Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A spirit guide! (story of "Valarie")

Sometimes your spirit guide finds you in the most unlikely places, wearing the most surprising faces.  Sometimes they find you sort of plodding along and they show up to give you a little nudge right when you're about to give up. On my new record's third track, my spirit guide Valarie finds me just in time.

For those keeping up (and between you and me, you're still not late - you can go download these songs for free if you want to follow along at Soundcloud)...

The first track, “The Bridge” kicked off this whole adventure, all about some nervous indie musician confronting his initial fears, escaping the weeds, and accepting the challenge to cross into a dreamscape.

The second song, “All I Need” finds the musician on the other side of the bridge, wondering what he got himself into and wondering if it's all worth it. Caught in the dark recesses of his mind, yang battles yin, anima slaps animus, everyone leaves him behind, and he's trapped in hell. In the end, there's no place to go but forward.

"Valarie" is the third stop on the record... the third chapter in the story... and hey how about that?!  A happy poppy song for all you busting my chops all the time about being so "dark"!!  In this song, the musician finally runs into a true friend - a guardian angel actually - in a road-side coffee house.  Listen here if you haven't heard.

Metaphorically, Valarie represents those who give you the strength to keep going, to keep trying to succeed, because they truly and purely believes in you. Those who will be there in the end. (And these are people hard to find I think. I can count on half a hand how many of these people I have in my life.) 

In my story, this person is so hard to find, well this person isn't even real. Valarie is a ghost... a guardian angel... a spirit guide. Let me explain...

The song was inspired by a couple true stories actually.

Several day jobs ago, I was cubicling in a big downtown corporate hellhole. I was in the midst of an out of control caffeine addiction – it got so bad I actually waited in line every morning with the other drones at – seriously – a f#$king Starbucks across the street. (Seriously – if you ever get trapped in downtown Chicago, trust me there are no other coffee house options.)

There was a barrista who worked there for no more than a month.  She knew me only as “Venti Four Shot Americano."

We never even talked, but I swear there was something in her face or aura or something that reminded me of my grandmother Valarie, whom I never met. So I jotted a couple lyrics into my song notebook and it sat in my song-notebook-shoebox for several years before the rest of the song came to me.

So fast-forward a few years - one day I'm wandering home from teaching on Chicago's west side, and a melody pops into my brain jukebox. I couldn't get home quick enough. Fortunately, I didn't forget the tune on the bus ride, turned on my digi recorder when I got home, grabbed my acoustic, and the music quickly fell in place. Rifling thru my shoebox, I found the old lyrics that this was built around, and the whole song came together about 30 minutes later.

Which is cool.  

See, the real Valarie (my grandmother) died of breast cancer at a pretty young age before I was born, so I never knew her.  All I know about her comes from a couple pictures laying around (she's top-left there with a bunch of other grandmas and aunts I suspect - more relatives I never met), as well as occasional holiday stories, and of course the musical gifts she left me (to my knowledge, no one else in the family plays any instruments – except my brother who plays a bit of percussion, and my aunts - Valarie's daughters - who play glockenspiel and a deck of cards on my new CD.)  Valarie, I'm told was a fantastic musician though. 

I've always wanted to meet her, and well now there is this sort of musical connection. The moment it came together, Veek was at work and I had a very personally almost spiritual moment.  Which is appropriate for a song about a spirit guide, no?

So there you go – a deja vu story/past-life sort of thing with this song – guided by spirits perhaps.  Thanks, Grandma Valarie, for this musical "curse"! :)

But hey - don't get too caught up in all this happiness now!!  This independent music road is a yo-yo ride.  So don't be surprised if the fourth track contains another dark obstacle along the path. Another bridge perhaps. This time with a guardian gate-keeper maybe? Nice.

More Valarie Trivia

Valarie was of Irish heritage, which helped me decide to color the instrumentation with banjo.

That's me playing the banjo on this track – which not coincidentally was first owned by.... Valarie! 

Diana Jewell, a bartender at the pub where many of the record's lyrics were physically put onto paper, replaced Heather Perry's original vocal track. Heather had some issue with all the “on-and-ons” at the end. (I wasn't asking for help writing the song though. And Diana had no problems singing the lyrics.  Thanks, Diana!)

Heather Perry remains on bass, but isn't singing here.

Merilee Phillips makes another appearance on cello.

Valarie's banjo is also the very same banjo I played on Jackknifed Truck from Opening Soon Under New Management (another supernatural story of sorts... what is it with the banjo and ghost stories with me?)

Rosie O'Connell, a real live Irish person (and also a bartender, at a different pub down the street from where I live) added a hint of brogue. I tried getting her a copy of the song via the current bartender – her cousin – since she relocated to the far west burbs, but it seemed like he didn't give a crap, and I doubt the CD got to her. So Rosie – if you ever read this, let me know and I'll get you a copy.

Chris Warren is there on drums. Like a rock.

And that's about it.  Catch you soon with the story behind "Long Way From Home" - go listen to it on Soundcloud in the meantime!!

And thanks a ton for all the support so far on this record everyone.  Be sure to listen to us play this and other songs live on WLUW radio on June 8 at 3pm.  Stream it from work or anywhere in the world at wluw.org

We'll be interviewed and hanging with the amazingly cool and awesome Razor and Die show.  And that's not just me blowing smoke.  Their radio show really is the coolest for those of you looking for new music.  Check em out every Friday.  And definitely Friday June 8 at 3 pm :)  We're really excited to be their guests.

No comments:

Post a Comment