Changing Direction

September 21, 2017 § Leave a comment

This past weekend, the family and I traveled to Silver City, an old mining town in southwest Idaho near the Oregon border. The trip coincided with the town’s annual open house and fundraiser, and we were invited by a friend to come visit.

Silver City is technically, I guess, a ghost town although there are a handful of people who own and live in the historic homes during the summer and the one or two people who live there as caretakers in the winter. Silver City was once a county seat and boasted the first newspaper in Idaho. It was also one of the first towns in Idaho to get electricity and phone service, although the electrical wires were ripped out by German POWs during World War II for the war effort, and the telephone service is now limited to the still operational hotel.

During my all-too-brief visit to Silver City, I had the idea I would write some sort of mining song or folk song, something I ended up doing after I returned home. (See the previous post for those lyrics.) Instead, I drew inspiration from the ringing of the once again active 150-year old church.

At first, I seemed to be drawn toward trying to write something humorous or at least satirical. I nearly had a first draft done when I realized I did not like the direction the song was heading. Not because it was becoming satirical but because it simply wasn’t any good. I did, though, think the beginning had promise.

So I took the first verses and the refrain (which I also liked) and tried again. I finished a first draft, which I thought was better but still not quite right because some of the lyrical transition were a bit abrupt. After yet another try, I think I finally got it. I hope you agree.

The vocal is intended to soar or at least go up at pitch when the choir is mentioned, a motif that follows throughout the remainder of the verses.

Haunted By The Holy Ghost

Sunday morn, the church bells rang
I heard the voices as they sang
The hymn they chose, “Nearer MY God To Thee”

I stood outside the church front door
Waited for my spirit to soar
Or a feeling of redemption to wash over me

But there was nothing, then the rain began to fall
Like tears from Heaven, come to wash me clean

And I don’t need to see the collar
I don’t need to take the Host
I’m forever haunted by the Holy Ghost

I thought to go inside by my hand stopped in midair
A stranger in a strange land; I felt myself laid bare

Now, the church bells have gone still
I feel the air give off a chill
So I pull my jacket tight and head for home

As I walk down that wet street
Through the puddles ‘neath my feet
I get the feeling I am not alone

I turn around, but I see no one there
Yet there is something I cannot describe

But I don’t need to see the collar
I don’t need to take the Host
I’m forever haunted by the Holy Ghost

No, I don’t need to see the collar
I don’t need to take the Host
I’m forever haunted by the Holy Ghost

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

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Sometimes, It Just Comes

September 20, 2017 § Leave a comment

I am currently reading a book featuring songwriters talking about songwriting. Several of them have spoken about simply being the vessel through which the songs flow. And sometimes it feels that way, although I’m not sure I could distinguish when those times are as I almost always seem to be writing.

This past weekend, my wife and I spent time as the guests of someone who owned a home in an old Idaho mining town. It is a town that at certain times of the year looks like the ghost town it was probably meant to be.

Sitting on the porch of our host’s home, I looked around and though I should write a song about this mining town that seemed to echo the events of 150 years prior. Then I heard the bells of the still active church ring. Those bells sent me in one direction.

Eventually, though, I came back to thinking about the history of this mining town. While i did end up writing something inspired by the sound of those church bells I alluded to (to be shared in a future post), I also was influenced by the sense of history that pervaded the town, especially after visiting the Pioneer Cemetery, where some of the early residents were buried, along with the outlaws and the Chinamen, who weren’t deemed fit to be buried in the new cemetery.

Ballad Of Pete McCulley

In the fall of ’67, Pete McCulley was gunned down
He never saw it coming; it was his first day in town
He had ridden from St. Louis, come to seek fortune and fame
Ended up dead in the street, a piece of wood with just a name

Here in the streets of Silver City
Where no civilized man should go
Poor old Pete met his match
What his last thoughts were we’ll never know

Poor old Pete came west from Boston, didn’t know to meet his end
He left behind a sweetheart for whom he meant to send
Pete sold everything he owned for a chance to strike it rich
But poor old Pete fell victim to a trigger finger’s itch

Did Pete know that it was coming?
Did he realize he was about to die?
Did he feel the bullet strike him?
Did he have time to wonder why?

Well, the y never caught his killer; I guess that is no surprise
Did someone claim the pennies that were placed on poor Pete’s eyes

Here in the streets of Silver City
Where no civilized man should go
Poor old Pete met his match
What his last thoughts were we’ll never know

We’ll never know

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

An Ego Trip?

September 15, 2017 § Leave a comment

For the last couple of years, my wife and I have been fairly regular attendees and performers at the monthly Idaho Songwriters Association forum. On the last Tuesday of each month, songwriters sign up to perform one original song. In the last 30 months, we’ve probably performed 23 or 24 songs.

For several months, the forum was emceed by a local musician who liked to refer to us as “The Huntsman” or “The Huntsmen,” I was never quite sure which, as if that were the name of our act. It isn’t, but it got me to thinking about my last name.

A number of years ago at some fair or carnival, I paid $20 (or so) to get a certificate containing the purported meaning and origin of my last name and what was claimed to be my coat of arms. The meaning and origin jibe with what I have always thought my last name to mean, although I’m not sure a huntsman was ever lofty enough to have a coat of arms.

While I imagine that somewhere there exists a song (or two) about a huntsman, I’ve never come across one. Nor have I ever attempted to write such a song until now. I think it probably still needs some work and refining, but here is the initial effort.

The Huntsman

The hounds sit at the ready, nostrils flaring
While the steeds nervously pace
And the huntsman sounds the signal
That is meant to start the chase
‘Cross meadow, stream, and rocky field
The hounds pursue their prey
But for the huntsman, this idyllic scene
Is just a working day

For a shilling and an extra pipe
The huntsman trains his hounds
To chase the fox till his last breath
And bring their prey to ground

Coursers wait with nerves of steel, silently
For the unleash order to come
The chase, the sport, more than the prize
They have no need of a gun
No rook, no rock, no cave is safe
So well they know the land
The ground, as familiar to the huntsman
As the back of his hand

The horses wait with bridles taut
Each rider counts the minutes down
Like their forefathers, forgotten
Before the huntsman’s call
Sends them racing with the hounds

The hunt has ended, so it’s down to the pub
To smoke a pipe and share a drink
A tradition for the ages
In which he is the latest link
Though some will say his way of life
Should have died out long ago
The huntsman hopes he won’t live to see it
It’s the only life he knows

For a shilling and an extra pipe
The huntsman trains his hounds
To chase the fox till his last breath
And bring their prey to ground

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

Inspired By Genius And Serendipity

September 12, 2017 § Leave a comment

This morning as I was preparing my wife’s lunch and coffee for her day at work she talked of trying to get some good music stations loaded on our Roku streaming device. She was trying to get Slacker Radio loaded and was not having success.

I gave it a try and discovered I already had a Slacker account that had, apparently, not expired even though it had lain dormant for years. Anyway, I successfully logged in and linked my account to our Roku device and began listening to music.

While scrolling through some of the channel/music offerings on Slacker, I came across a channel featuring Classic Singer-Songwriters. My brief sampling of the channel turned up a variety of artists and songs, from Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan to Bob Seger and Lucinda Williams. And Randy Newman.

Newman gets his own sentence (and paragraph) because of the song the Slacker channel chose to play. It wasn’t one of his hits like “Short People” or “I Love L.A.” Nor was it one of the songs he has written for the screen. Instead, it was one of his classic songs but one that I don’t think gets a lot of airplay.

The song was “Louisiana 1927” which, in the space of just under three minutes, tells the story of the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 that left 700,000 people homeless. That song, and the genius of Newman, coupled with the serendipity of decided today of all days to listen to Slacker Radio, inspired my lyrical effort.

Today’s entry fits in with my ongoing theme of lives of quiet desperation. It also takes place in roughly the same historical era as Newman’s classic. I move up a few years into an even better known event in American history, the Great Depression.

Just as Newman’s song refers to Calvin Coolidge, mine makes reference to Herbert Hoover, with a slight vacuum pun/reference thrown in for good measure. For those not familiar with the Great Depression, Hoovervilles, as they were called, were real. There were hundreds of them across the country. The film “Cinderella Man” features a scene at a fictional Hooverville. The despair, however. was all too real.

Hooverville

I used to work six days a week down at the steel mill
Up until the Crash of ’29
Then the jobs were gone, the money moved on
Now, I’m here on the bread line
With a hole in my stomach ’cause I never seem to get my fill

Had a wife, two kids, and a house on the south side of town
Till the bank came and took it away
Then the kids got sick, and I had to pick
Which one goes and which one stays
Hard to keep the faith in a God who kicks you when you’re down

Hard to put food on the table
When you can’t find work even though you’re able
Each day gets harder when you’re always climbing uphill
But such is life here in Hooverville

Herbert Hoover came and picked us clean
Sucked our strength and our pride away
This cardboard shanty’s all that I got left
Wond’ring if I’ll make it through the day
Or if I have the will to stay

I go down to the docks, try to make enough to eat today
But the gates are locked up tight
Hard to get on track when they turn their backs
And send everyone away
I can’t face going home empty-handed another night

Hard to put food on the table
When you can’t find work even though you’re able
Each day gets harder when you’re always climbing uphill
But such is life here in Hooverville

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

Continuing The Theme

September 11, 2017 § Leave a comment

The last few posts have presented lyrics that revolve around a theme I’ve been exploring lately. That theme, lives of quiet desperation, came out of some reflection after a breakfast meeting and discussion with another local songwriter.

In the past, I’ve also written a few songs that deal with aspects of aging, songs that appear on our second CD (available through CDBaby, iTunes, and Amazon). Today’s entry, combines the theme of aging with the current ongoing theme of lives of quiet desperation. I was likely also inspired by the fact that we recently incorporated John Prine’s classic “Hello In There” into our repertoire. I don’t claim that this is in the same class as that song, but I think it works.

He Isn’t There

He sits beneath the old oak tree
That still stands in the yard
And thinks about the things that he has seen
He’s lived through lots of changes
Battled through the strangeness
That comes with some things staying as they’ve always been

The people in his neighborhood
Seem younger than before
Back and forth, they hurry who knows where
Once in a while, one says hello
But for the most part
Most days it seems as if he isn’t there

He watches people walking by
While he sits in his yard
They don’t seem to notice him that much
His wife dies back in May
And ever since that day
He’s felt a step behind and out of touch

Sometimes he thinks ’bout selling
And moving someplace warm
He’s pretty sure that no else would care
The house seems so much bigger
Now that he is on his own
Sometimes it feels as if he isn’t there

It seems to him the nights have gotten longer
He finds that he feels better in his dreams
Each day, the disconnect grows stronger
He asks himself, has anything stayed the way it seems

He knows one day he’ll have to move
And finally turn the key
On the house for forty years that he’s called home
The faded pictures on the walls
The empty echoes in the halls
Each reminding him that he is all alone

He wonders who will miss him
When it comes his time to go
Will he recognize that final breath of air
He doesn’t want a fuss
But hopes that someone will remember
And say a kind word when he isn’t there

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

Time Passages

September 10, 2017 § Leave a comment

Since we just bought tickets to see Al Stewart perform in November, using the title to one of Al’s albums seemed appropriate, especially since it is also relevant to today’s entry.

Most of the material I write is in standard 4/4 time. Not a surprise, I suppose, since I would venture to say most popular songs (not that any of mine are popular by any stretch of the imagination) are written and performed in 4/4 time. I’ve also written a few songs in 3/4 time.

But I’ve always wanted to try to stretch myself a little by writing something in a less standard time signature. I once tried writing a song with, I think, three time changes in it. I suppose it comes as no surprise that I never finished it, though I may see if I can find it and see what I can do with it.

I don’t have empirical evidence to support this, but I would suspect the two most popular time signatures after 4/4 and 3/4 would be 5/4 and 6/8, although possibly in reverse order.Since 6/8 time can sound a bit like 3/4 time at first blush, it’s possible some songs I thing are in 3/4 time are actually in 6/8. And vice versa.

I had a lyric idea that seemed to work in 5/4 time, so I went with it. It worked, that is, until I got to the bridge. As I neared the bridge with no lyrical idea of what I wanted to say, I got the idea to change time signature. Initially, I thought the song was going from 5/4 to 3/4 time, but I eventually decided the song changes to 6/8 time at the bridge and then shifts back to 5/4 for the last verse.

This song also fits into the theme of the last few posts, being another song about lives lived in quiet desperation. In fact, that is the title.

Lives Of Quiet Desperation

Donna dreams of romance in the moonlight ‘neath the stars
Instead, she finds herself waiting tables in a bar
Billy lays awake at night and dreams of breaking free
But he’s held in check by something he can’t even see

Feeling trapped but staying put, they’re held by hesitation
Two among the many living lives of quiet desperation

Sara wills the phone to ring, but no one’s on the line
Sits alone and fears that she is running out of time
Eddie wonders what he has to do to get ahead
Knows he has to leave or stay among the living dead

Each one sits and wonders how to enter the conversation
Look to find a way to end their lives of quiet desperation

Donna and Billy and Sara and Eddie
Look for a dream they can hold
Wanting to dare, but they’re all well aware
That with each day, they’re growing old

Donna walks home in the dark just like she’s done before
Billy wonders if he has a dream left anymore
Sara cries herself to sleep, escapes into her dreams
Eddie knows that sometimes life’s exactly what it seems

Each day’s like the day before and not a simulation
Wishing they could turn the page on lives of quiet desperation

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

Born Out Of Collaboration

September 7, 2017 § Leave a comment

In my most recent post, I mentioned having breakfast with a fellow songwriter and discussing Jimmy Webb. We kicked around a few ideas and talked about trying to do something together.

The two of us worked on an idea and sent proposed rewrites back and forth. After several days of exchanging emails, suggested lyrics, and suggested edits, he wanted to try taking the song in a new direction.

Since I felt I had nothing more to contribute to that particular lyrical journey, I decided to return to the initial idea. I scrapped the lines we had been working on and rewrote some of what I had proposed. This effort fits into the same lives of quiet desperation theme I was exploring in my last post.

The title, I suppose, is modeled after Jackson Browne’s The Pretender. The lyrics, though they may slightly echo the underlying theme of Browne’s song, are completely different. Please let me know what you think.

EDITED 9-8-2017 to reflect minor lyric changes in first verse made to accommodate a change in the music and rhythm.

The Collector

He sifts through the wreckage of thrown away lives looking for some kind of clue
Through shredded papers and empty containers, trying to learn something new
Through the remains of the week that’s gone by, seeking some wisdom to share
But the tea leaves all tell him say The Collector is going nowhere

He hears the clock alarm at four a.m., exploding there in the dark
Ten minutes later, defeated, he rises, last night’s beer leaving its mark
His truck is cold, and he feels the chill; three tries, the engine won’t start
In the dark, The Collector looks for the fire in his heart

His days are spent amongst lives thrown away
Unwanted memories his stock in trade
Reads in the eggshells and coffee grounds
And sees all the choices we’ve made

After work, it’s a beer down at the bar; the smell like an old set of clothes
Nobody wants to get too close; he tells himself that’s how it goes
His hands have been through each of their lives, a ringmaster who’s never seen
There’s a thirst he can’t quench, but nobody knows what he means

Daily, he sees the bad and the good and knows there’s a fine line between
The Collector’s a modern-day Jesus washing us clean

© 2018 Walt Huntsman. All rights reserved.

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