Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The story behind the song: Desperate Mama

Desperate Mama began when I was asked to write a song in which I borrowed some of the lyrics from a conversation I overheard. After eavesdropping on all types of locations I heard one woman (with a Texas accent) say to her friend, “Well, as we say down in Texas, ‘Have a good day and don’t you kill anyone.’” After digesting the strangeness of that thought, I grabbed onto the gist as a suitable phrase for the song. In the meantime, I had been working on a tune already in which the chorus was “Desperate Mama, Desperate Mama, she don’t worry about a thing no more.” As often happens to me in the songwriting process, the lyrics of the chorus came to me first, before I had any sense of what I was writing about. It’s like picking up a novel and reading from a random page in the middle. Then I backup and decide where and how to begin the song, given what I know is happening later. I am fond of this song for several reasons. First, I like the country/bluegrass feel that it has. It’s a happy sounding chord progression, which belies the rather unhappy subject matter. Second, my favorite line in the song is “I never even learned his Christian name / But I heard him calling Jesus just the same.” A little sexual innuendo mixed with religious fervor never hurts. Third, if you pay close enough attention you will learn that over the course of the song, a decision has been made and acted upon, one which shifts the tense of the person doing the talking, permanently. And lastly, I love that Tim O’Brien plays and sings on the recording. Not only is it cool to play with a Grammy winner, but he adds the right type of plaintive qualities to the track. Then again, what’s not to love about a song that touches on pregnancy, abortion, and suicide?

Monday, September 17, 2012

The story behind the song: Golden Some Day

In 2010 I began working with producer Jamie Mefford on my new album. As we sorted through the possible songs, I referenced another friend of mine with whom I trade songwriting assignments. Jamie smiled slyly and said, “I want to give you a songwriting assignment.” Great, I thought. This should be interesting. And I was right. Over the years of listening to the likes of Jerry Garcia, Neil Young, and Doc Watson-style bluegrass, I had developed a playing style that kept my right picking hand very busy. I had grown accustomed to playing a lot of notes most of the time, a habit which was not lost on Jamie. And being the producer/sage/therapist that he is, Jamie was interested in what else I could do. He then explained that he wanted me to write a song in which I was allowed to strum the guitar using only my thumb. No pick, no other fingers, just my thumb. My first thought was, “shit.” I was certain that this approach could only lead to an insanely boring song. And the more I thought about the assignment, the more intimidated I became. No fancy picking? No pull-offs and hammer-ons? But that means that people will really listen to the lyrics. I hadn’t even worked on the assignment and I felt like I was standing before a judgmental crowd wearing nothing but my birthday suit. When it comes to writing about certain topics, I tend to write about whatever is occupying my heart and mind at the time. This was December 2010, and my wife and I were in the middle of contentious discussions regarding our relationship, discussions which would eventually lead to a sincerely amicable divorce the following year. As I began strumming my guitar with my thumb one night, this beautifully simple chord progression emerged, and I quickly began to feel thankful for Jamie’s challenge. Then the lyrics started flowing, and that sentiment grew. This song developed rapidly and was completed in a matter of days. When the song was done Jamie and I fell in love with it, and decided to name the album after it. For me it is a beautiful song, a painful song, a loving song. Vocalist Anne Sibley adds to the atmosphere, and so far, this track tends to be a favorite of listeners, as well as the players who helped record it. Here is the song: http://soundcloud.com/jeremydion/01-golden-some-day/s-vSuR8 It can also be heard at my website, where the CD is for sale for a mere $10. www.jeremydion.com GOLDEN SOME DAY This time baby one of us will end up down One hits the runway one is sticking around Lonely sleeps here too There's no helping if the walls ain't talking to you Yours is the girl I never quite remember her name Mine is the child who always gets left with the blame Slowly grew too hot to hold Theirs is the kind that always gets left in the cold Oh tell me the lies Tell me you'll stay Oh I know if we try We'll be golden some day Golden some day The knots we tied won't come undone You just smiled and said there's only one Hear those feet dance across the floor Leave this table like it's never been set before Oh tell me the lies Tell me you'll stay Oh I know if we try We'll be golden some day Golden some day Fall like a shadow gone with the flick of the light Lead with the left and I'm left holding the right Words come clean nothing left to say Sheets of rain fall they wash it away Oh tell me the lies Tell me you'll stay Oh I know if we try We'll be golden some day Golden some day

Friday, June 1, 2012

How much are you willing to feel?

Let’s start with a blanket over-generalization: Western approaches to mental health (and medicine in general) often focus on symptom-reduction. Rather than attending to the underlying causes of anxiety (for example), we take medication to simply avoid these feelings. And while I support the use of pharmaceuticals in many cases of mental health, I also see our tendency to go for the band-aid fix first, and many times singularly. A quick glance at the pharmaceutical industry will attest to the popularity of this approach. Pfizer alone made nearly 60 billion dollars in 2010. That’s $60,000,000,000.00! In contrast, traditional Eastern approaches to health and wellness encourage us to lean into our pain and fear, befriending them, feeling their intensity, and eventually transforming them. This is the approach I adopt as a therapist and songwriter. I create music principally because if I didn’t have this outlet of expression, I may spontaneously combust. After spending my days breathing in the struggles of others in my private practice, this is my chance to breathe out. I also suspect that I write songs the way I do because I have a deeper agenda: I want you, the listener, to feel something. I want you to feel those things that you typically spend a good portion of your existence defending against. I want you to lean into your own feelings of pain, struggle, loss, love, and joy because I know a secret: The painful places are where the most valuable gifts are hidden. The more we are willing to feel our pain, the more we are able to experience our joy. Shut one side down, the other side shrinks with it. But as we breathe into the intensity of the pain, we are rewarded equally. How much are you willing to feel?

Friday, May 4, 2012

Sheer Determination

You know that insatiable feeling when you want something so badly that you are willing to endure nearly anything to get it? I was reminded of that intensity last week as I taught my 6 year-old daughter to ride her bike. When you commit to learning a new skill like bike riding, you realize the learning process will be painful. You know you will crash, and you know it will hurt. And you can expect to routinely question whether or not it’s worth it. For my daughter, her sheer determination to succeed outweighed the fear of pain. She kept at it until she was able to ride - tears streaming, legs pumping and finally bike riding. It was a major moment for us both. This experience inspired me, as I saw in her a gritty toughness that I deeply admire. Please let me be so determined that I will carry on pursuing my dreams, even with skinned knees and wounded pride.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Something Else

For all its frustrations, having automated customer service options has added at least one benefit to life: Something Else.

Usually tucked at the end of an exhaustive string of prompts, the "Something Else" option provides hope of moving from frustrated to empowered.

This has led to a running joke with my friend, as we frequently attempt to select the Something Else option in our lives, instead of dealing with the current predicament. Of course the attempt at circumventing what is is futile, but it does provide momentary relief in the form of laughter. Perhaps this is the Something Else - Levity. Perspective. Respite. Something Else is my simple two word protest to the universe letting her know that I'm not fond of her at this moment. Got a phone call that a loved one is sick? Choose Something else. Got an overdraft fee from your beloved banking institution? Something else. Flat tire? You get the point.

At the end of the day, if I choose to continue to enjoy the freedoms of adulthood, I am also choosing the responsibilities that comes with those freedoms. Being a grown up is hard. But it's somehow a shade easier and more fun when I take a moment to acknowledge that I would occasionally like something else.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fighting Over Feelings

My kindergartener came home from school the other day and said, "Daddy, I think I'm stupid." I quickly reacted to this absurdity by launching headlong into a counterattack of mythic proportions. "Stupid?! Are you kidding? You are the smartest, most amazing child in the world! Here, let me give you a few examples of your brilliance…"

Confident in my ability to craft a compelling argument, I was sure my little dumpling would soon see the error in her logic. I also knew that she would then experience a gigantic boost in self-esteem once she saw the light.

But instead of being swayed by the brilliance of my reasoning she simply redoubled her efforts to convince me otherwise. We were soon in a tug-o-war over her limited intelligence, and I wasn't going to win. I could feel the rope slipping.

Then I got smart, and set down the rope. I stopped trying to talk her out of her feelings. I took a breath, felt the sadness that comes with feeling stupid, and I joined her. "Oh honey, that's hard," I began. "What's going on that you're feeling that way?" And she told me. It was a cute story and I had to bite my lip to keep from smiling. I took another breath and stayed with her.

I left space. I let her feel sad. I felt sad with her. Soon something both ordinary and magical happened. As kids do with such ease and grace, she moved through the feelings, and was quickly on to something else.

Funny how I was still feeling sad long after she had moved on. Thankfully, there was plenty of time later for me to tell her what a genius I thought she was.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Committing To The Line

By my best estimates I have put thousands of hours into learning how to play the guitar. But when it comes to the crafting of lyrics, I have traditionally flown by the seat of my proverbial pants.

Then I met my record producer/therapist, Jamie Mefford. Through his approach to making records, he has taught me the art of listening to the song, of leaving space, and of diving into each and every word on the page.

I have since discovered a new method to the songwriting madness. When I devote time to the discovery process, I set up my home studio, slip on the headphones, grab my guitar, hit "record," and start playing. As I play through a particular song I try to free up my heart-mind to sing whatever words seek to come through. As I listen to the song and breathe into her, I aim to temporarily quiet my judgmental mind that wants to critique each aspect of the lyrical output.

This creative approach has unleashed something in me, and I am writing on a more prolific level than ever before. The other night, while working on a song about San Francisco, I wrote (sang) more 40 verses. I then listened back to the recording, and transcribed every word. Picking out my favorite lines, words, and concepts, I wove them into the finished product.

As a result, I have two new songs that are close to done. Really close, as in one line away. But that line…it's not there yet. I have written a number of options for this particular lyric, and even thought I had it. But each time I sing the line, I'm not totally buying it. I'm having trouble committing to it and believing in it. As I learn to listen to my visceral reaction to singing, I can tell when my body contracts, and I'll know that if I perform the song with the line I have now, I will regret it. I will sing that line but blur the words, mildly embarrassed by them because I know they could be better.

It set me to wondering, where else do I do this? Where else in my life am I not buying my own lines? Are there places where I feel incongruent with what I am saying and doing, but I disregard my own visceral integrity?

I now know the embodied sense of purpose that grows from singing/living the lines I believe in and I aim to embrace this in all aspects of my life. I am a musician. And also a psychotherapist. In that order.