Life is so uncertain…

When I am not writing for BookPage, burning the midnight oil on the Great Canadian Novel, or chipping away at some tedious but relatively lucrative technical writing assignment, odds are good that any writing I am doing is songwriting. I have done this solo, in tandem and in small groups since my teens, with a resounding lack of success, although I’ve had a good deal of fun in the process. I’ve taken a whack at numerous genres, including jazz, blues, rock, folk, you name it, pretty much anything other than classical and hip-hop. In loose terms, I would say that I fit in the singer/songwriter mold, along the lines of Jackson Browne, James Taylor or Paul Simon, only nowhere near as good. That assessment would go for my singing and guitar-playing skills as well.

Over the years, my focus has been, for the most part, on love songs (sub-genre: love gone wrong, a subject about which I have a certain amount of firsthand experience). An early effort:

From time to time you cross my mind, in the middle of the night

Nat King Cole on the stereo, dimming firelight

A cigarette without lipstick, a half-empty bottle of wine

And one glass where there once were two, from time to time…

(From Time to Time, c. 1983)

Around the late eighties I discovered the story-songs of Jimmy Buffett, and began writing biographical third-person love songs:

They got married in Biloxi the summer that the Beatles hit the charts

She was a wedding night Madonna, he was a bachelor of arts

Giddy from the liquor, they tumbled into bed, and loved until the early light of day

But tonight she can’t remember the last time he looked at her that way…

(The Last Time, c. 1987)

The nineties found me writing with partners: Graham Spice, Lois Berg, Dave Lakey, Greg Welsch, and several others. From that period came another batch of rather more personal love songs:

Santa Anas, blowin’ dry, lights are low, the moon is high

Late night interlude, a midnight bluesy mood

And I’m just sittin’ here

Behind the waterfall of tears…

(Waterfall, c. 1994-ish: Bruce Tierney, Kristy von Dollen, Graham Spice, Matt Nolan)

And so it went into the 2000s, at which point I began writing solo again, and taking on more global themes, likely a result of some sobering Third World travel:

It’s an ages-old story of betrayal and rage

And it plays out each night on this vast desert stage

Both sides are in costume, and both know their lines

They’ve rehearsed them together time after time (after time after time)

It’s midnight in Gaza and all’s quiet here

The curfew’s in place and the streets all are clear

There’s an uneasy truce and an unspoken fear

It’s midnight in Gaza and all’s quiet here…

(Midnight in Gaza, c. 2003)

Still, none of these were speaking to the fundamental nature of what I was trying to get at, to attempt to reveal a small portion of the very intimate and personal philosophy that guides my life on a day to day basis. I thought about it for many moons, finally arriving at a pair of couplets that effectively distill some of my deepest, innermost thoughts and feelings to their basic essence. I thought I could write a whole song around it, but the more I looked at what I had written, the more I realized that I had nothing more to say about that particular subject, that in its tiny way, it was perfect. If I have one piece of advice to offer to my younger brethren (and sistren), it would simply be this:

Life is so uncertain

If worse should come to worst

Save your vegetables for last

And eat your cookies first…


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