Four Songs Away From Greatness

I’ve been hanging out with those red-eyed cicadas lately. I live near Princeton University, so I go into town to grab a coffee and read a book in one of about a hundred perfect reading spots. Park for free at the municipal lot. Don’t give that town any more money! There’s even a set of publicly accessible rocking chairs that I can direct you to.

When I’m not going to college, I LOVE going to college.

I like watching the cicadas launch themselves into the sky erratically, like somebody slightly misfiring a cannon. With my COVID year having been preceded by about eight years of lengthy and sometimes overlapping family crises, I can relate to the feeling of being stuck underground and wanting to propel myself into a new life. 

It was supposed to be New Orleans. Palm trees out the hotel windows. Lizards dropping their tails into our incredibly strong cocktails while we’re not looking. Three meals a day each made with four sticks of butter. 

I am working on chord sheets for a performance in August. Looking at the old songs, I feel comforted. It’s a young guy hanging around the gardens, keeping to himself, wanting some excitement, not knowing where to find it, kinda feeling blissed-out anyway. He doesn’t have any evidence that he should believe in himself, but he just does. The music keeps playing in his head and he thinks somebody else might want to hear it, too. 

The guy in those songs is about twenty years old. Even with all the chaos of the intervening years, I still feel the same way when I go back to those gardens. I know I’m not a clean slate now and I wasn’t then either, but I also know that most of the best things that happen to me will happen because I dreamed myself doing something bigger and better than others might dream on my behalf. 

The guy in those songs took two buses to college and then two buses to the shoe store where he sometimes laid on the bathroom floor because of his back pain and then he walked home because he was terrified of driving and couldn’t afford a car, anyway. And then four years later, he was playing a set of original songs with a great rock band in New York City. No one had heard of our band and we didn’t come home with any money, but we DID IT. It was great and it seemed a LONG way from that bathroom floor in Fairless Hills. 

So many times I felt fully disconnected from the human race until the right song came on and showed me that, yes, someone else has felt these feelings and thought these thoughts. They felt that way during track five, but by track nine, they were on top of the world. 

Hang in there, our favorite music seems to say, ‘cause you might be four songs away from greatness. 

Brandon Wall tweeted, “I am also looking forward to emerging from the shell of my former self and spending all summer outside screaming.” 

The last chord sheet I worked on today was for my song “You Don’t Have A Map.” I wrote this on my way to a Syrrah show at Philly’s North Star Bar (R.I.P.) in January 2012. It is one of my theme songs. It is about being bold enough to look beyond the limitations of your current circumstances and visualize your best self living your best life, wasting no time, wasting no gift. 

How the fuck does a cicada know the exact number of years to hide out to avoid its predators? How is the cicada more sure of what a prime number is than I am? Did the cicada expect some sweaty dork in a Neil Young shirt to be photographing it when it finally emerged after seventeen years underground? 

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