West Coast State of Mind, a musical project starting on Highway 101

Highway 101

I drove down Highway 101,
Winding into the setting sun
Shining like gold, brilliant and free.

Riding south down 101,
Open window to a life undone,
When past and future fade from view.

Take me back down 101,
Silver whale heading for home,
Where life runs in rivers, time stands still.

Running down Highway 101,
Rock of ages, the ageless son,
Changing like the coastline, waves crash ashore.

Turning back on Highway 101,
Returning as the chosen one,
At 47, parallel now, not yet halfway there.

Riding along Highway 101,
Arriving at the edge of dawn,
Awake with eagles and songbirds in the fog.

Leave me on Highway 101,
My soul adrift in the Redwood sun
On the King’s road where Giants still endure

Down to the River, or how a song floats into consciousness

 

In my convoluted lifelong pursuit of writing songs,  I have found certain guitars can become magical in the evolutionary process, unlike more methodical attempts I have made to compose on piano or in my head. My newest guitar, a Takamine 12-string purchased with my 2020 fantasy baseball fortunes in November, already has proved to have just such magic. Playing the big black Takamine around my beach house, my longtime friend Tommy M has declared it my best sounding guitar of all time, and I have started to complete a few more recorded projects where its sound can be highlighted. I do love the Byrds-like resonance that fits my big fingers well, and it has provided several new melodies and chorus fragments that turn into something springing from my heart and soul of experience and imagination. As a writer, I have long pursued the art of story-telling in song form, something that requires a concise concept and the fewer words, the better. As Neil Young once said: “You want to learn how to write a song, ask a guitar.”

“Down to the River” is the first song I have stitched together from a haphazard lick and progression worked out on the 12-string, with lyrics inspired by new digital recordings I have been listening to: Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe,” and a live Crazy Horse version of “Down by the River.” The driving thought I had in the lyrical beginning was why the man always was the one going down to the river to shoot his woman, and what would happen if the woman pulled the trigger. The new song also alludes to a public Baptism ceremony I witnessed as a child in the Big Sur River during the 1960s. After the pastor would baptize someone, he would leave them to float off on their backs as they glided gently out with the current.

The recordings just sort of happened over a drum loop, with the layering of another three guitars, bass, a buried organ part and piano on the choruses, which center on the notion that what comes down the river ends up on the beaches of all our days. As the days go by in the passing years, I have tried to pull many of my songs together and examine some of the creative impulses and real-life experiences that go into the act of trying to capture life in such a musical manner. I am just thankful at this age to still be able to create with a voice that can give some definition to the words that spill out over the pages of my life.

Down to the River

I went down to the river to be forgiven, I won’t go there no more

I went down to the river to be forgiven, I don’t go there no more

I went down to the river, just another sinner, lost in the storm

I went down to the river with a gun and my sister on a dark, wet morning

Time has carried us away, to the beaches of our days,

Vanishing castles in the sand, driftwood on the tide, nothing we can hide

I went down to the river to be delivered, free of all my sins

I went down the river to be delivered, a voice said, ‘Come on in’

I went down to the river to be delivered from the life I was living

Time has swept me away to the valley of my soul

Seeds explode from fertile thoughts, thunder and lightning; no one would find us

I went down to the river, began to quiver as an arrow pierced my heart

I went down to the river and asked for forgiveness for all I had started

I went to the river, began to shiver, a fever washed over me

I went down to the river, a seeker not a giver, drifting out to sea

I went down to the river as she pulled the trigger to set me free

Time has carried us away on these streams once forsaken

We now awaken, alone cold and shaken, nothing is mistaken

I went down the river; it looked so much bigger than when I was a child

I went down to the river and I saw my sister swimming away

I went down to the river to ask forgiveness, I don’t go there no more

I went down to the river to be delivered, my faith restored (Repeat first chorus)

I went down to the river, jumped in with all the sinners, drowning in my days

I went down to the river and saw my beautiful sister . . . floating away