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Melissa’s Song #102

9 Jun

We occasionally – and only on a Sunday morning – slow dance in the kitchen.

And that’s what I wanted this song to feel like.

Slow dancing in the kitchen.

We only have so much time on this planet.

I know we gotta make-a-da-money.

We have to pay the bills, take care of the kids and all of that stuff.

That’s the urgent reality of life we face on a daily basis.

But by all means, take time to whirl your loved one around the kitchen once in awhile.

Or even if it’s just you and a cup of coffee, like on that commercial from the 80s.

You know the one, where the housewife sachets around the kitchen with her cup of Taster’s Choice International Blends…

She’s holding it to her bosom as though she were about to drive off with it in the Volvo for a dirty weekend on Nantucket.  

But I digress.

My kitchen-dancing partner is, has and always will be Melissa B. Livingston.

And in some ways, every song I’ve ever written has been about her.

Including this one… which I call Melissa’s Song #102. (Lyrics below.)


Melissa’s Song #102

*Played in key of C

She feels so good to me
She’s sunlight falling through the trees
She’s Magdalene on bended knee

Anytime I see her picture on my Galaxy S phone
I’m home

We met in the spring
It quickly turned into a thing
That fall I bought you a second-hand ring

Anytime I see your picture on my Galaxy S phone
I’m home

You’re an acrobat so high you’re never coming down
Debutante without the pomp each time you hit the town
You’re so damn pretty, I declare
I just want to run my calloused fingers
Through your golden honey hair, golden honey hair

She feels so good to me
Like sailing on a deep blue sea
Like honey’s call unto the bee

Anytime I see your picture on my Galaxy S phone
I’m home

You’re an acrobat so high you’re never coming down
Debutante without the pomp each time you hit the town
You’re so damn pretty, I declare
I just want to run my calloused fingers
Through your golden honey hair

So we freed the dove again
We let that thing begin
Where we were more than friends
We were more than friends
We were more than friends

My Whiskey Broke

16 Apr

Ahh, the drinking days.

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the hell out of many of them.

But when they went south, they went Borneo.

I’ll never forget one night that ended in a huge fight… and yours truly in a cheap motel outside Baltimore.

I can assure you, there’s very few things more depressing than a hotel outside of Baltimore, attached to a small lounge.

But alas, that’s where your author found himself — alone, semi-drunk, and so pissed I couldn’t bring myself to continue drinking.

Of course part of the fight was about my proclivity for the amber holy water.

But that’s a story for another time.

My point is that some pain is too complex, too deep and too raw to be drunk away.

You can drink away a tough day at the office.

You can drink away a breakup with someone you weren’t going to be sharing a Volvo with anyway.

But when you lock horns on the deepest levels with someone you actually care about… and you hit that steel wall where nothing you can say or do can fix it… then your whiskey stops working.

It breaks and that’s it.

You’re left with your pain, your regret and your dimming hopes for a light at the end of the tunnel.

And you can only hope it’s not her with a flame thrower coming to finish the job.

Well anyway… I’m happy to report that the story had a happy ending.

We eventually resolved our issues and moved forward with our shared project.

And hey, now I have this new song – and that terrible night at the dive motel to thank for it.

Life’s funny that way. As they say in a certain program I’m familiar with: don’t quit before the miracle happens.

Happy Easter to you, with love from Maryland.

Without further ado, here’s the new one:

My Whiskey Broke

Lonely in a Sea of Love

7 Mar


Sometimes I wonder if this blog makes any sense.

I’m fine with posting songs.

But I wonder if I should do as much talking as I do.

The songs should really speak for themselves, right?

So I’ll keep it short today.

Here’s the new one.

If you’re feeling alone… If you feel like people couldn’t love you if they knew the “real” you… If you’re surrounded by loving, caring people but sometimes feel alone anyway… This song’s for you…

By the way, you’re really not alone. (As proof, I cite the Dhammapada.)

And since I’m talking to you, I’m not either.

Hope you enjoy this one. (I should add that I’ve since tweaked these lyrics and they’ll change in the future.)

I call it Lonely in a Sea of Love.


Lay the Old Man Down

21 Dec

Dad died two weeks ago. It feels like two years have passed.

Grief is like a friend who is only there for you in difficult times. Grief is a healer. Grief isn’t pain. Grief is processing pain. It’s absolutely healthy to feel everything, in my view. Whatever’s going on, you gotta let it out and give it room to breathe.

Grief is just a process. We have to honor it to move on in life. To paraphrase Gordon Gecko, grief… is good.

It was a few days after he died that I first cried. Like, really cried hard.

For some reason, I kept seeing him in that red western shirt and bolo tie. That’s what my amazingly in-tune sisters chose for him. And it was so perfect, I get choked up every time I see him there, in that shirt, in my mind’s eye.

I remember the smell of zippo lighters, cigarettes and coffee.

I remember the Justin cowboy boots and the colored “trousers” he wore, which reminded me of Toughskins jeans.

I think of the music, and the writing, and the sugary warmth he could exude. That warmth was entirely real. And when it shone down on a little kid, it made quite an impression. It felt a lot like being saved.

But alas, this god was of the Old Testament variety.

He was Shiva, creator and destroyer.

The same eyes that could fill you with a feeling of safety and belonging could turn, quickly. In a split second, you could be dealing with a tiger on the loose.

But dammit if he wasn’t the most interesting guy I’ve ever met.

I’m not going to call him a legend. Because he really needs no adornment or extra title…

He was, without hyperbole, a very interesting guy.

Who drops out of high school, grows up on the rez, marries at 17 and winds up getting invited to dinner at the White House?

Who helps countless Native American tribes build toward a better future, with better schools, jobs programs and self-determination?

Who helped me rebuild my first boat, the Gull?

One guess…

But Dad did a lot more than that.

Hell, he gave me life (with a little help from Margie).

Which reminds me of the lanyard from the Billy Collins poem (not to mention my name with his, which would be an absolute abomination and a brazen insult to Mr. Collins)…

I say to you, Dad,

You gave me two eyes to see, and a warm home
You gave me three brothers and four sisters to love
You gave me strong limbs, and (once) thick hair
You gave me a beating heart, and blood, and brain
You gave me courage, and a little bit of crazy

You gave me life itself, a fate, a human dream.

And I give you this song that I wrote yesterday.

(And after you’re gone, at that!)

Without further maudlin adieu, here’s the new one. (Lyrics below.)

Lay the Old Man Down

We had to lay the Old Man down, bout two year ago
I said we haddalay the Old Man down ss-bout two years ago
But, But that old sun still shines, and the breeze still blows

He was a wild, wild cowboy, six bars on his sleeve
He was a wild, wild Indian, six bars on his sleeve
He showed me places honey I just could not believe

Sad memories turn pretty, time it takes pity on us

One morning in the livingroom, he said it’s time to go
Tuesday morning in the livingroom, he said it’s time to go
Well time was flying by, now it passes so slow

Oh, dad, I see you coming roun again
Ghost of the past come to play, wanna be my friend
Sit back and stay awhile, look at me with that cynical smile
You’re gonna stay here till the end

Sad memories turn pretty, time it takes pity on us

We had to lay that sailor down, down in the dirt
He was buried in his favorite JC Penny shirt
And we sang him off slow… Easy come, easy go
Easy go, easy go

Down on Sullivan Street

3 Dec

We’re back from California.

What a trip.

We laughed. We cried. We went to the emergency room.

Well, several of us, actually… and for several different reasons.

My father, my nephew (who is more like a brother in a way), my niece… all went to the emergency room in different instances – all over Sonoma County.

During Thanksgiving week.

I can say, Parkinson’s is a bitch.

Migraines and such are a bitch.

So is pneumonia and a bunch of other nicks and war wounds we’ll all have to deal with at some point in old age – if we’re fortunate enough to make it there.

But to see how my family came together, got folks where they needed to be, and took care of some f-in business… that was awe inspiring.

Every large family has had its share of challenges, but we’ve got a really loving, interesting, intelligent and hilarious family.

Like I said, we ain’t perfect. But what I’m getting as I tumble through middle age is that the most you can ask of life is that it’s interesting. I sometimes think the worst fate would be to live a “normal” TV life. You know, like the Brady Bunch, which I absolutely loved. Still, I wouldn’t want to be Mike Brady.

That strikes me as a little bit boring.

There aren’t many perfect people among us, anyway, so at least I have plenty of company.

But it’s becoming increasingly clear: we’ve all got our problems, our crosses to bear.

Even the most “normal” among us are – in reality – probably struggling on some level.

I was walking around with that thought in the back of my head the other day. At some point I sat down at the piano and pounded out a G-F-C progression. It sounded nice and simple. And the words “living down here on Sullivan street” came into my head.

As I messed around with the chord progressions, this vignette kind of emerged.

It’s of a small town, kind of like Petaluma where I did a lot of growing up.

But it could be anywhere… maybe in Pennsylvania somewhere, one of those little towns up in the foothills of the Poconos.

So these people aren’t zooming through life unbothered. They missed the “privileged” bus.

They’re struggling with addiction, incarceration, the pains of love, the wounds of war, joblessness, the faceless machinery of our bureaucratic apparatus… the list goes on.

But as with Sisyphus, one must imagine the inhabitants of this street – Sullivan Street, it turns out – one must imagine them happy.

Because why not?

Here’s to our family – every member. No one gets left out. Not a single fifth cousin twice removed. Here’s to the struggling folks all around the world, the regular people, dealing with everyday shit. Each of us is a hero in our own life story. But I hope we always remember to recognize our fellow heroes – our fellow human beings, I mean.

I hope we can always remember to help each other through this, whatever “this” is… to paraphrase Kurt Vonnegut.

Here’s the new one, Down on Sullivan Street:

Just Like Mr. Cohen

11 Nov

Leonard Cohen is dead.

Long live Leonard Cohen.

Of all the great souls… the songwriters and prose writers and poets I have admired over the years… I’d put Leonard right up there with the very, very best.

He wrote simple. He wrote the truth. He wrote with humanity and compassion and subtlety and grandeur, and humor.

Chelsea Hotel is probably one of my top 10 favorite songs of all time.

But how can you pick and choose with Leonard’s work?

Melissa introduced me to his poetry in recent years, and it’s every bit as interesting, playful and deeply inspirational as his songwriting.

This is so strange.

About a month ago, I sat down to write a song about Leonard Cohen.

It just kinda materialized one evening while I was brushing my teeth before bed. “I want to be just like Leonard Cohen.”

That was a funny thought, with some honesty behind it. And the music came right with it.

So I went downstairs and stayed up way past my bedtime (for a school night) writing this sucker.

I recorded a couple early versions, then headed over to my friend Dan Ostrowski’s for the “real” recording session.

Set in the Maryland woods, Dan’s Sunrise Studio is a beautiful, happy space to create.

And create we did.

Dan is on drums and keyboards here. I don’t think you’ll hear a more flawless drum line (although Dan would probably disagree, being as modest as he is).

I’m on guitar(s) and vocals.

This isn’t a perfect version, or final version or anything.

But I offer it up to you as a bit of music amid the madness.

More than that, I hopes that ALL of my brothers and sisters (fellow humans, I mean) can take a moment to listen to some Leonard Cohen today.

In fact, if you haven’t, please go do so before you listen to this song.

I would start with Hallelujah.

Meanwhile, Leonard… here’s a tip of the old fedora to you, you old silken crooner… you old dancer in the moonlight… you seducer of souls… defender of the hopeless and the insane… poet… titan… we love you, and we bid you goodnight, sir… for now.

And here’s the song I wrote in your honor. I hope you can hear it on your celestial radio up there.

I call it: Just Like Mr. Cohen.

The King

13 May

It’s been awhile since I posted a new song.

But not because I haven’t been writing and playing.

To the contrary: I’ve been doing a good deal of both, and with some truly amazing musicians. (More on this to come… hopefully, much more.)

Meanwhile, I wanted to talk a bit about the process of songwriting.

For starters, I’m no expert – despite having worked at it for years.

I have a healthy respect for the ocean of knowledge I don’t have and will never have.

Then again, songcraft isn’t ALL about knowing your mixolydians from your Ionians.

I sometimes wonder how much Robert Johnson knew of musical theory, or even someone like Dylan. I honestly don’t know the answer, but their music tends to be pretty simple and every bit as much about what you can do within simple structure and melody to give the song its unique sound signature… and emotional power.

How you bend a note is every bit as important – if not more so – than the note you’re playing.

That’s not to say I plan on hiding behind this “dude, it’s all about feelings” thing forever. I am studying and trying to expand my theoretical knowledge as we speak.

Meanwhile, the most recent effort for your listening pleasure (hopefully)…

This started off as a song about some guy who liked “stuff” to much – you know, all that crap that comes from Amazon in those promising little gift boxes of joy? Or he liked money too much. That sort of thing.

It was partially directed at yours truly. I can indeed become obsessed with the next widget for my guitar, or the next TUFI (Totally Unnecessary Fishing Item). And certainly, I am a workaholic – only partially in recovery for that.

But the message seemed kind of thin and screechy: Don’t like “stuff” too much!

Something was missing.

And talking with Melissa one night about family history filled in the puzzle for me.

Turns out, we spent several months tracing back our Livingston family line many, many generations. Luckily, there is ample historical documentation, and prior Livingstons who have made much progress and did most of the leg work for us.

Well if you go back far enough… you can trace the family back to Montana (where Mom and Dad were born)… to North Dakota… to Missouri… to Virginia… (where the first Livingston of our side of the family, Sir John Livingston, came to America in 1650)… and thence back to Scotland.

The events that preceded our family’s arrival to America were the stuff of legend and family tragedy.

The John that came to America arrived with little money, but a great title (Knight of the House of Dunipace). However, he came with just the title and the name, but not the great estate of the Livingstons of Dunipace (a cadet line of the Livingstons of Linlithgow, who became our cousins in New York).


Because his father was a profligate drinker and gambler. According to family history, he spent most of his time in London pretending to have more money than he had and playing off his title and his nobility. Over the years, he not only went broke – he went into hock. And when he died, he left his name… and a pile of debt… to his family. His wife had to basically sell the family estate near Linlithgow for pennies to retire the debt, and apparently died destitute.

What a guy!

What’s weird is, I was kind of on his same path myself for many years.

So I can see that we’re all a little too close to some form of this story in our own lives.

Regardless, this gentleman’s downfall – which led to our family coming to America – gave me the story I needed.

And I put it into the song.

And it gave the song a story.

Here’s the song.

The King: