Goin’ Home

Goin' Home

I am posting this because in a very short time, I am going home. This is a song about being away, and about homecomings. It’s really about how “home” for me has become as much about people as it is about place.

I tend to write songs when I travel, so maybe some new music will come out of this summer vacation.

This song is in the key of G, and it’s very fast with a decidedly country feel—when we used to play it with Highway Nine, I used to say that if it came in at longer than 2:20, we played it too slow.

Trains factor into my life a lot, living where I do. The locomotives like the one in this picture are soon to be relics of the past around these parts, as the East Coast rail link is electrified. They could be gone by the time I get back, for all I know. The poles are in, and the cables have been strung up. I will miss these big orange beasts. I’ve gotten used to them.

Goin’ Home (Words and music copyright Jason Grenier 2008 )

I’ve been drinking beer in airport bars

and sleeping on planes

I’ve been reading books on buses

I’ve been writing songs on trains
I’ve been gone ten thousand miles
And now I’m rolling home to you
On a steel road between the mountains and the sea

CHORUS
Goin’ home, that’s where my heart is
That’s where my love lies
Home is now wherever you may be
Goin’ home, that’s where my heart is
That’s where my love lies
Home is now wherever you may be

You’ve been on my mind all morning
You’ve been on my mind all night
You’ve been on my mind all afternoon
Cause you’re my heart’s delight
This train it keeps on a-rockin’ babe
And I’m rolling home to you
On a steel road between the mountains and the sea

CHORUS
Goin’ home, that’s where my heart is
That’s where my love lies
Home is now wherever you may be
Goin’ home, that’s where my heart is
That’s where my love lies
Home is now wherever you may be

Home is now wherever you may be

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The Woeful Story of the Barmaid and the Dark Stranger

The Woeful Story of the Barmaid and the Dark Stranger

I like to write story songs, because I think, for me, they represent the pinnacle of songwriting craft. It’s easy to write about what one feels or what one knows. It’s another thing entirely to make up characters and put them in a situation and bring them to life. I have always admired these songs, and the songwriters who do them best: Bob Dylan immediately springs to mind for songs like The Ballad of Hollis Brown, Rosemary, Lily, and the Jack of Hearts, and The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll. Every time I hear those songs song, I watch the movies in my head. That’s the effect I was striving for with this song. I know my friend Jeffrey really likes this one, and I like the fact that it has a strong female heroine. We need more of those.

The Woeful Story of the Barmaid and the Dark Stranger
(words and music copyright Jason Grenier, 2002)

The day that the gunslinger rode into town, they were planning the big harvest hoedown
People jumped to their feet and they ran down the street, spreading word of the impending showdown

The stranger had said he was looking to settle a score with the rancher, Tom Granger
With iron on his hip and a snarl on his lip, any fool could tell this man was danger

As he sat in the bar drinking whiskey alone, the curious peered through the windows
The men were all scared as they whispered and stared at this man who’d made so many widows

The jingle of spurs on the plank boards outside announced sheriff Duggan’s arrival
As he strode through the door, standing six feet or more, he made a formidable rival

The lawman walked over to the gunslinger ‘s table, where he met with an icy cold glare
Terse words were spoken, and things, they got tense as the gunslinger rose from his chair

The gunslinger asserted he would not be leaving, the sheriff he insisted that he would
The stranger drew first, and things changed for the worst, Sheriff Duggan collapsed right where he’d stood

The gunslinger sat down and returned to his whiskey as the sheriff’s blood pooled on the floor
One man lay dead with the day not half over, lots of time left to settle old scores

The saloon shocked in silence, nobody dared to move, a cloud of deep dread was descending
With the sheriff gunned down, there was no law in town, and with Granger in need of defending

The men started leaving, backing out through the door; there were not any heroes among them
A posse rode out to old Tom Granger’s place to give warning and head off more mayhem

Resting his boots on the dead lawman’s forehead, the gunslinger called for more whiskey
The barmaid complied and she reached down beside, though her eyes were all tearful and misty

Then a gunshot boomed out from the back of the bar, and the gunslinger‘s head, it exploded
Smoke curled from the barrel of the shotgun she held; Mrs. Duggan, the barmaid, reloaded

Coming out from the bar, she shot him twice more for good measure, hands shaking with rage
Tears streamed down her face, and her sobs filled the place, now a widow, with three children of school age

The day that the gunslinger came into town was a black day if ever there was one
A good man lay dead, his chest shot full of lead from the gunslinger ‘s merciless six gun

The legend lives on from Missouri to Maine of the barmaid who killed the dark stranger
When men failed to do, she accomplished herself without fear or regard for the danger

It’s a Sin to Want Too Much

I wrote this song, It’s a Sin to Want too Much, in December 2006 and we recorded it and put it on the 2009 Mister Green & Highway 9 album called  A Few for the Road. A train used to pass our house and shake the walls every night around 3am on its way to Taidong and points south. That’s the train in the last verse of the song, and it was one of the inspirations for this song.  The other was  the low battery sound my old cellphone used to make—a plaintiff, downward paen that trailed off in a desolate note of unmistakable, abject misery. It always struck me as sounding so terribly disconsolate— an announcement of its fading life force to the world, a desolate harbinger of its own imminent demise, whether there was anyone within earshot or not. The characters are made up, but I started imagining a woman, someone, somewhere, who stays in a bad marriage because of her religious beliefs, despite her knowledge (or at least her suspicion) of her husband’s philandering. I think sometimes religion makes people do things that are the opposite of what is good for themselves. Like this woman, standing in as a sort of everywoman, who stays in a miserable, unfair situation because her religious upbringing leads her to believe that maybe it’s a sin to want too much from life. Maybe some people really think like this. A lot of people, probably do. But doesn’t everyone deserve a shot at happiness?

 

Old Car City 28 Desaturated-L

It’s a Sin to Want too Much (words and music © Jason Grenier 2006)

Her cell phone sings a sad, sad song
With the battery running down it cries “I’m dying”
Even when there’s no one to hear
How did she ever get to here? she wonders

As his headlights split the gloom under a sliver moon

The windowpanes are open and the night comes rushing in
“Where you been?”
She never asks him ‘cause she’s afraid that it’s a sin
She’s afraid that it’s a sin to want too much
Is it ever wise to trust?

Later on, the bed burns red behind their heads
Her aura wraps around them like a blanket, like a fire
As her restless dreams conspire to rob her of the day, she pushes them away
And again that song comes crying up the stairs, like a plea from the dying

Go, go on then…You won’t be missed much when you’re gone
Not for all my cryin’
Go, go on then…You won’t be missed much when you’re gone
Not for all your lyin’

She pulls the bedclothes closer ‘round her to keep the chill away
It’s getting harder every day, carrying the weight of words she’ll never say
And this must be the downside of her life, she thinks to herself, and wonders
Did she sleep through half the ride?
Did she keep the things that mattered inside?

Go, go on then…You won’t be missed much when you’re gone
Not for all my cryin’
Go, go on then…You won’t be missed much when you’re gone
Not for all your lyin’
Not for all your lyin’

When that three a.m. southbound passes, rattling the walls
She hears him breathing there beside her
She sees his chest rise and fall
And that train’s just like her lifetime passing her by, in the blink of a sleepless eye

Big Wave

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Big Wave

I wrote this song immediately after the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, which was caused by a powerful earthquake off the coast of Indonesia. The earthquake, known as the Sumatran-Andaman earthquake,  left more than 230,000 people dead, most of them in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, and Thailand, although deaths resulted as far away as Somalia and South Africa. I decided to focus on one of these dead people, and create a fictitious history for him, based on something that was happening in my own life, around that time. The message of the song is that if someone wants to love you, you should give them a chance to do so, or you might regret it later. It’s in the key of  Dm, which is a suitably melancholic key for a song about a disaster, and for a song about unrequited love. This was on The Incriminators independent CD which we released around 2004. If you want a copy, drop me a note and I’ll find a way to get it to you.

 

Big Wave                                                                      words and music © Jason Grenier 2005

 

It took him thirty years to realize how much love is worth

It glitters like gold and shines like a diamond, brought up from the middle of the earth

A woman offered it to him with outstretched arms, but he pushed it away

Too blind to see it was the one thing, could put some meaning in his days

 

Love is an open window

Love grown cold is a shuttered door

Love is an open window

Love grown cold is a shuttered door

 

What’s the matter?

How come you ain’t runnin’?

Can’t you see the big wave comin’?           x 3

 What’s the matter?

How come you ain’t runnin’?

Can’t you see the big wave comin’ on?

 

When the time felt right he left her crying in the rain, without a look behind

He went off to be bad in Thailand, and she seldom crossed his mind

Until he heard her voice calling out to him as he walked the beach one day

She was telling him to run, just as the big wave came and took everything away

 

Love is an open window

Love grown cold is a shuttered door

Love is an open window

Love grown cold is a shuttered door

 What’s the matter?

How come you ain’t runnin’?

Can’t you see the big wave comin’?

 What’s the matter?

How come you ain’t runnin’?

Can’t you see the big wave comin’ on?

 

 

The Ali Shan Railroad Disaster

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The Alishan narrow gauge alpine railway is a major tourist draw in Nantou County, Central Taiwan. Built in 1912 by the Japanese to support high mountain logging activities, it spans 86 km, passes through 50 tunnels, and crosses 77 wooden bridges. With an average elevation of 2500m, the Alishan National Scenic Area and the mountain range itself is a verdant and picturesque locale in what is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful parts of the island. It is a place of prehistoric ferns and dripping mosses and lichens and towering old-growth evergreens shrouded in mist. However quaint the little train engines and carriages may be (they are actually little wider than the span of a man’s outstretched arms), and notwithstanding the fact that the railroad’s construction constitutes nothing short of an engineering marvel, the railroad has a tragic history. In addition to serious accidents in 1981 (tunnel collapse—9 dead, 13 injured) and 2011 (derailment—5 dead, 113 injured), on March 1st of 2003, seventeen people were killed and scores injured in a derailment that was found to be caused by human error. My wife and I had just taken the train a few weeks before, which made the tragedy even more poignant. There but for God’s grace, and all that.

I wrote this song immediately after the accident, and used to perform it often with Mark McVicar back in the days when we were playing music as The Incriminators. We recorded it live at Player studio one day in 2003 and it was on our independent CD. The song is written from the perspective of the ghost of one of the victims of the accident. I always tell people my music is Taiwanese music, just written in English. Taiwan folk music doesn’t get much more Taiwanese than this, I figure, at least in terms of subject matter.

 

The Ali Shan Railroad Disaster

 

Giant trees look down on me

As my soul flies away

I bought a ticket but if I’d known

I’d have stayed in bed today

But I stepped to the wicket

Bought an ill-fated ticket

 

CHORUS

On the Ali Shan Railway

On the Ali Shan Railway (2x)  

 

For ninety years this little train

Has plied the mountainside

So many have delighted in the beauty of the ride

‘Till seventeen died

When the train swung too wide

 

 CHORUS

On the Ali Shan Railway

On the Ali Shan Railway (2x)  

 

Now once again the sound of tears

Rises up through Taiwan’s trees

Ancient keepers of the mountains sigh

As if in sympathy

They know, as do we

This didn’t have to be

 

CHORUS

On the Ali Shan Railway

On the Ali Shan Railway (2x)  

 

 

 

If we don’t know what it is, how will we know it when we see it?

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If we don’t know what it is, how will we know it when we see it?

I often have a hard time deciding on a title for a song, especially owing to a desire to avoid something that sounds cliche. It can sometimes be the most frustrating part of the whole songwriting process, and believe me, that’s saying a lot. At 16 words, this is the longest song title I have ever been forced to come up with. It is so long, in fact, that I did’t feel the need to write much more as far as additional lyrics go. So these are them, two lines only:

 

If we don’t know what it is, how will we know it when we see it?

If we don’t know that we have it, will we miss it when it’s gone?

 

The song is definitely one of my more abstract and philosophical ones, to date. It’s about how human beings are always desperately looking for something…that one thing, whatever it is, that we believe will save us all. But truth be told, most of us don’t even know what it really is we’re looking for. No matter what books, gurus, and  creeds we subscribe to, no matter what psychotropes we ingest, and no matter how enlightened we think we are, we really have no clue. And no matter how much we might like to believe otherwise, we’re probably not so very dissimilar from the apes gathered around the monolith, all agog, in the photo (a still from the Stanley Kubrick film 2001: A Space Odyssey). I think that if it did appear—that wonderful, elusive thing, whatever it is—as a species, we’d be as likely to try to beat it to death with sticks as we would to recognize it for what it was and treat it with the reverence it deserved.

I had the music written first for this one. I think the melody is an interesting one, with several distinct sections. As just another seeker, the questions the song poses had already been rattling around in my mind for quite some time.