When I Was Generous

That’s the title of this song because that was the line it was built around. I liked the inner rhyme of it, which I used as a form factor for the three lyrically different choruses.

I’ve been chipping away at writing this one for several weeks, and this week, Week 17 of #songaweek2022, the prompt of “couldn’t if I tried” actually helped me to finish the song.

Must give credit to H.G. Wells for the last verse. I’m pretty sure I’ve quoted this same passage of his novel Mr. Britling Sees It Through previously in this blog, and I know I included similar lines in another song I wrote. It’s just good! And feels especially timely right now. Wells was writing about World War I (“the war to end all wars”), and here we are a century later hearing “World War Three” tossed around on the news.

“War is a curtain of dense black fabric across all the hopes and kindliness of mankind. Yet always it has let through some gleams of light, and now—I am not dreaming—it grows threadbare, and here and there and at a thousand points the light is breaking through. . . “

H.G. Wells, Mr. Britling Sees It Through

The whole world’s gone mad like it always was
Like it means to be forever
It’s the way we roll
Through the cosmic night
Oh we spin and we spin all day

When I was generous
I could believe we could help each other out of disgrace
Since I got cynical
I can’t even see your hand in front of my face

Let’s lay off the news for a little while
I don’t need to know the latest
Leave me in the dark
Underneath this rock
Let me just catch my breath today

When I was envious
I couldn’t see all the beauty right in front of my eyes
Now that I’m out of time
I find I believe we all can shine in the same sky

Come stand with me under the canopy
Of a thousand points of light
Breaking through the dark
Of the threadbare night
Till it’s bright with the newborn day

It wouldn’t be good for me
And I couldn’t if I tried to keep my life all to myself
So spill it out willingly
Flowers will grow up from the dirt where it fell

Nothing’s Wrong

I got through COVID and then was back on the couch this week with a stomach bug. So even thinking about songwriting had to wait until about last night (Thursday). I turned to a song idea from a previous week that I hadn’t finished.

This song had been insisting on its lyrical hook being “nothing’s wrong,” and I wasn’t convinced, which is why I didn’t use it the week I came up with it. Now this week I felt that continued insistence, and with enough other scrappy ideas worked in, it felt like it wanted to be called good.

One of those ideas was inspired by this quote:

But like you say, sticks and stones will break your bones, but words aren’t going to hurt. But they do stick to your head,” [Frank] Cruz said.

It was from an article where Cruz was talking about growing up Mexican in St. Paul’s west side neighborhood. I loved the concept that words don’t hurt but they stick to your head. I tried to work it in lyrically to this song – either “stick to” or “stick in” or “stick inside” your/my head. But I didn’t end up using this variation on the cliche at all. Still, it was reading that article – and copying down the quote – that led me to use the “sticks and stones” cliche in the song.

Overall, I know there’s something here about passive-agressiveness. And/or Minnesota niceness. Not necessarily based on personal experience, although I’ve experienced it – and given it out.

And there’s that wall we sometimes put up when we don’t want to talk about it, whatever it is – “nothing’s wrong,” we say. And also there’s gaslighting. And “don’t be so sensitive.”

And then the complete disconnect I often feel these days, in my comfortable, not-bombed-out, not-running-for-my-life existence, as the news is filled with the latest horrors in Ukraine. I feel like I’m living like nothing’s wrong.

I don’t want to sing this song
Hey nothing’s wrong
You don’t have to sing along
Hey hey hey nothing’s wrong

Sticks and stones
May break my bones

Stop me if you’ve heard this one
Hey nothing’s wrong
We were just having fun
Hey hey hey nothing’s wrong

Words will never
Hurt me

Nothing’s wrong
Nothing’s wrong
Nothing’s wrong

Everybody step in line
Hey nothing’s wrong
Everything is just so fine
Hey hey hey nothing’s wrong

Two Lost

This is one of those songs I don’t feel like saying too much about. It’s shaded with some personal experience but I was also thinking (feeling?) about lots of other things including but not limited to face slaps, cancel culture, love and war.

And if I told you all
What kindness could you offer me
Who caused you pain, me
Who you have reason to blame?

I’ve fallen far from grace
Misspoken, made mistakes that you
Can not forget, you
Have never wanted to yet

Try as I might I cannot
Make it right without you
And your heart in the game
Cause it takes two to win
And right now we’re just two lost

We’ve both been hiding from
The truth we can’t face up to here
Where we’re so scared, here
Where life’s pathetically fair

I’m thinking if I go
You might just think it over then
When I’m gone, then
When you’re old and alone

Try as I might I cannot
Make it right without you
And your heart in the game
Cause it takes two to win
And right now we’re just two lost

What if we start again
Who says we can’t imagine more
Than what we had, more
Than in and out, good and bad

Try as I might I cannot
Make it right without you
And your heart in the game
Cause it takes two to win
And right now we’re just two lost

Run Through My Fingers and Gone You See

Despite my best intentions (vaccine, booster, masking where required/requested), I passed the dreaded COVID test this week. Thanks to those best intentions, it didn’t hit me too hard. I’ve spent several days in my room reading Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, so I turned to a passage that moved me for my song this week.

Today I finally felt well enough to get out the guitar and massage that passage into a poetic form to which I applied a tune, which I’m calling my song for week 12 of #songaweek2022. Not enough energy to get out and use the good recording equipment or make a video, so this video is a phone recording plus a photo I snapped of that passage in my e-reader.

I’m grateful for so many things today, as I begin to feel better. A house and bed and food and tea and ibuprofen. Children who can take care of themselves and their sick parents (and the dog to boot) (and yes, despite sleeping on the couch and keeping away from me, my Nathan just passed the same test yesterday). Great literature and interesting podcasts to occupy my heart and mind while I do my five days of isolation. And music, of course music.

We’d be puzzled to be more quiet and easy than we are at present
But this water, it’s all flowing so soft and pleasant
I was thinking through my smoke just then

And it’s run through my fingers and gone you see

We can no more see to the bottom of the next few hours
Than we can see to the bottom of this river I’m catching hold of
Nor yet we can’t no more hold their tide than I can hold this

And it’s run through my fingers and gone you see


“Chocolate rabbit” happened to be the prompt for Week 11 of #songaweek2022. I wasn’t thinking about that when I wrote this song. I was simply captivated by this NPR article I had come across about men working to fix an 18-mile stretch of abandoned rail line in Poland near the Ukraine border, to allow for more refugees to enter Poland. It just so happened that there was chocolate in the article which made its way into my song too.

There is something so viscerally joyful and true about good hard work. That’s what I wanted to capture with this song. I wanted to set aside any search for meaning or profound thoughts or emotional expression, and just dig into the story of these men doing this job. As I reread the article with songwriting in mind, I was struck with how many of the details were numbers, so I used those numbers to help construct the lyrics.

I suggest listening to the song in my video while scrolling through the photos in the article. (Krościenko is the name of the nearest town to where this work is happening.)

Here’s a link to the article – https://www.npr.org/sections/pictureshow/2022/03/13/1086032747/russia-ukraine-poland-refugees-train-rail-tracks

Eleven men one hour forty feet
It’s good work
Eight-inch screws and twenty-six degrees
Fix the track
One point five million refugees
Have come to us

Coffee tea and cigarettes
Pastries, smiles and chocolate
Will keep us going, yeah

There’s eighteen miles of rocks we have to dig
It’s good work
Laid down in the nineteenth century
Fix the track
One point five million refugees
Was just the start

Coffee tea and cigarettes
Pastries, smiles and chocolate
Will keep us going, yeah

To get here it takes three hours driving
It’s good work
Each new tie takes two men to be carried
Fix the track
One point five million refugees
Is not the end