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Song of the Month #22 - “Crystals”

album cover(Track #12 on the Home Town CD)

 

                                  Lyrics:  If your web browser does not support the Flash Player* included with the Lyrics, or you are uncomfortable allowing/downloading the plug-in/add-on, you can still listen to this song while you read.  Just go to our Downloads Page and click on the link, “Buy Home Town Songs from Napster”.  Then, click on "Crystals."  You can listen to it for free (not available outside the USA).

                                                         *Not being a techie, I use the term “Flash Player” loosely.

 

 

With the help of my good friend, Gene Warfel, I bought my first guitar in the summer of 1970.  Gene, along with his brothers John and Mark, showed me a few chords, and I quickly became addicted.  When I returned to Colgate University in the fall, the guitar came with me, and I played it constantly.  Much to the chagrin of many of my fraternity brothers, I started singing a lot of old folk songs.  Fortunately, Bob Dylan was very popular then, and compared to him, I didn’t sound too bad.  On the other hand, while Dylan’s phenomenal songwriting ability always compensated for his less than stellar voice, I had no lyrics to offer as a compensation for mine.  Nevertheless, I didn’t really think about this very much because I was just having too much fun learning songs and playing them.

 

Throughout my years in college, I developed a rather extensive repertoire.  Learning and remembering lyrics came easily to me, and consequently, I often became the go-to-guy whenever a jam session emerged.  As I sang and played a song, other musicians would improvise leads.  I can’t count the number of evenings I spent listening to my college and home town friends weave the sounds of their guitars, banjos, fiddles, mandolins, harmonicas, basses and drums in between the verses and choruses of my songs.  Some of the finest evenings like this occurred in the living room of the Warfel family home, a beautiful old place overlooking the Esopus Creek and Hudson River in Saugerties, New York.  I still treasure those nights, and as a result, jam sessions are still one of my favorite formats for playing music.  Indeed, it is a real kick for Siobhan and me when a good player shows up at one of our gigs and joins us on stage.

 

Although I can’t pinpoint the exact day I threw my hat into the songwriting arena, I know it occurred sometime during my graduate studies stint at Colgate.  After I received my BA in English, I didn’t know where to go or what to do.  So, my advisor at Colgate encouraged me to stay on for one more year and get my Masters of Arts degree in teaching English.  His reason for sending me in this direction centered on my sense of humor.  He felt mine was good enough to allow me to sustain a lifetime of exposure to adolescent behavior.  Well, I guess he was right.  After I finished my graduate studies, I spent the next thirty-two years in the classroom, and it truly turned out to be the place for me to be.

 

During my graduate year, I lived in what was once a fraternity house.  After the fraternity closed up, the house became a residence for a bunch of random characters whose only connection to each other was the university.  In fact, Colgate even called the place Random House.  Throughout the year I was there, life was somewhat uneventful.  My friends from college had moved on after graduation, and since I was taking graduate courses and student teaching, I had little connection with the other residents.  Also, I was isolated from the rest of the house because I lived in a little room on the third floor.  It had a slanted ceiling, and I felt like I was living in an attic.  There was nothing extraordinary about the room, but it has a special place in my heart.  It is here I wrote “Crystals,” my first song.

 

I have read a lot of articles and books about songwriting and songwriters.  Willie Nelson, one of my heroes, once said that songs are in the air, and they are waiting for us to bring them into our souls and release them.  Well, “Crystals” certainly complied with Willie’s philosophy.  It came out of nowhere, and there were three elements that contributed to its development.  It came from analyzing my vision, reflecting on the literature of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and reminiscing about a summer I spent in Mansfield Depot, Connecticut, working at an institution for the mentally disabled

 

Although I do not see anything, I do not live in total darkness.  What I see constantly resembles the stars people see when they are sharply hit in the head.  These little stars are in perpetual motion, and they look like little crystals dancing around in my eyes.  What is interesting is the crystals change their color according to the nature of the day.  For example, on a clear sunny day, the crystals take on a shade of blue, and on a cloudy day, they take on a tone of gray.  After much contemplation, I came to the conclusion that my vision was merely reduced to a simple level.  When I had my vision, what I saw in life consisted of good and bad images.  After I went blind, the crystals merely became a symbol for those good and bad pictures.  Now, sometime during my reflection on these crystals, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s philosophy of acquiescence entered my mind.

 

Most people who experience a sudden loss in their lives have a tendency to rehabilitate themselves with counseling.  I think this is a good thing to do, but unfortunately, I did not know this when I went blind in my teenage years.  Back then, my counselors became the great writers of literature, and for some reason, I became attracted to the great transcendental writers like Emerson, Thoreau, and Whitman.  These guys excited me with many great ideas, and some of my favorites were simplifying life, living in the present, realizing one’s individuality, and acquiescing to the outcomes of life.  Well, when I was daydreaming about my crystals, I was in the midst of taking a seminar about Emerson, and I started musing about his thoughts on acceptance.  According to Emerson, we move through life experiencing a series of good and bad events.  We can’t control the events, but we can control our response to them.  We can either struggle with the ups and downs of life, or as Emerson recommends, we can flow with them.  So, as my crystals and Emerson’s philosophy of acquiescence merged, my stream-of-consciousness thinking drifted to a summer I spent working with the mentally disabled.

 

During the summer between my junior and senior years in college, I worked in Mansfield Depot, Connecticut, at an institution for the mentally disabled.  One of my fraternity brothers from Colgate got me the job, and I worked in a ward with “idiot savants” who were blind.  While most of these clients could not tie their shoes, they were geniuses when it came to music.  It was really uncanny, but it was a terrific experience working with them.  As I reflected on the summer I spent there, I thought about some of the interesting experiences I encountered outside of work.  In a few cases, I got myself into some difficulties while I traveled around New England on my own.  Fortunately for me, all of these problems had a way of working themselves out, and my life always returned to being stable.

 

Well, here it is in a nutshell.  The little blue and gray crystals I see each day, Emerson’s philosophy of acquiescence, and my adventures in New England aligned themselves with each other, and “Crystals” came to fruition.  It came out of nowhere, and I wrote the song in about an hour.  The only changes I ever make in the song occur in the last verse.  I can’t remember what the last verse originally was before the recording, and the last verse I currently sing is different than the one we recorded.  Nevertheless, my crystals continue to come up blue and gray, and I am still working at flowing with them.

 

“Crystals” is pure Americana.  It is a sensitive folk ballad depicting a philosophy you can follow as you move through the stages of your life.  The philosophy is simple.  Whether you are eighteen or eighty, your life will always bring you good and bad experiences.  You can either fight or flow with this cycle, and I, like my good friend Emerson, recommend flowing with it.  John and Joe Dady back me up superbly on this one.  The sensitivity of this song is enhanced with the soft sounds of an acoustic guitar, a banjo, a bass, and drums.  If you decide to give this one a listen, pay special attention to when Joe introduces the banjo in the third verse.  It’s exquisite!  The soft sounds of the banjo-picking will give you a good feel for what those crystals are like when they are dancing around in my eyes.  Hope you have time to check it out!  I like it, and I hope you do, too.

 

I dedicated this song to all the transcendental poets who inspired me to acquiesce to all experiences.  Their literature has put me on a path of a fulfilled life.  Accepting the struggles of life is always a work in progress, but, like anything else, if you work at it, it gets easier each day.  Since laughter is one of the best strategies I have found in working at accepting what life brings me, I will leave you with a little chuckle before I go.

 

Many people who read the dedication for this song ask about why I have this question in it.  “George, where is the toilet paper?”  Well, here’s the story.  Robb Sloan, one of my teaching friends, and I were visiting George Ewing, one of our friends who was teaching in Massachusetts.  As we sat around one evening discussing the decline of western civilization, I retreated to George’s bathroom.  Now, this was my first time at George’s apartment, and of course his bathroom was a new experience for me.  Well, when I was ready to leave, I couldn’t find the toilet paper.  I had been in this situation before in other unfamiliar bathrooms, but usually after several stretches to the left, right, or behind the toilet, I was able to locate the paper.  So, here I sat thinking I was destined to live out the rest of my life in a strange bathroom.  Finally, after what seemed like an hour, George and Robb came to check on me, and, after listening to some minor profanity from me, George told me the toilet paper was on the wall facing the toilet.  Since then, I have added that wall to my checklist when I am in a facility that is new to me.  To this day, I continue to experience situations similar to this one, and I know these kinds of experiences will never end.  However, each day my ability to cope with them gets better and better and I am laughing more than I ever did.  So, when you are having a bad day and sitting on the toilet, look at the toilet paper and think about this little story I have shared with you.  If it doesn’t bring a smile to your face, please seek professional help!

 

I recorded this song in 1993 at The Garage, a little studio in Rochester, New York.  The Garage, as I have told you before, is owned and operated by John and Joe Dady, two quintessential musicians.  When you record with them, you can always count on great coffee, good stories, and an aching stomach from laughing.  I highly recommend John and Joe if you are interested in recording.  Also, The Dady Brothers, John and Joe’s group, have many recordings of their own, and they tour the United States and Ireland.  Check them out on the web at www.dadybros.com.

 

Well, there you have it.  I’ll have another song of the month for you next month.  If you have any comments or suggestions, please pass them on to me.  This is a work in progress, and I am always looking for new ways to improve it.

 

 

 (E-Mailed 1/18/09)

 

 

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