Aside

Testing the aside format …

Surprisingly good advice on pursuing music

A Prairie Home Companion listener wrote Garrison Keillor asking how best to pursue his interest in music. Fair question for a guy who has presented musical acts weekly for 35 years. I was surprised at how good the response was.

To the Host:

I am 35, and used to listen to the show when I was driving semi-truck. The music brightened my day, and reminded me how important it is to keep playing and writing my own music. What advice would you have for a young man trying to dedicate his life to his music and present himself to the world?

Steven Jones
Newman Lake, WA

Thirty-five is not so young in the music world, Steven, and I’m sure you know that. Eighteen is young, twenty-two is young, and thirty-five is sort of a gray area. My advice is to focus on the craft of performing, developing your musical craft, and put your original music on the shelf for a little while.

Try playing music that people want to dance to, or hear in the background as they eat their dinners, or that has ceremonial weight (weddings, funerals), or that you could play in a public place and make people smile as they pass by. Music that will lift up the lonely.

There are a lot of lonely people in the world and music can be therapeutic for them and right there is a big vocation. Think of people at the beginning and end of the life cycle, a roomful of 2nd graders squirming in their seats, a roomful of elderly in wheelchairs, and think what you could give them in 15 minutes that would brighten their day. That’s a huge service and an enormous challenge.

And those people are available for music. They need it, unlike most people in the middle years who are ferociously busy, distracted, hard to reach. At the age of 35, a person has lost some of that youthful ambition and drive to excel, but he has not lost the need to Be Useful.

Running trucks on wood

Wayne Keith has figured out how to run trucks on wood rather than gasoline. Chris has been helping him develop his informational website driveonwood.com, and on Monday he’ll be taking his truck down to Wayne’s place in Alabama—driving down on gasoline, but hopefully driving back on wood!

Mother Earth News has just published a very nice article about Wayne and his woodgas projects. Check it out.

What I Been Working For

The musical inspiration for this song is the old-time tune “Sail Away Ladies”, also called “Sally Ann”. Here’s the performance that got me thinking about that.

 

My dad was always short of luck
Never had much growing up
F-100 pickup truck was all we could afford
I started work and never stopped
Climbed the ladder, reached the top
Loaded up my credit card as part of my reward

     I worked real hard to get this far
     Money, house, big fine car
     But no one stays up late enough to meet me at the door
     I wish that I could slow it down
     Take it easy, turn around
     Learn to do without the things that I been working for

My obligations grew and grew
Wife and kids, house and school
The lifestyle we’re accustomed to ain’t easy to maintain
Nights and weekends office bound
Work myself into the ground
I’d like to stop but every month the bills come due again
   
I think my daddy had it right
No sense working day and night
Just to buy a bunch of stuff you don’t need anyway
That pickup took us everywhere
Had food to eat, clothes to wear
Always had enough to share with folks who couldn’t pay

I Heard it in a Song

This is my current favorite. For months I had the fragment “I never lived the kind of life I like to sing about,” but didn’t know what to do with it. I woke up about a week ago with most of the rest of it.

I never worked a farm or been down in the hole
Never rode the rails or heard a lonesome whistle blow
Things are different now, those times are long gone
But I know what life was like back then cause I heard it in a song

     I heard it in a song, and it means so much to me
     The old songs can touch my heart and set my spirit free
     When they sing about the old days, I start to hum along
     I know life was good back then cause I heard it in a song

They worked real hard ‘til the day came to an end
Spent evenings on the porch with family and friends
Went to church on Sunday, they all knew right from wrong
I know all these things are true cause I heard it in a song

I never lived the kind of life I like to sing about
I spend my days behind the wheel on this delivery route
But the radio is playing and my heart is beating strong
I dream about the good life cause I heard it in a song

I Should Not Have Turned and Walked Away

This is by far the darkest song I’ve written. I think it turned out well, but I don’t know yet whether it will stay in the repertoire. The melody was based on the Old School Baptist song “When Sorrows Encompass Me Round”, but has drifted quite far from it.

I should not have turned and walked away
When they blamed my friend instead of me
We both knew the trouble our little joke could bring
But I didn’t want them thinking I could do such a thing
So I turned and walked away

     I should not have turned and walked away
     I should not have turned and walked away
     But to do the right thing would have cost me my pride
     So I turned and walked away

I should not have turned and walked away
When I saw the coach hurt that little boy
The both of them knew that I’d seen what he’d done
But it would have cut short the career I’d just begun
So I turned and walked away

     I should not have turned and walked away
     I should not have turned and walked away
     But to do the right thing might would cost me my dreams
     So I turned and walked away

I should not have turned and walked away
When I saw the truck hit that little girl
She might not have died if I’d taken the time
But when you save a life you put your own life on the line
So I turned and walked away

     I should not have turned and walked away
     I should not have turned and walked away
     But to do the right thing would have cost me my life
     So I turned and walked away

Have Mercy on the Working Man

This song is more calculated than most of those I’ve written. The structure is deliberately strange. I don’t know if it will end up working. I’ve spent way more time than usual tweaking the words, and am still not especially happy with the words. This is the first song I’ve written with Chris; he provided the melody.

I went to see the doctor for the pain in my chest
Temperature rising, feeling distressed
Tossing and turning, can’t find my rest

Doc said I’d be glad to set you straight
But your last few payments have been a little late
If you can’t pay cash, you’ll just have to wait

     Have mercy on the working man, trying to find a way
     To live his life the best he can and work another day

I know my payments have fallen behind
But times are tough, my income has declined
Please have mercy, ease my worried mind

Doc said I’m sorry, nothing I can do
If you were busted, Uncle Sam would see you through
But while you’re still working, the bills come to you

     Have mercy on the working man, trying to find a way
     To live his life the best he can and work another day

Treadmill I’m walking stretches on and on
Too rich for assistance, too poor to get along
But things will get better once my money is gone

     Have mercy on the working man, trying to find a way
     To live his life the best he can and work another day