It's occurred to me lately that the Blessings Apparent of Christmas gradually change throughout one's life.
When I was seven it was that the Lionels came out of their boxes.
When I was in eighth grade Christmas was the big plaid flannel shirts my godmother Kay O'Reilly, who worked at Bamberger's, used to give me.
This year I'm grateful for my family, and for being allowed to do what I do for a living. However precarious both things are in this chancey world, I'm gratefuI, and I do hope you have reasons to be grateful too. Season's Greetings, OK Bye (Bye Lullee Lullay).
Late August 2011:
Just back from Egg Harbor, Wisconsin, a peaceful place which is so quiet at night, how quiet is it?, why it's so quiet that. Anne Hills and I played a couple of places and had a wonderful time with some lovely and thoughtful people, I always love staying at artists' houses, you can hardly go to sleep for all the things to look at. I bought Peter Sellers' biography and became newly grateful to not be horrendously rich and famous.
Long highways singing in the key of GPS, accompanied by the smell of horse manure, which I find quite comforting in some way, and more than frequent side waftings of dead skunk, which odor always reminds me of expensive ganja. Not that I've ever bought any. Once in a particularly scenic section of Oregon I came upon a restaurant called The Roadkill. Boy, you'd really hafta loosen up to want to stop there for lunch, yeah?
I'm glad to report that next June and July I will be acting! in a show at Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago: it's called The Eastland, and is a meditation on the lives of some people who were on that ill-fated excursion boat when it overturned in the Chicago River at the beginning of the 20th century. I have read this play, written by Andrew White, in several incarnations and I can assure you that it's poignant and beautiful; and the music, which I did not write, but was written by Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman, is perfect.
Also thrilled to belatedly let you know that The Dutchman, which I did write, has been recorded by Celtic Thunder, a very popular group of ridiculously attractive young people from the Emerald Isle, and Dutchman is the first cut on their new album Heritage. They do it quite well, and clearly under the musical influence of Liam Clancy, who will live in glorious memory forever. It is something wonderful for a songwriter to discover a recording of his tune prominently displayed at a big BIG Walmart. It's like, yeah, I've arrived. Picture this beatnik, shades, beret, bongos: Walmart, man. Crazy.
I have a new booking agent, Jamie O'Reilly, and she is equally charming, thoughtful and businesslike. We've been friends for a long time, and have done many musical and theatrical projects together, and I am very happy to announce this new facet of our relationship. With Susan Parpart overseeing my website and Dolly Zander my publishing, I feel totally secure in this music business thing from now on, and can work on my new album with no distractions. It's too bad I just got run over by a bus.
Yeah, I'm working on a new album, funny you should ask. Working title is: Have I Stayed Too Long At The Zayre? I'm doing everything myself and it's so much fun, it reminds me of expensive ganja, which I've never bought. Be well, drive safe. OK bye.
Vermont is a foreign country. Like Canada.
I played in Hinesburg, a lovely, small place called The Good Times Cafe, where you should order the Hungarian Mushroom Soup and you'll be glad. I got out just in time, according to yesterday's Chicago Trib, as Vermont is now under two (more) feet of snow. It was beautiful there, driving over the hills the sky was a distracting blue and the clouds much cleaner looking, I'm afraid, than in Chicago. The people at Good Times treated me so well it felt like I was in one of those Matt Damon movies where all's a conspiracy and everyone knows except you. The drive to work was on one lane roads where the snow would blow across the road and white out everything and you'd be wondering (and not casually) just where on that slippery road you would wind up. I read most of No Direction Home, the Dylan bio, while I was there. Stayed up way too late, he fascinates me. He's a foreign country too, bless him, so glad he's here, aren't you?
Then to New Haven, Connecticut, a neighborhood with fantastic houses, I went for a walk and got seriously covetous, back to a beautiful church and some great people, where I met Diane, who had seen me work at The Speakeasy in NYC (that had to have been 1989 or so) and where I saw my niece Nolan, who has joined a roller derby team called the Brutals. The Brutals, man. I asked her how long it took to get ready for that and she said about a year, allowing for some broken bones. I have the coolest family.
She's Brennan's sister, don't forget about "Brennan Eats It" on Youtube.
Then Keeneville, in the Adirondacks, a long drive through these morbid grey mountains with snow threatening. I know The Headless Horseman was in the Catskills (right?) but the Adirondacks will work just as well. A rainy and foggy night, another Congregational church, good sound, with a book of reminiscenses (sp?) in the sacristy about early life in Keeneville...this father and son went out hunting and it was the son's first time and he shot at a buck and missed, nine times, but shooting a bunch of birches in half, and his dad said, what were you trying to do, fence him in?
I got out of there early in the evening through a secret door, thanks to Tim Grimm, who closed, as snow and rain were coming and I was due next day in Cambridge, where I played a house concert at my friends the Walkers, where the IQs were hilarious and everybody got everything and the wine was great. And it only took me nineteen hours to get home, Ohio being a somewhat slippery state right now. Slept late. Might still be a little asleep. Be well.
Early March 2011:
How To Write A Hit Song
I've been working on a recording, all the livelong day. Prolly I could have written that sentence since about 1991 and it would always have been current and timely news. This is the first one, though, that I'm doing entirely at home. There's a freedom here because I'm not collaborating with anyone, no other musicians are involved but me. It's so personal that way. It's always fun to go into someone else's space and work, and of course when you do that a lot of the more technical areas are taken care of for you, but even with my oh so limited knowledge of technical matters it's great to explore recording without anyone else's opinions in the soup. And boy oh boy everyone's got opinions.
Whenever I record I become more aware of how little I am really in control of my creative process. Yes, when it comes down to it I am the writer of these songs, and I would hate for anyone else to get the royalties, but really on some plane I have no control over what comes out of me in the songwriting area, it's more like: given who I am these are the songs that are allowed to me.
I think if I were in control of those things I would have written entirely different (more commercially minded) songs...but wouldn't have the ones I have now. I'm as aware as I can be of the unusual and odd nature of the songs that come out of me, and if I could make them more commercial, more to the taste of the majority of people who buy music, God knows I would, but when I start to write something there are only certain avenues that I find myself walking down. Please, I don't by any means disdain big success or the people who get it. It's very pleasant to please people, and I certainly have experienced pleasing people, enough to see that it's a great feeling, yet...there are really two people here, an outside one (writing to you right now) that would love to be really big time successful in the music and songwriting business and inside this implacable other to whom "commercial" or pleasing people is about as pertinent as it might be to a housecat. And you know, I think that's apparent to people. And it certainly shows in the songs, doesn't it?
These things become evident to me when I record, for here's where I encounter the one inside me who has to have the music go a certain way, regardless of the financial or other consequences. There's really no negotiating, for one thing, because this creature isn't verbal. Can't, won't explain. So I buy books that have titles like "How To Write A Hit Song" and I read them avidly and they're lots of fun...but when I start to write a song this someone else takes over and here I am again, being Michael Smith the housecat.
Keith Moon said: I'm the best Keith Moon-type drummer that there is.
My nephew Brennan, my brother Peter's son, is currently doing something interesting on YouTube. It's under "Brennan Eats It". Check him out, it's hard to explain but I think this young man is so charming. I know, you're going: well of course you would, he's your nephew. No no no, my tendency would be to be hypercritical and easily embarrassed by association, but Brennan takes care of business.
So tomorrow I'm on the road to New York , New England for a week or so. Will let you know how that was soon, stay tuned. You know I'll be frank. Or Michael.
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