The Story Behind the Song
I pulled up to the Movie Manor in Monte Vista, CO, and was surprised to see that it was a Best Western. I’d imagined it a mom and pop establishment handed down from the booming days of drive-in movies. I’d expected something a little funky, a little broken down, but clean and well run. I pulled up to a long low line of beige cookie cutter rooms running the length of a parking lot. I parked my car in the empty lot, and walked into the office. Hmmm…my car. Yes, I guess it had come to feel like my car not long after I crossed the Mississippi.
I requested a room near the gym because I figured it might be nice to get some blood flowing after the full day of driving. My room, therefore, was all the way down the row of rooms. Second to last door next to the room with the treadmill and solitary stationary bike – the “gym” – at the very end. I slid my key into the lock and immediately the hair stood up on the back of my neck. I looked back over my shoulder across the empty parking lot. The pavement ended in darkness, but I knew what lie beyond. Nothing. Miles and miles of nothing. It was the emptiness that lifted the goose flesh on my arms. I thought.
I stepped into the dark room and the door closed behind me. I was momentarily comforted by the small enclosed space. I set down my pack, moved to the window and pulled aside the heavy black out curtain. The window was huge and looked out onto more dark emptiness. I knew there was a screen out there somewhere that would’ve been playing a movie with the sound pumped directly into the room through the wired speaker mounted above the bedside table. But the screen was dark and invisible in the starless night, and the speaker was silent – I had arrived one week after the close of movie season.
I shut the curtain to defend against the dark. I turned on every light in the room in the hopes of dispelling the unrest I assumed was brought on by the dark emptiness surrounding me. it didn’t help. The hair on my neck would not lay down. The knot in my stomach pulsed and the hunger pangs I’d been feeling at check in were obliterated by the adrenaline rushing through my body. What was going on?
It was my first night alone on the trip. That must be it. I just needed to relax, calm down. I decided to call my mom.
“I’m calling from Colorado. Left Bri’s this morning and made it to this wacky drive in movie theater motel. Only the movies are over for the season. It’s a little creepy, actually.”
“Yeah. I’m the only guest, it looks like. And I’m all the way down here at the end of the row of rooms and it’s just so much emptiness everywhere. I’m in the middle of nowhere. I can’t explain it, Mom. But I’m just…I don’t know…scared. Something’s freaking me out a little.”
“When we hang up, I want you to go up to the office and tell them you want a room at the other end, the one closest to the office. okay?”
“Yeah. But they gave this one to me specifically because – ”
“Meg, I want you to go do that now, and call me when you are in a room that you can see from the office.”
And so I hung up, grabbed my unopened backpack, and headed up to the office…at a sprint. The guy behind the desk traded out my room key and told me he’d be in the office all night if I needed anything else. That felt right. I walked out of the office, and a few steps down the sidewalk to room 10, the first room in the long row of rooms. This time I left the heavy blackout curtain pulled across the movie screen window. Light from the office leaked under my door all night, and the hair on my neck stood down. I called my mom.
“I did it Mom. I’m right up here by the office.”
“Yeah. I know I was being silly. But I really do feel better in this room.”
“Sometimes you have to follow your gut. Now get some sleep.”
And I did. The next morning I woke up early, and checked out. I wanted to put in some good miles before breakfast. As I pulled away from the Movie Manor, I looked back across the empty parking lot. In the faded morning light I could see where the parking lot ended, and the flat, empty space began. The empty seemed to stretch on forever.
Just a few miles down the road, I passed a diner claiming to serve the best coffee for miles, and I figured I shouldn’t pass that up, and pulled in. Now that the adrenaline of the night before had been washed away by a good night’s sleep, my appetite was back, so I figured a Spanish omelet with home fries and toast would be a great way to fuel my day.
As I walked in, the headline caught my eye. The story was on the front page of both papers in the self-pay box. I bought a copy of the local and stood in the vestibule to read it. The hair on the back of my neck was at attention once again.
Their bodies had been found in the emptiness beyond the edge of the hotel parking lot where the mom and her daughter had been abducted, raped, and murdered the night before.
My gut was sending a clear message. I ordered my coffee to go, climbed back into my Taurus, and drove.
I’ve never believed in the myth of the “starving artist”, never bought into the need to starve in pursuit of my dreams. I have and intend always to thrive doing what I love. Nonetheless, there came a day while I was living at 106 Cabrini Blvd in Washington Heights, that I was down to my last $5. Starvation was not looming, but thinking outside the box was definitely required. So, as any self-respecting actor/singer/songwriter would do in the face of such a dilemma…I improvised.
I’d heard about this thing called “driveaway”, and it sounded like the perfect solution. I sublet my apartment, borrowed enough money to catch the NJTA/SEPTA train to Philadelphia, and embarked on my survival adventure.
Driveaway is a service that helps out people relocating cross-country who don’t feel like driving their car all the way to their new home, by finding other people willing to drive their
car across the country for them…for a little cash. Enter the artist who doesn’t believe in starving. When I arrived at their office door, the good folks at driveaway handed me an address, a check for expenses plus, and the keys to a blue Ford Taurus. I had 3 weeks to get the sedan across the country to Tuscon Arizona. The rest was up to me.
I pointed her headlights West and made my first stop at my parent’s house in Hershey where I would plan the rest of my route. Next stop Ohio to visit dear friend and former roomie from Duke, Dawnie. I carried on hopping from relative to friend to relative all the way to Wichita, Kansas where I spent a few days visiting my farthest flung sibling, big brother, Brian. After Wichita my dance card was empty – my sphere of friends and family extended no farther West. It was time for the solo adventure to begin.
I pulled out of Brian’s driveway on a Tuesday before the sun had crept into the sky. As I drove into the darkness it finally hit me. The punch landed as a question: What am I doing!? Am I running away from NYC and my dreams of making a big career on the stage? Am I running toward a new adventure to fuel my newly discovered passion for songwriting? What am I hoping to find? Am I trying to escape? Escape what? My thoughts echoed in the silent car.
I drove West on Route 50 with the sun rising in my rear view. I had never and still haven’t seen anything like the nothingness that is the horizon when you drive due West out of Kansas. The open space and lack of…anything…to use as a reference point is unsettling. The Taurus wheels whined against the pavement. My thoughts fell into the rhythm of the road.
I drove all day and it wasn’t until the sun started creeping down my windshield that the vague outline of the Rockies grew into view. I thought it was my tired eyes, but the outline grew sharper as I drove. By the time the sun sank over it, the horizon was a mountain silhouette. I pulled into Monte Vista, CO too late for a decent dinner, so I headed straight for the Movie Manor, my chosen hotel for the night. My first solo stop along the road.
And it was a doozy…. (to be continued)
Things will take the time that they will take. I know this. And yet, I am impatient. I have to breathe and remember that there is absolutely nothing to gain from tapping my foot and pushing the process along. But, oh, how I want to…
Today (Saturday) began with more guitar tracks…after a little more editing. Yes, I know, I was meant to have done all of my guitar tracks yesterday, but there were other things that had to happen first, and I was, if you recall, waiting my turn. This is not something at which I traditionally excel, but I’m working on the new skill.
When my turn at last arrived, I sat myself down in my seat (see yesterday’s blog for the visual) and I played “Live!” Nothing like diving into the deep end! Playing that song once through is a workout. Playing it through until I got it all just right…a marathon. I was definitely warmed up by the time we got it all down, and “Quiet of the Lie” felt like a walk in the (Central) park in comparison.
“My Life” was a breeze, too…until the bridge. “My Life” is one of the songs I’ve adapted for the musical I’m working on (“The Accidental Caterer” – more news on that soon..when I shift bandwidths.) I rewrote the music to the bridge to fit the story of the show, and now the two versions have collided in my brain. I think this may be the cause of the bizarre bridge-less renditions of the song I’ve played at the last few gigs. Subconscious avoidance of conflict.
With “My Life” and it’s original bridge in the can, we moved to the song we were saving for last, the only finger-picking song I’ll be playing with the band on the CD, “Sail Across the Water”. Ah, finger-picking. When I first picked up a guitar, I tried to use a flat pick, but it kept slipping out of my fingers, so, I scrapped it and decided to use my fingers. Not knowing anything about the instrument, I had no idea that there were certain plucking patterns most folks learn and use like “Travis Picking” and “Carter Family Picking”. I just chose random strings to pluck in the order that felt right to my left hand, and sounded good to my ear, and called it finger-picking. Most of my early songs were written using this “Meghan Picking”, and I got pretty comfy with it. But then I decided it was time to tackle the challenge of holding onto a flat pick once and for all. I made a deal with myself: if and when I learned to play with a flat pick, I would reward myself with Matthew’s 1952 Gibson LG II. The beautiful old guitar had sat untouched in it’s case since Matti died. It was Matthew’s prized guitar and I didn’t feel worthy of playing it. Holding a pick would earn me this privilege. I started off trying jumbo size picks, textured picks, heavy picks, light picks, and finally landed on a tried and true fender medium. And it stuck. I opened the old case, and pulled out the Gibson.
Whew…that was a bit of a departure. All that to say I now play much more with a pick than my fingers. I haven’t recorded a “Meghan Picking” song in a long time. It was challenging and like going home all at once. And I kinda hope you’ll feel a little of that when you hear it.
Time to go sing to some of these now….it’s my turn again!
It was sooo hard to get out of bed this morning, and so easy to leave the house. Last night our heat went out. It’s an old stone house so it retains heat better than most, but overnight the temp dropped to 56ºF in the warmest room. Not dangerously low, but low enough that I could make out a fine mist of breath when I poked my nose out from under the quilt. Oh, it would be so nice to just burrow back down and wait for the guys to show up and fix it.
But…there are lunches to be made, permission slips to sign and sneakers to find before the kids get on the bus, so brave the cold I must. I mean, the kids don’t even seem to notice. I mustn’t be a wimp. I am of strong Irish stock. And damn it, if the kids can do it, I can too….but then again, Quinn has been wearing shorts to school most days this month, so he is perhaps not the best gauge of bearable temperature. But I force myself to leave the sanctuary of our cozy kuna, and it isn’t all that bad. But once the kids are off, I am out the door (into the even colder air that somehow seems less offensive because it’s outside the house) and on my way to the studio.
It’s warm here. That’s the first beny. And I’m here to make music: beny number two. And it’s just Glenn and me, so I didn’t even have to change into “real clothes”: beny number three. #Ilovemyjob.
Today we’re replaying my guitar parts for “Live”, “Sail”, “My Life”, and “Quiet of the Lie”, and laying down the acoustic version of “Little Girls”. As I write, Glenn is cleaning up the drum/bass/keys tracks that I’ll be playing along to. Everything takes a minute, and has to be done in the order it has to be done. For those who know me even a little, you can imagine I’m chomping at the bit wanting to just go “do”. But you might be surprised to hear that I am holding steady. I am allowing the process to take as long as it needs to take, and I’m sitting quietly (I wish I could say “patiently”, but alas, I’ve not come that far) for my turn.
Yes, quietly waiting….. Just sitting here…. Waiting my turn…are we there yet????
This is how I gauge the energy output for a show, a rehearsal, the studio….the morning after. It’s 9:05, and our house is making more morning noise than usual (#thishousemakesnoise) as the guys continue to cut through walls, hammer in baseboards, and prep grout to secure the tile they laid in my soon-to-be-new bathroom yesterday while we were in the studio laying rhythm tracks. Despite the hub bub, I’m sitting at my computer in flannel jammies and fuzzy slippers, nursing a cup of coffee and reflecting on the weekend. I often describe this feeling as “like I’ve been hit by a truck”. But it’s not nearly so unpleasant. It is a luxurious exhaustion. It is an adrenaline hangover. Guess it was a good day in the studio yesterday.
We kicked off day two of recording at 10am with “Sail Across the Water”. Sometimes the simplest songs are the most challenging to record. Or maybe it’s just not such a simple song. We went after it from a whole bunch of angles before leaving it to finish at the end of the day – a good call. We moved on to “My Life” and knocked it out in a few takes. Groove re-established, we hit “Quiet of the Lie”, broke for a quick lunch, and went right into “Sing Louder” and “Live”. When we circled back around to “Sail”, it drifted out with ease. These few sentences worth of songs took a solid 8 hours to record. And then we went back for over-dubs.
By the time I rolled out of the studio, I was stumbling. It felt like midnight. It was 8:54pm. I am sooo not good at the “rockstar” life. But I made my way back to Chez Cary/Farrell safe and sound, and in time to kiss the kids goodnight, so I’m thinking maybe I’ve got the “music making momma” life down pretty well!
Just as the guys arrived this morning to start laying the wet bed for the floor in our soon to be re-built masterbath, I walked out the door with newly re-strung guitar in hand to head to the studio to start the new record. It’s been a month of mornings like this. With the new CD, the new website, and the new room in our house, it’s been all about…new. Day after day making new choices, directing new players. So it felt so good to arrive at Morningstar Studios to be greeted by Jocko, Quint and Peter…the original Analog Gypsies. Tried and true. The guys who breathed life back into my music when I thought maybe I was done with it, ready to put it away to focus on being a mom…before I realized that music is an essential part of how I mother. #thishousemakesnoise.
Glenn got us all patched in and set up and we started with another tried and true, “Responsibility”. We laid basic tracks for “Responsibility”, “Wind”, and the two newest songs, “Drive”, and “River Rock” before Jocko had to head out for his regular Saturday evening gig (the price to be paid for playing with sought-after musicians). We wrapped the night with me re-playing all of my guitar tracks for the songs we’d started (because, when we laid the base, drums, and guitar tracks, all my parts were “scratch” tracks – unusable because there was no separation between my guitar and vocals.)
By the end of the night my fingertips were screaming from hours of pressing those new strings to that old wood. My back was sore, my belly was empty, and my spirits were high. We are building this house…this new house…from new stories, new melodies and new grooves laid on a strong foundation of tried and true.