Category Archives: Music

Music-related posts. my music, other people’s music. Music I like. Music I dislike.

Charlie (2002)

Charlie (2002) is another song from my personal archive. I gave it a no rehearsal recording treatment at the end of August, 2017.

Song Origins

I wrote this one while living in California back in 2001. I was writing a ton back then, trying to emulate my songwriting heroes (Bob Dylan, Harry Chapin, and Jim Croce) with story songs. I was also naive enough to believe I could write about times, places and lives I didn’t know. As a city and suburban kid who spent more time watching cable TV than playing outside (let along working on a farm), this one comes off as a dubious creative invention in hindsight. Charlie is about the proverbial farmer losing their land.

Lyrics Breakdown

Unlike other songs that tackle this topic (Rain on the Scarecrow, for example), I wrote it from the perspective of a farmer after the farm was already gone. The struggle is over, the game was lost. The only battle left is deciding what to do now that his identity is gone.

The other aspect of the song that was a complete invention is the internal dialogue with Charlie’s dead father. In the verse, Charlie’s sorrow for losing his farm is redoubled by guilt for how disappointed he believes his father would have been. Though I was barely 20, even I understood then that we suffer from stories we invent about what other people think of us and that those stories rarely line up with the reality.

Thinking back, I’m sure the narrative aligned with how I was feeling at a transition point in my life. I graduated college not long before I wrote it. I worked in Chicago for six months before moving to California. Life was new and exciting there. I learned a ton about work and made great friends but it was marked by uncertainty and soul searching.

There was also a breakup, my last big one in fact, that had me doing quite a bit of personal reflection and cheering myself up. It makes sense now that I would write a song for a fictional character to teach them how to move on, as I was desperately hoping to learn how to do it myself.

As all good songs do, the main gist of the song gets delivered at the end of the chorus. I don’t remember where but I had heard the phrase “god doesn’t close a door without opening a window” at some point and I favored it over similar variations. Something about a window being open made it seem like the next path or exit out of a sticky situation wasn’t always as obvious as “another door opening.” I also took out the “God” business as I didn’t feel that particular piece of wisdom needed it.

Music

Apparently, I was big into maj7 vamps in the early 00’s. This is the third song where they play a prominent role in the verse chord structure (also big in “Intentional” and “No December in New York”).

Despite it becoming a trend, I remember believing I had stumbled into a big and ethereal sound with the Gmaj7 – Amaj7 riff. The original recording has a descending arpeggio (8 – 7 – 5 – 3 – 1) melody over both chords that eerily reminded me of the Goonies score. Of course, you can’t hear that in my acoustic video but I’ll add an original recording here as well that has a more fleshed out sound.

The chorus too felt like something that could build momentum and get a singalong going. It’s a three stanza thing that was followed by a signature riff played twice. That made the whole chorus a 5 chord progression repeated 5 times. Kind of long for a chorus but it always felt right so I never changed it.

Lyrics and Chords

Charlie – Google Docs version

Words and music by Miles Maxwell © 2001

Intro (B F# A E F#)

VERSE 1
Gmaj7 Amaj7
Charlie looks out on his land for the last time
It hasn’t rained in months and the wells have all run dry
He damns the loans he took out on his land
And as the sunlight dies down
He knows it’s all over now

VERSE 2
Gmaj7 Amaj7
And Charlie can’t help but start to cry
The tears roll down as he tries to let it pass by
He imagines how his father would feel
To know that his only son had failed
There was no more hay to bailed

CHORUS
B F# A E F#
But Charlie could hear his father say
There are things in this world
Beyond this strip of earth
Find out what your life is worth

He heard his voice whispering west
Now’s your time to see the rest
And decide what might be next
You’re not forsaken, you are blessed

You must bury all your doubt
Set aside this summer drought
You know this door wouldn’t close
Without a window swinging out

VERSE 3
Gmaj7 Amaj7
Still Charlie fears what might become of him
After laying his life on the land
Will he teach? Will he work? Will he eat? Will he survive?
He knows it’s just a matter of time.
It’s just a matter of time.

CHORUS
B F# A E F#
But Charlie could hear his father say
There are things in this world
Beyond this strip of earth
Find out what your life is worth

He heard his voice whispering west
Now’s your time to see the rest
And decide what might be next
You’re not forsaken, you are blessed

You must bury all your doubt
Set aside this summer drought
You know this door wouldn’t close
Without a window swinging out

Bonus: Original Recording

Camel’s Journey (2011)

Song Origins

Camel’s Journey is a song that my college band played. It was written by our resident poet, Stephen “Slim” Oliver and he played it for us the first night I saw him perform. Always liked the bouncy rhythm and the transcendent lyrics. I vaguely remember him saying he was inspired by Saul Bellow’s “Henderson and the Rain King,” which already has a song inspired by its title. Doesn’t matter though, as the song here stands on its own in terms of imagery and rebirth suggestion that I don’t quite understand but feel and embrace as a positive thing.

This Recording

In this recording, friends Jeff Claypoole plays acoustic guitar and Matt Stankiewicz plays accordion, while both lend their harmony vocals. I’m on the mandolin on this one as well as tackling the main vocal part. It was recorded back in 2011, over 10 years after I heard it played by Slim back at the Williams College Log open mic night.

For some unknown reason, the three of us rehearsed a bunch as Superbullet and recorded neat songs like this but couldn’t put it together to start booking shows. We sounded solid enough and had a great instrumentation lineup. The only other lingering memory about Superbullet was I distinctly remember feeling outclassed as they were both really solid harmony singers and I couldn’t hang. That meant, I ended up doing a lot of the lead vocals, which always felt a bit like a compromise. Oh well, at this point, I think I’m ok with being a slightly below average harmony singer. Won’t stop me as I put together my next project.

In any event, I hope you like it. If you want to learn it, the chart is below the link. Please tell me what you think in the comments.

Google Docs version

Chords and Lyrics

Camel’s Journey
Words and Music by Stephen Oliver © 1999

G D C D
sure i could roar but what I would roaring for?
seems like I’m only hoping someone could hear me
and I could run but what’s behind me
that I’m running from

same thing is up ahead now that
i been trying to leave in my bed while i sleep

and i tried to hide inside and outside
but still i knew where i was
and no one organized the search party
to come looking for me
and there was a time when I’d like to whimper and cry
self pity and i

when the rug seemed pulled out from under
and i thought i lost all the wonder
of all the things i claimed to have known

it’s when the doubt begins to full sprout
look away for a minute and it’s rooted in strong
yeah, it’s rooted in strong

it’s okay, it’s okay, it’s okay
and i’ll tell you why

G C Am D
because first you’re a camel
on the desert plains at night
with no end in sight
try to reconcile the moon
to the load on your back

G D C D
but then you’re a lion
without rage for flying
you’ve been wounded and you’re ready to attack
but then you’re a child
eyes wide open and wild
with a mind
not looking to find
anything in this whole wide earth
that’s just given birth to you

to you

to yooooouuuu

Something New (2017)

Been a while since I posted something new so I present, “Something New.” It’s been a work in progress for a few months but I’m finally happy with the final verse. About a crazy time in work life when things are exciting but ultimately can’t last. I’ve got quite a few other new ones so I look forward to posting those soon as well. Also, I added the lyrics as closed captions and turned it on by default. Seems to go nicely with songs, especially if I’m mumbling a bit.

Something New
Words and Music, Miles Baltrusaitis 2017

D
In a town outside of Nashville
G D
In the year of O fifteen
D
Was a girl who worked on websites
A
Doing digital marketing

D

And a guy outside Chicago
G
Was doing the same thing
D
And when they worked together
A D
They knew something was happening

D
At first they worked in wordpress
G D
Building pages, posts and blogs
D
Explaining things with jams and jars
A
As symbolic analogs

D
They moved into marketo
G
Working hard as sniffing dogs
D
Closing tasks and shaving yaks
A D
While trying to eat frogs

CHORUS

G A D

They earned respect and they learned trust
G A Em A
They caught up every day cause talking is a must
G A Bm
The more they worked, their power grew
A G D
And the more they shifted into something new

SOLO OVER VERSE

D D G D
D D A A7
D D G D
D D A D

D
The team traveled together
G D
To vegas, boston and the coast
D
One was sent to asia
A
to teach the programs that matter most
D
But the work was never ending
G D
And by seventeen, they were toast
D
The guy picked up the pieces
A D
And the girl turned to a ghost

G A D

Well they earned respect and they learned trust
G A Em A
They caught up every day because talking is a must
G A Bm
But the more they worked, her feeling grew
A G D
That the time had come to try out something new

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]

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

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.