From time to time I will post pieces like this that will examine the ideas and motivations behind the songs on my new album beneath a flagless moon.
THE ROAD TO NEVER MIND
This song was originally called The Last Road, and each verse ended with “going down the last road” instead of “on the road to never mind” – but I was never happy with the way that worked although I had very strong feelings for the song overall.
For guitar players out there, this tune is quite difficult to figure out just from listening to the recording. My guitar is tuned to open Dminor – DADFAD – but I have a partial capo holding down just the 3rd, 4th and 5th strings at the fifth fret. This is how the wide gap between the bass notes of the three-chord walk-down that forms the basis of the song and the higher tone of some of the other chords is achieved. I get strange looks from some people when I play this song live – it looks like I’m playing below a capo, which is impossible. But once players discover partial capos it opens up a whole new world of sounds you can get from your guitar. Randall Williams has a great little book called The Partial Capo (The Basics, Tips, Tricks and More) – it’s published by Hal Leonard Corporation and comes complete with a CD so you can hear the examples given in the book.
This is the capo I use on The Road To Never Mind. Some people think there are two guitar parts on the recording but it’s all just one, no overdubs.
So, to the lyrics. This was always going to be a bit of an epic song. It was meant to be a man looking back at pretty much every aspect of his life. And I knew that before I started writing.
But it starts with a little bit of humility…”No one here is listening to a single word you say – but you know yourself so well you’re gonna say it anyway.”
Now if I were famous then this would rank as fake humility, but in my case it’s closer to the truth. But there’s still a bit of contradiction in the fact that since this is a recorded song then someone is listening. Still, I can live with the sentiment if you can. Especially since it’s followed by, “that’s how it all gets easier, how anger is confined”. It’s more about the act of writing and its cathartic capabilities than it is about concerns over whether or not anyone is listening.
And then the first verse, like all the rest, ends with, “On the road to never mind”. Why did I change it from the earlier version? Because ‘the last road” was too poorly defined. It sounded too fatalistic. And since later verses went quite far back into the past how could it be the last road? No, what I was always trying to say was that something happens to us as we go through life picking up learning, having experiences that range from epiphanies to almost mind-numbing boredom. We chill, basically.
What seems to be of the most intense importance when we are young softens into something else as we age. We realize we are not the first person ever to fall insanely in love with someone. We realize we are not the center of the universe. We realize that every challenge, problem, or opportunity we are faced with, every feeling we feel, every emotion we wrestle with has all happened before. It’s all been done, felt, even written about since we acquired the ability to communicate these things. And before that they were probably still part of us but were experienced in silence. It’s simply our little corner of the human experience. It just feels more intense when it's you rather than someone else.
So that’s essentially what this song is about. It’s the path of a life - mine – that leads from the fiery extremes of youth to the moment when we are able to say, no matter what we are facing, “Well, never mind.”
Verse 2. This is still taking the overall view that verse one did. I think we all feel that as subsequent generations go their own ways, which they have every right to do, the things that mattered to us get discarded. I grew up as part of a generation that thought music could and would change the world. It didn’t – except for us. Music is now disposable background noise. And if that’s the way the people buying it want it, then it has to be okay. “They’re just moving forward, leaving you behind.”
Verse 3. Parents. We don't pick them. We can't change them. We just learn to love them – a process that takes a different amount of time depending on the circumstances. I read somewhere that we should not blame our parents for anything after we turn 20. That makes sense to me. It’s around that time that we figure out they were, “simply flying blind.”
Verse 4. Paris. Personal. The memories that with time change from gut-wrenching intensity to warm proof of a life well lived. The flagless moon of the album title reappears in this song. So we know this all happened a long time ago.
Verse 5. “Distant Asian rain” – something changed obviously. The anger somehow got “washed away” but because all the feelings can never be unique, “the questions still remain” to be asked by others in other times in other places. We have a tendency to “enshrine” our own answers as if they are the only ones. But they just become, “dusty”.
Verse 6. Loving someone and telling them you do are two quite separate things. I have seen relationships fail because one person stopped telling the other how they felt. Even though the feelings themselves may not have changed. This is disastrous. Is this one of the downsides to progressing along “the road to never mind”? When we are young we tend to say what we feel. As we age we risk letting “never mind” become the norm. Fight it!
Verse 7. Dangerous territory – “I don't believe in god”. There it is stated plainly, no skirting the issue, no pandering to an audience that largely does not agree with my position. But it's not as bad as it sounds (to those who do believe). “There’s no place where faith can be safely redefined” – I may not be the simple non-believer the first line suggests. I believe we have a spiritual aspect to our nature – that’s the only word that comes close to what I mean. What I do not have any time for whatsoever is organized religion. They all manipulate their followers through fear. And more wars have been fought over who follows the one true god, that there is absolutely no question in my mind that our progress would have been much faster without religion. But the redefining will not happen during my lifetime. Never mind.
Verse 8. Back to the main theme: “the past just keeps repeating with the names and faces changed” – experiences we think are painfully personal turn out to be universal. Every generation looks at the ones that come later and thinks, “That’s not me.” But that’s the way it’s worked down through time. Which is why we ask that “tomorrow look with kindness on all that we declined” on our inescapably personal trips “on the road to never mind.”
I want to thank Jim Oliver for his beautiful keyboard work on this song. I asked him to give me a hint of The Moody Blues, a band I loved growing up, and he did just that while still letting it be me.