Song Stories

"Someone From Away From Here"

I grew up in the Washington, D.C. area, and I've traveled around the country just enough to be taken for a "northerner"; (think "rude, obnoxious"), in the South, and for a "southerner"; (think "dumb, racist") in the North.

One day, as I was feeling a bit put upon by all these assumptions drawn from a few vowels, I read an article about this man who moved from one town to another in West Virginia -- a total of 80 miles. He confided that, after a year, people still wouldn't speak to him because he was an "outsider."

Once the man left, a woman behind the counter asked the reporter, "Well, what do you expect when you're someone from away from here?".

The song wrote itself.

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"Mary Canary"

One of the cool things about living in a tourist destination like Myrtle Beach, is that an interesting assortment of talented people drift through town, entertain the masses for a while, and move on. "Mary Canary" (see Top Five Questions) was one. She's off now somewhere being rich n' famous.

Her stints at open mic nights were always interesting; she could come off as touchingly naive or disturbingly provocative, depending on whether you were listening with your eyes closed or open. Funny how that happens sometimes......

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"Perfectly Legal"

You can't really sit down to write something like this.

It crawled out of my head one morning at 3, and I re-discovered it several months later in the stacks of scribbles I keep by my bed.

"Perfectly Legal" made for Scott's favorite recording session -- we got all 23 seconds of sonic nightmare down in just under two hours, strangled piano and all!

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"Perfectly Legal" makes a good intro for this one. I know a lot of kids from broken homes through playing the coffeehouse circuit; both these songs touch on growing up in that situation, when all your prospective role models for love everlasting appear to be in various stages of domestic turmoil.

Still, people do keep finding each other, falling in love, getting married; underneath the "whatever" attitude, this song actually is something of a "Hallmark in the culture of the damned."

Scott's Spanish guitar licks make the tune.

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"Too Late So Soon"

"You're older than you've ever been, and now you're even older." --They Might Be Giants.

Both on the CD, and in live performance, "Too Late, So Soon" has received the most positive response of any of my most recent songs.

This is interesting to me, because it's fairly dark as pop ditties go. Still, I meant it as a "ghost of Christmas future" kind of tune; a self-reminder that it's less dangerous to make some commitments, than spend your whole life avoiding any commitments at all.

The big clock says: "Tick!"

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"Devils in My Attic"

This song grew out of the phrase "Lonely as Wall Street on the weekend," which popped into my head while watching some MTV puff piece about a group having to shoot a video downtown on Sunday, because the streets would be deserted.

Somehow, that morphed into this whole fantasy about an "urban hermit" type guy: menial job, no social skills; who names his goldfish after a Russian writer exiled to Siberia, and his cat after the French philosopher who wrote "I think therefore I am."

(Does he forget to feed them once too often? Hmmmmm.......).

I'd like to think the "phone call" represents some potentially life-changing shot at redemption; ( probably not, though).

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"Mother Earth"

This song is an anthem for people who neither want nor need one.

The local music scene, when they first heard I had a CD out, were expecting something "folk", 'cause they'd only seen Jamie and me play acoustic guitar and bass. Ha Bloody Ha! I'd been a rock guy for years! (Having a band is a bit like raising a pet brontosaurus in your backyard, though; sooner or later the neighbors start talking).

Lawrence App, a long -time friend and musical associate, said "Whitesnake!" when he first heard this. (Oh, right; like even close......).

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"My Arm's Asleep"

"Is this song supposed to be funny?" (I get that a lot).

Here's the deal ........

Waking up next to a woman after the first night you've been with her can be awkward, funny, sad, strange, embarrassing, happy, (and even hopeful). I just tried to get all that in there.

The cool noise made at the beginning and end of the song is a Latin percussion instrument called a Vibra-Slap. We put the maximum legal limit of echo on it to make it sustain.

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"Pawley's Island"

In Myrtle Beach, throughout the summer, we get a big influx of tourist dollars, and all the local musicians work: sometimes two or three jobs in a single day.

In the spring and fall months you can still get a gig, but playing for forty golfers in a sports bar (where the applause is all for the team who scores on the big screen behind you) can be hard on the soul, and some players leave town altogether. The winter months are the toughest to get through.

I've made great friends of (and have had some great times with) the ever-shifting pool of local performers, and have heard this bitter-sweet song from both sides of the stage. This is my attempt to do it justice.

(Many thanks to Matt Johnson for the killer sax work).

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It eventually dawns on you as a songwriter that nobody expects you to go out there and actually solve anything; often a rueful little chuckle of recognition is all you're going for.

It was the rueful little chorus of "Better," skipping across my mind while shaving one morning, that kicked off the string of new tunes that ultimately became "Songs For Nocturna." I originally had it figured it for grunge; but the barrelhouse piano calls to mind an old Beatles version of an older Miracles song, "You've Really Got A Hold On Me." (My brother Doug, master music historian, looked that one up for me).

Scott was psyched from the beginning to get the "AM radio voice" on the middle chorus; sometimes you just embrace the hunch.

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"Junior High"

I remember reading once about a scientific study that claimed that the early-to-mid teenage years are the most quickly forgotten part of a person's life. Denial is a beautiful thing.

Personally, I'm still waiting for the oblivion factor to kick in. Until it does, though, I offer up this meditation from my own years amidst the desks and halls and lockers.

Good times and bad, it's the emotional lessons learned that linger, far beyond whatever it was they were trying to teach you in Algebra II. Nothing has convinced me that anything about that has really changed, or ever will, except that the "so glad we made it out alive" line has a little more resonance now.

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"The Waters"

Most sections of the country have their own versions of "the Big One": fires and floods, earthquakes and tornadoes. In Myrtle Beach, on the South Carolina coast, from late summer to late fall we tend to keep one eye on the Weather Channel, and are quick to hear a whisper of activity in the waters off Africa.

Hurricanes are a big deal to us; when one is offshore, and the sky is moving east to west instead of west to east, the summer crowds pull out of town, the locals hunker down. I wrote the first section of "The Waters" while walking on the beach the night before Bertha struck, and finished off the middle part while she was peeling off the shingles through the long, wild, day that followed.

I'm very proud of the recording itself; it was our "monsterpiece." We threw everything and the kitchen sink into the middle part; with a good pair of headphones, you can actually hear most of it. My favorite part of all is Jamie's fretless bass playing, which sounds dark, foreboding, and huge.

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2001-2002 Phil Fox
Art by Kate Phillips.