"CRUCIBLE" INSIGHTS


MEANT TO BE

Living in the present moment is something I struggle with, like most humans.  Among the many lessons we can learn from animals, living in the moment is one of the most obvious.  Dogs are particularly good at modeling this lesson for us.  This song is for all the animal teachers who have patiently shown me how to live with gratitude and optimism in the present moment.


BLACK BRAID (Lottie's Song)

My father's mother died long before I was born, but I was always fascinated by the small amount of information I knew about her.  Born in the 1890's, she was Cherokee, and was raised in Arkansas to subsistence farmers.  Her husband, also a poor farmer left her when her 9th child was born during the Great Depression.  She then went to school and became a dietician at a hospital.  Her tenacity and courage have always been an inspiration to me and I wrote "Black Braid" to honor her and to pay homage to her ancestors who walked the Trail of Tears.

I incorporated a verse of "Amazing Grace" in Cherokee because it was a hymn popular among the Cherokee at the time of their forced removal from their homeland.


WESTWARD BOUND

When I have a lot on my mind, I like to go for a drive in rural areas.  Farms, mountains, and wide open spaces help me shed the clutter in my mind and reconnect with my truth.  This is an ode to my "driving meditation."


THE BALLAD OF MARY MAGDALEN
written by Richard Shindell

I first heard this song on RadioIO Acoustic.  It was the first time I'd ever heard Richard Shindell and I immediately fell in love with his songwriting.  I always appreciate retellings of Jesus' story that portray him as human, something most Christian churches shy away from.  And, of course, I am always thrilled when Mary Magdalen is given her due.

The power of this song is in its simplicity.  Forget religious debate, this song is a love song in its purest form.  Even an atheist can appreciate this particular story of lost love.

I'm always amazed and a little horrified when someone labels this song as a Christian song.  These folks don't seem to realize how heretical the idea is of Jesus having a sexual relationship with a woman often portrayed as a prostitute.


PRAYER OF INTENTION

The title says it all.  This is a pagan prayer to set my intention to be guided by the Goddess (mother) and God (father) to live and act with the highest good for all in mind.


BELIEVE

Love makes fools of us all, but we are always willing accomplices.  Unable to see things from a neutral perspective, we overlook weaknesses and inflate strengths, not only in our beloved, but in ourselves.  Eventually, our relationships change and we begin to question the truth in our partner's feelings as well as our own.


DEAR JOHN

During the 2004 election season when so many artists were stepping forward to try to defeat Bush, I began to wonder what John Lennon would be doing if he were alive and able to practice his activism in the age of the internet.  This song is my letter to him.


HUMAN RACE

After 9/11 and the first few years of Bush's first term, I was fed up with the sad state of our government and our culture of militarization and divisiveness.  This song sprang from that frustration.


HERE

In 2004, I returned to California for the first time since I moved to Colorado 10 years prior.  I have a love/hate relationship with my hometown (Fremont), and this trip brought up a lot of memories from my childhood.  This song began from lyrics I jotted down at an open mic in San Jose on that trip.

As the song took shape, it took on a darker tone than I intended and I realized it was more about my relationship with my family.  It's funny how you can think you've put the past away, but a short trip home can dredge up emotions you didn't realize you still carried.


ZOMBIE
written by Dolores O'Riordan

There are many songs these days that mention terrorism or incidents of terrorism, but this is the only song I know of in which terrorism is the subject.  It came into my repertoire as a rockin' song to perform at pubs, but as a student of Irish history, it's always held a lot of meaning for me.

I nearly didn't record it because I wasn't happy with the early vocals I recorded.  I had a scratch track of it on my mp3 player that I kept bumping into and I found myself enjoying the Pink Floyd-esque vibe of it.  It haunted me and at some point I dove back in and rerecorded the vocals in a new way.

Many of the folks who listen to my music aren't familiar with The Cranberries so I'm very happy to be able to introduce Dolores O'Riordan's poignant song to new listeners.


LAST GOODBYE

This song was inspired by a friend of mine who was struggling with her father's impending death and the conflicting emotions it brought up in her.  She had suffered terrible abuse by her father when she was a child, but had somehow developed a relationship with him as an adult.

She told me of her history and conflicted emotions just as I was leaving to drive to Illinois.  On that long drive, I thought a lot about parent/child relationships and "Last Goodbye" quickly took shape.


THIS I CAN DO (November 4, 2008)

In 2008, I volunteered for the Obama campaign.  I never had any intention of writing a song like this, but very late on election night amidst the excitement, the relief, and the tears of joy, the lyrics and melody just poured out of me.

I recalled hearing a recording of the "I have a dream" speech in my fifth grade class and how inspired I was at the time.  As a child, I believed my generation would see Dr. King's dream made a reality, but as I grew older I became more pessimistic about how soon that would happen.

From the moment I wrote down the first line, I had a sense that this wasn't my story.  It felt almost as if I was channeling the story of an African-American who had grown up in the segregated south and marched with Dr. King.  So many people dreamed the dream, but through the years had lost hope that they'd ever live to see the day a black man would be elected President of the United States.  Regardless of your politics, there is no denying that November 4, 2008 was one of the most momentous days in our country's history.




"VENUS IN RETROGRADE" INSIGHTS


COME UNDONE

While finishing Not The Same, I edited out a verse that had a line I just loved: "When all is said and come undone."  I wanted to write a title track to Venus In Retrograde, but it just wasn't coming to me.  "When all is said and come undone" seemed to say what I wanted to say in the title track so I sat down to dink around on my guitar while watching Oprah.  (I'm a dreadful multi-tasker, I'm always doing several things at once.)  I wrote half of it in one sitting, then returned later that night to finish it.

"The heart has its reasons which reason cannot know," is a quote by Pascal that helped Tom gain some clarity when he was struggling with how I fit into his life.


AVALON

In May 2001, Tom went on a road trip to Wyoming and Montana.  He and I had fallen in love while we were both in long-term relationships with other people, and he desperately needed to find a space of clarity in order to make a decision about how to proceed with his life.  I dubbed his journey a "vision quest" and wrote Avalon while he was gone as a kind of prayer for his healing and safe return. 

The analogy of Arthur returning to Avalon for healing was obvious (we always had this Arthur and Morgan thing going on between us), but the imagery in the lyrics that came to me didn't seem to make sense.  I thought Tom had gone to Illinois and visions of high plains and canyons were coming up, not midwestern cornfields.  I struggled with the lyrics, trying to get them to go where I thought they needed to, but they resisted.  Finally one night, Tom called me from Montana.  Suddenly, the colorful, lyrical landscape that had been pouring out of me made sense.

Most of the lyrics were written at an open mic at Angie's Coffeehouse in Lakewood.  The "She" in the bridge of this song refers to the Goddess or Lady of the Lake in Arthurian legend.  And She was indeed keeping an eye on Tom throughout his journey, most notably in the guise of a raven which left him both awestruck and a little unnerved.

Despite some unbelievable "signs" on his journey, Tom returned from his trip resolved to remain in his former relationship.  Obviously, the story doesn't end there, but as far as Avalon goes, that's the end of it.  Met man of dreams, lost man of dreams, gained song.


SWEET THE OPEN ROAD

Sweet The Open Road was written when I first began performing at open mics and coffeehouses.  I was still new to performing and still pinching myself to be sure I wasn't dreaming.  I couldn't believe that after all these years I was actually doing the thing I'd always dreamed of doing.  I was elated and terrified each and every day.

I wrote the line about "the demons of compromise" after a discussion with Tom about how living your life according to the expectations of others can lead to feeling like you've compromised your soul and lost sight of yourself.  My use of the word "home" in this song denotes being at home in your soul, knowing yourself and being at peace there.  No amount of travel or running will bring you there.  You have to journey within yourself and once you find that place, no matter where you go you'll always be home.

For me, this song conjures images of beginning a long road trip into the unknown, leaving before dawn when it's darkest, but knowing that the sun will soon rise and the road that is dim and a little scary now will unfold before you until you can see for miles.  The bridge of the song is a thunderstorm of self-realization, where one acknowledges how hard they struggled to deny their truth.  Once the self is embraced, the struggle ends.  The storm passes, the sun breaks through the clouds complete with rainbow and you're on your way... home.


HERE WITH YOU TODAY

One night, a couple weeks or so before we were married, I told Tom that everything I'd ever gone through in my life was worthwhile because it brought me to him.  As soon as I said those words, I said, "That should be a song!"  An hour later, it was.

I wrote the lyrics in the bathtub and they emerged as little one-line snapshots of my life.  Once I'd written a page full of verses, I grouped them in order by age reference (child, teenager, and adult).


THE DISTANCE BETWEEN YOU AND I
MAKE IT PLAIN
RADIO WAVES

Jim Harris is a singer/songwriter friend of ours from Austin, Texas.  When Tom and I met, Tom was playing with Jim and Michael Shay in a band called The Permanent Transients (formerly The New Texas Troubadours).  Jim invited me to sing a few of his songs whenever I was at any of their gigs so I became a sort of permanent "special guest."  These songs of Jim's had to be included in Venus In Retrograde because of their direct lyrical content as well as the nature of how and when they came into our lives.  Tom likes to say that Jim was raised by wolves, but that only paints half the picture.  He is a stellar, intergalactic poet, hitchhiking his way through the cosmos... who happened to be raised by wolves.


WHATEVER IS

The melody and first verse of Whatever Is came to me while I was killing time at our friend Steve's house in Evergreen, while Tom rehearsed with Steve's band, Nightwing.  Forest fires were raging across Colorado including a couple not far from Evergreen. I like to use fire imagery in my writing (I'm an Aries, after all), but I can honestly say that the fire references in this song were inspired by actual fires.

Not long before I wrote Whatever Is, I told Tom that someday I wanted to try to write a song with the same kind of vibe and drum beat as Richard Thompson's 'Cooksferry Queen.'  I liked the "train beat."  To my surprise, the Universe tossed me a melody that went perfectly with that beat.

This song is about change, it's necessity and our inherent fear of it.  Once I realized that was the topic, I wanted to have some kind of musical change in the song.  It was my brilliant idea to take it up a step on the last verse.  That meant that I'd just written a song that called for chords I couldn't play.  It took me months to get to the point of actually being able to play my own song.


TRUE NORTH

True North is the first song I ever wrote (with the exception of lyrics I wrote in high school).  And of course, it's the longest song I've written.  I guess after being silent all those years, I had a lot to say.  The story behind this song is, you guessed it, long.  In a nutshell, I met my favorite band, Great Big Sea, in May of 2000.  The principal lead singer of the band, Alan Doyle, got me to sing a little bit of a song for him at the pub, ending my career as a closet singer.  A few kind words of support from one of your musical idols can go a long way.  I hung out with the band that night and sat in on a little song circle.  It killed me to have to pass the guitar because I couldn't play a lick despite owning a guitar since I was 5 or 6 years old.  All night I kept thinking, "This is the life I always dreamed of, but I let the years pass by and now it's too late."  But it wasn't too late.  I decided it was time I quit being frightened and started living... fast.  The next day, I picked up my guitar and started playing.

So when I sat down to write my first song, I thought I should write about that experience and the great gift Alan gave me.  Just a few words of encouragement and my life was changed, or rather I had the impetus I needed to change my own life.  I figured that if I couldn't come up with a song about an experience that was so important to me, I had no business writing songs.  Consider it an internal challenge to kick off my songwriting career.

What resulted was a song that the listener will assume is a love song.  And it certainly can be if that's how one relates to it.  It implies far more awareness between Alan and I than existed on a conscious level.  It's more of a retelling of the energetic and spiritual connecting of two souls when one unknowingly inspires another to find their truth.  Alan would probably cringe to know this song was in any way about him. In fact, he probably remembers little about our meeting, including me.  It just goes to show the impact we can have on one another and not even be aware of it.

The Universe has a rather odd sense of humor.  When I asked for a musical collaborator to come into my life by the end of 2000 (yes, I set reasonable time limits when I pray for things because the Creator has no concept of time as we know it and, as I've said, an odd sense of humor), I was more than a little shocked to find that he looked a lot like Alan Doyle.  That opinion was cemented when Tom went to his first Great Big Sea concert and spent the evening being mistaken for Alan.  One fan even insisted that he sign her CD!  (Alan later told Tom that his first request for an autograph was the same sort of situation in which he was mistaken for someone in another band.)  Obviously, when I fell in love with Tom, this song began to take on new meaning as he became my musical mentor and supporter.

I'm still a huge Great Big Sea fan and I recommend that anyone who likes Celtic-flavored music, or just a rip-roaring good time at a concert check out this band from Newfoundland.  Just don't tell Alan that you know someone who wrote a song about him.

I must add a note of thanks to Marcy Baruch for her support and inspiration.  She was one of the first people I played True North for when it was still a work in progress.  She suggested a change to a piece of the melody on the chorus that really helped it evolve.  Thanks, Marce, you're an angel!


SPACES IN BETWEEN

The process for Spaces In Between was very different than the songs that preceded it.  Up until this time, the songs just kind of came to me, mostly at one sitting.  They were done in a matter of a day or three.  But this song took 8-10 months and was written in pieces at various locations.  I wrote one verse at Conor O'Neill's Pub, one at Red Rocks and one at La Dolce Vita Coffeehouse. Countless other bits and pieces which were later edited out were written in other places.

Perhaps it was because I wrote much of the song when it looked like Tom and I would never have a relationship beyond friendship and when things changed it was hard to put myself back in that grieving place of lamenting about what might have been in order to finish it.  I think it's the darkest song I've written thus far, because it speaks of the past with regret and the present is filled with longing.  There's no looking ahead, no inkling of light at the end of the tunnel.


REASON TO BELIEVE

Our freedom to be ourselves is constantly curtailed by the limiting beliefs of others and ourselves.  This song is my somewhat angry response to the pressures, attitudes, expectations, and opinions of others.

Just because society believes that things work a certain way doesn't mean you have to buy into that.  We all create our own reality whether consciously or unconsciously.  Often when we see someone breaking some perceived rule, we are angry with them and either want to prevent them from succeeding or want them to pay a price for their rebelliousness.

It is the instances where someone does what we cannot allow ourselves to do that we get angriest.  We are the lobsters caught in the bucket who grab the lobster about to escape and drag him back into the bucket with us.  If we could only learn to bless those with the awareness to create what they desire in their lives, and congratulate them for breaking out of the cage of what is accepted as possible, we would create more room for miracles in our own lives.

I hope listeners will take something from Reason To Believe, perhaps a realization of how they've bought into untruths about themselves and how they might find and embrace their own genuine awareness of self.


NOT THE SAME

I began Not The Same during the summer of 2001 and it took me two years to finish it.  I came close to tossing it in the trash out of sheer frustration on several occasions.  But the closer we got to recording Venus In Retrograde, the more I realized this song's importance in the thematic landscape of the CD.

Not The Same is about death and rebirth, about losing everything and finding yourself.



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