A September Visit

heron on the rocksAs we head deeper into autumn and begin inching toward winter, I wanted to post one pic from earlier in the season. Had fun one morning watching this blue heron from my writing desk. For two hours it slowly stalked its way around the perimeter of my pond. So unlike the winter mink–who dashes across the open space, dips beneath the ice, and races back to the woods with its golden catch–the heron takes its time, a slow-motion film that betrays itself from time to time with lightning jabs.

From early spring through early fall, it only visits a handful of times, so it’s always special. Of all birds, the blue heron strikes me as the most reptilian, the most ancient, and somehow among the most majestic, with its great eye (you only ever see one) always wide in silent amazement and its serpentine neck a graceful S that shrinks and stretches to its own rhythm. Whoever first made the bird-dinosaur connection must have been watching a heron at the time.

As it often does, it appeared first as a shadow, swooping in beneath the morning sun, gliding in low after winging its way up from the river in the valley. It usually goes after the koi, spearing the fish with its harpoon beak, but on this day, exceptionally hot for late September, it seemed more interested in the frogs hiding in the edges.

It circled the entire pond, snacking the whole way. I usually see it when it goes, sailing out and down through the meadow below the pond on remarkable wings, but on this day after finishing its trip, it just disappeared without saying goodbye as I went about my work.

Second Me

Welcome to another (not so) weekly installment of “Free Tune Friday.” To hear past entries, click HERE.

This week’s tune explores social awkwardness. I’ve always felt a bit clumsy when it comes to relating to my fellow human beings. An introvert by nature, I love spending time with family and friends, students and colleagues, but I also tend to find it draining. Parties and crowds are the worst–the swirl of voices, the multitudes of consciousness around me, often makes my head spin. I find myself trying to listen to a half-dozen conversations at once, besides my own, to the point where it becomes almost an out-of-body experience, as if I’m nothing more than a detached spectator listening to what that “other guy” is saying.

But here’s the thing–talk to just about anyone and they’ll say almost the same thing about themselves. I’ve heard so many people refer to themselves as “socially awkward” over the years, I’ve come to suspect it’s the default human condition, relegating the “socially confident” to the realm of a few stellar fortunates and those with sociopathic tendencies. I suppose it’s reassuring, in an “I’m okay, you’re okay” kind of way.

Musically, the song has a pretty conventional tune structure, with lots of the kind of drippy guitar layers that I love. I think I cribbed the melody from an old nursery rhyme my mother used to sing to me when I was little, but I’m not completely sure. One thing of note is the end. I was talking to my buddy Andy Watt recently, whose new album RAPID CITY kicks supreme indie-rock ass (seriously, buy it–it’s only $4!), and mentioned my songs tend to not have bridges. This one actually does. Sort of. It comes at the end. Though I guess that makes it a coda, right? In which case, a coda is like a bridge to nowhere (my favorite place to go). Either way, I like it.

LYRICS

Second Me

Going just to go, yesterday I saw you.
Had you been waiting just for me?
Talking to you, where did I go?
Pushing from the outside again.

Always the second to me, I don’t want to be
Near this talking head.
Feels so indifferent to me to be splitting myself,
To be half as strong.

Wondering where to go. What did I just say?
How could it have turned out this way?
Jerking on the strings, my mind bites my mouth
And nothing comes out but the sounds.

Always the second to me, I don’t want to be
Near my talking head.
Feels so indifferent to me to be splitting myself,
To be half as strong.

I’ll just chew on the side of this little thing we share.
It’s waiting for you to pull it away
And expose all the day
So I’ll have something to say
Besides…

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

Boy in the Tree

Welcome to another (not so) weekly installment of “Free Tune Friday.” To hear past entries, click HERE.

Summer is on its way out, Autumn is coming in. The turning of the leaves always puts me in a 10120310nostalgic mood. I love nostalgia, that complex emotion that brings two opposite feelings–sorrow and joy–together and blends them into a rich cocktail that goes down bittersweet. Fall is ripe for such a blend–warm days and cold nights, full harvests and withering vines, colors dancing in the face of the imminent freeze. And, of course, there’s the going back to school, which is hard to watch without feeling even some pang of lost childhood.

This week’s tune taps a little of that sentiment without, hopefully, falling into the trap of sentimentality. It helps that I’ve kept it short. Clocking in at 1:34, there’s no time to get too indulgent. The swinging drumbeat evokes an almost country-like feel, but what I like most of all in the tune is the bass. The song features not one, but two bass lines, working in harmony to give the tune a certain richness that carries through to the end.

LYRICS

Boy in the Tree

Unfamiliar day, I come home
And find it’s not the same.
Nowhere left to go to feel strong;
The past is gone, it’s over now.

What you need is just to feel
That it’s the way it’s supposed to be.
Can’t you hear that gentle beating?
That’s the way it used to be.

Broken bits of toys from the boys
Sit in boxes, wait around.
Sun crawls around the bed, showing dust
That flows into the corner hole.

Where’s that feeling that things are easy?
Where’s the one I used to be?
Did I kill him, or did he leave me
And go die up in a tree?

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

 

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

 

 

Once Netted, Twice Thrown

Welcome to another weekly installment of “Free Tune Friday.” To hear past entries, click HERE.

Inspiration comes from many sources, one of which includes other forms of artmoonsunsleepbirdslive. Before I became a novelist, I wanted to be a poet, and poetry is still my first literary love. I stumbled upon this beautiful piece by Kenneth Patchen in a textbook called Western Wind: An Introduction to Poetry by David Mason and John Frederick Nims, a fantastic way to learn the ins and outs of verse (if you can stomach the price–yikes!).

In a discussion on the language of verse, the authors include the poem primarily for its border–a sample of rich words to work from, as opposed to the kind of cliched or pretentious language that clutters bad poetry. Just as bones make for good soup stock, these are the kinds of words that make good stock for poems. In the classroom, I would give my students a copy of Patchen’s work and ask them to create their own verses, drawing at least in part from the words in the border. The results were often surprisingly potent.

I gave the exercise a try myself one day (seemed only fair), and the results became the lyrics of this song. I typically start with a melody, composed with the help of an acoustic guitar, then fit the words to the melody’s rhythm. To be honest, it’s been long enough now that I can’t remember which came first for this song–lyrics or melody–but I was happy with the result. The words are certainly surrealist–in the same vein as Patchen’s own verses–but as I’ve said before, you can get away with a level of abstraction in a song that’s difficult to pull off in a poem on the written page.

Musically, the biggest thing to note here is that the main guitar line is comprised exclusively of one-finger chords. When I first started song-writing, I couldn’t play guitar very well (still can’t, actually), so most of my songs were composed with chords that only required me pressing down one or two fingers on the fretboard. As in formed verse, though, limitations can spur ingenuity, so I never minded the lack of chops that real guitarists sport. In this endeavor, it was just about writing tunes and having fun.

LYRICS

Once Netted, Twice Thrown

The once-netted tiger storms into summer so gently,
A stone’s throw away weaves the maker of glass.
The turtle whose shell weaves lines through the grass
Always seems to be saying this tunnel will end.

The beauty of you is my beauty,
Afraid to be killed by the noose of the stars,
While the cold morning flame
Turns the shadow of birds into angels.

Are you afraid of what your beauty has made,
Like a deer whose blue fear tears a tear in my headlight?
Why fear the wind when you know
Your charm’s fateful thorn fills the side of the man?

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

Slow Going

Welcome to another weekly installment of “Free Tune Friday.” To hear past entries, click HERE.

Back in action this week with one of my favorite tunes. As I’ve mentioned more than once, I’m a huge fan of Guided by Voices, the indie band from Dayton, Ohio. For almost ten years, about 80% of the rock I listened to was by GBV or one the seemingly dozens of side projects spawned by frontman Robert Pollard and, in my opinion, the equally talented Tobin Sprout. It took an obsession with traditional Celtic music and bagpiping (smallpiping, to be precise) to break my GBV-inspired fever, but the damage was done–the band will always be a major musical touchstone for me.

Written back in the days of my fever, Slow Going is probably the closest thing I’ve recorded to a GBV tune. The key lies in the precision. The quintessential Pollard tune is less than two minutes long, is melodic, is often linear (no verse/chorus back and forth–just a single straight-on-’till-sunset sort of lyric), and ends with a bang. Or at least a nice little pop.

So, clocking in at one minute and fifty-one seconds, Slow Going hits all the keys. A little acoustic, a little phase effect, some rocking crunch in the finale, all paired with a set of semi-cryptic lyrics about the shallowness of an image-obsessed modern media, et voila!

LYRICS

Slow Going

Patch the holes, let it fly up to Hollywood.
Let the stars roll by like I said they would.
Take it out of town, try to find Information Man.
He’s got the balls that you rolled out of bounds.

Crush the cigarette and turn away
Before you catch another stray
Glance at the artificial burning bush
Glittering between the screens that glow
And open up another show
That tells the story of what you could be.

I’ve got a message the bend
So pretend you didn’t hear.
I’ve got some money to spend
If you’ll stop trying to go so slow.

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

The Mighty Castoff

Welcome to another weekly installment of “Free Tune Friday.” To hear last week’s tune and other past entries, click HERE.

After a week of Ecuadorian weather, we finally have a dry summer evening. Perfect for this week’s song. Not a heck of a lot to say about this one. A little Yo La Tengoish in its own way, with some nice mellow distortion and dreamy lyrics that paint a portrait of someone I’ve long forgotten, if they were ever real at all. I love the guitar line at the end. A little clarion call for those starry-misty summer nights.

LYRICS

The Mighty Castoff

The starlight casts shadows on your brain.
From your eyes it comes back out again.
The sunrise fights to feel the same
Horizon to hold onto.

I know the time; it feels right: goodbye.

In your mind, decisions can come true,
While your lies strive to make you new.
You try to seem the soldier-child of pain,
But your smile creeps back again.

I know that smile; you can’t hide: goodbye.
I know the time; it feels right: goodbye.

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

Carnie

Welcome to another weekly installment of “Free Tune Friday.” To hear last week’s tune and other past entries, click HERE. This week brings us the final installment in our trilogy of dramatic monologues. (I said last week’s Agent Zero was the first, forgetting that week five’s Prospero’s Song already fit the bill.)

When I was a kid, one of the highlights of the year was the day (or two, if we were lucky) spent at the Caledonia County Fair. My mom would take us on “kid’s day,” that magical day where you got a plastic bracelet that allowed you to go on as many rides as you wanted. My brothers and I spent hours making the rounds, from the more tame rides–classics like the Ferris wheel, the carousel, the giant slide–to the more adventurous, with names like Tilt-a-Whirl, Hurricane, and Himalaya. As much as I loved the rides, it was the dudes operating them, the carnies, that fascinated me the most. They were rough men, not old but not young, ground down by life, sometimes friendly, sometimes indifferent, but always bored. They were also usually cheesed out of their skulls. I had no idea what drugs were as a kid, but even I knew there was something not quite right about the hollow stare in those glazed eyes. I would watch them and wonder what twists of fate had brought them to this remote area of northern Vermont, and try to think about what the course of their daily lives was really like.

Somehow, those memories came back when I wrote this song. I don’t know how true to life the carnie’s words are here, but they’re how I always imagine them, even now when I take my own kids to the fair and linger nervously at the gates with the other parents, watching the men strap the little ones into the old, rickety rides. I’m guessing the life is a certain kind of hell, but who really knows?

The underlying rhythm’s tick-tock quality–incessant, monotonous–runs through the entire song, a pattern of octaves and fifths that suggests a carnival song, enhanced by a distorted organ track. The overall sound is meant to be both trippy and lugubrious, with echoes of Pink Floyd.

LYRICS

Carnie

I take the tickets one by one
From all the little girls and boys,
Each face anticipating fun,
A moment of circular joy.
By noon the bodies have become
A single motion wrapped in sun
Sliding right into the haze
That I’ve been building up for days.

Another week, another town,
Another fair, it’s all the same.
I build the ride, I break it down.
Boredom so great it turns to pain
Is captured by the little pills
That turn my gaze to distant hills
And roll it right into a ball.
They’re sold behind the shooting stall.

Someday this thing will fall apart,
Send children flying through the air.
A missing bolt, a broken part
Will show that I’ve not taken care
To do the things that must be done
To build this business they call fun.
I’ll be just one more carnie stain
Rubbing against the midway grain.

Until that day I will remain
In ever new unchanging lands,
Eying hot mommas at the chain,
Their children’s lives placed in my hands.
By noon the bodies will become
A single motion wrapped in sun
Sliding right into the haze
That I’ve been building up for days.

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

Agent Zero

Welcome to another weekly installment of “Free Tune Friday.” To hear last week’s tune and other past entries, click HERE.

I’ve always been a sucker for a good dramatic monologue. I love the idea of conjuring a fictional character through their own words to tell (or at least suggest) a story, all within in a few short lines. Sort of a verse form of the “flash fiction” that’s become so fashionable in recent years. So for the next couple weeks, I’m presenting my own little stabs at the mode in song.

I’m not 100% sure where the inspiration for this week’s tune came from, but I think it came from the Robert Hanssen case–an FBI agent who for years sold secrets to the Russians before finally getting nabbed in 2001–which broke the year I wrote this song. The case involved all kinds of classic spy tropes–from clandestine package drops in parks to secret identities. This tune comes not from the traitor’s perspective, but from the foreign agent on the receiving end. And this story has a different ending. Instead of falling into the hands of the Feds, the betrayer is himself betrayed. All in good fun.

The tune starts off quietly, increasing in guitar layers, rhythmic intensity, and tempo with each additional verse, then breaking out into Weezer-esque glory before finally finishing on a quiet, almost wistful note.

LYRICS

Agent Zero

You’ve been searching for more to live on.
You’ve been dreaming of playing days to come.
I’ve been searching for just this kind of one.
You must not be late. I will not be late.
You must hold the bargain that we’ve made.

I will meet you between the bridges
In the shadows beneath the sycamores.
You just remember to bring the briefcase.
We’ll have lots of fun–I will bring my gun;
You will bring the secrets that you’ve won.

If you’re worried what others may know,
Don’t you worry—I’ve taken steps to know
That nobody is looking into you.
Don’t give in to fear. It descends like tears
And washes all the colors from your dreams.

So you made it—I wasn’t sure you’d come.
Just stay steady, there’s nowhere to run.
Yes, it’s loaded—rely on no one.
Don’t look so surprised. You must realize
I will take your gift and leave you here.

Trust me when I say
You’re better off this way.
You would not be happy with your dreams.

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

 

The Witness

Welcome to another weekly installment of “Free Tune Friday.” To hear past entries, click HERE.

After last week’s vacation, The Accidental Novelist is ready to break out a whole new round of tunes! This week’s song is another slight detour from my usual sound, though when I started recording on the Zoombox, I found all the new options for rhythms and effects shifted what was normal, moving my recording in all kinds of new and interesting directions.

This week’s tune has a mellow, bouncy kind of feel, very Euro. I think of The Stone Roses for some reason when I hear this, though I don’t know if the comparison is apropos. Regardless, I think Matt Hunter, my college suitemate, bandmate, and musicologist when it comes to all things Euro would approve.

Lyrically, the song is a love song gone awry, a commentary on the difficulty of feeling genuine and finding connections in a post-modern world where image dominates and lovers are tainted by packaged notions of what relationships should be. Not particularly original, I know. But the lyrics (the chorus especially) are clever enough in their own way to do justice to the groove.

LYRICS

The Witness

A boy is staring at a girl.
She sees him standing there;
She tosses back her hair
And glows.

The girl smiles at the boy.
He’s seen this scene before
Played out on some TV.
He thinks she isn’t real,
The moment’s lost appeal.

The girl watches as the boy
Numbly turns away. Dismayed,
She feels betrayed, upstaged
By newer forms rolled out
On golden screens
And glossy magazines.

Once upon a time I might have had a reason,
A reason to start hoping I could be like you.
Forcing myself to feel a tender moment,
Feeling is something I could never do.

Pacing up and down these empty avenues,
The only thing I fear is that I’ve got nothing to lose.
Let it linger, let it hang around,
The little lie that tells you you’ve got both feet on the ground.

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)

Quitting

Welcome to another weekly installment of “Free Tune Friday.” To hear last week’s tune and other past entries, click HERE.

No, I’m not giving up the writing business. It’s simply the title of this week’s tune. My wife once said, “This is a good summer song!” and I knew exactly what she meant–the kind of tune you crank on your car stereo while zipping along the road with the windows rolled down and the warm air blowing in your hair. Or something like that.

The tune is a bit funkadelic for my usual fare, but I love it for it. Wa-wa effects, funky solos, a disco guitar rhythm, back-up vocals cooing “oohs” and “ahs”–hell, there’s even a tambourine in there! All those years of listening to Beck paid off, I guess.

The lyrics provide an ironic contrast to the happy sound of the music. After all, it is a song, as the title suggests, about struggling with addiction. I had my own bit of fun dealing with the experience years ago. Nothing glamorous, but I certainly got a taste of it (several tastes, actually, over several attempts) when I quit smoking. There is a certain kind of hopeless apathy that comes with giving up a bad habit, a feeling that’s probably the biggest hurdle to overcome. I’m certainly glad I did.

LYRICS

Quitting

Every time I try to leave, walk out,
There the itch goes calling out to me,
Offering promises of more.

Opening the top to crawl inside and hide
Is the most natural thing to do;
Everyone is aching for womb.

Deep in your bones, you feel it’s gone; move on.
Fascination never comes for free,
Limited purpose isn’t wrong.

Even though I seem to try so hard,
It really doesn’t matter at all.
It really doesn’t matter to me.

The greatest curse you’ll ever face
Is falling into thinking it’s gone,
It really doesn’t matter at all.

To listen to this tune, click HERE. To download, right-click on the link and select “Save Link As.” For best results, apply headphones. Thanks for listening! Be sure to come back for next Friday’s installment…

(Written, performed, and recorded by David Stahler Jr. All rights reserved.)