The Stranger on the Road

a barnEver since he’d set the barn up as a recording studio, he’d wanted a window so he could see his farm while he played. Windows not being inherently sound-deadening, it was a complication, but over time he’d hit upon a solution involving multiple layers of glass embedded in spongy soft stuff that helped reduce sound transmission.

So when the old man in the battered brown hat headed up his gravel driveway, he didn’t have to wait for the surprise of someone banging on the big barn door and messing up the track he was recording. He’d stopped playing his old Telecaster to watch as the stranger trudged up the drive, never raising his head enough to reveal his face.

But there was no banging on the door. With no windows anywhere else in the barn, he didn’t know if the old guy had gone around, or was just standing there.

Easy enough to find out.

He hung the guitar on the wall and crossed to the door, sliding the crossbar and pushing outward.

Mr. Brown Hat stepped back, blinking, obviously surprised.

“Um, hey, I’m sorry, uh, I was just . . . ” His hands wiggled around as he talked.

“Did you need something? Like, I mean, are you lost? Long way from anywhere, sir.”

The elderly gent chuckled. “I’ve been lost a long, long time, but not how you mean.” He shuffled his feet, glanced toward the road, shoved his hands in his pockets.

“I was passing, y’know, just walking down the road, and I heard the music, and, well, it drew me. I wasn’t trying to trespass, just getting closer to hear it better.”

That brought a chuckle. “You do realize that’s the shortest route to a musician’s heart, right?”

He pushed the door open wider. “If you want to listen, you might as well come in and get comfortable.”

The traveler pulled his hat off and held out his hand. “Morris. Morris Michael Miller. For which I apologize on behalf of my long-departed parents.”

“No apology necessary, Morris Michael Miller. I’m Reed. Reed Smith, most common last name in the English-speaking world, I guess.”

“There’s a reason for that, but instead of boring you with that, what if I sit down and shut up and you can play some more of that hopeful-sounding stuff you were playing.”

Reed smiled. “Hopeful? I guess the words made the music lean that way. Come on in.”

Morris found his way to one of the battered old kitchen chairs near the biggest speakers, and Reed grabbed the Tele and sat down to play.

He had no idea he’d just begun the greatest friendship of his life, nor that the stranger he’d taken in would live out the rest of his long life on the farm he’d been passing for no reason except that was where the road took him.


Biochemystery

I gave up coffee and chocolate and tea
to see if it might help me get well
10 days of headaches, kitten weak
there wasn’t any difference I could tell

so I had a cup of pricey Irish tea
it tasted like cardboard in a cup
eased my way into a pot of decaf
the icepick in my head wouldn’t give up

you think it’s logical and simple
like tuning up the engine in a car
start messing with the biochemystery
it’s glad to show you just how wrong you are

the cocktail of meds I take each day
warn about mixing them with drinking
the effects, they say, might be amplified
and yes, I know exactly what you’re thinking

make your heart rejoice with half a glass of red
but what really happens isn’t much fun
without overindulgence or waiting till the morning
take my hangover to bed, ’cause I’m done

you think it’s logical and simple
like tuning up the engine in a car
start messing with the biochemystery
it’s glad to show you just how wrong you are

when I was a kid I was skinny as a stick
distance runner, and played baseball
bought my graduation suit from the children’s section
wasn’t long until I outgrew it all

half a century I’ve been trying to eat right
I don’t drink soda; rarely touch red meat
big old salad is my favorite lunch
but biochemystery has me beat

you think it’s logical and simple
like tuning up the engine in a car
start messing with the biochemystery
it’s glad to show you just how wrong you are


The Week After That

At last night’s living room concert I gave everyone slips of paper and had them contribute song ideas: people, places, things, moods. The suggestions were

pensive
dark ages
Costa Rica
Aunt Jemima
old motorcycles
siblings
a cowboy who doesn’t like horses or cows

It pretty much wrote itself. I performed it 15 minutes after I pulled the ideas from the hat.

Lyrics

what do you do when you’re in the wrong place
in the wrong place in the wrong time?
thinking like that can ruin your breakfast
looking for reason and rhyme

roping and riding and drivin’ ’em in
is driving me out of my mind
so I’m moving on
next week I’ll be gone
the week after that I’ll fine

my sister just doesn’t get it
she doesn’t have to, she knows I’m okay
her Harley will get me to LAX
I’m flying south today

chorus

I’m off on a plane to the tropics
heading south as fast as I can
get away from those horses and smelly old cows
in Costa Rica I could work on my tan

chorus

no more bacon and eggs in the morning
Aunt Jemima’s got nothing on me
that medieval torture of saddle tramp days
is washing away in the sea

chorus




Purple Sky

As much as I miss the greens and whites of northern Wisconsin, I’ve long been in love with the purple orange sunsets of the Arizona desert.

This song owes much to The Sons of the Pioneers, especially by way of Michael Nesmith’s album Tropical Campfires and the songs Moon Over the Rio Grande and Twilight on the Trail.

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The Ballad of Ed Tom Bell

Sheriff Ed Tom Bell in “No Country for Old Men” spends a lot of time talking about what’s wrong with the world, and making a lot of sense.

Please note: I’m apolitical. I see a lot wrong with the whole world, not just one country, and the ‘country’ McCarthy referred to in Bell’s monologues was the region he lived in, not a geopolitical entity. I’d hate for anyone to think I had a bone to pick with any particular person, place or thing. But if you read Cormac McCarthy, stuff like this is bound to leak back out eventually.

I intentionally sang it in too low a key to get the sound I wanted.

Continue reading “The Ballad of Ed Tom Bell”