I Am Love

“I don’t even know how to talk to people anymore,” I heard someone say recently. And I feel that so much too. Not that I ever really knew how to talk to people! But whatever progress I had made in 45 years feels stunted after one year of social distancing.

Emerging from pandemic life, I feel awkward and unsure and even afraid, a little like I did back in junior high – what will people think of me? What if I say the wrong thing? Practically any time spent on social media these days only amplifies those feelings for me.

There’s a lot more I could (try to!) say about how and why I wrote this song, but to sum up, this was one of the few songs I’ve written that felt mostly like a complete gift from the blue – the comforting words I needed just showing up in my thoughts when I most needed them.

You don’t have to be right, you don’t have to be smart
You don’t have to be what you are, you don’t have to be what you aren’t
You are completely loved, you’re forever forgiven
My great heart is enlarged by your wondrous existence

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

You don’t have to make sense, you can tell me what’s on your mind
You can never offend one who sees you from every side
And I love who I see and you’re not the only one
Take a look around, oh I feel this for everyone

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

In the end all that it comes down to is love in everything

And that’s what the world needs, that’s what everyone’s wanting
It feels impossible but with me nothing
Is impossible, no it’s never been easy
but it’s simple enough for a child to see

I’m the last to judge
I’m the first to love 
I always was, I always will be
I am who I am

There’s a Story Here

This song started from my listening to a Radiolab podcast episode called “Kleptotherms.” The episode consisted of several stories and I think it was the second story, the one about a young man with schizophrenia named John and an old woman he met on the beach when he was having a bad day, who invited him to sit with her and eat his lunch. I can’t even tell you how much I loved this story and hearing John tell it himself.

And that feels like it makes no sense with the way the song played out. I wrote the first verse and then the chorus where the words “there’s a story here” tumbled out and brought with them “but it doesn’t need telling,” and I thought that was so strange until “at least not in so many words” helped to make a little more sense of the idea.

That night I went to bed and another verse came to me as I was falling towards sleep, so I put it all down in my phone memos to deal with the next day.

The next day – I had a verse with a lovely little story and then another verse describing something more sinister. I was having a hard time making sense of this song but it still felt compelling to me.

So I lived with it another day and night, played it a few more times, worked out the bones of a bridge and last chorus that helped me understand it a little more. This morning I walked the dog and got the lines that feel like a key – “you take it all in, you live it all out.”

Some things are beyond explanation, transcendent in positive or negative ways – beautiful or terrible or neither or both but just not put-into-words-able. These are stories that we probably tell better with our lives than with our words.

Or something like that. There’s a song here but maybe it doesn’t need all that telling, not so many words.

He was feeling so low
Couldn’t talk himself down
From the edge in the fog in his head
She was there on the beach
Asking him to sit down
And eat his sandwich instead

A young troubled man
An old placid woman
The sun and the sand and the birds
There’s a story here
But it doesn’t need telling
At least not in so many words

Under stained glass you see him
The man of the cloth
Pulling wool over sheep’s trusting eyes
While the wolves go on howling
Outside in the dark
And you still have to live till you die

The devil you know
The devil you don’t
The lies and confessions you’ve heard
There’s a story here
But it doesn’t need telling
At least not in so many words

And you know what you know
And you feel what you feel
And you wait till the moment is right
But it all stacks up wrong
On the tip of your tongue
And you swallow it back in one bite

You take it all in
You live it all out
The subject, the object, the verb
There’s a story here
But it doesn’t need telling
At least not in so many words

Hold Me Close Like a Telephone

In the course of writing this song I discovered that Bob Dylan cowrote the song “Wagon Wheel” and also that Darius Rucker of one of high-school-me’s favorite bands Hootie and the Blowfish did a cover of it, in addition to the one I had heard before by Old Crow Medicine Show.

I learned all that because after I wrote this song it kept nagging me that I had copied something somehow. My subconscious went to work and got me the answer, and Google confirmed it and taught me all those other details.

For artistic integrity (and/or because I’m just not taking the time this week for a big recording), I sang this one into my phone.

Here it is, my song for week 18 of #songaweek2021:

I don’t mean to be rude, I mean I never mean to be mean
Some days feel no good, so no no good to keep all to myself

Hold me close like a telephone
Ring me round with whispers of your love

There’s nothing we can do to change the days we left behind us
Every moment’s new, and this one’s telling us we can be too

Hold me close like a telephone
Ring me round with whispers of your love

There’s something to be said for everybody saying something
Nice and kind of kind to help each other help each other smile

Let’s hold our world like a telephone
Ring it round with whispers of our love

I Think I’ll Come Back Now

I’m guessing I’m not the only one who experienced that social distancing led to emotional distancing this past year. Now that more of my loved ones and myself are fully vaccinated and I’m relishing hugs again, and the world outside is greening up and springing forth, I feel an old familiar longing for closeness and affection coming back, which had been fading. That’s what was going on when I wrote this song for week 17 of #songaweek2021.

(But as with all art, what I brought to the song is in no way definitive. Much of my joy in sharing what I create is knowing it meets others in different ways. And more than once a song I wrote years ago will bring me something new when I bring it out again.)

Nobody told me I’d be sad and lonely, I wasn’t prepared for this
I don’t remember how I ended up outside looking in

I think I’ll come back now
Return from the somewhere else
Land this weary ship
I’m coming back home
Don’t ask me where I was
I never really knew
There’s nothing much to tell
I just want to come home

I was gonna change the world but the world changed without me
I was gonna change the world but the world changed me

I think I’ll come back now
Return from the somewhere else
Land this weary ship
I’m coming back home
Don’t ask me where I was
I never really knew
There’s nothing much to tell
I just want to come home

Ground of God

Here’s my song for week 16 of #songaweek2021.

There’s pits you never might get to the bottom of
There’s rivers flowing any which way but love
There’s words nobody with breath ever should have said
Reverberating inside your head

All is falling, falling down
Falling down on the ground of God

There’s peaks you never might wish to descend from
There’s roads going every direction home
There’s songs of healing and joy about to be sung
Vibrating on the tip of your tongue

All is rising, rising up
Rising up from the ground of God

Be still children be still
Breathe the breath of life
Be not afraid
To give it back 

There’s no beginning or end to the question
There’s battles around you and war within
There’s hope that hits you like a bolt from the blue
Obliterating what you thought you knew

All is falling, falling down
Falling down on the ground of God
All is rising, rising up
Rising up from the ground of God

These Things Happen

My cold got worse this past week and landed me on the couch for a couple days (not COVID-19, I got a negative test). On Monday I mostly slept, and when my daughter came home from school she told me there was a 7 pm curfew in effect.

That’s how I learned that Daunte Wright, a Black man only three years older than my 17-year-old daughter, had been killed by police in the Minneapolis suburbs. More protests. One thousand National Guard troops called in by the governor.

As the trial of George Floyd’s killer continues here in these Twin Cities.

As we keep tearing each other apart with guns across this country. (Yesterday I wrote this song. Today I recorded it. Between those two moments, eight people were killed in a mass shooting in Indianapolis.)

As the virus we’ve grown sick of fights to keep its place in the world.

This is a ragged haunted open wound of a song because that’s what I have this week. I am grateful that the sun came out today, the first sunny day in too long. And that I finally felt well enough to get out of the house. I filled bird feeders and poked around in my gardens. I still believe. In spite of everything.

“In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart. I simply can’t build up my hopes on a foundation consisting of confusion, misery, and death. I see the world gradually being turned into a wilderness, I hear the ever approaching thunder, which will destroy us too, I can feel the sufferings of millions and yet, if I look up into the heavens, I think that it will all come right, that this cruelty too will end, and that peace and tranquility will return again.”

Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

So another man dies at the public servants’ hands 
At the point of the weapons of the so-called protectors
And another mother cries on the screens in our hands
And weary voices rage at the racist military-industrial-congressional war machine

Yeah these things happen
But these things don’t just happen

We’re under a cloud here down in the muck
April is the cruelest month except for all the others
Maybe our hearts are in the right place
But our lungs keep breathing in these toxic fumes 
And we spew them out knowing not what we do
And pointing our fingers and shifting the blame
And the world’s on fire with a deadly virus
And our country’s the sickest cause we deny it

Yeah these things happen
But these things don’t just happen

These lumps of metal they make us hard
Steel our nerves and rob us of compassion
Our original sin keeps us weak
Exposes our skin and lies about what it means
Till we want to scratch it off

And the government tries and the government fails
And the people go mad and the people go numb
And we try to believe and we try to behave
And the truth eludes us and we lose our way

These things do happen
These things happen
These things happen
And these things don’t just happen

Fire Inside

One thing pandemic life has taught me is how to write a song at a moment’s notice. Today my afternoon brought me an unexpected two hours to myself, so I set everything aside and started writing just a few minutes after the door closed and I was alone in the house. It’s become almost a habit now, to sit down and write till I get stuck, then take the dog for a walk and try to work out the rest of it. Which is how I finished this one.

The prompt for #songaweek2021’s week 14 is “inside there’s a fire” which was in front of me as I was writing this one, and I liked it enough to take my title from it too.

This week I have a cold so I got to use my low notes. Also I’ve upgraded my blog so I can now directly embed audio files here, rather than linking to Soundcloud. I didn’t make a video this week since I’m not feeling the greatest, wanted the recording process to be low-hassle.

Oh, maybe you can tell I’ve been hearing a lot of U2 lately thanks to my daughter having newly discovered them and playing their music pretty much exclusively all the time. I think some of Bono’s vocalizing influenced me 🙂


I’m sitting on the back steps on an April afternoon
Just minding my own business, making up a little tune
Nothing’s wrong
In this song
Sun shining and the birds are singing and the rain falls now and then
Grass growing, little buds are showing on the ends of waking stems
Everything
Is breathing

My heart keeps beating at the bars
Of this bony cage

I’m lying on my back one summer night when I was young
Eyes gazing through the blackness at a million sparkling suns
Up is down
Lost is found
Hand of another holding mine and fingers intertwined
Just-blossomed lovers coming close in body and in mind
So damn true
So brand new

My heart is pulsing with the stars
Through this eager flesh 

I’m looking for the way back to the best that’s yet to come
I’m jumping in the river just to find out where it runs
Sink or swim
I’m all in
My heart perpetually starts
And starts again

Love’s Alive

Very limited time to write this week but I was feeling inspired in the afternoon I allotted myself today to write and record this song. For spring, for Easter, for love and life . . .

Pick up your questions and put down your weapons 
And don’t be afraid anymore
There’s something to see here if you care to be here
Don’t be afraid anymore

Oh . . . love’s alive

The birds are returning, the babies are learning
Don’t despair today
The cold ice is breaking the warm earth is waking
Don’t despair today

Oh . . love’s alive

Share with your neighbor, welcome the stranger
Believe you have enough
Give yourself mercy, be patient dear person
Believe you are enough

Oh . . . love’s alive

Lamentation 21

Last night I turned off the news and played classical music while I made dinner. Sometimes no words, only music, is exactly what I need. This week, #songaweek2021 week 12, I wanted to make my own wordless music with the instrument I feel most proficient at, my voice. I used a black screen for the video so if you are so inclined, you may want to put the video on full screen – let your screen go black and feel the music. This is my cry of a song for this young year already freighted with so much grief.