Song Meanings, a Slippery Slope
As a song writer, you think you’d know the meaning of your songs, right?
It’s a trick question as, the writer would know full well what the song means to them, but that isn’t necessarily what the song - itself - means. I say “itself” because, as anyone who’s written one (or created almost anything, really) knows, songs take on a meaning and life of their own.
For this collection of songs, most were written right before I recorded them. Well, “right before” - like four to six months before. There are a few older songs: all the instrumentals are a few years old as are Fates and Long Shadow.
I’ll run down what they mean to me and hopefully won’t get too literal so that anyone interested in this music can interpret it how they see fit.
Ways: the kernel of this song idea came in a flash from, where else? Game of Thrones! The opening line used to be ‘More is than isn’t’ which is a quote from Arya Stark said during one of her many training sessions with Jaquen H’ghar, I think. It both cracked me up and lit a flame that helped finish this tune in about about a day or two. The theme of ‘Ways’ is contrasts and trying to make the simple express the complex.
Rose in the Sky: I wrote the chorus to this one first and under quite a lot of inspiration - it was in the midst of a fecund writing time for me. We all die and even the ugly are beautiful when compared with non-existence. I’ve found in my own experiences with death that also the memories of those deceased are sometimes beautiful and definitely take on their own lives as my life goes on. The verses are a summation of family - based on mine but could be anyone’s.
Sea Level: I had the pre chorus nursery rhyme-like ‘tortoise and the hare, axe to the grindstone’ line and it seemed to unfold the rest of the tune for me. Thinking about men (primarily) and their unthinking and highly privileged treatment of others, the denial, the blame-shifting and how, each one of us - down to the atomic level - is unique. The male of our species often broad-brush this idea, while getting microscopic about the trivial. Funny creatures we are. I’m trying to see more beyond my pale as a man as I go on.
Chaikou’s Blues: We had a number of tenants renting our basement suites for a few years who all went to the same High School at some point in the country of Guinea on the African continent. One of the fellow’s names was Chaikou and I think he came around our front stoop while I was playing through this instrumental one day.
Road Dog: A partially true story in this song. Some media, bans members and I found this fellow - who was sitting in on stage with us only an hour or so before - passed out in the hallway of our hotel, we didn’t even think it was a person. It was so out of place that we thought that someone had left their room service items in a pile in front of their door. This song isn’t really about musicians, though, so much as it is about the myth of the “freedom of the road.” It’s a tough life and very few can go from one end of their existence to the other this way. We would have been wise to speak with Indigenous elders ages ago to help us master this style of living and survive and thrive.
So Sure of Things: In nostalgia we often gloss over just how things actually were. I realize that a lot of this album is about memory - cultural, collective and individual. All share the aspect - for differing reasons - of inaccuracy. We see it now with people who deny scientific facts with “evidence" based solely on their emotions. Or worse, with malicious intent. The song plays with that idea musically moving to a flatted sixth major chord before resolving to the tonic at the end of each chorus. It takes this idea a ‘step’ (see what I did there?) further at the out chorus where the progression climbs three whole tones only to reach a semitone below the original tonic. In other words: don’t be too sure, human.
Long Shadow: I wrote all the lyrics for this one in early January a couple years ago coming back from an out of town family visit. I believe most human downfalls have stemmed from lack of awareness of the situation. Usually due to a healthy dose of self import. With all our technology to discover all kinds of things, it seems only to be a tool of homogeneity that allows people to reinforce their negative behaviours toward one another. We think we cast a long shadow but how much does that shadow matter when we’re six feet under?
Taj Mahal: I really only started listening to this fascinating musician a couple years back (No, it’s not the mausoleum in India that the song title refers to). Though the lyric seems to hold the implication that Taj Mahal is unknown, that’s not exactly what is meant. So many incredible humans fall by the wayside, deflected or tossed away by the fame machine. I’m glad I live in a world where so many more voices are able to be heard. Still, if I say “Mariah Carey, Michael Jackson, Ed Sheeran or BB King,” how does that contrast with artists like Anaïs Mitchell, Fishbone, Laura Marling or Taj Mahal, what’s the difference? Record sales. Popularity. And pretty much everything else between all these artists! That’s the beauty and what, in my opinion, a lot of us miss when comparing apples to oranges in the popularity game. The song is called Taj Mahal but it could be about almost any artist.
Nevermind, That’s Not All: Humans are masters of both construction and illusions. And that’s pretty much all.
R.C. Cola: This is the third stooge of the Colas. However, in this incarnation, the title is meant as a tribute to Ry Cooder, of Buena Vista Social Club fame. He was also originally in a band with Taj Mahal in the sixties called The Rising Sons. They never became famous because there were black and white people IN THE SAME BAND. Can you imagine? Shocking. My personal Ry Cooder story is of seeing him and David Lindley playing the Edmonton Folk Music Festival main stage on a lazy, hot August afternoon. It seemed that the whole hill was laid low by an amazing reading of Cooder’s theme to “Paris, Texas.” To say that it left an impression on me is a bit of an understatement.
Future Sound: Another song that more or less wrote itself - even the flute arrangement! It’s tempting to believe whole-heartedly in the old axiom: Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it. But what if you take this idea so seriously you actually end up living in the past more than the present? What if the past, in a bunch of ways, isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be? Is it a mistake to repeat that then? Too easy to unthinkingly live by simple statements. The problem everything in modern life is quite complicated and there are no easy solutions. Looking to the past may help but not to the exclusion of all our other resources and available methods to ascertain - forward thinking being among the most important to my mind. (I say as I continue to write and perform music on acoustic guitars - HA!)
Past the Post: I’ve been troubled living in a world of winners and losers in this day and age. What are with the people sitting on couches watching the winning and losing of: teams, singers, dramas and comedies? Where and how do they play into it? Why is this important to us? In the age of predictive text and bots that follow your every spoken or written thought, there is still very much an X factor that is at play every moment of every day. All this is a little esoteric but I think that is the base from where this song sprung from. It started out as a story analyzing male and then female energies. I mixed in the political phrase, past the post, to tie it all together: You think you know who won but are they the winners? Or, for that matter, are we? Ask the man who sleeps in the White House now and then take a look at what is really going on with “winning” in this world.
Leaving Forsland: I spent the day in a quaint little park close to where we live. My youngest son and I drove there and met my wife and oldest son, who rode there bikes. A great meeting1 The children played and we simply watched them run up and down the hills of this park, hide in the trees and just relish life! This blues tune came about that day perhaps knowing that these moments of magic and love are as fleeting as are our days.
Buckets: The verses start out by each outlining the 60’s, 70’s and 90’s (why not the 80’s? - If you lived through them, you’d know!) and then turn to some form of technology as the saviour. Choruses are always in disagreement and conflict.
Peeled & Healed: Eric and Kirsten played so beautifully together that I felt it was a sweet preface to Rend & Mend.
Rend & Mend: This one turned into the epic of this group of tunes but truth be told, the chorus was pretty grand from the git go. Humans tend to rip things apart and then put them back together a lot of the time. The chorus suggests there is something essentially wrong (without ever saying what that is) with the way we put together our societies. The verses were loosely based on a reversal of the East ST. Louis Toodle-Oo chord sequence by Duke Ellington. They speak on knowing the person or thing you know without god telling you, pending nuclear conflict and - in a role reversal after my whack-job slide guitar solo (and the only electric guitar on the record!) - about the male GREAT I AM. Always difficult to sing that part for me, because I’m not that person. Anymore.
North of 60: I wrote this one drawing on my feelings travelling up to Northern Canada over the last couple decades. And the fact that a great percentage of the music, movies, TV shows and other entertainments that we enjoy here in Canada have come from the continental US. The metaphor of an American/Canadian love relationship comes from these feelings. The feeling the American girl feels up North isn’t reflected by the Canadian boy, who sees it as the way things should always have been. They’re both wrong, of course. Refer to the previous song.
Fates: I wrote this song quite a while ago now for my wife. We met as musicians, it was the coldest night of the year. The fates definitely coincided on that cold January night. In so many ways!