Street Songs
Photo by Tim Eagan

In my manuscript-in-progress, Street Song, I write about being a street singer and about the music I played—my performances. I’ve read a lot of books about musicians, and I get distracted whenever an author describes a musical performance that I’ve never heard. I have to track it down before I can continue reading. That got me thinking that I should make some recordings as a supplement to the book—so people could hear my voice. Back in the day, most of my playing was just voice and guitar—on the streets, in cafes and bars. My original intention was to recreate that, but in a recording studio. One of the readers of my manuscript, Bruce Kaphan, has a studio. I talked to him about working together on it, and he agreed to take it on. But once the project got started, I found that I could no longer sing and play the way I used to. The manic energy of the 21 year old was gone, and the form—one voice and a guitar—didn’t interest me anymore. So we started adding other instruments. Before we knew it, we had guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, cellos, and horns going. I’d never played most of these songs before. These songs entered the book because they affected the course of my life, whether I’d ever played them or not. Music was my religion for a while, and that’s some of what my book is about. While we were putting the songs together, I made an interesting discovery: the recordings, when put in a certain order, tell the same story the book is telling, but from a slightly different perspective. I now think of Street Songs as more than merely supplemental to the book. They are integral—the soundtrack album to the book. It was the songs that made me see that I needed to put Street Song through another draft. As of this writing, April 14, 2021, the recording is on hold because of the pandemic. It’s about 80% done. Some of the details in the pages on the songs are provisional. I will reedit them as things change.

Bruce Kaphan
Bruce Kaphan

I think people will be surprised by how well Street Songs has turned out. The reason it’s something more than just another vanity project is Bruce Kaphan. His help has been a blessing. He’s a real pro and an all-rounder. He has engineered the recordings, mixed them, played on them, coached my singing, orchestrated my ideas, come up with his own ideas, written a string arrangement, and put me in touch with some of the best musicians I’ve ever heard. I’ve always had complicated relationships with musicians. I’m a writer first and often feel like a fish out of water in situations where I have to deal with musicians. But I’ve been comfortable working with Bruce.

The songs are, in running order:

Street Song (my own)

Strawberry Fields Forever (Lennon-McCartney)

Farewell (Bob Dylan)

Poppa John (my own)

Jackie Wilson Said (Van Morrison)

Sweet Thing (Van Morrison)

Highway (Lane Tietgen)

A Slow Boat to China (Frank Loesser)

You’re So Peaceful (my own)

Within You Without You (George Harrison)

I Pity the Poor Immigrant (Bob Dylan)

The Arrow You Want (my own)