James the other night. For those of you who don't know, Rob plays lead guitar in the legendary Pittsburgh band/institution The Clarks and is pretty much the glue of the music community.
As we were digging into "Lost in America" I flashed back to a million years before when Rob hosted a weekly open stage at a great club called Graffiti. I pictured us back then playing a song of mine called "Traveling Mercies" - our friendship new, my music, new, the whole world of Pittsburgh rock and roll - new.
As I emerged from my reverie back into the present moment and looked around at random friends and strangers, some singing along to the song, I just got this feeling of happiness and a momentary deepening of awareness regarding the richness of the journey.
Happy Holidays everybody. May your journeys grow richer and richer every moment!
I wrote this where I've written many songs over the past ten years or so, North Carolina. On a mini-acoustic Alvarez on a sunny summer morning. Ax in hand I followed the urge to summarize in a reflective way, take a stab at a few conclusions while the game is still in play.
You took my hand in the dying light
We barely spoke and you cried all night
Morning came, you felt all right
So we went to sleep at last
Early in our marriage, first pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. I was coming off the road and returned home to find my wife despondent and very, very sad. In this verse I'm remembering the first of those long nights.
A humble verse, a broken rhyme
The hands of fate, the sands of time
We never even see the signs
Until they're long since past
Reflecting here on how unequal songs and words sometimes feel up against the big realities we face as human beings...and about how unobservant I can sometimes be in terms of the spiritual road signs along the way.
Might I be so bold as to propose a theory
Every bump, every bruise, every year we share
Turn into blazing gold within our soul
Rays of light that shine on and on forever
Each and every one
I think the chorus kind of speaks for itself. It's my compassionate, optimistic view on the whole murky mess our lives can be sometimes. And it's what I truly believe, by the way.
We sit and watch the twilight fade
Angels guide the hit parade
Darkness falls, another day
Turned to memory
Stole some of these lyrics I wrote for the Gathering Field version of "Who We Are." They're brimming with optimism and a kind of contentment that was foreign to me when I was a younger man.
A stolen kiss, a tender touch
A whispered word that meant so much
All painted with an unseen brush
The holy mystery
This verse is me pushing the framework beyond myself, beyond the drama of my own life, beyond my body and my personality...seeking the holy in the moments of my life.
Might I be so bold as to propose a theory
Every mistake, every desire, every tear we share
Turn into blazing gold within our souls
Rays of light that shine on and on forever
Each and every one
One of my favorite choruses as a songwriter. I like the word shifts between the two choruses and the way the melody conveys the same exact hope that the lyrics do. I just like the song. In case you didn't notice. In fact, I'm pretty fond of that whole Being Normal CD.