Who’s driving this life, anyway?

Lyrics should amplify the emotional impact of the music. Or is it the other way round?

As I’m gearing up for a major life change (leaving a home I love in northern Wisconsin to move to Phoenix, Arizona for the sake of my family) some music on a long trip reminded me that I’m not always doing my best. I skated through school. Straight As, but still, I skated. I could have done so much more with my time and resources, but being just a little above whoever was in 2nd place was good enough — because all I cared about was being 1st, not about being best.

Most people think I’m wildly productive, writing book after book, managing 3 family businesses, and still having time for friends and family.

What I see most days is a person who won’t do the work to lose weight and eat healthier, turns in about 1/4 of the art he could be producing, and is a little too quick to call it a day and watch TV.

In Mark Knopfler’s Speedway At Nazareth from Sailing to Philadelphia he sounds like a man who blames everyone but himself, losing race after race for an entire season because, for instance, “She went around without a warning” and as anyone knows “the Brickyard’s there to crucify anyone”. He points out that “we were robbed at Belle Isle” and lost another because “my motor let go”.

Near the end, one last excuse about how “we burned up at the lake” and then, the last line puts it all in perspective:

But at the Speedway At Nazareth I made no mistake

Not a whiner making excuses, but a guy who knows whose job it is to win the race, and who sometimes can’t look that truth in the face.

Until one single win gives him the courage to admit who’s driving this life.

On the same stretch of road I revisted John Cougar Mellencamp’s Scarecrow. I’d forgotten what a great album it is.

Minutes To Memories is the rambling commentary on life of an old man on the bus, as recorded by the young man singing. The last lines of the chorus sound at first like a curmudgeon’s denigration of a younger generation:

You are the future
So suck it up and tough it out
And be the best you can

It may sound like Don Henley singing “get over it!” but, really, is there another way to live? What we do today, what we do every day, is our future, ours and that of everyone our life touches.

Is there another option when things go sideways but to suck it up and tough it out?

Is there ever a time, a place, a circumstance to not “be the best you can”?

Still Haven’t Found What You’re Looking For? (10)

t’s been a while since I posted any of the interesting searches that happen here. Busy writing two books and editing another for a friend, writing new music, performing it in public for the first time, and generally trying to jump onto the way-too-fast merrygoround.

  • Tahitian skies—Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler; one of my favorite recordings ever. Look; there’s a picture of it just to the right. Go buy it now!
  • a water song—Water Song by Hot Tuna, commented on long ago
  • e street bands pianist—the marvelously talented Roy Bittan
  • hair was perfect—a line from Werewolves of London by the late multifarious Warren Zevon

It’s been a while since I posted any of the interesting searches that happen here. Busy writing two books and editing another for a friend, writing new music, performing it in public for the first time, and generally trying to jump onto the way-too-fast merrygoround.

  • Tahitian skies—Chet Atkins and Mark Knopfler; one of my favorite recordings ever. Look; there’s a picture of it just to the right. Go buy it now!
  • a water songWater Song by Hot Tuna, commented on long ago
  • e street bands pianist—the marvelously talented Roy Bittan
  • hair was perfect—a line from Werewolves of London by the late multifarious Warren Zevon

Speedway at Nazareth

lancing at the title and lyrics of the first Mark Knopfler solo album I bought, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by a song about a losing race car driver. I’m not much interested in car racing (I’ll take steeplechases any day, and no, it’s not cruel, the horses love it) and at first look, it’s just this guy talking about all the bad luck he’s had, explaining away his losing streak.When I did finally listen carefully, I was floored by the closing line


GD” border=”0″ align=”left” />lancing at the title and lyrics of the first Mark Knopfler solo album I bought, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by a song about a losing race car driver. I’m not much interested in car racing (I’ll take steeplechases any day, and no, it’s not cruel, the horses love it) and at first look, it’s just this guy talking about all the bad luck he’s had, explaining away his losing streak.

When I did finally listen carefully, I was floored by the closing line

 But at the speedway at Nazareth I made no mistake

The big win to end the racing season wasn’t about luck; it wasn’t won by superior driving skills. Just the simple acknowledgment that success is often a matter of ‘making no mistakes.’ It puts a completely different complexion on the entire story; this is not a man making excuses, it’s a man expressing acceptance of his role in the undesirable results, and the simple pleasure of getting it right in the end.

Followed by a very long guitar rant that builds in typical Knopfler fashion to a memorable, hummable, ‘play it again’ track.

Quality Shoe

e finally got Mark Knopfler’s “Ragpicker’s Dream” and started wearing it out. It’s not really a concept album, since the songs aren’t really interrelated, but Knopfler’s ties to movie soundtracks are evident in the overall feeling of depression-era America. Though it contains some sad (or angry) songs, it’s not a depressing collection. Most of it feels just plain fun (it’s hard not to smile during the last verse of “Devil Baby”, a paean to circus freaks; in fact, it’s hard not to smile just writing that ridiculous sentence.)Three tracks get played over and over, when I’m not playing the whole album: the single, “Why Aye Man”, a western swing thing called “Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville”, and a tribute to Roger Miller’s unique musical style, “Quality Shoe.”

We finally got Mark Knopfler’s “Ragpicker’s Dream” and started wearing it out. It’s not really a concept album, since the songs aren’t really interrelated, but Knopfler’s ties to movie soundtracks are evident in the overall feeling of depression-era America. Though it contains some sad (or angry) songs, it’s not a depressing collection. Most of it feels just plain fun (it’s hard not to smile during the last verse of “Devil Baby”, a paean to circus freaks; in fact, it’s hard not to smile just writing that ridiculous sentence.)

Three tracks get played over and over, when I’m not playing the whole album: the single, “Why Aye Man”, a western swing thing called “Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville”, and a tribute to Roger Miller’s unique musical style, “Quality Shoe.”

Seen as a modern rock song from the leader of Dire Straits, “Quality Shoe” makes no sense; it really is about a pair of shoes. Seen, however, from the perspective of the album’s 20s/30s feel, it’s a simple sales pitch, back when all you had to do to sell something was explain to someone who trusted you why it was a good purchase (a bizarre marketing technique which might actually work, even today.)

After my 936th listen, I realized a connection to my own music. Though I pitch myself as a swingabilly writer, half or more of my tunes are heavily influenced by a complete immersion in Roger Miller beginning some time before my memories do.

Thanks, Mark. And thanks, Roger.

Tahitian Skies

‘ve been listening to “Rare Django” the last few days and wishing I knew more than five words of French. Nearly every song with vocals is in French, recorded during the master’s early days with various jazz singers in his home country. Years ago, when I first discovered this masterpiece, a friend offered to translate the songs for me. Since she spoke French (though with a decided Tahitian accent) and loved jazz it was a good deal for both of us.Thinking about the translations in the desk drawer reminds me of things Tahitian; not that I’ve been there in body, but I go often in spirit. One simple method is a track from a truly memorable and evocative album by two guitar giants.

INeck and Neck‘ve been listening to “Rare Django” the last few days and wishing I knew more than five words of French. Nearly every song with vocals is in French, recorded during the master’s early days with various jazz singers in his home country. Years ago, when I first discovered this masterpiece, a friend offered to translate the songs for me. Since she spoke French (though with a decided Tahitian accent) and loved jazz it was a good deal for both of us.

Thinking about the translations in the desk drawer reminds me of things Tahitian; not that I’ve been there in body, but I go often in spirit. One simple method is a track from a truly memorable and evocative album by two guitar giants.

'Chester and Lester' and 'Guitar Monsters'Twelve years ago, senior statesman and brilliant guitarist Chet Atkins teamed up with my favorite living guitarist, Dire Straits founder Mark Knopfler, and played a bunch of songs they liked. It was reminiscent of a couple albums recorded a long, long time ago, by Chet and a friend named Les Paul. All three recordings, “Chester and Lester” and “Guitar Monsters” with Les (combined into one CD), and the album I mentioned above, “Neck and Neck” with Knopfler, were recorded essentially live, as if the band had dropped by your living room to visit. They chat during the songs, they show off for each other; everyone is clearly having a marvelous time. It reminds me of Saturday night when I was a kid, and neighbors or uncles or anyone would come over with their guitars and such, and play and sing until long after us kids fell asleep on the great big couch in the living room.

Another Country“Tahitian Skies”, the eighth track on “Neck and Neck”, is a sweet melody which transports me to pleasant places. Written by country guitarist Ray Flacke, I first heard it on the Chieftan’s “Another Country” which is another fine alt country album. The “Neck and Neck” version is smoother, more polished; not better, just different. This is a soothing piece, treated gently by two musicians with style and grace.