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from Michael C Smith!

I was a weird kid... 

I was a weird kid. 

By the time I was 10 years old, in the 5th grade, I had committed myself to memorizing The Raven by Edgar Alan Poe and had decided that I was a writer.  I was melodramatic about everything in my life. Coming from a white, middle class, nuclear family, I had very little to feel so dramatic about. Still, I felt everything, as intensely as I knew how. I was as awful as you can probably imagine, spouting all varieties of 10 year old nonsense into couplets and awkward rhyme schemes. I began filling page after page, notebook after notebook with virtually every thought that passed through my brain.  

As this began transitioning into songwriting, the rhymes grew tighter, and the verses less awkward. Working within the parameters of chord progressions and a 5 minute, at the most, time limit, was certainly helpful in nurturing a kind of efficiency that had been previously lacking. 

In 1999, I wrote the first song that made me stop in my tracks. I played it again and again, and knew that I had finally written something good. 

Hundreds of bad songs, and even worse poetry later, I had finally been able to put forth something that I wasn’t eventually embarrassed by.  

And so began the pursuit of quality.  

I’d love to tell you that it’s different now, but it isn’t. For every one song I think is worth pursuing to an eventual end, either recorded or played live, there’s at least 10 clunkers. 

But, that is the process. 

I studied a lot. In High School, I’d often skip classes and bury myself in the back left corner of the library, the poetry section, reading through every book they had in the ridiculously small collection. One day, I stumbled on Lyrics 1962-1985 by Bob Dylan. That was a game changer. Chimes of Freedom, for instance, just kicked the proverbial mental door wide open. How do I get myself from writing terrible poetry and rudimentary lyrics about the girl in my Spanish class, all the way up to something of this rarified caliber?  I’m still pursuing that.  

Allowing that I’ll likely never write anything as profound or grand as Chimes of Freedom, but making sure that I always try has been the real secret to any success that I have had in my chosen craft. 

From there came Springsteen. The mechanic in the back of the building, retooling the engine and laying out lyrics like film. Cinematic, often simple, and somehow larger than life. Springsteen gave me John Steinbeck, much the same as Dylan gave me Woody Guthrie and the Carter Family. The Rolling Stones gave me rock n roll, and blues music. Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and most important of all, Chuck Berry.  

Chuck took me a good 10 years to get my head around. Smart. The smartest guy in rock n roll. Amazing riffs, and absolute, teenage, gasoline fueled, sexy songs about simple things.  

I look up to my collected musical and literary heritage as a fan, and a student.  

I always think of myself as someone just outside of this upper echelon of artists, only a few which I’ve named here.  

I don’t really know if  my work can ever be as good as theirs, but just like the comparison to Chimes of Freedom, maybe I’ll never be that good, or working on that level, but as long as I keep trying, I’ll be better for it.

Notes on the Recording of 'Hands of The Wicked' 

Notes on the Recording of 'Hands of The Wicked'

 

I get the years a little mixed up. I think it must’ve been fall of 2007. My then wife, and I were up in the north Georgia town of Dahlonega, wasting an afternoon in the many shops on the town square when we stumbled on a music store. Vintage Music. A small, old house, converted into a store with an extraordinarily curated selection of instruments, and as the name suggested, many of them vintage, and quite beyond my price range. Marveling at the old guitars, mandolins, and various other instruments I stumbled into a back room.  

I wasn’t sure I was supposed to be in there, but there I was. Me, and a recording console. I looked through the window above the mixing board, into another small room, filled with microphones, a drum set, and several guitars and amplifiers positioned around the room. I had found the studio where I would record my debut album. 

I booked the time, early in the coldest months of 2008, I think, and went back to my hometown with a head full of ideas. 

When the time came for my first session, I went in with just my guitar, harmonica rack around my neck, and my harmonica case. I recorded for hours, and walked away with a dozen versions of 4 songs, and not a single take that would make the final record. I knew when I left that night that I wanted my band.  

We rehearsed the songs that would become “Hands of the Wicked” and when the time came, went back in and gave it all we had. We were young, naive, not great, completely ignorant to how any of this should go down, but willing to take on the whole world. 

John Grimm, the owner/producer/engineer, and occasional musician on the record, was and still is, a wonderful man, a wonderful player, and absolutely the right person to help me make my first record. He was patient, like a teacher, and his presence made the experience extraordinary. 

The band recorded their parts in one session. I’m not sure how many more times I went back in, but I made up all the missing parts myself. John plays a beautifully, rugged lap steel part on “Don’t Sleep Under My Tree” otherwise, if it’s not a bass part, or drums, it’s all me. All the background vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, footstomps, poorly played piano, harmonica, anything else I might be missing, all me. 

In some ways the album suffers for this, but in most ways, I think the inexperience, the very limited budget, and the will to get it all done, in spite of my own limitations, makes it as unique and intimate as it is. 

The songs have power. Many of them remain staples in my live sets. They were the best of what I had at the time, and they remain like old friends.  A collection of wonderful companions for the times when I need them most. 

Hands of the Wicked; I could have just as easily named it Songs of Innocence. That would have been more apropos of the time. 

Every now again, life is nothing but magic. Recording this album was just that; simply magic.

Jesus in the Backseat 

Jesus in the Backseat 

I was turning 40 years old and my marriage was coming apart. The people and things and ideals I’d hung my hat of certainty on for most of my life were floating away like embers igniting the dark winds of a tomorrow I could no longer perceive. I needed something that felt like salvation. I needed something, or someone I could touch, that felt comforting, and real. I needed to cast a new Jesus into the backseat of the car in which I was no longer driving, but had become a passenger, not even holding the position of “shotgun.” 

One night, I found myself in an actual backseat, with an actual person, who was not my wife, or even my lover. In the dark, and swollen moments of that car ride, I projected upon her a resumptive need to love and be loved. I wanted someone to offer a hand, maybe a kiss, that would move through my body like a current of salvation. I invoked some ancient magic and tried to conjure my own Jesus; my own salvation out of thin air and need.  

I can’t do that.  

The car ride ended. My marriage failed. My life changed. I had to step out of that backseat, and take the wheel again.  

Ultimately, I realized that I had been driving all along,  and in my way, always holding the position of “shotgun,” and always and forever, I have to be both passengers in the backseat.  

Jesus in the Backseat is a song about a fantasy. It’s a myth I created out of a night filled with loneliness and a kind of despair I never care to feel again. The myth served me well, and allowed me the space to resurrect what needed to live, and to burn what had to be left behind.  

Thank you, Jesus.

Born To...(Run?)...Boss Magic 

“Born to Run” has been a mainstay in my record collection since I was in my late teens, which is a little weird, considering I was born 3 years after its release. I turned 20, some 20 years after it had shaken the rock world; catapulting ‘the future of rock n’ roll’ onto the covers of both Time and Newsweek. That endless summer night of a record, clocking in at just over 39 minutes, somehow found its way from the mid-seventies Jersey shores all the way into the heart, and mind, and soul, of this young songwriter (that’s me) in the late 1990’s southern town of Gainesville, Ga. His long, cascading lyrics weaved their Cinemascope fabric through the backstreets, tunnels, bridges, and highways of Springsteen’s, decades old, vision of American youth, somehow amplifying the sound in my head, and magnifying my own  American adolescence. 

I was 19 years old, when standing in a friend’s living room, I drunkenly yelled the lyric; “It’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of here to WIN!” right into the face of my ex-girlfriend, and first love of my life. I spent the rest of the evening trying to convince her to leave college and move to a beach town in the Caribbean with me. How we would get there, or what we would do for money was unimportant to me. We were young, we were beautiful in our youth, and we had faith and rock n roll on our side!  

She turned me down, cold.  

She left the party early. 

I was devastated. 

“BOSS!” I yelled to the stereo, “What do I do now?” 

“Start a band.” He answered, inside my head. 

I’m 43 years old now, with 2 kids, 2 albums, 2 EPs, 1 ex-wife, 1 day job, 1 beautiful, amazing, true LOVE OF MY LIFE, fiancé,  and a little less hair. I wouldn’t change a thing.  

Well, I’d change the thinning hair, but the rest of it is perfect. Not because I’m rich and famous, not because I’ve won Grammys and accolades from peers in my craft, because I haven’t. No. Everything is perfect because I’ve worked hard at, and for, everything I have. Everything is perfect, because I wake up each day with a desire to be a better father, a better partner, and a better songwriter, and musician than I was the day before. 

“Born to Run” , the autobiography by Bruce Frederick Joseph Springsteen, is a book I’ve now purchased 3 times. The first time was the day it came out. I devoured it, hearing Springsteen’s graveled, affectation of a voice in my head. The second time was the Audio Book, read by the author. My inner Springsteen was spot on, by the way. The third time was in Kennesaw, Georgia. Springsteen was stopping by, live and in person, to shake hands and take pictures. The books were pre-signed and purchases were made on the way into the store, like a ticket to the event. I was beside myself with excitement. I was like a 6 year old in line to meet Santa, only this time, it’s really Santa.  

As my time with THE MAN approached, I thought of countless things I wanted to say. Smart things. It was Christmas time, and I thought it might be cool to forget about myself in the moment and wish him and his lovely family a “Merry Christmas.” I’d read and listened to his book by that point and had thought of several things I might bring up, quickly, just to let him know that I was a reader. It’s always nice to meet a reader. However, when my time came, I clammed up.  There before me, shorter than me, smaller around the shoulders, a little hunched in the back, stood my Moses. There was the author, yes, author, who had helped liberate me from my own insecurities, and my failures, and my heartaches, and any other number of afflictions cast upon every air-breathing human. There before me, in a leather jacket, torn t-shirt, and jeans, was the man who taught me that work isn’t just about getting paid. Our work defines us.  

And all I could say was “Thank you. Thank you Boss.” 

And he patted me on the back, and said; “God bless you.” 

A benediction from Saint Springsteen. 

Here I am, a singer, a songwriter, most importantly, a father, and a citizen of the human race. I’m a fairly normal guy, depending on who you ask. Thinking back to that night, when I was 19 years old, yelling the amazing line, “It’s a town full of losers, and I’m pulling out of here to WIN!” into the face of that beautiful, young woman, I realize now, that none of us are losers. 

Oh, that’s a welcome proclamation for a young person, and I’m certain I’ll always find my own defiance in it when I sing along, but, the truth is, none of us are losers, if we show up, and work hard, and do our best, no matter the task, or the work at hand. 

Springsteen knows that, and so do I. 

Just to ‘practice what I preach’ here is a song, for free…a part of my work, a part of what defines me…Thank you so much for reading

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Untitled Poem  

Untitled Poem 

 

 

She is a woman 

in full possession of her power 

on legs that part the sea 

like word 

The Word 

ancient 

and the earth and all that’s in it 

and I  

move 

to keep up 

 

She is child 

vulnerable 

she’s held the world 

she’s held other lovers 

other poets 

other melodies have moved her to song 

but the quiet storm of her vulnerability 

is a poem 

a prayer 

that only I have seen 

 

Early morning 

she checks the weather 

to see if the day matches her mood 

and the day listens 

intent to meet her 

 

The ring on her finger is mine 

the finger is hers 

the hand is hers 

 

I will be bound 

in flesh 

in land 

in song and in prayer 

in worship 

hand in hand 

to her 

 

Dark psalms rise inside my mournful heart 

threatening to steal 

as thieves 

twelve stones in the Jordan 

laid by the fingers of a God 

we only wish to serve 

 

She has her face 

God’s face 

in a necklace  

four winds rest softly on her breast 

and I press my lips to those winds 

and the song I sing 

is praise 

 

To her 

and her God 

 

As Ruth proclaimed 

where you go, I shall go 

where you stay, I shall stay 

your land shall be my land 

your people shall be my people  

and your God shall be my God 

 

I stand on this scripture 

carved into my own breath 

anointing my own candle 

to offer for her  

and every promise she has whispered  

to God 

for us 

for our love 

for the scripture that walks 

like her legs 

parting the sea 

and releasing 

each slave bound 

to a past I can no longer afford 

 

She is woman 

She is child 

She is home 

 

And in this home 

I abide 

and my children 

and my children’s children 

shall name her  

blessed

The Art Collector 

“The Art Collector" 

by: Michael C Smith 

 

Mason pulled the door tight. 1624 Langston Street, Apt. 52. “Thud” the deadbolt latch echoed into place, “clank, click” fastened the padlock. 

He shackles this one for Brenda. 

She hated sleeping up here. The neighborhood gave her the creeps. The junkies, the whores, the occasional stabbing. He bought the padlock to help ease her mind. “Calm down darling” he’d say, “We’re five floors up and the guys you worry about would either give up or give out by the third floor.” She laughed uneasily, unconvinced. 

Brenda was so sweet to him. He met her at the library, of all places. She was using one of those Macintosh computers the city was wasting his tax money on; 1986 and suddenly everything was about a computer! Not for Mason. He was looking through a magazine a few feet to her right when their eyes met. She had the most disarming blue eyes and hair as black as a thousand starless nights. Even now as his mind drifted back to that first encounter, he could feel the wool of the sweater she was wearing. Mason had never been one with the ladies but something about Brenda gave him confidence. He walked right over to her, lightly touched her shoulder, took her hand and introduced himself.  

They would spend the next month in a slow, conservative courtship; hands held on afternoon walks, autumn trips to parks to watch parents and children, ice cream and coffee shops, bookstores and even church. It would be just over a month before Brenda began spending the night at Mason’s apartment. Brenda was going through a divorce from an abusive and alcoholic husband; her own home felt an unsafe place for romantic company. She had grown up in a house with an equally abusive and alcoholic father and had promised herself when she was young that her childhood history would not be repeated. She hated herself for having fallen in love with someone so much like her own father. She’d recount nights of fear and physical pain from both her childhood and her marriage, as Mason, listening intently, would stroke her hair and remind her that those parts of her life were over for good. She’d sigh easily, and drift away, comfortably asleep in his strong arms. 

When she announced that she wanted to take a break, maybe see other people, it hit him like Chernobyl; an explosion, followed by a slow, painful burn. She loved him, she said, she’s so grateful for him, she said.  “You’ve given me the confidence to go into the world, to face it alone, to discover who I am.” She said. “And I must do that without you.” 

“Clank, click” went the second padlock. 

“Clank, click.” “Clank, click.”  

The others were far easier. 

They’re all still here. 

Mason sits back, admiring his collection of four ladies, preserved almost as if by a taxidermist, lounging in various positions around the room. He keeps the windows open all of the time now; less for the smell of the decay, and more for the odor of the chemicals he uses to bathe his collection. They are pleasant and polite company, never contrary and always available for Mason’s every desire.  

The neighbors around him will never notice the smell, and even if they did, they’d never call the police. Police are a far less welcome presence in this part of town than an art collector, no matter how strange the collection.  Mason installs a new padlock on his door for each addition, keeping Brenda and her companions quite safe indeed.

Hanging Rope 



"Jesus came in the rags and the dirt
ready to lay down his life
me, i have found the rags and dirt
but redemption seems far away tonight

Pour me a drink
leave the bottle and go
I'm counting my memories tonight
leave that hanging rope calm
right by my side
and don't forget to turn out the light"

Untitled Poem 

 

 

I kneel before your alter, Lord 

with all my impossible 

and not so impossible pasts 

with all that I must carry 

and all that I must leave 

 

I kneel before your alter, Lord 

with each face I’ve seen in each mirror I’ve passed 

and each face unseen in any reflection  

each smile, each tear 

each breath drawn or held 

and you offer your breath  

and your reflection 

 

I stand 

with your face  

shining on my own 

and carry your alter 

and offer your forgiveness, 

your breath 

and your reflection 

to everyone I meet 

 

and when I forget 

I return  

and kneel 

and begin  

anew

Some Untitled Poetry 

 

One hand on her thigh 

the other on her stomach, 

soft, white, comforting 

as if opening a treasure 

which will come spilling out  

in wordless prayer 

first soft 

then 

not so soft 

 

One hand on her thigh 

the other on her stomach 

I push away 

and into 

and watch her body fall into a song 

that only she can hear 

but I listen 

just the same

West Virginia Lung  

 

My Grandfather had a tattoo of my Grandmother's name. He'd scratch at it when they'd fight and say "Katie! I wish I'd never got this damn tattoo!" Their relationship was never easy; he'd drink and she'd complain and they'd fight and he'd scratch that tattoo.  

 He grew up in coal mining towns, never working the mines himself. He did suffer from the oppressive inhale and exhale of coal dust that lined everything he saw as a child. That dust doesn't just get stuck in the lungs, it gets stuck in the mind and in a person's heart and soul. Until finally it covers every part of their being in some sort of darkness; impossible to clean.

He carried that darkness through every day he lived and left it on all he touched. He carried it into his marriage and passed it onto his children, and grandchildren. 

He died when I was two but he never went away. He was the empty chair at the table, he was the anger in the air, the fight in the words spoken and unspoken. He was the dust kicked up in the summer storms, black and uneasy. 

My Grandmother loved my Grandfather and I'm certain he loved her. They just lived in a way that never got them anywhere. I'm sure they had hopes and dreams once upon a time; they just seemed to get stuck and lost somewhere under all that dust. 

I wrote a song inspired by my Grandfather and Grandmother's story, called West Virginia Lung. It's on my Prophet On The Barstool album, and this is a solo version I recorded, and the album version is below that.