In A River of Stories, I wrote about my admiration for songwriters. I guess it has always been there, but writing novels has made me appreciate their talent more. They can paint a word picture and tell a story in one page that may take a novelist a book to tell. Consider George Jones mournful rendition of “He Stopped Loving Her Today”. He tells a man’s life story in a few lines.
Of course, songwriters and singers do have the advantage of voices and instruments, while authors must make their words sing on the printed page.
In Go Down Looking, I wrote a song for a character to sing. Sure that I knew nothing about the technicalities of songwriting, I sent it to a few friends who did know. One was kind enough to send a couple of suggestions, but I didn’t hear from the others. I assumed they didn’t want to hurt my feelings or that the song required so much work they didn’t know where to start.
So I published the song on the pages of the book anyway. My justification was that Gray Boy Rivers, the character who wrote the song, was a rank amateur. He had a beautiful voice and could play the guitar a little, but was far from a pro.
And the song was meant to be his final lament—not a pitiful wail, but a look back at his life and the mistakes he made. He sang it first for a brother he had hurt, and intended to sing it to all the people he loved as an apology for hurting them.
I knew the song was a little long, but it was the story of his life, after all. He was only thirty-four, but he mistakenly assumed his life was ruined—over.
When Gray Boy looked in the mirror and saw a man he had never wanted to be, he began to examine where he had gone wrong. Charismatic and handsome, he had the world by the tail for most of his life. Things came so easily for him that he saw no reason to slow down, to think less of his own needs and more about the people who loved him, to do something meaningful with his many talents.
He had discovered that momentary pleasures fade fast and sometimes create an urgent need to replace them with more pleasures. He felt it was too late to discover what life is really all about. His dreams had turned to regrets.
I wrote the song almost three years ago. When Brad Davis received his invitation to my book launch party, he asked if I could send him the song again. He made no promises, but he said he saw potential in the lyrics. Brad is up for his second Grammy for his album, A Bluegrass Tribute to George Jones.
He showed up at the book signing with guitar in hand and went immediately to a back room. Brad is a master guitarist, a songwriter, producer and performer, a husband and dad. He has his own recording studio. He is a busy guy who spends a great deal of time on the road. But he took the time to put the song to music on the fly, came out of that room, and sang it for the first time.
Brad is a perfectionist when it comes to music, so we met a few days later to discuss more needed changes. I appreciate that. But I will never forget that first rendition. I know the story, the real people behind the song, and it brought tears to my eyes.