The Weekly Song
A little less than four years ago, I played my first real show. It was at a small town bar. I was a regular at their open mic. The proprietor, Dorothy, took a chance on me. She booked me and told me to have two hours of material. I did, by the skin of my teeth, playing every measly song I'd written so far and all the cover songs I knew. For two months leading up to the show, I would practice for an hour or more every night after dinner. I practiced singing with a microphone and ran my full sets with a timer to make sure I could really sing for two hours. The night of the show, I brought an electric candle, a blank sheet of paper representing my "mailing list", and little picture cards with my name and Youtube channel written on the back. I set these out on a barstool, in lieu of CDs or T-shirts. In the margins of my setlist, I scribbled notes of what to say between songs and reminders to tune my guitar.
Two people came. One of the two had come with me. Nevertheless, the experience of preparing rigorously for an event and then carrying it off without any major failures was a huge achievement. My ego may have been a little damaged that evening, but my confidence as a musician soared. I did it. I played a real show. At the end of the evening I talked to Dorothy and booked another, two months later.
What followed was one of the most prolific songwriting seasons I've ever had. In those next few months, I doubled my canon-- not hard to do considering I had only nine or ten songs so far. Still, the songs that preceded this season had taken three years to write. The more remarkable thing about these new songs was their staying power. Of the ten songs I wrote during this period, I still regularly play seven of them. Eight of the ten I still consider to be respectable efforts. For me at least, this is an incredible rate, unparalleled by any other crop of songs. Three of them made it onto the upcoming album. This one, Seven Years at Sea, did not. It was in the running, but competition was high, especially among story-songs about love and loss (I have no shortage of those). It's still a good song, one I may very well record someday in the future. Here's the first draft:
As you can see in the draft above, I tend to get out the rough ideas and form on my first pass (right page), then come back later and tinker or add what's missing (left page). Until I started writing about these songs and digging up the drafts, I never noticed this pattern. Now I'm seeing it everywhere.
Seven Years at Sea was the first of many songs inspired by a place half-remembered from childhood. In this case, the place was Boothbay Harbor. It's a coastal town in Maine that my family visited several times over the years on our long summer camping trips. The sharpest memories I have of Boothbay are the ice cream parlor by the docks, the saltwater taffy store, and the Lobsterman's Co-op. Only the ice cream parlor made it into the song. Since then, nostalgia has proved to be a rich ground for my writing-- both songs and blog posts about songs, it seems.
Folks in the Inner Circle: you can now download this track for free. Wondering what the heck I'm talking about? The Inner Circle is just a fancy-schmancy name for folks who join my email list. I send out occasional updates via email, but mostly it's a way for me to give away some secret stuff to the people who support me. If you want to join, just sign up below: