The song “You Didn’t Know” started in 2001 when I was living in Sacramento, California and really finding my voice as far as genre goes. I spent a good chunk of my college years emulating popular artists of the time, jumping around from Dave Matthews in 1996/7, Phish and the Grateful Dead in 97/98, and eventually getting into early blues (Mississippi John Hurt, Blind Willies Johnson and McTell, and Blind Lemon Jefferson), Jazz standards, and of course, Steely Dan. I also had a deep love for classic rock radio, especially roots rock like the Allman Brothers, The Band, and Little Feat.
By the time I graduated and headed to California, I was turning hard towards Alt Country. I was on a huge Uncle Tupelo kick and wanted to do things that incorporated classic country, southern rock and a bit of the pop punk attitude and adrenaline in my music. Notably, I had also found the first local band (Forever Goldrush) in my lifetime that felt like I discovered on the way up to being really memorable. They are a band that I saw at least a dozen times during my time there and always felt like the kind of band I would want to be in. If that weren’t enough, I was also digging into the crossroads of folk and country, John Prine in particular. With all of those influences, out came this tune that I think set up a path for defining my songwriting voice for the future.
I came to Sacramento with a girlfriend in New York City. Over the course of that year, we visited a few, including a trip to that year’s Golden Globes, but we ultimately broke up over the summer. I’m not afraid to admit now that it wasn’t the most pleasant breakup. The kind where you know it was the right thing to do but you still find yourself calling them and dreaming about them, half expecting to reunite at some point. In my case, it was the right thing to do because we were separated by 3 time zones, different life paths and the fact that we argued a bunch towards the end. We were trying to reconcile strong feelings we had for each other with our distinctly different paths, and ended up resenting each other for it.
Somehow, I managed to convert the frustration over the relationship into a lyric. One where I talked about how I was sick of being disrespected and put down, made to feel insignificant. The lyric starts with a fun setup line,
“You thought you could walk all over me.
That I would shut my mouth and just abide.
But You didn’t think I had plans of my own.
Well that’s not right. They’re just inside.”
I’m painting the protagonist as a quiet but brooding and mistreated weakling being overshadowed by an ambitious partner. I think there’s a bit of jealousy in there but also some, “take no guff” attitude. The second half of the verse continues,
“I thought you and me was partners.
One and one, equal halfs the same.
Now I come to find that it ain’t that way at all.
So it’s time, to speak my mind.”
Clearly, I’m going for some broken English which is in no way an indication of how I really talk. I can recall thinking it was liberating to break free from mundane and error-free writing and speaking/singing. While it’s admittedly repetitive with the first half thematically, it serves up the, “and so I sing” transition into the chorus.
“Cause I never cared much for fighting.
And I let you win just to ease your mind.
You didn’t know but I got places to go.
So it’s time to compromise or be left behind.”
These words reveal I’ve been quiet about my ambition because I don’t like to argue but I’m fed up. I make an ultimatum that intensifies with the second verse.
The line, “I’ve got places to go.” in my mind is a direct connection to my ex-girlfriend moving to New York City after college in Massachusetts while I moved back home to Chicago to live with my parents. I felt a little left behind but, by the time I was writing this song, I had already moved on to California so I felt like I had “caught up” in the nonsensical and imaginary competition to be doing interesting things with my life post-breakup.
The second verse continues with the ultimatum business about change and respect.
“Don’t gimme none of your excuses.
If you got something to say,
you better come out and say it now.
Cause I won’t wait, can’t hesitate.
This is your last warning.
One more lie and I’m walking out the door.
IF you heard one thing I said,
you better come out and show me now.
Cause if you don’t, then off I go.“
Then we come back to the chorus with the added line, “Or you can keep it up, and kiss my ass goodbye.” I was pretty proud of that one, as it builds on the tension of the ultimatum but probably more for sneaking in a clear nod to John Prine’s “Please Don’t Bury Me.”
The song lyric ends repeating the ending of the chorus with the added John Prine line. In a way, I like that we don’t get a tidy ending to the story. It’s a snapshot from a moment of frustration in between milestone events. Nothing really happens, we just hear the frustration of the feelings before the resolution that likely would play out in a different song.
This one was written on an acoustic guitar and probably a bit on mandolin. I was certainly looking for something straightforward and diatonic, no big surprises here.
The song is in the Key of G but the entire verse never quite gets there. It starts with a ii-V vamp and climbs to the iii-IV-V for the pre-chorus. The chords only arrive on the tonic as the chorus hits and we get the relief of finally landing at home.
The only other interesting bit in the composition is the middle 8, which features a bunch of dominant 7th chords played in pairs of escalating 4ths. C7 up to F7, over to A7, then up to D7, climb again to B7 up to E7, end with another A7 – D7. It’s a bit of a circle of fourths thing but with some jumping around. There probably is a name for this exact combination of jumps but I don’t know it. I just figured I liked it and it sounded like something out of a Band song.
Confession time: This song was recorded a long time ago. Matt Stankiewicz on Drums and Keys, Gary Zimmer on Bass, and Miles on Guitars, mandolin and vocals. Probably recorded in 2007 while we had a rehearsal space on Milwaukee Ave in the very southern tip of Jefferson Park, south of Lawrence. This was a fun place we had for a few years and lots of recording was done there.
Of all the parts, the only thing that was added after the initial session of a day or two was the slide guitar. This was done on a cheapo Rogue lap steel using a Shubb Pearse bar, direct into a Line 6 Pod Pro. Would have been in standard tuning around 2009. Despite the modest tools, I was extremely happy with the performance and tone, often thinking of George Harrison’s post-Beatles slide guitar tones.
After writing and recording it, the song has lived a long and good life. I’ve played it solo many times and with the band at nearly every show we did between 2017 and today. While I’m long separated from the feelings that led me to write the lyric, it does serve as a reminder of how 21-year-old Miles was feeling. The music too still bounces for me and that middle-8 has an energy and funkiness that I still feel with every performance. All in all, I’m not embarrassed by any part of it, which is more than I can say for a lot of my stuff from that time. I hope you like it too.
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