Archive for song sharing

An Afternoon with R.E.M.

The first leg of the Play Something Pretty That You Like spring tour will consist of a series of Community Venue concerts featuring the music of R.E.M.

The music of this now-retired mega-band from Athens, GA has been consistently popular with senior citizens and the disabled children and adults that I have been entertaining since 1995.  Half A World Away was the first REM song I brought to seniors that year and it immediately established itself as a favorite, remaining on the set list for years.  I was invited to play it at the memorial service for one of the ladies from that very first Community Venue.

Without a doubt the two most common words that seniors have used over the years to describe most of the REM songs I play are “beautiful” and “relaxing”.  It’s fun and rewarding to introduce artists that I respect to audiences that might otherwise never experience their music.  It’s fun watching them quickly become fans and make requests like “Play that one about the blackbirds!”.

And it’s doubly fun to put a Community Venue REM Tribute show on the road because they have been so very supportive of the SongSharing effort beginning with their 1993 donation of CD’s, DVD’s, and T-shirts to our “CD’s For The Troops” drive.

I’m over the top thrilled that Michael Stipe once covered the John Prine classic Hello In There with Natalie Merchant. Hello In There is about how lonely it is to grow old, and how profoundly important it can be to just say “Hello”. I can’t think of a musician I’ve met that would idealistically disagree with the song. Play Something Pretty That You Like speaks to the opportunity to animate those lyrics and personify that spirit.

Below is the song list from which the set lists will be drawn.  It includes not only REM originals but a few songs they have covered over the years and some by artists that influenced them.

REM Originals

The One I Love
Losing My Religion
Half a World Away
Driver Eight
Wendell Gee
Fall on Me
End of the World As We Know It
The Apologist
Country Feedback
Let Me In
A Poem and “Making Moves”
I Believe
Tired of Singing Trouble

REM covers

Dream Dream (Drifters)
Hello In There (John Prine)
Love Is All Around (The Troggs)
Arms of Love (Robyn Hitchcock)


Leonard Cohen / Hallelujah

Timmy Deane and I

Oh me… Oh my… there we were… the King and I.
Just a couple of regular guys we were having the time of our lives.

That’s my line. I should be singing that lyric. I’m at the front of the room, playing the
guitar. I’m the one with the amplifier and the microphone. But… it’s Timmy Deane
singing, from the third row. Timmy Deane is singing loudly and frankly I find myself
unable to sing just this second, relieved that Timmy can carry the entire chorus.

You probably don’t know Timmy Deane. Timmy Deane is twenty-couple years old. Dark hair, thin face… hell, he’s thin all over. He wouldn’t be so thin and he would stand pretty tall if he could ever get out of that wheelchair. But he’s strapped in.

Timmy Deane is quadriplegic. He’s developmentally disabled, and I’ve never heard him
say a thing, but I know he can make sounds. He laughs, and I know he likes music and
loves Elvis. The King and I is a song about seeing Elvis at the airport and the laundromat
and the bowling alley, and it’s Timmy’s favorite song from my repertoire.

It’s not popular, not a song you’d ever hear on the radio. I’ve never met anyone that has
heard it prior to hearing me play it, which I’ve done here once a month, for the last three
months. This is exactly the fourth time Timmy Deane has ever heard this song, and here he is singing the chorus fully through as loudly and clearly as a lead singer. His enunciation is impressive, his timing flawless.

I should be singing the second verse now, only I can’t recall the words so I continue
strumming the C-minor chord where Timmy left me hanging. Timmy Deane has knocked
me for a loop; snatched the rug fully out from under a host of notions about people and
music, ability and disability and life itself.

It’s air conditioned here but I find myself heat-stricken by an adrenalin near-overdose. It
feels great in an uneasy way – in that way that things feel great when they are great but
you’re not sure that you are really entitled to feel this great. Like driving a Porsche
undetected at triple digit speeds down the Blue Ridge Parkway, or winning the lottery.
Like an inmate set free.

I notice now that about half of Timmy’s friends in the audience are looking at him, some
turned fully around in their chairs. Most of the staff members present are also staring at
Timmy, and then I notice Christine, the director, is smiling at me. I notice it peripherally,
for I’m not about to make eye contact with anyone just yet. I will cry if I do.

Cm…. Cm…

…and I draw a long, slow breath of this rarified air deep into my lungs. It
works. I recall the line and pick up where Timmy Deane left off.

I saw Elvis Presley… and John Belushi..

Grandma Wants A Watch Tattoo

I should get a watch tattoo, close to the truth
where the hands only point to Now.
The concepts are cool but
they’re short of the truth and
the truth about Then is Now.
I only can be, then Now I will be
all I will be then Now.

The grandchildren are the hope for the future, to put a spin on a popular cultural idea. It’s a catchy cliché, but also the underlying reason that so many seniors are musically ignored by our culture.

This truth is most dramatically highlighted during the holidays, when “the grandchildren” come around to senior homes and nursing homes to bring a snowflake of cheer to “the grandparents”; one that will quickly melt in the new year leaving the grandparents shivering alone in musical silence. And while I’m grateful that the grandchildren and their adult music mentors make a point of dropping by with a few carols, it also breaks my heart.

I understand that our culture desperately hopes beyond hope that the future will be better than the present, but I’m mystified by that because two things seem so obvious.

1) Dissatisfaction with the present rolls endlessly into the future. No matter what Americans bring into their present lives they seem perpetually dissatisfied.

2) The future does not exist. Those grandchildren are never going to do anything in the future. They can only affect our future by acting now, in the perpetually unfolding present moment.

But we don’t like the present moment, which is in a very real sense the gift from those who came before. This present moment that we simply must get away from is an unrecognized outgrowth of what has “been done to us” by those who came before. And those people are “the grandparents”. They did this to us. Not our children’s grandparents of course, but someone’s.

And that is why, when it comes to music and the arts, the grandparents don’t matter much. Except, of course, at Christmas time when God and Santa Claus are watching ever so closely.

It is sad, to me, because what happens is that we arm the grandchildren with implements of the arts, but rarely share the results with the grandparents. We find ways to get musical instruments and instruction to the grandchildren, but we leave the grandparents in musical silence. We never stop by to say, or play, “Thank you!”

We forget that were it not for the grandparents we would not have factories that build musical instruments, nor schools with music classrooms, nor churches for choirs. We would not have musical venues nor the streets that connect all of these things, nor the transportation that gets us around.

And perhaps most importantly, were it not for the grandparents, we would not have the freedom to create these musical programs that arm the grandchildren with implements of the arts.

And that is why the grandparents are worth it; why the grandparents should not be left in musical silence day after week after year after decade.

May the spirit that arises from desperate hope for the future find a way to manifest in every present moment of your new year.

Happy Holidays from Alice and Greg


On Co-Writing a Song for the Next CD

After my November Horizon House show a young man from the audience asked me if I could turn something he’d written for his girlfriend into a song. I said I might be able to and asked him if he had written it down.

He says “Yes. I’ve got about 5 pages.” Yikes!

I’ve been having the most incredible songwriting fun for the past two days!

After my November Horizon House show a young man from the audience asked me if I could turn something he’d written for his girlfriend into a song. I said I might be able to and asked him if he had written it down. He says “Yes. I’ve got about 5 pages.” Yikes!

But then he pulls out these little pieces of paper about the size of that notepad that Columbo used to keep in his coat pocket. Whew! I looked them over for a minute.

“I know it’s a love song, but you need a consistent theme. It kind of goes all over the place, and a good pop song has a focus; a recurring theme. Does that make sense?”

Shannon, a staff member, was listening and when Daniel said “Yes, that makes sense”, she said she would help him as he worked through a rewrite. Then I asked them to type it so I wouldn’t misread something. I was a bit nervous since it’s enough of a challenge for me to write my own songs.

After the show this past Thursday Shannon handed Daniel a piece of paper from the printer, and as he turned to me I recalled our chat. He looked a little shy now that the moment had come to share these intimate thoughts in this new way, or maybe he felt like he would be imposing on me.

“Are those your lyrics, Daniel?” I smiled, and he kept the piece of paper at his side.


“Is that my copy?”

He looked up with a smile. “Yes.”

“Okay, I’m on it. No promises about how long it might take though. Okay?”

“Okay. Thanks.”

I scanned the page and saw a lot of repetition; a LOT of repetition. He had taken the theme idea to heart. But I knew right away I could work with what he had written, because he had some really great lines in there; some really great poetry.

“Okay. Look, I might have to shift some things around, and cut some of the repetition out. I might change some words to help with the way it flows, or the way it rhymes. But I’ll keep it true to what you’ve written. Once I get my adaptation done I’ll let you look at it, to be sure it’s what you want. Cool?”

He had lit up like a Christmas tree. “Yes. Thank you, Greg.”

Friday morning I grabbed the guitar and started banging out some chord progression ideas that worked with his theme then set to work on the lyrics, honing and shaping them into a pop song sort of verse/chorus format.

It’s been a little over 24 hours since I sat down with it and I’m rather in awe of how easily it went. My own songs take days and weeks to craft and shape, but this one really came together – a testament to the quality of the poetry he gave me, and his dedication to theme.

I’m not due back until January, but I may well make some time to drive down and sit with him to give it a test drive. If he likes it I’ll have some time to rehearse before the next show, and if all goes well I’ll debut the song for him and his friends, and especially his girlfriend, in January.

What an honor this experience has been. Thanks Daniel! Hope you like it bro…

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Of Sacred Space & Audiences Starved

Take me now, baby, here as I am
Pull me close, try and understand
Desire is hunger is the fire I breathe
Love is a banquet on which we feed.

Patti Smith / Bruce Springsteen

              DON’T SHOOT ME
                                                                           I’M ONLY THE MESSENGER

In the summer of 2014 I sat with Kent Williamson of Paladin Media at Charlottesville’s Golden Living / Cedars for an interview, part of which is linked below.

I talked about the artistic space created when a musician performs a song – the sacred space wherein the listener can be precisely who they are in the moment. The song has no judgment; the song just does not care if it’s a world leader or a homeless person. The song and the space have no concern for the listener’s race, creed, physical situation, sexual orientation or anything else. This is true also of a painting, photograph or sculpture on display – the space is open to all.

So I wonder why so many musicians wield discriminatory and exclusive judgments about who they entertain. It might not sound so great when I say it but the fact is that this is the systematic practice of audience discrimination, and it’s astoundingly widespread in America. It’s doubly mystifying since musicians routinely sing out against discrimination, claiming to stand for equal opportunity & fairness. Weird, huh?

When I first began the SongSharing effort I heard time and again that musicians did not have time to volunteer music in Community Venues ™ because they were aspiring professionals, struggling financially to remain dedicated to their craft. As SongSharing found ways to pay musicians the song remained the same, with a sickening twist. They still did not have time because they were professionally busy, but now they said “Oh, dear. I couldn’t take money to play for those people.”

I have grown to despise the classification of Community Venue audiences as “those people”, as though somehow they are to be pitied. I don’t pity folks in senior and nursing homes, nor do I pity the disabled children & adults I share music with. I feel for them, very deeply & profoundly. But I regard them as artistically equal to anyone that might bask in the sacred space as themselves, fully and unapologetically.

And I feel for the musicians that do pity Community Venue audiences and believe that I am driven by pity, because they know not what they do. The result of this artistically condescending mindset is that these human beings are systematically excluded from the domain of musicians and artists, but the musicians and artists think someone else is at fault. “Those people” become the domain of charity workers, and the social services, and strange people like me who end up ostracized.

And if you want to confirm your hunch about what sort of artistic exposure this yields then visit a nursing home in your area. Wait in the lobby every day for one week – a fraction of the time the residents wait. Bring a pencil and sliver of paper and wait for the music. Make a little mark for every musician from your town’s “thriving music scene” that entertains for even 45 minutes; a mark for every artist that incorporates Audience Inclusion ™ in their professional bag of tricks. Make a mark for every musician that lives their lyrics in this way. Trust me, you won’t need more than a matchbook cover because you won’t be making many marks in America.

Alice’s pal Les Iszmore says “You know, out here on The Road Les Travels ™ it’s not right and it’s not wrong. It’s just the way we do it.” And I am not saying that it’s wrong to practice audience discrimination. It is what it is, and I, like the space this writing creates, do not stand in judgment.

But I don’t understand, because all I hear about these days are starving artists and declining demand for music, while the audiences starved in Community Venues represent staggering, rewarding marketplace demand and therefore professional opportunity. But the valuable demand they represent for live and recorded music is not even recognized as such, which has to do with why so many musicians wonder what the hell I’m talking about and think I’m crazy.

But I’m not. The sacred space has been forgotten, forsaken in pursuit of money and a distorted sense of recognition. And the result is the sound of silence.

Fools said I, you do not know
Your silence like a cancer grows…

Simon and Garfunkel