Joe pulled himself out of bed and followed his morning routine, much of it due to muscle memory. He generally woke up somewhere in the middle. Some days he found himself brushing his teeth and wondered how he came to be in that place in time. Then he realized morning had come again, no matter how much he wished it wouldn't. On this particular day he had made it all the way through his shower, clothing, teeth and hair before he realized he wasn't dreaming. He became aware of his surroundings to find himself tying his shoes for no good reason. Well, dang. He was up and ready to go. He might as well go someplace. First to the post office to pick up his mail and then to the coffee shop on 12th and Main. He had some writing to do, and coffee shops were pretty quiet after the morning rush.
Vermont was a nice place to be in late winter. He looked out the window as he drank his morning mug of steamed milk and maple syrup. The sun rose behind the mountains, between the trees. For a few moments the blazing orange ball of fire on the horizon offset the shades of blah in his world. There was a blanket of fresh snow from the night before, bringing with it a heavy quiet. Often, he felt crushed under the peacefulness of the morning. It hadn't always been like this. He decided to keep himself busy.
He put on his coat and hat and slung his satchel over his shoulder. He left his apartment and walked to his car. The post office was not far away. Nothing was far away in the cozy little town. He liked it that way. He liked the small-town hospitality without the small-town talk. He liked the smiles people gave him as he walked into a store or a cafe. No one ever asked him about himself or his past. They were just glad he stopped by.
The post office was never busy when he arrived. He and the attendant exchanged pleasantries, and that was about it. He put his letters in his satchel. Off to the coffee shop.
For someone who never drank coffee, he sure found himself in a lot of coffee shops. They were everywhere. They were quiet if he timed his visit just right, and people tended to leave him alone once he opened his laptop or took out a notebook and pen. Sometimes he ordered a muffin or soup and a sandwich. Sometimes he paid for his seat with a chocolate milk or a soda. Today, there was a chocolate chip cookie and a glass of milk gently calling his name. How could he refuse?
He took a seat toward the back near an outlet and opened up his satchel. Out came the laptop, the charger, the external hard drive, and a small notebook. After plugging in his equipment, he opened up his notebook. He had jotted down a few notes here and there, and he had a piece of music in mind to match. All he needed to do was put it all together.
Building your wings feather by feather.
Checking the skies, watching the weather.
Sitting alone, dreaming of angels
And birds of a wing flocking together.
Experiments fail, trying again.
Experience showing how, where, and when.
Observing the sun lifting the morning
Vibrating, warming the sweet oxygen.
And we say, Don't fly too high!
The winds are much too strong!
Don't fly too high!
Come back! Come back
To where you belong!
Envisioning vistas, dizzying heights.
Racing with stars and meteorites.
Plummeting earthward, heart in throat.
Wonderful hungers, strong appetites.
Tasting it, living it, not just in dreams.
Making reality more than it seems.
Inventing a walkway to where you would go.
There, never here, and no in-betweens.
Never too high to tumble back down,
Never too low for fear you might drown.
Never too fast, risking a crash
Never too slow, steady you go.
Never too far to lose your way.
Never too close, never to stay.
Never too loud, never too proud
Never too strong, never allowed.
Never too happy, never too bright.
Never in darkness, never in light.
Never on accident, never as planned.
Never blessed but never damned.
Never beginning thus never an end.
Never an enemy, never a friend.
Never relax, never pursue.
Never, it's me, so never, it's you...
Joe finished his cookie and milk and packed up his satchel. He returned his plate and glass to the counter and headed out the door. He didn't really have any place special to be, but there was no sense in over-staying his welcome. The midmorning air was fresh and brisk. The trees were little more than stick sculptures, resisting even their gentle white coating. The mountains in the distance were less rocky and more furry, thanks in no small part to the snow-covered evergreens lining their surface. The snow on the ground was largely untouched, and it shimmered in the soft sunlight. He walked to his car.
There was a music store on the way back to his apartment. He decided to pay a visit. Vinyl had come back into fashion, and he was curious. Up and down the aisles he found familiar faces and more familiar tunes. He sighed. So many memories. Music was a wonderous thing. It could aid in the creation of unforgettable times, and it could prevent a person from forgetting a single moment. For better or for worse.
After making the requisite rounds, Joe left the store. He got in his car and drove to his apartment. He walked up the three flights of stairs, preferring them to the elevator. He opened his door, took off his coat, and went to the second bedroom. He had converted it into a home recording studio. After installing extra insulation, he had lined up his instruments around the room for easy access. He had set up a desk surrounded by microphones of varying sizes set to different heights. Once he plugged in, he could digitize any of his menagerie of instruments for notation purposes as well as recording an mp3.
He plugged in and began the guitar melody for "Icarus." This was followed by the rhythm guitar as the song built to its climax. Bass and percussion followed. Once the instrument tracks were saved, he focused on the vocals. He began with the melody and lead vocals. He continued with harmony and vocal texture. Once the song was finished, he mastered the tracks into one complete mp3. Part one was complete. Part two involved taking each track and running it through his notation software. He could do it by hand, but the program saved him time. He figured it was a little like using a calculator to do his taxes. Once part two was complete, he decided a well-deserved roast beef sandwich was in order. Part three, presenting the music to the band who would then turn it into the newest top ten hit single, could wait until after his sandwich. Priorities.
After his mid-morning meal, he picked up the phone. He felt delivering music should have a personal touch. He called the record label of his intended band, and the secretary answered. She was a lovely alto, very bright and optimistic. He always imagined her as a porcelain brunette.
"Hello. Thurgoode Records. This is Peggy. How may I help you?"
"Hello, Peggy. This is Joe. I have a new song for Steve and the guys. I am sending you the mp3s and the sheet music now. They asked for something gritty and rebellious."
"You have me intrigued. Is it still family friendly?" Peggy inquired lightly.
"Yes. This is my compromise," Joe replied.
"Good for you! Hold your ground! Don't let anyone tell you what you should and shouldn't write!"
He liked her enthusiasm. It was nice knowing someone championed his cause.
There was a brief silence as he listened to her type. "And here it is. I'll send it along. The usual fee?"
The usual fee was the initial payment for a song. Royalties came later. "Yes. Thank you."
"You are most welcome."
He hung up the phone and smiled. It was turning into a good day after all.
Joe checked his emails. Seven of his ten bands were asking for new music. Today's song marked five of the seven requests completed. Two to go. One band had a folk sound and the other had a blues feel. He rested back in his wheely chair. Sometimes silly little love songs were the way to go. Or breakup songs. He could do a breakup song that ended in hope. Audiences liked hope. He turned to the filing cabinet next to his desk and pulled out a large envelope of unfinished poetry. It was full of scraps of paper in varying colors, shapes and sizes. He laid out some of the pieces on his desk. He moved them around, added a piece here, took away a piece there. He reached for a guitar nearby and started to strum. He played with chords, small steps, minor changes. He read the patchwork writings as he built a melody. Some songs came easily and others required a little more effort.
By suppertime, he had finished a soulful tune. He decided this would be his blues offering. All it needed was the right instrumentation.
ONE STONE AT A TIME
I’ve wandered far away
Through many shades of gray
So many turns and twists
It seems I’ve lost the road.
I took my share and ran
I had no back up plan.
It all slipped through my fists
And now I must admit
I’d like to drop the load
But where am I to go?
How do you move a mountain
That’s standing in your way?
It’s too big to go around,
It’s too high to climb.
You have to do what must be done.
What more can I say?
How do you move a mountain?
One stone at a time…
One stone at a time…
They say there’s no return
Until the lesson’s learned
And you can cry and moan
And whine that it’s not fair.
I’d like to disagree
We’re all meant to be free
It’s in our blood and bones
We’re made for going home
And breathe familiar air
If we will only dare…
It’s just through sweat and tears
A habit made in years
That leads you back to home
That long and lonely road
If you would one day fly
Right now you work and cry
And you no longer roam
But learn how to atone
And lift the heavy load
To go where you must go…
Once the lyrics were complete, he began the recording process. It was a pattern, a routine. Everything in his life was like that. Step one: wake up, get up, set up, switch on, hit record. Step two: move forward, speak out, sing out, ring out. Step three: step back, make the call, deliver the package, walk away. Step four: was there still roast beef in the refrigerator? Priorities.
Joe looked out his window. The sunset wasn't a whole lot different than the sunrise had been. Different window, different landscape. One brought forth the fires of hope and all things new. The other was a little more sad and depressing. The day is done. How well was it spent? Better luck next time. If there is a next time. Tomorrow is never guaranteed. It was probably time for ice cream. Ice cream and warm chocolate chip cookies.
He went to the kitchen, preheated the oven, and laid out all of the ingredients. He took out his favorite mixing bowl and his favorite wooden spoon. In went the shortening, the brown sugar, the white sugar, the vanilla, the eggs, the salt, the baking soda, the flour, and the chocolate chips. He stirred in the love in between each ingredient. He took out a cookie sheet and an ice cream scoop. Six scoops fit on a pan, and they had to bake for ten minutes. Worth the wait. Meanwhile, he took his trusty scoop and headed to the freezer. A few scoops of vanilla ice cream later, he was ready for his cookies to exit the oven and cool on the counter. All he needed was a good book, and he was set for the evening.
Tuesday Meant Things Were Looking Up
Morning came as it always did. Same routine. Same peace. Same Quiet. Same blah. The sunrise was especially memorable this morning. Joe stood transfixed in front of his window watching for a good twenty minutes. He supposed what he was doing could be classified as praying, but he doubted it. He put on his slippers instead of his shoes. The mail could wait, and he could write at home. Sometimes Tuesdays were harder than Mondays because there was a higher expectation of good things to come. Well, at least it's not Monday. Today has to be better than yesterday! When the day turns out to be pretty much the same, it tends to break a guy down. He sighed and decided it would be a good time to scrounge for breakfast.
His pantry was stocked for meals generally consumed later in the day. He pulled out the eggs from his cookie-making supplies, some bread and some cheese from his sandwich supplies, and some peach juice from his crockpot cooking supplies. Now it was starting to look a lot like breakfast. He pulled out his favorite skillet and his favorite spatula. He put the toast in the toaster, poured his drink, cracked a couple of eggs in the pan. He left the toast in the toaster until the eggs were done and didn't give them another thought until it was time for the cheese to start melting over the eggs. He took a plate from his cupboard, put on the now-cooled toast, and laid the eggs and cheese carefully on top. Two open-face sandwiches later, it was time to sit at his table and check his messages. He had a song in mind, but it wasn't a commission, so it would have to wait.
The phone rang. He took a moment to register the sound. It wasn't something that occurred often. He checked the caller ID. Better to be safe than sorry. O'Malley. Joe answered the phone. "Hello?"
"Joe, my boy! How have you been?"
Fr. O'Malley had been a mentor and guide since his college days. It was nice that he kept in touch.
"Hello, Father. I'm okay."
"And have you been getting yourself to church?"
"Yes, Father. I may not make it every day, but I never miss Sundays and Days of Obligation," Joe said and sighed inwardly. He felt ten years old every time he spoke to the aging priest. He supposed it was only to be expected. Fr. O'Malley had been the pastor at the campus Neuman Center and a second Dad to him since he had lost his parents back in college.
"That's good. That's good. And what has been keeping you busy?"
"Well, I write music for the bands I started. It keeps me pretty busy. It pays pretty well, too." He heard the requisite hmm-hmm from the other end. "Oh, and that new band I have been mentoring has a bar gig on Friday."
"Hmm. I remember you telling me about those boys and their first coffee shop gig." There was a brief chuckle. "You think they're ready?" Fr. O'Malley asked.
"No, but they have to fall before they can fly. I'll be there to help them out. And it can't be worse than their audition," Joe said.
Fr. O'Malley laughed. "That was a good story, too. Wish I had been there to see it!"
"How are you doing?" Joe asked. It seemed like a fair question. The aging priest was well-travelled and never let an opportunity for evangelization pass him by. Joe affectionately thought of him as a domestic missionary.
"I started this new thing. It's called online spiritual direction or some such like that. I list my email address and people write to me with questions. People can use their phones, but they don't call me. We just send notes back and forth. It all sounds like a silly way to communicate, but at least I don't have to cross state lines for these kids as much anymore." Another soft chuckle, "How the world is changing!"
"Yes. I completely agree," Joe replied.
"Well, I'll let you get back to it, then. Good luck to those boys of yours. I hope it all goes well for them."
"I'll pass that along, Father."
"God be with you," Fr. O'Malley said.
As Joe hung up the phone, the sun seemed to shine a little brighter. Maybe that new song didn't need to wait after all.
IT’S A VERY GOOD DAY
The sun is shining and your hand’s in mine.
For the first time in days I feel fine.
I hear your laughter and a smile’s on my face
What more can I say?
It's a very good day.
The sky is clear, there’s no trace of clouds.
We stroll along among a friendly crowd.
We listen to a street musician play.
What more can I say?
It’s a very good day.
We cross the street, my arm ‘round your hips.
I feel happy right down to my fingertips.
We both can feel it, there’s no need to explain.
What more can I say?
It’s a very good day.
The world spins joyfully beneath us.
Birds fly through a brilliant blue.
Fragrant breezes swirl around us
And it’s all meant for just me and you.
The sun is shining from high up above.
And I’ve got you, my one and only love.
I feel like dancing, let the music play.
What more can I say?
It’s a very good day.
After laying all of the vocal and instrumental tracks, Joe decided one more sunny Tuesday song would be in order.
Hold your head up high and put on a happy face.
Good things are coming your way.
Call it what you will be it karma, fate, or grace.
Good things are coming your way.
Don’t tell me that the future’s looking bleak.
Don’t say that life has lost all its mystique.
Don’t sit there on your duff and just complain.
Find the silver lining and forget about the rain.
Don’t act as if the sky is falling down.
Don’t let your face be frozen in a frown.
Don’t concentrate on cups that aren’t half-full.
Shake off all your worries, though we know it’s difficult.
Don’t let the bad news make you lose your smile.
Don’t let judgmental people change your style.
Don’t let the shadows ever dim your light.
Chase away those boogiemen and keep the sun in sight.
After laying all of the vocal and instrumental tracks, Joe decided a roast beef sandwich was in order.
Joe moved through his usual morning routine. On this particular morning he had a place to be, and he was dangerously close to running late. Jamie and the guys were expecting him at the coffee shop on 12th and Main for a morning meeting. He collected his wallet, glasses, keys, and phone. He was forgetting something. Music! He grabbed his music, put it in his satchel, and headed out the door. Was that the phone ringing? He could deal with whoever was on the other end of that call later. Right then, the guys were counting on him to lead them to their biggest gig yet and later to ultimate fame and fortune. Priorities.
As it turned out, he needn't have worried. He was five minutes late for the band meeting, and he was the first one there. He sighed. Kids these days. He took out his laptop and started typing. He had had a song idea for his folk-sounding band as he was drifting off to sleep. Maybe he could flesh it out before the guys arrived.
I don’t wear shades
If I don’t have to.
They make the shadows darker.
Colors get too dim.
I won’t wear sunglasses
‘Cause I hate to miss a rainbow
And all that darkened plastic
Just makes the world look grim.
We don’t live in a world of primary colors.
Black and white and shades of gray won’t keep us warm.
The world has so much more than a box of sixty-four
Just look at all the colors of yarn.
I don’t wear contacts
To make life seem rosy.
I’d rather look at the world
And see it as it is.
I won’t use pieces of glass
To hide what doesn’t appeal.
Take a look around you.
See just what you’ll miss?
I won’t wear a blindfold
Or even a baseball cap.
Or carry an umbrella
Just to shade my eyes.
I try to look all around me.
Accept things as they come.
If you know just what will happen
You’ll never be surprised.
Joe remembered the band had recently added a female vocalist. As he recalled, she had quite a set of pipes. Once this tune is properly notated, recorded and sent, he could relax and focus on his current band.
Speaking of which, where were they? Joe looked at his watch. Surely, they should have been there by now. What was taking them so long? He looked out the window. Two cars and four guys headed his way. Yep. His band. Thirty minutes late and still goofing off on their way in. He shook his head. This was going to be quite a gig. Joe wondered if he was going to need something stronger than a steamed milk before the end of the meeting, but the coffee shop didn't serve alcohol, and Joe didn't drink. He would just have to walk into the storm.
"Hey, Joe. Sorry we're late," Jamie said as he led the group to Joe's corner of the shop.
"Well, you're here now. Let's look at your song list." Joe took out one of his songs from the day before. The four young men dug into backpacks, messenger bags and satchels. They pulled out music sheets that had seen some action, fought in the trenches, been to hell and back and laid before them a shadow of the sheets they used to be. Joe cringed inwardly. "I'll give you new sheets with updated notes before the sound check tonight."
"Hey, thanks, Joe!" Jamie said. Frankie and Crispen high fived, and Marty gave thumbs up.
"How comfortable are you with setting up your own space?" Joe asked. It was a fair question. They had been practicing for a couple of weeks now. There hadn't been any fatalities yet.
"We're good," Jamie said. "No problem."
Joe looked at the rest of the band. They were shaking their heads. Nope. No way. No how.
Jamie caught the eyes of his teammates. They nodded their heads. Yes. Absolutely. You can count on us.
"Well, okay, then. Let's take a look at your song list, discuss witty banter, and go over any questions you may have about tonight," Joe said.
So many questions later, they were heading out for lunch and a rehearsal. The boys left for food and fellowship, and Joe left for administrative purposes. And a roast beef sandwich. Priorities. During the break Joe went back to his apartment, printed off the music sheets, made himself a sandwich, and headed out the door again.
A while back he had rented a rehearsal space for them to practice in a couple of times a week. Joe used masking tape to mark the floor with the precise measurements of the stage. He took out his stopwatch. "And ... go!"
The four young men rushed in and set up their gear. No nonsense, just business. Their personal best. "Great job, guys. Now, take it down and pack it up. And ... go!" Once again, no nonsense, just business. They were careful with screws and cords. They packed everything up the way it was before. Once again, their personal best. Joe was pleased with their progress.
"All right, now set it up, and we'll run our sound check."
Sound checks could be quick and easy or a special kind of crazy. He tried to steer the group toward let's get this over with. They had a limited amount of time to get through their set and hammer out any and all issues before it would be time to go and do it for real.
All in all, they didn't sound bad. They sounded together, polished, and focused. They listened to each other. They watched each other. They anticipated each other's solos and textures. Joe took a few notes. He wrapped the rehearsal on time, and the five went their separate ways.
Let’s Work Together
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