Category Archives: Paris

Christmas in July

I don’t have a new song to share (just a snippet), but I thought I would report on some compositions that have a chance of being recorded on my living room couch sometime soon.

I get ideas for songs all the time. Most of them offer a moment of amusement as they float in and out of my mind. The ones that stick get a working title and a file on my computer. A few of these continue to claim my attention as I go about trying to be a productive citizen. Typically, there’s an initial burst of inspiration, resulting in some rough lyrics—followed by the hard work (and pure joy) of fleshing out the “story,” hammering out the meter and rhyme scheme, and puzzling out the words. Sometimes, a tune that naturally undergirded the lyrics as they formed becomes the final melody. Otherwise, I listen. And wait.

Here are some song ideas that have stuck, in various stages of being realized. (All titles are working titles.)

“The Factory”

Current form:
Partial recording

An abandoned brick factory in the Hudson River Valley, the song “Sixteen Tons,” the Romantic poet Lord Byron, the musical Hadestown

Sample lyric:
Your mama was a leopard, get a look at those spots

Intrigued by a photo of the ruins of an old brick factory, I began writing the lyrics for “The Factory” in New Orleans last November—to the melody of “Sixteen Tons.” Merle Travis’s 1947 folk classic about a coal miner evoked a vibe that felt apropos for a song about a brick factory. My lyrics were largely intact within three weeks. Then came the excruciating task of extracting the iconic “Sixteen Tons” melody and replacing it with my far, far, far lesser one. I am in the midst of recording “The Factory,” but you can listen to the preliminary bridge here.

Preliminary Bridge for “The Factory”

“Ma Belle”

Current form:
Preliminary lyrics

The sights and sounds of Paris

Sample lyric:
When you were learning how to spell
Did you ride this carousel?

I penned the lyrics for “Ma Belle” (French for “my beautiful”) about six weeks ago, in Paris and on the flight home. So far, every line either repeats or rhymes with belle. The song contains a complete sentence in French, and I don’t speak French at all, so I’m preparing myself for total humiliation. (I might have done better with a song inspired by Madrid. Or London.) “Ma Belle” is presently sans mélodie.

“The Christmas After This”

Current form:
Partial lyrics

Christmas, the play Love’s Labour’s Lost

Sample lyric:
Next Christmas
We’ll reminisce this

About two weeks ago, I started writing a Christmas song! I have hardly kept my fondness for Christmas music a secret from this blog. (See Christmix Tape and Please Have Snow and Mistletoe.) I am thrilled by the idea of contributing to this timeless canon, even if only a few people will ever hear “The Christmas After This”—which is based on a monologue from one of Shakespeare’s early comedies. The best part is that I have almost half a year to finish it!

Isaiah’s Bucket List

Current form:
A few notes jotted down

An Uber driver in Dallas

Isaiah gave me a ride from a hotel in downtown Dallas to DFW. He told me that before retiring, he had driven a bus for thirty years—winning a trip to Jamaica as bus driver of the year (twice). Isaiah wants to visit three places before his time on earth is up: Alaska (because he’s amazed that people can live where it’s so cold), New York City (because you can get a pizza there at three in the morning), and Hawaii (because the air smells like flowers). Isaiah has a wife and two grown children. He thinks the big houses on the highway are too close together. His voice is like molasses.

Finally, a few songs that are just working titles at this point:

“The Day We Never Met”

“Turn Your Back”

“R Kid”

Stay tuned!

A Familiar Ring

I wrote my latest song (listen below!) while vacationing in France last month. I worked out the lyrics for the chorus during a drive through the French countryside, between Champagne and Paris; the melody for the chorus came to me that evening, while wandering the Musée d’Orsay. (I realize the construction of that sentence makes it sound like the melody was wandering the Musée d’Orsay. “Funny running into you! I was looking for a melody.” Actually, that’s pretty much how it happened.)

The verses for “Do You Know Me? (Getting By)” came together the following day, after a visit to the Picasso Museum. (To be clear, it was I, not the verses, who visited the Picasso Museum and later had a cucumber martini.) Below, you can read the famed artist’s imagined comments regarding the song he partially inspired. Spoiler alert: they’re scathing!

What should I tell you about this song? I would like to think the opening idea, of being unfamiliar with one’s own face, was entirely original. But I believe it was informed, at least subconsciously, by the lyrics of three of my favorite musicians, in songs I have listened to many dozens of times:

Freedy Johnston, “Radio for Heartache”
He was so alone
He wouldn’t have recognized his face

Neil Finn, “Try Whistling This”
If I can’t be with you, I would rather have a different face

Elvis Costello, “Stranger in the House”
There’s a stranger in the house
Nobody’s seen his face
But everybody says he’s taken my place
There’s a stranger in the house
No one will ever see
But everybody says he looks like me

Perhaps these lines have stuck with me because they are so startlingly surreal, like Picasso’s surrealist portraits. The face is so intimately connected to identity that if you were not to recognize your own, or to feel detached or dissociated from it, that could be cause for an existential crisis, indeed! In a dream, have you ever looked in a mirror and seen someone else looking back? For me, that discovery is typically accompanied by a scream. Or imagine the unease of sitting for Picasso, only to discover, upon viewing the finished work, that your eyes are arranged diagonally, your nose is in your hair, and your lips are blue!

You would probably not be surprised to learn that the second line of the song’s third verse (“The salad days weren’t meant to last”) contains a reference to Shakespeare. In Act I, Scene 5, of Antony and Cleopatra, the Egyptian queen refers to her “salad days,” when she was “green in judgment.” The phrase has come to mean a time of youthful inexperience, or the peak or heyday of something.

CREDITS: The featured image for this post is Pablo Picasso, Portrait of Marie-Thérèse Walter (1937, polka dots mine), photo taken by me at the Picasso Museum in Paris. Neil Finn wrote “Try Whistling This” with Australian musician Jim Moginie. “Do You Know Me? (Getting By)” contains two sound effects, from

Do You Know Me? (Getting By)


“Do You Know Me? (Getting By)”



Freedy Johnston, Neil Finn, Elvis Costello, Pablo Picasso

G major

What I imagine Picasso might have said:

  • Surreal is a polite word for these lyrics.”
  • “This is not pop art. See what I did there?”
  • “I apologize for being a muse on this one.”
  • “This song has sent me right back to my Blue Period.”


Woke up—I didn’t know my face
I left it in another place
I disappeared without a trace
But I’ve been getting by

Went out—I didn’t know my name
I couldn’t play or sing the same
I’ll never climb the heights of fame
But I’ve been getting by (bye, bye)

Do you know me? (Do you know me?)
Do you recognize a thing?
Do my words have a familiar ring? (oh-oh)
Do you know?

Got back—I didn’t know my past
The salad days weren’t meant to last
And yet the end came on so fast
But I’m still getting by (bye, bye) (bye, bye)

Do you know me? (Do you know me?)
Do you recognize a thing?
Do my words have a familiar ring? (oh-oh)

Do you know me? (Do you know me?)
Do you recognize a thing?
Do these words have a familiar ring? (oh-oh) (oh-oh)
Do you know?

Woke up—I didn’t know my face
I left it in another place
I kept it in a crystal vase
But I’ve been getting by (bye, bye) (bye, bye) (bye, bye)