The Free One:
Sometimes I don’t bother with the back story on my songs, but this one’s special. In Eastern Massachusetts, there’s an exceptional woman named Stafford Madison who’s spent a good deal of her precious time inspiring me. We’ve talked a lot about a lot of things, but mostly American Idol, muscular dystrophy, and salamanders.
This last March in the middle of the night, Stafford took me and two friends of ours out into the countryside to a specific road which she herself has been in the habit of calling up traffic control to have closed at certain times. This is because when conditions are perfect (warm, damp, dark), a veritable tidal wave of amphibians slips and slides down the wooded hill to get busy in the vernal pool below – spotted salamanders, peepers, toads, etc. They vary in size from over eight inches to under one, their colors are wet and symphonic and glistened like paint in the light of our headlamps. Even in the middle of the night on a remote road, hundreds and hundreds of animals are flattened by car tires (I’ve seen this woman roll her rickety wheel chair out into the road to rescue the smallest light of life, which her trained eye can spot from yards away). And even when there are no cars but only people looking around very carefully – as carefully as possible – someone is apt to step on a creature (and then feel like a murderer…).
Stafford is no humanist, and small wonder – environmental ignorance aside, fending for herself through depression, emotional abuse, and degenerative disease has left her more often than not curled into a bundle of anxiety, fear, and good old-fashioned rage. But a few pleasures cut into that negative flow, including Starbuck’s coffee, a beautiful Malbec she discovered when we were out to dinner one night, and sitting down to deride televised talent shows. More than once we’ve bonded over her comprehensive disgust for America’s more entitled-feeling contestants (when you’re reminded of your life clock every time it hurts to lift paper, you have little tolerance for youngsters who don’t win talent shows). She’ll ask and I’ll tell her what made a good or bad performance, whether they deserved their accolades or not, and how genuine I thought they were on camera.
I consider myself a pretty observant person, but sometimes we don’t even know to look where we’re stepping. Stafford says that (salamanders + people = people). In other words, co-habitation is a downward spiral for the more fragile, more gentle organisms. There’s not much we bumbling, clumsy, bigger creatures can do about it, it’s just the facts. Even if we’re very watchful and the most careful, we’re probably going to step on and kill them. I don’t talk about my relationship to death very much, mostly because I haven’t really experienced it closely. Stafford is one of several friends who are very, very in touch with their own mortality. I rely on these friends for a certain amount of perspective, since otherwise I’d muck about being all bumbling and clumsy; I wouldn’t even know to be interested in how it feels to be so physically limited. I wouldn’t know to ask about the darkest, wettest, coldest places a mind can go when it seems no one gives a damn but yourself. I wouldn’t know to be so incredibly interested in the bi-annual migration of a tiny species in Eastern Massachusetts. But now I am interested because of a funny chance-encounter that turned into a life-long friendship – however long that ever is – and I’m better and smarter for that.
A Word on the Studio:
Woodsong Records is in Spokane, WA, the town I call home. Tucked under the Rocket Bakery on South Hill, you wouldn’t even know it was there until you watched someone with an instrument case go behind the counter and disappear down a flight of invisible stairs. It’s a boon to be working underground in the hot semi-arid summers, and find yourself surrounded by stringed instruments of all kinds and laid-back lighting and art. Woodsong currently operates with Cubase and some excellent microphones and sound insulation.
A Word on the Engineer/Accompanist:
Kelly Bogan is one of the finest and most diversified musicians I’ve met – he plays most anything that has strings, including but not limited to banjo, guitar, dobro, bass, and piano (his piano playing especially impresses me, he’s got groove for days!). He nailed both the dobro and banjo instrumentals on this song within two takes each. Kelly is thoughtful, enthusiastic, and receives his guests with a studio that is prepared and ready to go for their specific session. He’s very fair and is careful and efficient with his clients’ time.