I Saw a Stranger with Your Hair (a John Gorka cover)

Having dropped quite a few old originals in here lately, I figured it was time to do another “no rehearsal, no excuses” cover. Last night, I recorded a song by John Gorka called “I Saw a Stranger with your Hair.” He’s recently been added to the inner circle of my list of favorite singer-songwriters along with Richard Thompson and Loudon Wainwright III. Other great tracks by him include “Love is our Cross to Bear,” “Down in the Milltown” and “Geza’s Wailing Ways.”

Why I chose “I Saw a Stranger with your Hair”

For me though, the height of poetry and symbol comes from “I Saw a Stranger with your Hair.” It’s a beautiful and haunting song from his early days, originally recorded back in 1987. The lyrics paint the picture of an ended relationship with the narrator seeing traces of his past lover in his present life. I think it captures the heartache that comes with losing someone but not being ready to move on yet. The line that particularly hits me hard (and I’m jealous that I didn’t think of) is, “by the way, how is my heart?” It’s so casual but so vulnerable. Reminds me of “She Thinks He Still Cares” and how that character tries to play it cool about a relationship ending but is really emotionally hurt by it.

There are lots of great versions of him singing the song in his low baritone voice with his acoustic guitar playing on Youtube. I decided I wanted to do it on piano because I’d never heard the song played on a piano and I’ve been doing a lot of guitar lately so it was a nice change up.

Lyrics & Chords

Capo 2nd fret

G C
I saw a stranger with your hair
Am
Tried to make her give it back
G C
So I could send it off to you
Am D
Maybe Federal Express cause I know you'd miss it

G C
I saw another with your eyes
Am
The flash just turned my head
G C
I went to try them on for size
Am D
But they looked the other way and wouldn't listen

CHORUS:
A Em
But you're never hard to find in a crowd
A Em
The people around you smiling out loud
Bm Em
Their feet don't touch the ground
D Em
Their feet don't touch the ground
D A
No their feet don't touch the ground

G C
I heard a stranger with your voice
Am
It took me by surprise
G C
Again I found it wasn't you
Am
Just an angel in disguise
D
In for a visit

G C
By the way how is my heart
Am
I haven't seen it since you left
G C
I'm almost sure it followed you
Am
Could you sometime send it back
D
I'll buy the ticket

CHORUS:
A Em
But you're never hard to find in a crowd
A Em
The people around you smiling out loud
Bm Em
Their feet don't touch the ground
D Em
Their feet don't touch the ground
D A
No their feet don't touch the ground

G C
I saw a stranger with your hair
G C
I saw another with your eyes
G C
I heard an angel with your voice
G C
By the way how is my heart
G C
By the way how is my heart

Songwriting Stories: Standing in Line (2009)

Standing in Line is yet another oldie that I wanted to get out there for the sake of documenting some of my musical history. It’s a song mostly written by Matt Stankiewicz, that I believe he brought to Gary Zimmer and me after he had the chords and a title. We wrote this at our band’s headquarters/rehearsal space on Milwaukee Ave in the Portage Park neighborhood of Chicago.

Lyrics considered

The story is about a guy who is with a girl that would rather be with someone else but is afraid of making the move. He senses it and pulls the trigger before she gets the chance. I like a lot of the rhymes here (“when I’m gone, will you see what you did wrong?” and “make you see… he’ll do to you what you’ve done to me”) so that part holds up to me.

The one thing that bugs me about it is the line “dreaming of his bed while you’re sleeping in mine.” I wish that had been a bit less explicit because that kind of locks in the meaning of the song. At the time, I think I liked the idea of it being applicable to any situation where you’re in cahoots with someone but they’re looking around for something better. I thought a similar situation that came up at the time was being in a band. I thought about changing that line to “being in his band instead of playing in mine.”

Chords and Melody

As far as the music goes, I’ve long been impressed by what matt came up with. The leading tone walkdown through the augmented A and the diminished F# just give this a real smooth journey. Then, you get a walk back up from the F, through the F#dim and back into the G and finally hang on that G7 until another smooth resolution to the tonic with the C on the chorus.

The verse chords don’t exactly wow me but they provide a stable structure and a break from the relentlessness of the chord changes in the chorus.

I did notice in re-recording this that I end up kind of shout singing most of it. When Matt sang it, he didn’t strain as much. I guess it just seemed like it needed to be shouted to me.

Words and Chords


Intro: C – C7 – Am – A+
G – F#o – F – Fm - C

Am G
I don't think we can make it better
C E7
I don't think we can work it out
Am D
There's no hope left for us together
C E7
I had my questions now there's little doubt
F
cause you got here
F#o Gsus G
wishing that I could be someone better than me

C C7
excuse me please
Am Ab+
It's time for me to leave
G F#o
I'll save the both of us time
Am Ab+
it hurts me inside
G F#o
but I'm leaving with pride
F Fm C
and that's better than standing in line

I can see where this is going, you're
dreaming of his bed while you're sleeping in mine
but in this life there is no knowing
what you've got until it's passed you in time
cause you got here
wishing I could be someone better than me

C C7
excuse me please
Am Ab+
I'm down on my knees
G F#o
I'll stop wasting my time
Am Ab+
you with your pride
G F#o
and what's left of mine
F Fm C – C C/B C/A
is better than standing in line

F
when I'm gone
C
Will you see what you did wrong
F
When you're free to
C
Have him instead of me, will
F C C/B C/A
He be there, to make you see
G G7
he'll do to you what you've done to me

solo over intro chords

C C7
excuse me please
Am Ab+
I'm down on my knees
G F#o
I'll stop wasting my time
Am Ab+
you with your pride
G F#o
and what's left of mine
F Fm Am
is better than standing in line