Words have mattered to me as long as I can remember. I always wanted to be a writer, but music was always a close second. I'm not sure which has brought me more joy. I know neither has ever brought me much money.
Some friends and I put our first band together when I was 16. Three guitars and drums, no bass, no keyboards, just three guitars and three chords. We were awful, a garage band that didn’t even have a garage.
I was incredibly shy – hard to believe isn't it? I don’t know how I worked up the courage, but at 16 I played my first solo – One Mint Julep – very poorly, but I won two tickets to the movie The Music Man. I was hooked on performing for life.
I worked my way through college playing in bands; it took eight years. I was in no hurry; there wasn’t much in my life worth looking back on, and my present was pretty pleasant, playing in a band was a ticket to good times, free booze and easy women.
We had a band called The Soundsations that was about the hottest thing in Kalamazoo for a couple of years back in The Sixties. We even made an album Shout way back when studios only had two tracks. Little did I know it would become a collectible.
Man, I thought I was hot shit – on the outside anyway, and like I said, I was in no hurry; I had my whole life in front of me. Too late you learn how short life really is.
At 25, I decided it was time to grow up – nobody could ever make a living out of rock'n'roll after 25, right?. Curse you, Keith Richards.
I got married and sold all my gear. I knew I had to quit music cold-turkey or it would keep messing up my life. It was time to become Mr. Businessman. My mistake.
Whatever I was running from was still chasing me, and I kept screwing up, and I couldn’t blame it on the music anymore. I tried therapy, and all I learned was that there were a lot of people just as screwed up as I was. I got one piece of good advice that has stuck with me ever since:
“A man’s only authority is his own experience.”
It's true, but a man pays a helluva price for that experience.
At 35, in the middle of a painful divorce, I was lonely and living in a hole – literally. I had a tiny black and white TV with some kinda electronic neurosis that split the screen in two – the top half of the picture was on the bottom, and the bottom half was on the top. That’s one way to kick the TV habit.
After awhile, I got bored with my bad TV, and I bought a beat-up old acoustic guitar with strings about a half-inch off the neck. I started writing songs. Suddenly, stuff started pouring out of me, including Desperate Men, a song I posted elsewhere on OS.
Cheaper than therapy, I figured, write ‘em down, get it out of your system, it’ll dry up pretty soon. But every now and then, I’d write something I really liked and think, hey, that’s not half-bad, maybe I oughta find out if these songs are any good.
A buddy had a friend in Nashville who was a stringer for Variety. I sent three songs off to him. Somewhere I still have his reply:
“This is better than the usual over-the-transom fare, but your use of clichés will not be well-received in Nashville.”
Now I’ll admit, I don’t always take criticism well. My first reaction was “No clichés in Nashville? Are you shittin’ me? Nashville is a cliché!”
My second reaction was to write a song:
Maybe my song’s not good enough
And you’ve heard it all before
And I can’t convey the way I feel
When someone walks out that door
Well, I poured out my heart and soul to you
But you just tear my words apart
It may be an old cliché
But to me it’s a broken heart
So let that ol’ fiddle start crying
And let that steel guitar moan
And let that harp bend all them sad notes again
‘Cause I’m feeling all alone
Still, I wish I had words to make you feel
But I don’t know where to start
It may be an old cliché to you
But to me it’s a broken heart
©2008 Tom Cordle