When I was 14, I wrote my first song.
I went out to find the morning
I walked through crooked feelings
I wrote it on the guitar my father had given me a few months before – a Martin 000-18.
Those numbers meant nothing to me at the time; I didn’t even know what was so great about a Martin guitar, except that my idol, Joan Baez, played one.
I went out to find the morning I walked through tattered dreams
But I brought it back
A bit of silver pink honey
Dripping through my hands
It was a pretty terrible first effort. But the act of engaging lyric and music was utterly engrossing, and as years went by I did more and more of it. When I moved to New York City, after graduating from college and an acting program, and a stint with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival (1975), I wasn’t heading east to just be an actor, but also a singer/songwriter.
I’m driving east with the sun sinking low
Slept last night with my jeans for a pillow
And a moon up above me, harvest full and white
Shining down, smiling down, telling me it’s right
I was disappointed to find that my imagined folk scene in the Village had dried up, replaced by the driving beat of disco. But I wrote on, sitting cross-legged on the floor of my five-floor walk-up, tub-in-the-kitchen apartment, bent over my guitar, coming up with chords and the words to go with them. Using the back of the guitar as a writing desk, strings pressing into my calves, I scribbled lyrics on backs of envelopes, on the edges of theatre programs, on pages torn from my journal.
Hold me, baby, hold me
You send me like a first class letter
Many have tried but none can do it better
All I really want’s some country living
Pigs down the lane and a milk cow in the field
But you can’t grow a garden in the subway
It’s that lonesome time of evening
Time to be gathered in a loving pair of arms
Time when I miss that rovin’ man of mine.
It’s that blue hour of love
And a hymn to friendship, inspired by a phrase I’d seen when I was about 14, carved into a mantelpiece: O Joy Divine of Friends. I carried that with me for years and then, one Christmas Eve, it bloomed into song.
I know that it’s been said before: we are orphans of the storm
Cast adrift and far from shore, orphans of the storm
But when we know enough to land
To draw our boats high on the sand
We’re blessed by God’s true gift to man
The joy divine of friends
I used a tape player and recorded a few tunes and imagined an album (it would have been an eight-track).
I even got a few songs transcribed.
A group of fellow New York actors and I created a band: unusual instrumentation, lots of percussion; we played a few gigs.
Way down on Chippewa Street
That’s where the old black men they go to meet
Bums in the corners are hugging their booze
There are women in mini-skirts and high-heeled shoes
Though they tell me that ain’t no place for a nice girl to walk
I’ll take my chances
I’m walking somewhere
But tragedy struck. My brother, Oak, fell from a bridge and suffered a massive brain injury. And although this was not clear to me at the time, I fled the scene of sorrow, abandoning dear friends as well as the music that wonderful group of musicians and I were creating. I moved all the way across the country, to Los Angeles. I found an apartment not far from the Hollywood sign.
Leaning into loneliness
With my elbows on the bar
There, I fell in with Jamie, a brilliant jazz bass player. He was also a Scientologist. I was bedazzled by both. Almost 30, aswirl in existential vertigo, I thought I’d found True Love. Also True Meaning.
My steering lost, the rigging gone
The winds of chance the only form
What blew me to your harbor’s peace
What a port to come to, after such a storm
Only recently have I examined the ulterior motive I might have had in marrying Jamie: With his astounding musicianship, we’d become a singer/songwriting team! Lyrics: Sands; Music: Jamie: Jamie & Sands!
But during our short-lived marriage, I learned, among other things, that folk music wasn’t music.
Also, that I couldn’t sing. Not really.
Powerful perspectives, delivered from that jazz-driven place, which blew me off course for a long while.
There ensued a seven-year voyage battling storms and seas of doubt, during which I grappled with the few good things Scientology has to offer, as well as its terrible tentacles, which grip a practitioner close. I did not write much. I did not sing much. I divorced Jamie and met T—. A rock’n’roll singer/songwriter, T—was also a Scientologist. I loved him vastly.
I believe in distance
But I was afraid of space
The ebb and flow, the come and go
Until I saw your face
A dozen times I tried to leave the Church, but it meant leaving T—, and the many good friends I’d made, all of whom also believed /were persuaded to believe. Again and again I allowed myself to be sucked back into the vortex.
During this time, however, I saved my pennies, and when I had enough, recorded a tune at a friend’s studio, and then another, and another. I dreamed of creating an album (it would have been a cassette).
Now and again I journeyed to the Southwest, for what I called my pilgrimages. One night outside of Durango a friend pointed up to a fingernail clipping of moon and told me it was called a Rustler’s Moon:
The moon’s a pale sliver in the dark night sky
A sickle’s edge
that gleams against the stars
It’s a rustler’s moon
He saddles up his pony
Her hand trembles as she holds the light
Someone’s going to lose something tonight
On I lingered, too long, in the ragged, doubt-and-friend-filled life I had in L.A. Eventually I broke free. Graduate school helped effect it. It was now 1989, and I was in Iowa with my guitar, broken and sad, missing T— and my friends, and certainty.
The wind is sighing through the leaves which are starting to turn
I’ve seen them change so many times, is there something there to learn?
You and I have said goodbye; now I rake our love in heaps to burn
And just as—sigh—I was on my way back to finding self and song, I took up with yet another brilliant man who thought little of folk music. D— was a classically trained guitarist. I put him on a pedestal. I left my guitar alone. I moved to be with him deep in the Northeastern Kingdom. When that romantic experiment blew up, I moved again, eventually landing in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevada. There I reengaged with theatre and meditated on Monday nights and on Thursdays attended African Dance class.
One thing I can’t get over is this roadmap on my face
How all the journeys of my soul have left behind their trace
And now you lie beside me, and you look at me so sweet
Have I done all this traveling so our two souls could meet
Through TT I came to know a wonderful group of people, including the musicians Maggie McKaig and her husband, Luke Wilson. Luke and Maggie and their music inspired me to lift the guitar from its bed of blue velveteen. With their help I began, tentatively, to trust my voice and lyrics again. I started to play the old tunes, and little by little to write some new ones.
and you gleam
You’re a coin
and you are horns
and then you wane
and then you’re here again
Other musicians, too, encouraged me along the way, especially during the Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, when there is always music to be made during the annual Follies.
Maggie and I went on tour together, The Great Southwestern Water Dragon Tour. You can read all about it elsewhere on this blog.
Into my life came more fine musicians. Inspired by the sounds of sax, accordion, banjo, fiddle, bass twining about the lyrics, infusing the tunes, I began to dream, again, of recording a few of my songs.
It’s been a pilgrimage season
I have been lost on my way
Now I’ve found my way back to the place I started
It all looks so different
It all looks familiar
I imagined making an album with these friends. It would be a CD.
And then I did.
It arrived yesterday.
It’s called RUSTLER’S MOON.
The front cover is part of a photograph taken by the ultra-talented Gary Hart.
The back cover is the rest of Gary’s photograph, and lists the songs and the stellar musicians, which include: Maggie McKaig, Luke Wilson, Randy McKean, Murray Campbell, Louis B. Jones, Pat Jacobsen, Tree, and Saul and Elena Rayo. Most of it was recorded at the lovely Ancient Wave Studios, in Nevada City. I’ll be writing more about that.
The CD is made of all recycled materials! Thanks to Oasis for offering that option.
You can buy it here:
I’ll be writing various posts about recording the album, bits of history about how the lyrics and/or the music came about, about the sustaining and amazing joy divine of friends, and any other adventures that may unfold.
I hope you’ll come along, under the moon, for the ride.