faith · Grace · LIterature · Songwriting · Storytelling · Truth

Pulling A Song To Pieces

I’m nearly finished with this song. Was this a worthwhile exercise …. I guess we learn from everything.

A Life of Love

Hear the story of a life of love, written clear on every line.
Drawing strength from up above, to see her through hard times.
She was born in a shotgun house, three rooms in a dead straight line.
Built on just a half a city lot – they’re doing just fine

I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more grace to come,
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all
.

See the children in their Sunday best, smiling, standing all in a line.
She’s at the front in her new blue dress with her sister just behind.
Sixteen and she knows it all, finds it hard to toe the line.
Got ambition to be top girl – she’s going to shine.

I’ve got a feeling there’s a lot more grace to come,
There’s enough to cover everyone
.

She’s listening to her baby cry, hoping he’s the last in line.
Patience is in short supply looking after number nine.
Now her children, they’re all grown, there will be grandkids down the line.
She spends her time on the telephone, they’re always on her mind.

I’ve got a feeling that there’s more grace still to come,
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all
.

The Doctors listened to her heart, they summed her up in a few short lines.
Quickly scribbled on a patient chart, she never saw the signs.

Instrumental verse

You’ll find them at the edge of town, standing there in a dead straight line.
Waiting in the summer sun with roses all around.

But I’ve a feeling that there’s more grace still to come
Whatever’s gone before doesn’t count at all.
I’ve got a feeling that there’s more grace still to come
More than enough to cover everyone
.

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I want to credit the source of some of the verses.

First, the shotgun house in the first verse, comes from the story “The making of a Minister” – in Ragman, stories by Walter Wangerin.
Arthur lived in a shotgun house, so called because it was three rooms in a dead straight line, built narrowly on half a city lot.

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The second verse comes from a picture – of my mum and her eight siblings all standing, one behind the other, from shortest at the front to tallest at the back.

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The chorus was triggered by a passage from ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson.
Lila speaking:
“On Sundays you talk about the Good Lord. how he does one thing and another.”
“Yes I do.” And he blushed. It was as if he expected that question too, and was surprised again that the thing he expected for no reason was actually happening. He said. “I know that I am not – adequate to the subject. You have to forgive me.”
She nodded. “That’s all you’re going to say.”
“No. No, it isn’t. I think you’re asking me these questions because of some of the hard things that have happened, the things you won’t talk about. If you did tell me about them, I could probably not say more than that life is a very deep mystery, and that finally the grace of God is all that can resolve it. And the grace of God is also a very deep mystery.” He said, “You can probably tell I’ve said the same word too many times. But they’re true, I believe.” He shrugged and watched his finger trace the scar on the table.

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The verse that begins: The Doctor’s listened to her heart, is from Ragman again –
Arthur Fort with his jaundiced view of hospital. “$20 a strolling visit when they come to a patient’s room,” he said. “For what? Two minutes time is what, and no particular news to the patient. A squeeze, a punch, a scribble on their charts, and they leave that sucker feeling low and worthless.”

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And the final verse is inspired by words once more from Lila by Marilynne Robinson.
So when she was done at Mrs Graham‘s house, she took the bag of clothes and walked up to the cemetery. There was the grave of the John Ames who died as a boy, with a sister Martha on one side and sister Margaret on the other. She had never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of a town, all their names spelled out so you would know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place …. Someday the old man would lie down beside his wife. And there she would be after so many years, waiting in sunlight all covered in roses.

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faith · LIterature · Poetry · Songwriting · Storytelling

The Emergence Of A Song

It has been a few weeks since I completed writing the most recent song – The Seige of Gloucester, so I was beginning to wonder when the inspiration was going to come for a new song.

As the song began to take shape, I thought it would be interesting to track the development of the song.

Falling back on a method I have used in the past, I decided to pick up a book that I read many years ago – ‘Ragman and other cries of faith.’ – a collection of stories by author Walter Wangerin.

In one of the stories, so beautifully written, I noticed some particular phrases that drew me in, from which I wrote the following lines:

Living in a shotgun house
Three rooms in a dead straight line
Built on just a half a city lot
…..

and

They listened to his heart
Never told him what they heard
Just some scribbles on a chart
….

It seemed that I had the beginnings of a song here. A shotgun house is one where you can see all the way through from the front door to the back. You could fire a gun through both open doors! A bit like a traditional terraced house where I live. Although it’s not ‘my language,’ I like the sound of shotgun house, so I’ll stick with that.

Now I had to consider – did I want to try and write a song that follows this story ? That would feel forced to me. It would feel like I would have to ‘steal’ even more from this story, when all I was looking for was a starting point. I would rather let the song emerge.

Some songwriters (Joe Henry among them) talk about the song existing already, and the art of the songwriter is to bring the song to birth.

So … I’m looking for this song to emerge.

I noticed in another book I’m reading these words: “She’d never really thought about the way the dead would gather at the edge of a town, all their names spelled out so you’d know whose they were for as long as that family lived in that place …. And there she would be, after so many years, waiting in sunlight, all covered in roses.”

I wrote down these words:
Gathered at the edge of town,
Remembered after many years
waiting in the spring sunlight


While the Walter Wangerin story was about the experience of a young church minister visiting an elderly man, today I began to try and discern the story that was beginning to take shape here. It seemed that this was going to be a story about a life. Some of that life would have been lived in a ‘shotgun house;’ there would be a verse about being in hospital for some heart investigations, and a verse set in the cemetery at ‘the edge of town.’

Later on today, we were out walking along the North Wales coastal path, and I was mulling over where I had got to with this song. I was thinking about the roses growing around the headstone in the cemetery in the quote above, and thought perhaps the song should have a chorus, and that roses could appear in a slightly different way in each chorus ?

Then another thought came to mind. I suddenly had the image of the shotgun house, with the three rooms, one behind the other, all in a ‘dead straight line.’ Other images came into my imagination … maybe three headstones in the cemetery ‘in a dead straight line,’ and maybe an image of three children. ‘Standing in a line’ in a photograph. I have a photograph of my mum, Nancy, and her siblings, all eight of them, standing in a line, one behind the other – from the eldest at the back – Mary, Wilfred, Bessie, Bertha, Bernard, Margaret, Ruth, Nancy, Hugh.

That’s as far as I’ve got … but I thought I’d try and make a record of the process …
Hopefully I’ll come back soon with a completed song, or at least more of the process.