Wood & Words
I wrote my first full song when I was 16 years old. It was a ripping North Country snow storm and I took my girlfriend to a movie theater seventeen miles away from my house. I was licensed to drive, however the law back then made it so I wasn’t legally allowed to drive after nine o’clock. I assured my mother that I would be home before that time struck. Well, long story short, I wasn’t.
When I pulled into the driveway I saw her silhouette behind the picture window in our kitchen. I walked into the house quietly and my mother did what I feared the most – she didn’t say a word. She didn’t even look up from her coffee. I wanted her to yell at me more than anything. There’s nothing worse than the feeling that you may have lost a portion of your parents respect and trust, so this silence tore me apart. I wanted to apologize right there in that moment so badly but I’ve never been a quick responder, it’s more my style to think deeply and then write. I went into my room, shut the door and got to work on an apology letter.
I would write a few lines and then pace around my room thinking of how to craft it. On one of my multiple laps I happened to grab my Dad’s guitar that was leaned against my bed. It only had the three top strings on it so I just started picking them and making sounds while I thought about the letter. The guitar gave me a cadence and a form for writing and the words just started pouring out faster than I could write them down. Within twenty minutes I had a song with seven verses that sounded like some cross between Dylan and Denver, I called it “Lately”.
I walked out of my room with the old guitar and went downstairs to find my Mom still at the table and still not looking at me. I pulled up a chair right next to hers and played her my song. I was about three verses into it when I saw tears forming in her eyes. By the time I got to the last verse she had tears rolling down her face. When the song finished she finally looked up at me and said something so simple that changed my life forever. She said, “Mike, that was beautiful.”
That moment really woke me up to the power of words, the power of music and the power of songs. It lit a fire in me and for some reason or another to this day, words seem to just fall out of me when I’m alone with a guitar. It’s hard to explain but the instrument seems to be some sort of bridge between my thoughts and the tangible. I went through an old hard drive of mine the other day and I have written over 300 songs since I was 16, most of them very crude and terrible that will never see the light of day. I realized that some people write their thoughts down in journals or diaries – I just happened to sing mine.
I’ve been performing my original music since 2002. I took a break in 2014 and didn’t write or play for the whole year, not on purpose – it just happened that way. In 2015 a club owner who is a friend of mine called me and said that he had an open slot in his calendar and he would like me to play. I warned him that I hadn’t played anything in a long time and I was most likely very rusty but he said, that he wasn’t worried about it. So I took the gig and played the show. While I was packing up my stuff a girl came up to me with tears in her eyes and gave me a giant hug. I could feel her trembling and she said, “My Mom passed away last year, she was my best friend. Your song Old Picture Frames brought me closer to her for 3 and half minutes and I wanted to thank you for that. Mike, that was beautiful.”
This was at a time in my life when I wasn’t sure what I was going to do next. I had been in the marketing industry for so long that I was kind of over it and was trying to figure out my best use of time. I was making great money but it wasn’t fulfilling me and I felt like I was wasting my time here on earth. With the birth of my daughter that year I became hyperaware of the fact that I was now responsible for leading by example. I hear many people talk about providing for their kids and most of time they’re referring to financial provisions. Well, I’m a Father with more concern for providing for her emotionally, physically and spiritually. I want her to know that her Dad is a dreamer and isn’t afraid to take chances if its the chances that lead to fulfillment. I want her to always focus on what drives her heart. What makes it feel right. I want her to know that she can create whatever life she wants for herself if she stays true to what she truly believes in. I want her to pursue the dream fearlessly without the worry of whether she can afford it or not.
When that trembling girl gave me a hug after the show back in 2015 I knew that songwriting and performing music was a way that I could make an impact. It reminded me of the power of words. I will admit that my songs aren’t the happy hits meant for the radio, they are often times dark, slow and moody. I’m not a skilled musician, I’ve never taken a single lesson and I even failed a class on writing in college. I just simply put everything I have into it and present it fearlessly. If a song can impact one person, give them light or help them feel like they aren’t alone, well then that song is definitely worth writing.
I got a phone call from a friend in Colorado this morning and he said, “Do you have any woodworking stuff with any of your lyrics on them? I have a small post card with your lyrics to the song “Patina” that sits next to my desk and it is an awesome reminder.” That was a push that I needed and so I am working on a lyric poster idea. I’ve been looking through my lyric books to try and pull some universal thoughts that might be wall worthy for some people. I have been screen printing for a few years now and this gives me a fun opportunity to combine, once again, multiple passions into one project. I can write the lyrics, screen print the posters, and then frame them. Fun, fun, fun.
These will be coming very soon into the Rising Feather shop, I have to wait for the ink to dry! Thanks for reading and Mom, I’m still sorry that I drove past nine.