Videos

Songwriter Stories – Be Here Now (2010)

Rolling out the oldies again with a sister song to “Standing in Line.” Again, written mostly by Matt Stankiewicz and finished with Gary Zimmer and me at our Jefferson Park HeadQuarters. Not sure exactly what this was about lyrically but I’m sensing a strong theme of ambivalence and, “I can’t make big promises but this is what I can offer you.” The title makes me think of meditation and seeking a presence of mind that discards the past and stops trying to solve for the future.

Thoughts on the music

This was written on piano and it shows in the descending melody line that follows with the slash chords. I particularly like the walkup to D minor after the refrain. Gives it a new neighborhood to go to and a memorable place to sing along. When I play it on guitar, I don’t incorporate all the bass notes from the slash chords. I just imagine a bass player is doing that for me.

Lyrics and Chords


Intro

F / C/E / Bb C F /

F C/E

You look so surprised to see me standing here

Bb/D F/C F

I can see it in your eyes

Bb F/A F D-
I can’t explain the way I CAN’T LET GO

G- G C C7

But I know, yes I know

F C/E

Today I realized, the way I feel is clear

Bb/D F/C F

It’s something I cannot disguise

Bb F/A F#o G-
I can’t explain the way my HEART STANDS STILL

G C C7

But I will, yes I will

F Gm C

BE HERE NOW

F

To sacrifice my pride for you And

Am Bb C

SHOW YOU HOW

F

I will stand and fight for you

‘Cause...

Dm C Bb F

Iiiiiiiiiiii can’t know how you feel but

Dm C Bb F

Iiiiiiiiiiii know what I feel is real

Gm C Bb Am F

I’m making my vow to BE HERE NOW

F C/E

I hope you understand, what I came to say

Bb/D F/C F

Your eyes tell me that it’s true

Bb F/A F D-
It’s not a choice to make, to LET YOU KNOW

G- G C C7

I can’t let go, no I can’t let go

F C/E

Whatever you demand, there are no games to play

Bb/D F/C F

I will give it all to you

Bb F/A F#o G-
My heart is yours to take, IF YOU WILL

Cause I still, yes I still

Will... [CHORUS]

Songwriting Stories – A Simple Life (2002)

A Simple Life is another old sad song that I wrote a while back. This one was written on acoustic guitar and features a lot of heavy hammers and chord arpeggios. I wrote the chords with the verse lyrics and had the chorus chords but couldn’t do anything with the chorus words. I brought it to my co-writer Tari Follett who helped me by writing the chorus words. Thanks, Tari!

Musically, I felt really strong about this chord progression. It’s in the key of C but has enough curve balls (D major substitute and the Bb in the prechorus) to keep it interesting. I also enjoyed the F major – F minor device to end the chorus and get back to the dark and minor verse.

Chords and Lyrics

A Simple Life
Miles Maxwell ©2002

Capo fifth fret

Am/D - F – C – G
All I ever wanted was a simple life
Am/D - F – C – D
Never asked for nothing more
Am/D - F – C
Don’t want no money, nice things or diamond rings
G
Just the simple things
Bb/D F
With a mind clear and free
C G7
But you took that away from me

Hey you, yeah you
Life will never be easy again, old friend
You took what you could and left me complicated
Well, now I never forgive and I never forget
I never forget

But that’s the one thing you taught me, isn’t it dear

C – G – Em – F
There’s nothing, there’s no one
It’s too late to save me
I’m tired, I’m broken
Look what you have made me
Hope you got what you wanted
I hope you forgot me
I tried to forget you
C – G – Em – F Fm
Look what it has got me

Some people build walls to simplify their future lives
Some build walls to hide what remains
But me, I’m tired of my walls
And I’m tired of feeling so ashamed

All I ever wanted was a simple life
Never asked for nothing more
Don’t want no money, nice things or diamond rings
Just a simple life
With my mind clear and free
But you took that away from me

Chorus

Solo

Chorus

A Simple Life decoded

Now that I’ve introduced this song, I want to clarify from a writers perspective what I was trying to do. It’s actually about two things: First, it’s about child abuse. That probably sounds a bit like a stretch and I intentionally kept things vague enough to be applied to multiple situations but the wrongdoing at the hands of a parent was the first thought here. I heard a tough childhood story from someone I cared about and this was my attempt to get inside what that experience might have felt like. I definitely did not have this kind of childhood but I wanted to memorialize that empathy in something that I could sing about with passion.

Second, it’s about a friend who was raped. Similar to the first theme, I have not been in that position but I was moved by my friend’s story and I felt a need to try to understand that story in my own imagination.

Part of me feels like talking about it openly cheapens the song and makes it seem like I intended to co-opt someone else’s experience for my own creativity. I don’t see it that way but it occurred to me in hindsight so I figured it could probably have occurred to others. I see it as kind of a tribute to their pain and perseverance. Even if feelings and trauma don’t get resolved in the song, the character singing it is fighting instead of surrendering to the pain of the situation and that means they have hope.

In any event, it’s a song I’m still proud to play because the music ain’t too bad, the message is a real one and it makes me feel something. Hopefully, it makes the listener feel something too.

Songwriting Stories – Intentional (2001)

Here’s an old song called “Intentional” that I co-wrote with Trey Krueger back in 2001. This was written during my time living in northern California.

Meet Trey Krueger

I got to know Trey while hanging out at the Streets of London pub. We would sit outside on the picnic benches when the weather allowed, chatting about music and sports while lamenting our luck with the ladies as gents are wont to do. He also had a wealth of knowledge about American history and politics but I had limited interest in those topics.

At some point, this stranger at the bar turned into someone I looked forward to meeting as we talked about our developing musical goals and exchanged talk of musical heroes.

I don’t remember for sure but I’m vaguely recalling his interest in the Smiths, Morrissey and Joy Division-type stuff. He also hipped me to John Wesley Harding‘s music, which I still love.

He was a singer with a dramatic and emotive delivery, true to his influences. He also had a book full of lyrics, heavy on symbols and suffering. Since I tend to write pretty straightforward lyrics and I was big into comedy music at the time, I found his sincerity appealing. We sat down one night at my place to put some of those lyrics to music.

The Lyrics

The lyrics came entirely from Trey. All I can recall asking for was some repetition to ground the song with a refrain.

I don’t recall Trey’s story for the lyric but the words suggest to me a volatile exchange as a relationship comes to an end. I enjoy the lyric to this day because I can identify with the feeling of confusion and sadness. You’re trying to do the right thing but you’re not sure you can or will. Then, things get messy and it gets worse.

The Music

As I recall, I wrote the chords. It’s basically a Cmaj7 – Fmaj7 vamp for the verses and a little 8 – 7 – 6 walk down for the refrain with a big ending on the 5.

Originally written on an acoustic guitar, I had a very simple strum thing at first. As I moved back to Chicago and kept playing it, I made it a pretty intricate arpeggio thing with a pull off the high C to hit that maj7 note and the same thing on the F to hit that E. I think I felt self conscious about the simplicity of the chords so I wanted to make it seem more impressive with some fancy fingerpicking.

The melody was kind of there from Trey singing it a Capella but I remember guiding some of the rising for the second and third verses. I do have a mp3 version of him singing it somewhere but I can’t find it.

The Result

The reaction when I’ve performed this is usually lukewarm. It’s pretty long, the lyrics are a bit vague and don’t advance a narrative. By the end, I can feel the audience looking for a payoff or an ending, which makes me want to speed up to get through it.

It could have been a time and place situation, though. There may be an audience waiting for this song that I didn’t get in front of. I still like it, even if I’m not exactly sure what it’s about.

The Tab

Making small important talk
as the even tide rolled in
Splayed across the sidewalk
makes us see how long it’s been

cast iron smiles and bits of humor
can’t remove the thorny rumor
making small important talk
as the even tide rolled in…

And they say it’s not intentional
But things never really are
Pushing luck at people
F F/E Dm7
Makes me wonder just how far
F F/E Dm7
Makes me wonder just how far
F F/E G
Makes me wonder just how far

Now the chatter starts to wonder
Conspicuously from you and I
The heart has not grown fonder
So we both refuse to try
To pinpoint what it is we’ve lost
And by losing it, incurred what cost
Can either of us pay it?
Do we even want to try?

And they say it’s not intentional
But things never really are
Pushing luck at people
Makes me wonder just how far
Makes me wonder just how far
Makes me wonder just how far

Solo

I’m told speaking with candor
is the style that’s preferred
but our slippage into slander
makes candor seem absurd

And friends pile on the saccharine
In huge and leaping mounds
But still they are not large enough
To muffle hurtful sounds

And they say it’s not intentional
But things never really are
Pushing luck at people
Makes me wonder just how far
Makes me wonder just how far
Makes me wonder just how far

Rocky Top Piano & Solo Voice

A few weeks ago, I video recorded myself playing a few songs on piano, including Rocky Top with piano and my solo voice. The family was away at a camping trip and I stayed home to catch up on work and get a mental rest. There was a weekend overlap with their trip, so I chose to use that time for some creative low pressure music stuff like this.

The goal was to look through a book of music, find something I haven’t played in a long while, and run through it. I wanted to see and hear how I handled the mental test of processing info on the page and translating that into music from my hands and voice. In the video, you’ll notice plenty of pauses as I think about melody and piano chords but I’m satisfied with how I did. I think my big nitpicks would be that I tend to get creative in a too repetitive way with the melody. You can take certain liberties with melodic hooks on covers but the moment you’ve repeated that creative alteration 3 times, you’re kind of hammering the listener over the head with it.

There wasn’t any big reason I picked this song, other than I flipped to it in the book after I vetoed “Daydream Believer”. Plus, I’ve always tended to float into higher singing registers and this song by the Osborne Brothers is usually sung pretty high.

In hindsight though, I am pretty interested in Tennessee in general. I went to Nashville for the second time late in 2016 and was super impressed with the food, the music and the hospitality.

Video

Anyway, here’s the video.

Don’t mind the Los Pollos Hermanos T-shirt. I was in pajamas in the acoustic music room.