Saturday, May 31, 2008

Giant Steps

I've received some interesting comments and email about my previous posts on the subject of great songs. It seems we may not all agree on what makes a song great, but I think most of us have the ability to recognize special things for what they are.

About a dozen years ago I wrote a song for my son, Jake, who has a disability. It was a very personal song, something I never intended to capitalize on. I sing the song sometimes, but I've never made a recording of it other than the original work tape made shortly after it was written.

For his entire life my son has struggled against adversity, prejudice, even downright malice from insurance companies that have tried to penalize him for his congenital condition, cerebral palsy. Jake's a great guy, full of humor and determination. He wants to be a writer someday and he's good at what he does. The song celebrates his attitude and the way he has inspired me through the years.

There's a link to this song, Giant Steps, along with the lyrics at the end of this post. The link will remain active for about a week to ten days. The mp3 download is free, you don't have to buy anything or join anything, or give me information about yourself to get it. I just want you to have a song that I feel is special. I want you to listen to it, live with it, and compare it to what you hear on the radio and TV. I'd like you to share the song with friends. And if you don't think it's so special, then throw it away. But if it moves you, tell others why purposeful music matters, and please let me know or leave a comment here, I'll pass it along to my son because it's his favorite song.

Here's the "loose" story behind the song from an old journal entry :

"My young son has begun to talk about his dreams; strange dreams to him. He’s falling and calling out to someone below, Please catch me, but they can’t hear and they don’t answer. In his terror he falls until he awakens.

He stands before me now, cut on one knee, an elbow, and both of his hands. This time it’s his lame leg, not his dreams, that sent him tumbling head first. As he throws the heavy limb ahead of him, he sometimes throws it too far to the right and the cross up sends him sprawling on the grass if he’s lucky; on something less forgiving if he’s not. Gravity is his enemy, always conspiring with the roots of trees and the shoulders of washout stones to bring him down.

He has fallen in the drive this time. The bloodied skin is raised like Braille from the impress of the gravel. While his sister sings to him, I minister to his wounds, visiting the stations of his pain with alcohol and cotton. I gently wrap the gauze around the backs of his hands and he turns his palms upward in a saint-like gesture, blessing me with a smile.

Then I go inside to write a long overdue letter to a friend. I tell my friend I’ve been on a kind of precipice myself, fearing the winds that threaten to sweep me off the ledge I’m clinging to. There are days when life with my son is challenging, and a dark horizon looms three hundred and sixty degrees around me. And then there are those days of singing blue sky,when I know I’m a lucky to have him. On those days my heart is an eagle’s feather and I am made for rough winds.

My friend is trying to be helpful when he says he’s there for me. He says to call if I need him. I would call, but my voice is lost in the chasm between us. The closest of friends can drift apart under duress.

What can I tell you, son, about those dreams that alarm you? This flesh is too heavy for the spirit’s wings to lift us. Each of us in his way is a child of the falling-dream, an echo of the unanswered call. Ours is a constant prayer for the sudden awakening."

The song can also be streamed from My Space if you don't want to download it:

Giant Steps (Craig Bickhardt)

You’re just a little boy clinging to your father’s hand
Your legs are working hard keeping up with your old man
And it gives you a feeling you can’t explain
To you this big old world is just a game
Taking giant steps, giant steps
A leap and a bound barely touching the ground
Time to stretch those wings, try new things
Learning to reach for your best
Taking giant steps

Now I’m too old for games or so I used to think
But part of me is a child and I’ve found that missing link
As our days rush by us we’ll grow as one
The two of us, like father like son
Taking giant steps, giant steps
A leap and a bound barely touching the ground
Time to stretch those wings, try new things
Learning to reach for your best
Taking giant steps

Soon the day will come when you’ll run ahead of me
Certain of yourself and what you’re gonna be
But when ever you stumble and lose your stride
Never lose the boy down inside
Taking giant steps, giant steps
A leap and a bound barely touching the ground
Time to stretch those wings, try new things
Learning to reach for your best
Taking giant steps

(copyright 1994, 2008 Almo Music Corp, Craig Bickhardt ASCAP, all rights administered by Universal Music)


Tim McMullen said...

Your blog is always interesting, thought provoking, and eminently articulate, but in these pieces your prose matches your poetry. This is obviously a very personally meaningful song for you and your son, but being the master craftsman that you are, you turned even this personal and private experience into a song that has many meanings and multiple applications. It doesn't seem to be exploitation to shop the thing around or record it yourself. It is a great father/son song that resonates in the heart and in the head. Thanks for making the download available.

As for writing songs that are superior to the market, you have a serious drawback: you make your livelihood through your writing. You have to try to cater to the consumer (i.e., the would-be performer, their handlers, the industry in-betweens, the radio programmers, the listeners), most of whom would not embrace a song that's a cut above or outside the current trend until a few million other people told them it was okay. As a semi-serious singer-songwriter in the late sixties to mid-seventies, I got more than my share of "Don't you listen to the radio, Kid?" Having given up the short-lived struggle (long story/short struggle) and gone back to teaching, I have the luxury of writing for the hell of it. I can write a song for my dog, Bijou, who died after sharing her life with us for 17 and a half years ("A Ghost in This House" MySpace). I don't have to write about a generic dog that might appeal to a general audience; I can write about my dog. It's my "Old Shep," but can you see "Old Shep" selling these days? I can write anniversary songs for my wife about being married on the first of April (April Fools Day), and not worry about the irrelevance to most people's experience.

The thing that is impressive about your work is not that you write keepers (tons of them), but that you get them out there, sold and played, so that millions of listeners (most of whom, sadly, have never even heard of you) can be touched and moved by your words and tunes. My song "Second String Songman" for Maury Muehleisen (Jim Croce's musical partner who was killed in the same plane crash) addresses that anonymity of the writer and the sideman. You have talked about the change the new media and distribution channels offer. After sitting unheard for twenty-five years, because of the internet and a Jim Croce tribute site, I was able to get that song to the Muehleisen family and to Maury's sister, who included it on her site lovingly dedicated to her brother.

I can't agree strongly enough with your constant encouragement that writers (and the performers) raise their aspirations. Write with meaning. Write funny ones; write political ones; write thought-provokers and tear-jerkers; but aim high.

I close with one of the best lines I ever wrote, which, I think, fits your work, especially your blogs, very well:
The greatest threat to Democracy is Hypocrisy! Seek Truth! Speak Truth!


Jannie Sue "Funster" said...

Tonight is the first time I've heard your songs. Soft and soothing, something reminding me of Valdy. Fogelberg too. You know Valdy? Man, he's a great. Wonder if he's still around, have to Google him.

You write gud. "Still The Voice" must have gotten cuts?


My daughter is just 3 months shy of 7 and very petite for her age, more like a girl of 4, although for her she's growing very normally, yet folks being folks and kids being kids, insensitive things get said, which probably bother me worse than they do The Child. She's even gotten physically pushed around a bit - luckily we've got her in Kung Fu and she likes it, so in a few years if she has to kick ass, she can.

But why not use your inspiration and write a song when the teasing gets me down, maybe even one almost as nice as "Giant Steps?" Turn it into something to hopefully inspire people?

Your song is personal yes, but comes off with with a broader appeal. Real will always be where it's at. You've heard Alan Shamblin's tune about "Don't laugh at me..." (inspired by his little daughter having to wear glasses?) I'm not sure if he had that cut or not but it really spoke to me when he performed it at a local songwriting convention, as your song for Jake speaks to me.

"Giant Steps" is full of hope. He'll be okay, certain of himself. We'll all be okay at the end of our journeys.

I'm going to go for hope too. Hope is good.

Killer guitar on that one too. You ever do sessions studio work?


angelo said...

Having had the special privilege and blessing of your coaching and mentoring, your song is both a life and writing lesson, and I'm really glad you shared it.

Giant Steps moves me because, one it's just a beautiful piece. The music, to me, shows what guitar playing sounds like when you have a gift and hone it. Having been to college for music and played Coltrane's Giant Steps (more like attempted to play), the musicianship and craft in this song parallel that type of effort, and metaphorically paralleling Jake's life.

Second, the story of a struggle met with determination and vision for life. I love the way you weave Jake's attitude into a story that not only shed's light on his life and your relationship, but one we can participate in.

I'll have to listen, and think more on this, and I'll most likely come back weeks or months from now to a new timbre that will color moments taking in the song.

Writing from a real perspective wasn't easy for me. Then I wrote a song for my mother as she cared for my father in his dying years. And one that helped pull me out of a deep personal hole because it brought me to a place of hope, something you'd commented on in an early evaluation of one of my other songs. When you critiqued this specific piece and said it moved you, I felt like I'd found a flat spot to rest on the mountain.

I'm still climbing, but the bottom line is I cherish the few comments I've gotten from people about how a song I've written speaks to their heart. Lord knows this song speaks to mine, and the hearts of many others, I'm sure.

Thanks again -- angelo