Tag Archives: songwriting

Staring at empty pages

Empty Pages by Traffic from the LP John Barleycorn Must Die

Me playing the Dobro…well, sitting with it.

I spent a good deal of time today at work.  Yes, that’s right, work.  I am in television and days off have to be asked for, not simply assumed.  Those days are for people who don’t chase the ratings machine.  I wasn’t complaining, I had to work and I had work to do.  I will complain that it was out in the heat and the sun but what’s better?  Heat or sitting at a computer in a cubicle?  I’m going with the heat.  I can drink more water.

But then at the end of the day I got home and picked up a guitar.  Not that this is any new thing for most of you to hear, it’s not like playing guitar is a new or complicated thing for me, I get that.  I play every night, but that’s been about it.  Playing.  I dink around, noodle on a Zeppelin riff or dance around a Clapton lick or what have you.  I’ve avoided writing – complete and intense, concentrate and try writing.

But having someone who was committed and wanting to do that very thing . . . who likes to write and to play and walked around with the lyric and melody in her head and sang it in pauses in conversation . . . I haven’t done that in a long time.  It was high time that I did.

So after getting home I made breakfast for dinner because, like all week, the cupboards were bare.  Being the 4th of July, the stores were closed.  Not that I minded, breakfast burritos are pretty good if you have hash browns, eggs, and sausage in them.

But I’d had a melody – three or four chords – that I’d started with and never sat down and pushed myself to finish them.  I didn’t want to stare at the empty pages, centering around the same old thought.  (Thank you Steve Winwood)  So instead I grabbed my Dobro, sat . . . and sat . . . and played . . . and played some more.  And then the chords came to me.  I resisted the urge to meander over to blues songs or to start playing Stormy Monday.  Instead I looked at what would flow and was interesting, not common.

Now…the pages are still empty, though.

My lyrics.  God help me, lyrics evade me.  I have the melody line.  I have the confounded bridge.  I just don’t have the lyrics.  It’s rare – for me anyway – that the lyrics come with the music.  There are a few occasions, some of my better writing, where that did happen.  Or the melody and lyrics came first and I wrote the music around them.  However, I can’t say that’s the case for anything I’m currently trying to write.

You’d think this would frustrate and anger me.  It doesn’t.  It’s inspired me.

It’s funny how being with and playing – however briefly – with someone else, particularly when they’re better trained and better players – you push your own boundaries and try to improve.  Had Julia Sinclair not stayed at my house; had my dear friend from Albuquerque not convinced me to let her; I would never have played from the moment I put my dishes in the dishwasher until about 1am.  I switched to “Dot”, my beloved Clapton Stratocaster and put pillows over it and around it to muffle the volume for my neighbors and found solos.  I rediscovered my fuzz face that my brother built with germanium resisters so it would sound exactly like Hendrix’s.

Julia Sinclair

I have a song.  Just need lyrics.

Sometimes it’s good to stare at the empty pages.

It’s Gonna be a Long Long Time

I sit here, now, in the Denver International Airport, a woman lying on the floor to one side with painted toes and her best Jackie “O” sunglasses on hoping that I notice her trying not to be noticed while we survived the drunken sot who thought the best way to survive getting on an airplane was to drink himself to oblivion rather than a Xanax or a Benadryl, which would have been cheaper and let him stay on the airplane, and I realized things are hard, maybe harder than ever, but it could be a lot harder.

My whole point of going home to see my folks, brother, and avoid the anniversary of my wife, Andrea’s, passing was to get to a place where we could avoid being around the mass of people who might mean well but would inundate us with thoughts and well-wishes. In reality, though, we got inundated anyway and we looked at all the message because we just couldn’t help ourselves. It’s too easy to wallow in misery and hope that it feels that much better when you stop. The problem is, it doesn’t stop and you don’t feel better.

One thing that did cross my mind, though, as we walked down the security passageway at Eppley Airfield, was that it was harder to go back to California than it was to come to Nebraska and face the anniversary of what we lost. The day came and went, the kids surviving OK – partly because of the exercise of our video – and we weren’t better or worse. We were the same. The reality that hit me is how much I miss my family and the peace of mind of just being near home.

I don’t dislike California, let’s get that straight. My father has a soaring loathing of the state and all it stands for. He visits and stays there because of us and that’s all there is. At his age, hating to fly, driving to see us may not be an easy prospect for much longer. The kids go out every summer and spend a couple months with them. It’s not that I miss the break or want my parents to wait on me. They don’t, nor would I let them – and God help me if I thought to tell my Mom that I wanted her to. You’d find pieces of me floating in the Elkhorn River a few years from now. But I was able to endure and stand up, just like they helped me one year ago when I needed it.

I should never have made any decisions in the hours, days and weeks following Andrea’s death. So many of them had to be made, though, and as hard as it was for my Dad to be there and endure the grief and sadness that hung over our lives like a fog he knew it was easier to help me than to make me decide on my own.

This last week was no exception. I could have stayed home, taken the days off, sat there and wallowed, but I knew that’s exactly what I would do if I stayed. Leaving the checkpoint to the gate was harder than the week itself because I felt the distance weighing on me. My kids see where we are as home. That’s what matters and is most important. If the didn’t, I’d have probably moved home in a heartbeat. The offer was even on the table. My Dad didn’t see too many options before I got my new job. . .neither did I.

So as I left, knowing I had to, I realized it’s going to be a long time before I move on. Before we move on. I cannot tell you the things that trigger my sadness. The clock chiming 9pm in O’Neill reminded me of leaving my wedding reception on that day. Watching a documentary on the band “The Swell Season” makes me tear up and get goosebumps because it touches me in the same spaces that are still bleeding from losing that piece of myself when Andrea left. But a simple day, the turning from 11:59pm to Midnight did not, and I was up until then. Yet that night, remembering my wedding night, the lack of humor I had that night, being angry at her being hungover and then too tipsy on the limo ride to the hotel . . . those things weigh on my mind.

As I said, it will be a long time before I can exorcise the demons from my marriage, the pieces I wish I could forget but seem seared into my grey matter like a cattle brand.

So I sit in the airport seats, looking at my children moving on through the day, and I realize I don’t have it so bad. I could be one of the people I see walking around, tattoos in places that peek through like they’re trying to hide, but really hoping to get attention. The single people who look woefully depressed to be alone at the airport and realizing I had it good for awhile. The woman next to me, lying on the floor, trying so hard to act like she’s inconspicuously aloof but peeking through her sunglasses hoping others will notice her.

Me, I want to get through the day, knowing full well that for now – maybe I never will – I cannot see a moment tick by without thinking about her in sadness. I look forward to the day that I can be reminded of our wedding day and not see it as the day our marriage started and ended together.

But it’s going to be a long, long, time.