When I was your age I listened to The Who, The Rolling Stones, Johnny Cash, The Animals and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. I spent my summer after 8th grade learning every song on an album called Four Way Street. I bet a lot of your parents did the same thing. I thought I was pretty cool, but I still had to work up the guts to hold Meghan Tasinni’s hand; I still just went along with whatever was put on the turntable…until the night we (we being the gang of kids—all older—who I hung out with each summer at our summer cottage in New Hampshire) climbed Stinson Mountain to sleep in the abandoned fire-tower. We made a huge campfire and listened to some guy play the guitar. My friends were teasing me because I was the only one who hadn’t kissed a girl yet—and the summer was almost done. And so the guy sang a verse from a song:
You won’t believe this
My stomach makes noises
Whenever I kiss.
My girlfriend tells me
It’s all in my head,
But my stomach tells me
To write you instead…
I was able to laugh at myself. And it made me feel a lot better. The thing is, it wasn’t just a stupid camp song. It was a song about dealing with your fears—and I had plenty. I found out who wrote the song (John Prine) and I started looking for music that spoke to me and for me. Every singer I listened to and liked forced me back another few years: You can’t listen to John Prine and not listen to Bob Dylan; you can’t listen to Bob Dylan and not listen to Woody Guthrie; You can’t listen to Woody Guthrie and not listen to the folksongs of the farms and prairies of the mid-west. You can’t listen to traditional American folk-music and ignore the ancient European and African roots of that American folk music. You can’t go back to the old world and ignore the ballads that sprung from the primal consciousness of humanity seeking higher wisdom and a common expression. It goes on until you are lost to The Sirens of Titan and mesmerized by a cycle powered by rhythm, melody and words. Everytime I stop, the hands point back to the old ballads; and the ballads point to poetry, which in turn points to prayer.
There is still so much more I need to learn.
I didn't embrace the world of balladry because I wanted to be good at something very few people care about and/or ever listen to.I am not trying to make these old ballads seem relevant; these songs are relevant because actual real people, wanted—and needed—to hear these songs, at least for a while, and sometimes for a long while. The old balladeers were the first singers brave enough to use words to scratch the shell of their fears and desires, other people became brave enough to invent new words and new ways to understand themselves and their experiences—and their fears and desires; and so we became a people brave enough to tell stories that look inward; we discarded the epic poems and gallant heroes for tawdry songs of murder and deceit, illicit love and raunchy rhymes, because that is more who we are. Not flattering, but infinitely more real. We let the heroes go like a child discards a toy; we need something closer to reality.
They still needed heroes, and we still need heroes, but the new heroes need to come from among us. No longer could they come out of an enchanted forest; they have to be the power and courage within all of us. We have to look at ourselves and know we can overcome the physical and emotional adversities of life.
Our greatest strength comes from the power of music, poetry and prayer. It is a heroic trinity and one we should respect by exploring that power with an open mind and a willing heart.
I hope you like some of what you hear on this blog. Some of the ballads are sung by me and are rough recordings made in that blessed corner room in my basement that is my studio. You may well hear kids laughing, fighting, whispering, and cajoling in the background. I trust you it will add to the folkness--or at the least, the "Fitzness" of the recordings.
Other ballads are the versions I have found that capture what I wish I could capture.
Let me know what you like or what you would like to hear.
And thanks for listening:)