I haven’t said much of anything about it, for fear of calling down a curse. But this curious and altogether splendid thing has happened. The reunion with long time friend and one-time songwriting partner Robin Frederick was a wonderful thing in itself. Although we had kept in intermittent touch for the duration of our friendship (some 43 years and counting) we hadn’t actually seen each other for the past 18 bleeping years. How we let that happen I don’t know.
But the wonderful part was that within five minutes or so of meeting, we were back talking, laughing and falling over each other’s sentences, as though the whole 18 years separation had never happened. Of course, there was a lot to catch up on, like what we’d been doing with our lives (growing, learning, coping), and had our world views shifted (not all that much – bodies weaker, resolve stronger, hearts still open, politics liberal).
But here’s the splendid part. After the clearing out and catching up, the first thing we did was to begin writing songs. Now this may not have been so much a surprise to Robin as it was to me. She has spent a good deal of the past 18 years writing, recording, producing, teaching and writing books on music. Books on writing songs, specifically. I, on the other hand, have been doing journalism mostly, but singing, talking and doing radio shows in my off hours, mostly about the Ozarks.
Lord knows I am a storyteller. I would say prolific. My friends would say relentless. Robin says there is a poetry in this land and its language.
There in California, on a rainy morning and still on my first cup of coffee, I leaped into a story, and Robin started taking notes, then asking questions,wanting descriptions and feelings, and taking more notes.
We discussed the songwriting process, how we had once struggled with it, how I’d given up lyrics in favor of narrative, and how she had come to understand song structure, what works, and what doesn’t. Moreover, she said, the best way to put and keep a song on course is to start with the title, a concept I had never once considered, although I certainly have begun stories that way. One of my radio essay titles, she said, was a perfect example. “Hard times, and more coming.”
Well, to make a long story even longer, we began right there, that day, started several things and didn’t finish any while I was there. Since, though, three new songs, better than anything I’ve done in the past and constructed through a process that I still only dimly understand, have been birthed, and three more are perking along nicely.
I think you’re gonna like ’em. It’s another reason why I’m excited to begin this new album. At least three of the new songs will be on it. Maybe more. Don’t touch that dial.