Do you remember the song "Sweet Baby James" by James Taylor? A classic of songwriting elegance, it was one of those rare songs that could always "take you back," no matter what else you were doing, wasn't it?
And, didn't it always feel like there was something a little extra--something more to "Sweet Baby James" than a simple enumeration of its basic "parts" . . . of its melody and its lyrics?
There was something about the feel. Something about the rhythm.
Yes. "Sweet Baby James" is a waltz.
I heard it said once that the waltz rhythm (3/4 or 6/8)carries its own magic, because it works to bypass the listener's left brain--his or her inner engineer, if you will--and move the listener immediately to the more emotional--and artsy-fartsy, if you will--right brain.
Here's a more palpable way to look at it. Can you name me a single piece of more traditional 4/4 music anywhere which could have held a candle to Stanley Kubrick's inspired choice of the waltz, "On the Beautiful Blue Danube," for his iconic earth-orbit dance, which would transport "2001, A Space Odyssey" from a film's simple opening scene in an ancient savannah and into all of our memories and into all of our futures?
You wouldn't want a steady diet of waltzes, no; but occasionally they really can really work their magic, can't they?
Permit me then to present you with a sweet bit of country, simply entitled "Waltz," by Martian Acres.
Something Borrowed. Something Blue.
Many of us of a “certain age” remember clearly the Time Magazine cover which dealt with the death of John Lennon. It featured a painting of Lennon, and the words: “When the Music Died.” Those four words constitute one of those rare journalistic “captures” which get themselves woven into a society’s collective memory.
The underlying news story was most assuredly “blue.” But, the capture? Most assuredly “borrowed.” Not only that, it was borrowed from the unlikeliest of places.
The virtually identical phrase, “The Day the Music Died” is the line which leads into the chorus for “American Pie,” Don McLean’s 1971 paean to early rock and roll, as embodied by Buddy Holly. Of relevance here is the fact that Lennon and the Beatles came in for a lot of unvarnished criticism in “American Pie.” The upshot of the criticism is that they helped to wreck the genre.
And, to be sure, McLean had a point. Anybody who played in a rock band which happened to span the period before and after the arrival of The Beatles can attest to what the Fab Four did to Rock and Roll. They complicated it. They layered it. They made sure that it would never be the same. And when they left it, most of us would never be the same.
John Lennon was murdered on Monday evening, December 8, 1980. I was a young District Attorney at that time, with a pretty insane case load. I had worked well into the evening on an upcoming trial. As a result, I wasn't watching Monday Night Football. I still have never heard Howard Cosell's spontaneous, yet apparently pitch-perfect, announcement.
My wife, Lael, was a full-time student at the time, and we had a four-year-old daughter at home. Both of us were oblivious to any and all sources of news when the phone rang. It was my dad, of all people.
Time was made to crawl during that conversation. I can still see the loose threads on the cheap living room chair that I was sitting on. I can still see my cheap (“typical D.A.”) sport coat that I hadn't yet taken off.
The only words I could register were these: “Lennon is dead.” Dead? Lennon? My brain went immediately to a safer place. Why is my dad telling me about Vladimir Lenin?
It simply couldn't be the other guy.
Cuz that would break my heart.
Quite a few years later, Bob Story and I wrote, recorded, and produced the song “The Road to Hell.” It was released as a Martian Acres project, and, for a while, the song got some nice attention and some decent airplay in some really disparate places. Chile, Japan, and France, for example.
Not long after the song's release, though, Bob received a most unexpected email. It was from the UK. It was from a representative of Yoko Ono. The Road To Hell had just received a John Lennon International Songwriting Award as a 2005 Finalist.
How Cool, we though. Then, we did what you’d expect. We celebrated., probably with a fair bit of beer. In truth, though, it was a pretty forgettable night.
After that, we got back to work. We had a lot of other material to arrange and record. We banked our very modest winnings; and life went on. Certainly, the sales of The Road to Hell were fairly good for a while. But, the award was hardly a life changer for either of us. And, in reality, you can't lose sight of the fact that there's always a fair bit of serendipity at work in these kinds of competitions. Really: if one of the judges, for example, had had a tough time getting to sleep the night before listening to our song . . . well, we’d have never been any the wiser.
But, there was also a most delightful gift in the serendipity of our song’s little moment in the sun.
Just as I can remember my chair and my sport coat and my dad’s crazy take on history on the night the music died, I can remember where I was sitting and what I was wearing and the texture of the sheet of paper in my hand and the color of the ink . . .
. . . when I sat in my little home office and wrote a personal letter of thanks
. . . and addressed it to Yoko Ono.
Hola! I bring you great news! It is with joy and relief that I mark the end of a year-long, crazed obsession, and announce the release of my new solo album, "Running on Gravity."
Ah, the Martian Acres guy does "the solo thing." So . . . Is it any good?
Well, “Running on Gravity” snagged a wonderful review last Friday at the RARWRITER music site in Los Angeles. Quoth the reviewer, Rick Rice: “This CD is exceptionally well-performed and produced, and at times one hears a classic like Graceland in this work . . . .”
Here’s the link to the site (the full review of the album sits down the page a bit, amongst other reviews, but don't miss the feature near the top of the page, which delves into the terrifying history behind the title song): www.RARWRITER.com
And the material itself? These songs are as varied as they can be: from “Flamenco” (is it sensuality or biblicality or, gasp, both?) to the “Queen of the Blues” to a country-rocker about a long-ago car crash that still haunts. IMHO, it's the best music I've ever done.
The Sound? You came to expect the highest quality CDs from Bob Story and I, when we wrote and produced the Martian Acres music over the past ten years. Well, worry not. From the first note of "Running," you're going to sense that you've "been here before." Bob Story co-produced the album with me, and brought his unique magic to the project. We spared nothing, either with regard to the musicians or the production (for example, David Glasser, who mastered the CD, is a multiple grammy winner; and, yes, if you think you are hearing a three-hundred-year-old cello on two of the tunes, you're dead right.)
Sonically, this baby shines.
So, Where Can You Get It?
Actually, almost anywhere. “Running on Gravity” is available on I-Tunes and Amazon. If you would like to own the actual CD--hey, the art on the CD itself is worth the downstroke--you can go to CDBaby.com (a great vehicle for, and huge supporter of, independent music generally).
Or, if you would prefer the more personal touch, I would love to send you the album (autographed or not). It’s fifteen bucks, including shipping, payable to Dennis Wanebo Music.
Lastly, I am now officially available to "take this thing live" (either solo or with varying levels of accompaniment). Intimate settings, such as house concerts, etc. work really well with all this material. And yes, there will be a CD Release gig in the not too distant future. Stay tuned.
The title song, "Running on Gravity" is based on an event that, for years, I had "papered over" in my memory as something sort of funny. In fact, when my compatriot and I had told our friends about the incident as early as the next day, we cast the whole thing as something "cool"--youthful hijinks. Friends laughed. After that, i would trot the story out once in a while, accessing it from the "funny anecdotes" drawer in my brain.
As with every song I've written, the music for Running "appeared" first, and then the lyrics. But that's where the similarity ends. Usually, a lot of time will pass before any lyrics "appear" . . . before I even know what a song is about. Not this time. There was something about driving home on this particular night, coming over that last hill into Boulder and seeing that sea of lights against the ocean of black. By the time my wife, Lael, and I walked into our house, the chords, the melody, and the rhythm were already there--and, they all just kicked ass. It was everything I could do to run in and grab my Taylor before they could all get away. And then something most odd happened: the story/lyrics spilled out as well, almost immediately, and in full blossom. By 3:00 a.m.,the whole thing was a "wrap." I woke Lael up excitedly and played it for her. How cool is that? A song I was REALLY proud of: signed, sealed, and delivered, all in the matter of a few hours.
Or so I thought.
There's this guy inside me--a guy who won't put up with BS if it does violence to something we both "know." He wasn't "done" in the slightest. What followed were several nights of nightmares. Wild animals. Shrieking noises. Terror. Blackness.
And, then, for the first time ever, tears. Tears that had waited patiently, for decades.
I had known several kids who died violently in car crashes. In fact, a full carload of them, all one year my junior, had plowed into an abutment in eastern Colorado within days of high-school graduation. There, but for the grace of God and the sometimes benign laws of physics had gone me and my friend as well.
I re-wrote the song and gave the incident the seriousness it deserved. And the nightmares stopped.
Number One. I'm not in the songwriting business for self therapy. So, for one thing, because Running is a teenage-driving song, it requires the chapter that I was spared: blood and dead teenagers.
Number Two. I'm an Irishman. Even it it's a social disaster to do so, an Irishman can't help but try to make his audience laugh. So, despite the demands of the "guy inside me," there's still a goodly salting of humor in the song
. . . I mean, if one is crashing, hell bent for leather, down a sheer mountainside, he probably wouldn't describe it as "rocking and rolling all the way to town" now, would he?
The description of the song which appears in the "odds and ends" page was provided as background for Running and became part of a feature to be found at the RARWRITER music site.