Author Archives: Melanie

Another Beginning…

It’s been more than ten years since I kept a personal journal. To be perfectly honest, I thought I was done with that format. Yet here we are again.

Why again? Why now? Damned if I know. But more precisely, I don’t think it is one thing but rather a multiplicity of influences that draws in my Muse and guides my hand.

Among these are the end of the Covid pandemic. After fifteen months in self-imposed exile, venturing not into any store or building other than our own home, disinfecting every surface of every food item delivered to our door by the supermarket, and even quarantining our mail and packages for three days in the workshop out back until the three-day life of Covid has been exceeded – after all that – life is opening up once again.

Like mammals cautiously venturing forth after hunkering in their subterranean nests while the dinosaurs died, the three of us here – Mary, Teresa, and myself – are finally returning to the edges, the outskirts, of what were once our normal lives.

But perhaps the greatest driving force that has led me to return to this format was the death of my step-father from Covid just a year ago.

He raised me from age seven when he married my mother who had divorced shortly after I was born. He was a wonderful father and, though at times we lived far apart and seldom spoke save on holidays, I always felt close to him, and him to me.

And, generously, life allowed us an extra span of communion during his final four years when I moved back down to my childhood home and could visit him nearly every week at his nursing care facility.

I would share the latest about family and friends, reminisce with him about our early days together as a family before my mom passed on nearly a third of a century ago, and I would bring him his favorite foods, videos to enjoy, music in which to become lost, and listen with eager attention as he spoke of his own childhood and his adventures in the years before I knew him.

His loss made me reassess my own scant time remaining to walk the planet. And as I turned my attention to dozens of boxes of family mementos stretching back to the late 1800s, which I have preserved as their conservator for decades and now feel compelled to sort and organize before passing on to my children, as I lift every lid and embrace the memories and moments each contains, I find myself struggling with permanence – not as one might attempt to fashion a legacy (though I went through that phase) but more philosophically as I try to understand where the meaning truly resides: in the acts of kindness or anger we ripple out into the world, in the insights and experiences we capture and send to anonymous others as messages in bottles, or is the pure organic essence of bling alive and becoming one with the immediacy of present experience the spark that ignites the blaze of self awareness that illuminates the universe so others might find their own way?

And yet, it might be far more simple, that which compels me to once again keep a journal. It may be no more than my inherent need to express myself, even if no one is listening, even if there in no one else in the room.

I am sure I will revisit all of these issues time and time again as I continue in this new incarnation of an old habit. But for now, as a means of wrapping these thoughts in a more complete context, I offer the following video from my YouTube channel, recorded live not yet a month previous:

Personal Recording 12-26-1986

Mary gave me a microcassette recorder for Christmas 1986. I had requested it because I wanted a convenient way to capture song ideas I was working on and other creative notions.

The music in these tapes later because the bases for my Composer’s Sketchbook, which has more than 500 entries including fully produced songs, demos, melody lines, hooks, and riffs.

This first tape begins with a demo on piano of a song I later properly recorded in my studio, originally called Guyana Dreamin’ as a take off on the Mommas and Papas song, California Dreamin’.

This song of mine was about Jim Jones and the Peoples Temple where he and 900 of his followers killed themselves in a mass suicide in the country of Guyana.

Decades later, I realized that words could be about any kinds of poisonous relationship where one gives over control of one’s life to another. So, I’ve renamed it “Obsession” and plan on recording a new studio version “someday when I get the time.” Until then, here’s this.

A Composer’s Sketchbook | The 1970s Track 81 | Ragged Riff

Sometimes I think I may have these tracks out of order, especially when I come across a piece of junk like this one. Sure, it’s a sketchbook and all, but once in a while its less of a riff and more of a train wreck. And after a run of really good material, having a stretch of painfully awful work just doesn’t make sense. There should be some sense of artistic growth. But there isn’t – at leas not with this final set of songs from the second side of the second tape.

Seriously – I keep going back to the mp3s that were transferred from the original tapes and were grouped by which tape and which side of the tape. And also on one tape I identify it audibly as “Volume Two” and another as “Volume Three” but there is no Volume One.

So, is something mislabeled, or did I just take a left turn at Albuquerque, artistically speaking?

Well, I recently re-discovered the box with all my original tapes as I sort through more than one hundred boxes of mementos and memorabilia I’ve had in storage for years. Now, if I could only find my old cassette player. Guess I probably have to buy a new one and may have to redo all of these transfers too, since the first time I converted them to mp3 I set the bit rate at 56kps.

Sheesh. At what point do I admit that only a handful of people in the entire parade of human history will ever listen to ANY of these recordings, and even though I still (generally) like the smell of my own crap, there comes a point when the effort to indulge oneself in oneself outweighs the self-stroking benefit by a magnitude of biblical proportions?

Yeah….

A Composer’s Sketchbook | The 1970s Track 80 | Boiling Over

I use music as therapy. Whenever I get anxious or distressed or have something I need to work out, I sit down at my keyboard or grab my guitar and wail away until the insight comes or the mood passes. For some unknown reason, I recorded one of those sessions here.

Like most of these work-it-through experiences, this piece starts out all chaotic and frenzied, then gradually evolves into the beginnings of some sort of order and eventually peters out into a tame little conclusion once all the freneticism has run its course.

It don’t mean nuthin’ but it does raise the question, is this Composer’s Sketchbook the story of my music or the music of my story.

A Composer’s Sketchbook | The 1970s Track 78 | Judy (alt take)

This is an alternate recording of my song, Judy, which was initially presented as track 74.

Nothing new about this one, so here’s the same write-up in case you skipped it the first time…

I believe this is the only love song I ever wrote. I loathe love songs, with a few exceptions. I’m more interested in quirky ideas and odd perspectives. I suppose, “She Thinks My Tractor’s Sexy” is my ideal of a love song, or maybe “Lola.” Who the hell likes both of those?

Well, this one’s all schmaltzy and innocent and young (I was only about 18 and naïve as a newborn when I wrote it) – one of those shy introspective kids who led a sheltered life but tried hard to be all cool and “with it” but hadn’t a clue what that was. As Ziggy once put it, “Every time I figure out where it’s at, somebody moves it.”

Oh, and Judy? I can’t even remember who she is/was or whether I ever told her about the song, or whatever happened to her. Just another one of those teenage crushes that all blend together as an extended multi-year case of puppy love, the details lost in the mists of innocence.

Lyrics

Judy, you shine bright,
and like the sun above,
you brighten days, in a thousand ways.
Now I believe in love.

Judy, I need you,
but that can never be.
So I resign my heart and mind,
to faded memory.

And I knew you
before I met you.
And I had you in my mind.

Judy it’s you
Judy it’s you
Truly you,
Judy

Now I return to singing,
and live my life alone.
But like a star so near and far,
I’ll sing of how you’ve shown.

And I knew you
before I met you.
And I had you in my mind.

Judy it’s you
Judy it’s you
Truly you,
Judy

A Composer’s Sketchbook | The 1970s Track 77 | A Somber Song

I always pictured an almost-rainy day when I listen to this one. I can see the clouds moving in, the sky darkening and the first droplets falling on the last crisp leave of fall, which twitch under the tiny impacts. The storm rises, but just as it appears to be a full blown shower, huge clouds part as the sun shines through, but only temporarily.

After but a brief moment of brilliant light reflecting off the shiny leaves, the rain returns, pummeling the final leaves to the ground. The song ends as the storm gradually moves off, leaving the trees now-barren against the threatening sky, a portend of the Winter to come.

A Composer’s Sketchbook | The 1970s Track 76 | Remember to Forget

This is one of the few complete songs I wrote in the 70s. Clearly influenced by Simon & Garfunkel’s unusual chord change-ups, this one shifts back and forth between major and minor keys and adds unusual sevenths, sixths, and diminished chords just to mix it up. I especially like the shift to the minor chord riff in the middle that almost has a folk ballad sound to it.