This song, Sequoia Dreamtime, was inspired by a trip Dena and I took in the spring of 2016. We took a long drive south of Fresno to attend a family reunion. I learned that the reunion location wasn’t far from Sequoia/Kings Canyon National Park.
After the reunion , we drove up into the hills, located in the southern Sierra Nevada mountain range. Along the way, I appreciated the view of the valley with its blue oak woodlands and chaparral grasslands.
Upon entering the park entrance, I felt anticipation and excitement. Furthermore, I recalled the childhood joy of experiencing the wonder of the natural world. Although, I had seen pictures of these giant sequoia trees as a child growing up in the Midwest, I had never been in their midst. I was amazed to find out that the giant sequoia forest is part of 202,430 acres of old-growth forests. And, I was looking forward to seeing the General Sherman tree, considered to be the largest tree on Earth.
When I got out of the car to walk through the Giant Forest, I started to connect with the huge trees. As I gazed high up at their lofty crowns, I was humbled by their sacred living presence. And, I imagined what they must have witnessed over the centuries. As I ambled near these grandfathers, rays of afternoon sunlight fell among their majestic trunks. I smelled the subtle incense of their rough bark, as they seemed to glow reddish gold.
This evoked a creative response within me that day and inspired the following poem. Afterwards, I submitted my writing to Dena and asked her to post it on the Daily Napkin. I’m happy to share that with you here.
After seeing this powerful image/word collage, I was compelled to set the words to music. And, voila, I was blessed with another new song! Afterwords, I decided to capture the feel of it in a video. With Dena’s assistance, I shot the following video in a friend’s garden. I really like the visually appealing backdrop of the honeysuckle vine behind me. And, I was surprised by the bird happily chirruping along with me in the song’s beginning. Enjoy the song!
No Changing the Truth came through my creative jukebox over five years ago. It has since become my homage to the great American folk songwriter, Bob Dylan. However, I don’t consider it a parody of Dylan’s style or a derivative effort.
* respect or honor
* something that is done to honor someone or something
a : expression of high regard b : something that shows respect or attests to the worth or influence of another
Not long after I wrote this tune, I sensed some parallels between this song and a cool tune by Dylan called, Everything is Broken. It’s from his Oh Mercy album, released in 1989 and produced by the legendary Canadian producer, Daniel Lanois. Since I couldn’t find a YouTube version by Dylan himself, here’s R.L. Burnside’s take on it.
The title of No Changing the Truth holds two meanings for me. First, Truth is Truth and there’s no way to change it. I heard a saying once, “The Truth doesn’t care who speaks it…” At the same time, there is “no change in the Truth,” no matter what happens in the world.
“You know that change is on the way
What will you do with Life today?
You might hold tight, dig in your heels
You choose how much of joy you feel”
This tune will appear on my upcoming album, In a Circle, and will feature some tasty mouth harp work by one of my good musical friends, Dave Clark. In the meantime, here is an early demo of No Changing the Truth, for your enjoyment:
Irish Tears was another tune written during my “coffee house” heyday period. As with most Americans born in the states, I have a mixed bag of ancestors. On my father’s side of the family, I have both Scots and Irish in the family tree of genetic code.
As a personal disclaimer, I have not been to Ireland and I have no personal experience of living there. I have read books and seen movies that take place in that part of the world. I’ve also known a few folks from Ireland.
One of the major social issues in the 20th century for the people of Ireland was what came to be known as “The Troubles.” In writing Irish Tears, I sought to express my impressions of the conflict in Northern Ireland, as an outsider. What I have come to learn is that the conflict there began centuries ago. And, it boiled over into concentrated unrest and violence in the late 1960’s lasting for three decades.
In the song lyrics, I wanted to evoke a feeling of shock and disgust without taking sides about who was right and wrong in that conflict. As with all other wars and violence around the world, I think it’s the children who are impacted the worst. If they live, they must deal with the horror of it and survive the insanity somehow in the aftermath.
“Sun shines down on the cold, burnt ground where the children never smile
Joy ride cars roll through landscape scars, it’s a war zone, mile by mile
Sticks and stones turn to guns and bombs in the hands of a nine year old
Irish blood falls on bitter soil, mixing in with Irish tears”
I had heard a song by an Irish band, U2, called Sunday, Bloody Sunday in the early 1980’s. Their powerful musical statement got my attention. It was a part of my inspiration to write Irish Tears later on.
I must have succeeded in capturing something in my musical exploration and expression. I played Irish Tears for one Irish gentleman I met and he connected with the song so much that he asked for a copy of the recorded version. Even though I’ve never met any of my distant relatives from the “old country”, I would be curious to hear their response to what I think is one of my hardest hitting and emotional songs.
I chose not to include Irish Tears on my album, Older and Wiser. So, if you want to hear it and get a free download (as well as read the liner notes for it), click here.
Beauty Rises Forth was born out of a visit to the Garden of Saints which is located at the Vedanta Society of Sacramento.
I think it was either in the spring or the summer of 2009 that I heard from a friend about an open meditation garden. My spiritual curiosity was stirred. So, one beautiful day, I took my wife for a trip out to Carmichael to check it out. Most noteworthy, the lotus blossoms were out in full bloom in the pool under the grandmother willow tree. Dragonflies danced above and around the lotus flowers. At the same time, I was delighted to see large koi fish drifting lazily in the pool below.
The essence of Beauty Rises Forth is its chorus. “From the mud deep below, Beauty rises forth. Out of Great Mystery blossoms Divine worth.” As I stood by the lotus blossom pond, taking in their stunning beauty, I visualized their roots down in the mud below the water.
I considered how similar human spiritual growth is to those lotus blossoms. I concluded that the lotus blossoms must have mud, water, koi fish, and dragonflies to support their growth. In a similar way, I have the roots of my physical being grounded in the mud of this physical world.
Out of that muddy matrix of life, I’ve grown. I am supported by the rich nutrients as I grow as a human being. Finally, I am empowered to express my Divine worth to the world and my Creator via the blossoming of my soul.
I was inspired by the peaceful feeling emanating from the sacred statuary of both eastern and western saints from various world faith traditions. And, the statuary on the grounds is thoughtfully woven on pathways amongst large trees, roses, and other flowering plants.
Also, I appreciated the meditation benches stationed in the shade near the water lily pond. They are the perfect spot to sit and contemplate the garden’s natural wonder and beauty.
I will admit to a bit of embroidering in the lyrics of Beauty Rises Forth regarding naming the various saints and spiritual teachers represented by statuary. You won’t find a Buddha or a Kuan Yin statue in that garden. However, I was drawn to the full-sized statue of Krishna playing flute in the gazebo surrounded by the water lily pond. And, I found myself humbly grounded by the simple bas relief depiction of Saint Francis of Assisi.
May you always be reminded of and guided to your own beauty among the garden of Great Spirit…
Earth Changes was written back in 1990 during my “coffee house” period. I don’t recall any specific inspiration at the time that may have sparked this tune. I’ve been a Nature appreciator and lover since growing up as a boy in southern Indiana.
I loved experiencing the changes of the seasons every year: from the leaves of the hardwood trees turning red and gold in the Fall to the dogwoods blooming in the Spring. I remember walks in the woods with the family dog and my younger brother. We would hunt along the creeks for geodes. It was like finding treasure in those roundish limestone rocks containing deposits of calcite or quartz crystals inside.
I penned a lyric in Earth Changes with a volcano reference (“…with a mountains ancient cry, there’s a new volcano as the lava flows…”). In the spring of 1980, I was living with my son and some friends in northeastern Washington State. One morning in May, we woke and discovered that the VW bus he and I had been sleeping in was covered with a film of volcanic ash. There was even ash on the ground and trees. I had heard news that Mt. Saint Helen’s, located in southwestern Washington, had a major volcanic eruption. Apparently, the ash had been carried by the wind in different directions.
I’ve always been fascinated with time lapse films that reveal the mystery of Nature’s unfolding. Another lyric I wrote in this song refers to “…a power flowing, something wild and free…” Here’s a fascinating video of an acorn sprouting in the Earth. As the acorn breaks free above the soil, it seems to illustrate the flowing of that power.
I think of the natural world as existing and moving in “kairos” time. This is the length of time it takes for a cloud to pass across the sky or for a flower to bloom. Wikipedia defines “kairos” as an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the ‘supreme moment’). It refers to a period or season. I’ve also heard of kairos defined as natural time. This might be said to be cosmic timing or the moment of the Eternal Now.
“In the ocean of life, we’re just going along for ride…”
If you want to read the song’s liner notes from my album, Older and Wiser, click here.
I wrote Angels Here in the late 1990’s. I had experienced a dry spell around songwriting during most of the 90’s and wasn’t playing much guitar at all.
At the time, I was married to my second wife, Patti. We lived in a nice house in the Hollywood Park area of Sacramento. I remember that there were fruit trees in the back yard and a huge deodar cedar tree as well as a beautiful magnolia grandiflora in the front yard.
I had watched a German film titled, Wings of Desire, at the Tower Theater which is a local art-house cinema. They show independent and foreign films at the Tower. I was deeply affected by this film. Here’s a short interview with the film director, Wim Wenders. He talks about his inspiration to make the film.
I was inspired by the film to write a song from the perspective of being an angel that observes human beings. Although the angel is unable to directly change or prevent human behavior, still the angel has great compassion for them. For me, the song is about the human longing for connection with something greater than one’s self. Some folks call that greater presence, the Divine.
I was struck by a scene in a large library where there are many people sitting at tables reading quietly. Meanwhile, various angels stand near them. They hear all the silent thoughts of the humans as a musical murmuring. At a certain point in the story line, the main angel character falls in love with a woman who is a trapeze artist in the circus. He tells another angel of his “desire” to become human, so that he can experience life through a human’s five senses and also feel emotions, such as love. I was bemused to get a different viewpoint on the old concept of a “fallen angel.”
I recall the initial inspiration to write Angels Here occurred on a rainy evening after seeing the film. I had either heard or seen small birds nestled in the previously mentioned deodar cedar tree in the front yard. That sparked this line in the song, “…And I sing with the sparrow in the cedar tree while dancing in the rain.” I’m always fascinated with how creative inspiration helps to bring new songs through me.
I wrote Moonlight during a very active period of songwriting back in the late 80’s. It’s one of the songs I included on my Older and Wiser album. I’ve always been fascinated by the moon; the way it appears and disappears each month. I like to make a game of tracking its movement about the night sky while reflecting the light of the sun down to us on Earth.
I have appreciated poetry since I was young. There’s something mysterious about the flow of word imagery and the thoughts and feelings that are evoked in between the lines. I tried to create a certain feel with my song, Moonlight, through the interaction of lyrics and guitar chord structures. When I play it or listen to it, I experience a kind of nostalgia as in a pleasant daydream.
Speaking of the moon, I was a big Cat Stevens fan back in the 70’s and one of his best tunes is Moonshadow. I like the playful nature of the lyrics with the counterpoint between lighthearted and serious; the light and the dark.
I grew up hearing my father play classical tunes on the baby grand piano in the music room. One of my favorite classical piano pieces is the Piano Sonata No. 14 in C Sharp Minor, 1st Movement by Ludwig Van Beethoven. It’s also known as the Moonlight Sonata. I’ve always enjoyed the meditative moodiness of this piece, even though Beethoven didn’t compose it with the moon in mind.
I have learned that every day is a brand new day, full of possibility and promise. I sing this song as a positive affirmation to remind myself and others of this. I can re-start my day when it’s going sideways or not the way I would prefer.
I have musical roots in my family with various relatives and ancestors playing piano, organ, violin, harp, guitar, flute, and clarinet. I’m also aware that there’s been a lot of singing in churches, along with on stage and around the campfire.
I’m happy to say that this tradition continues on with younger members of the McKitrick tribe. As I recall, during his long life, my father gave piano lessons to most of his grandchildren and even his great grandkids. My son played drums for awhile in grade school and piano and saxophone in his earlier college days. I have three nephews that all play guitar at differing levels of expertise.
About five years ago during a family visit to the East coast, I had a jam session with my nephew, James. One fine morning, he and I descended to the music cave in his parents’ basement and plugged in the guitars. I was excited about the possibilities after talking with him on the phone about music and guitars since he had been in high school.
We played some old rock classics to get warmed up and he got to show off his chops on the fret board. Then, I just started jamming on rhythm guitar with a chord progression and James joined in. I got inspired and started singing about a “brand new day” and “walking outside to greet the day.” It felt like a ska tune in the style of an ‘80s band called The Police.
Since the tune wouldn’t leave me alone, I had to finish the lyrics and have enjoyed playing it since then. I love the feel of it and it’s got a groove that just won’t quit. I’ve come to realize that the upbeat nature of Brand New Day’s lyrics also reminds me of a classic pop tune from the mid-80’s called Walking on Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves.
This one’s for you, James! “Just shake it off, ‘cause it’s a brand new day…”
I wrote Thread of Love in the early 2000’s. It was the first song I co-wrote with Doug Von Koss of the Noah Project. I had heard of Doug from a friend. Immediately, I began driving over to the San Francisco Bay area to join in the men’s singing circle. I have come to treasure my time with the men of the Noah Project. They gather twice a month at the Finnish Hall in Berkeley. What a blessing to have the opportunity to experience so many glorious evenings of singing and connecting with other men. It is a glorious “perfection-free zone,” as Doug likes to call it.
One Sunday evening in the smaller social room upstairs, I experienced one of those rare times when the magic was just right. Doug played the piano and led us in singing a song I had never heard before. It was based on a poem by William Stafford titled, “The Way It Is.”
The melody was from an old African-American spiritual, titled There is a Balm in Gilead which has been in the public domain since earlier last century.
I was so captivated and deeply moved that the short song stuck in my mind and heart. I sang it on the long drive home that night. Within a few days, I wrote a whole new song with melody and verses and the original piece as the chorus. I have grown very fond of this song over time and have shared it with a number of people since then. I really wanted to record it to share it with even more folks. However, I let it sit on the shelf because of my concern around copyright issues with Stafford’s poem and how to deal with that.
Earlier this year, I finally researched and discovered that William Stafford’s son, Kim Stafford, is a professor of literature at the Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon. Kim serves as literary executor for the Estate of William Stafford, so I contacted him to inquire about how to receive permission to publish my Thread of Love song. It contains a few lines from one of his father’s poems. I had a short conversation with him on the phone. He was very gracious and supportive. I recall that he said something to the effect that his father “liked to encourage folks in their creative endeavors.”
Kim told me to contact Fred Courtright whose business, The Permissions Company, is the rights agency for Graywolf Press. After a short wait, I received the official letter that granted me permission to publish Thread of Love. I extend my heartfelt thank you to Kim and Fred for helping to make it possible for me to record this song. Finally, I’ll be able to bring the message of this song to even more folks around the world.
I am very grateful to be recording Thread of Love in the studio this summer. It will be included on my new album, In a Circle. I will be honored to have some of William Stafford’s words in the mix, along with my own.
There is a thread of love we follow
It goes among things that change
There is thread of love we follow
When we hold on, we cannot get lost*
*Credit: Inspired by William Stafford’s, “The Way It Is,” reprinted in Ask Me: 100 Essential Poems. Copyright © 1998 by the Estate of William Stafford. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc. on behalf of Graywolf Press, Minneapolis, Minnesota, www.graywolfpress.org.
I moved to the Sacramento area in the fall of 1981. I wrote River City Trouble in the late 80’s. I was paying attention to the local and regional issues of the day and managed to include a veritable grab bag of those issues all together in one song.
I think this must be the most ambitious topical song I’ve written, so far. I don’t claim to be an expert, by any means, regarding these issues. As it is, I wound up writing a very topical song referring to:
1) The Savings and Loan crisis of the late 80’s.
2) The so-called “Water War” happening between northern and southern California.
3) The affect on the yearly salmon run as a result of more water being diverted from the Sacramento River and the Delta for agricultural use.
4) The growing number of homeless folks camping out on the riverbank of the Sacramento river.
5) And the large amount of agricultural pesticide run-off into the river that is provided to Sacramento residents for drinking, watering gardens, etc.
According to Merriam-Webster’s definition of Broadside Ballad:
“A descriptive or narrative verse or song mainly of the 16th and 17th centuries, commonly in a simple ballad form, on a popular theme (such as the celebration of an event or in praise of or attack upon a public figure), and sung or recited in public places or printed on broadsides for sale in the streets; also : a song in imitation of this”
I played a mean soprano recorder solo for this tune on track ten of the Older and Wiser album. I had been playing a lot of recorder in the mid to late 80’s. I’d play at home while jamming to some of my favorite recordings of the day. Examples include Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here, Ghost in the Machine by the Police, Paul Simon’s Graceland).
To read more about the album version of this tune, as provided in the copious liner notes, click here. You’ll find it listed after the Never Left Home song.