#2: “Scuffed Up Boots” (Top Underrated Songs from “Secrets I Told to a Sound Hole”)

Cover of my 3-song acoustic punk single, “It’s About the Mosh,” and in general just a photo where I show just how extremely badass I really am. Taken by Shared Tokens Photography.

This is a deep, deep, deep song about posers. Okay, maybe I just like the acoustic punk sound – it’s one of the rare times one of my songs has actually sounded like something I might go out of my way to listen to! (Ha, is that bad to say about my own work? Probably!)

As with many songs I write, the seed for it was planted a long time before I actually wrote it. It began with an image that popped into my head of a 30-something man with, yes, scuffed up boots that he didn’t scuff up himself, because he got them from the thrift store and had actually never physically worked hard in his entire life. I let myself have my negative, critical daydream about this guy. He was on the NYC subway, on his way to a big protest, I think. He was dressed like a punk and paid lip service to loving punk bands (only the cool ones, of course), but didn’t listen to them when no one was watching and didn’t know the words to the songs. He constantly spoke and tweeted about politics, but he’d never actually read a single full-length political work – he only read ideological manifestos and persuasive pamphlets and regurgitated the talking points back.

He made me think of all the fake, holier-than-thou posers I’ve ever met at punk shows or had online arguments with. And eventually I daydreamed about him so much that I had enough material for a whole song! The light bulb moment when I knew I was ready to write it (I love those moments!) was when I thought of the line, “What did you mean when you said that you wanted to be free?” It tied the entire song together. Freedom is a common political ideal that punk types (and others) of many different persuasions like to toss around, but what does it really mean to them? If you let the scene make your decisions for you and you feel obligated to say and do things you don’t really mean in order to score points or just to fit in, are you really free at that point?

The best-loved quote of the album (according to a highly scientific poll of 10 people on Facebook) comes toward the end of the song: “For the love of all that’s good in the world… start something.” (I actually put that on the back of my T-shirts to give the people what they wanted!) And after that line, I may have fancied myself the hero just a little bit. After all, I wear basic, uncool clothing and I scuff up my sneakers myself, so I’m obviously exponentially better than scuffed-up-boots poser man.

My favorite aspect of this song is that, to me, I did a good job of painting a vivid picture of precisely the man I wanted to portray. My hope is that you, too, can close your eyes and see him sitting there on the subway with his scuffed up boots, denim jacket, and smug face, looking all punk and intelligent, but you’re in on the secret that it’s all for show.

[Fun fact, especially for anyone who’s been paying attention since the beginning of my journey (thanks, by the way!): I consider this to be a 1000000x improved reworking of another song I attempted to write on a similar topic during my Throwaway Song of the Week project, which I will NEVER name or share because it’s crap and you don’t need to hear it; you’ve got this one now. Just trust me on that. But I’d be happy to give a prize if anyone can tell me the name of that song!]

LYRICS

He wears scuffed up boots of the most honorable kind
But he found them that way at the thrift store
He speaks fresh insights as if they came from his own mind
But they came from manifesto pamphlets on his floor

And to go with his boots, he wears a denim jacket
With Crass, Propagandhi, and Black Flag patches
When you see him, you think he must create a lot of art
When you see him, you think he must work so hard
But he never created a thing but for derivative work
He works hard at his image, makes creative friends, and claims what they earn
But man, what did you mean, what did you mean,
What did you mean when you said that you wanted to be free?

He wears scuffed up boots of the most honorable kind
But he found them that way at the thrift store
He speaks fresh insights as if they came from his own mind
But they came from manifesto pamphlets on his floor

And to go with his boots he’s got some shiny doctrines
Always retweeting quotes from nineteenth century authors
When you see him, you think that he must read a lot of books
When you see him, you think he must do so much good
But he never seems to show up when he’s called on for support by his friends
And he only shares his views in rooms where everybody agrees with him
But man, what did you mean, what did you mean,
What did you mean when you said that you wanted to be free?

He wears scuffed up boots of the most honorable kind
And yeah, boots may lack the memory of the lives they leave behind
But how can you just pick up where someone else leaves off?
For the love of all that’s good in the world… start something

Because the world doesn’t need another hero
Who thinks he can buy the appearance of merit
It needs someone sporting sneakers that she scuffed up herself
And a wardrobe consisting of jeans and a T-shirt

Because I think what’s cool is being relentlessly you
And I think what’s punk is letting yourself be the judge
And I think that free means having no one to please but yourself
What did you mean, what did you mean, what did you mean?
If you want to be free, if you want to be free, if you want to be free…

Salty Dog Songs: The Digital Release!

The best representation of my musical wanderings on the cruise, shown here with my friends, Pauline and Mel, at Rudy’s cabana on the private island. My favorite singer, Frank Turner, was listening from somewhere behind me. I kept my back turned to him, pretended he didn’t exist, and wandered off without acknowledging him for self-preservation reasons. Ah, good times. (Photo by Rudy Martinez)

For those of you who don’t know (you must be new!) a big part of how I gained my confidence and made achievements over the past couple of years was playing the Salty Dog Cruise. The organizers never invited me (pretty sure they have no idea who I am, actually). But in 2016, with little experience under my belt at the time and absolutely no idea what to expect, I came prepared with my guitar and a list of cover songs I knew how to play and cruise theme songs I’d just written (inspired by the 2015 cruise I attended sans guitar). I wandered around the ship and private island offering free songs to anyone who would listen. From the start, it went over extremely well, much better than I expected. People loved the “free songs” thing, especially when it was new.

That weekend is still by far the most gratifying experience I’ve ever had with my music so far. I became the unofficial cabin show opener for Will Varley. Beans on Toast listened to a couple of my songs with my friends in my cabin. I got to sing for a group that included Frank Turner in a friend’s cabana on the Sunday morning. And to top it all off, on that last night, when Frank broke a string and I came to the rescue with my guitar, he let me borrow his audience to sing one of my cruise songs, and then I got to stay up and sing with him! (Pretty much the entire saga is viewable here.) I got to be on top of the world for a weekend and it was absolutely perfect.

When I did the “free songs” thing again in 2017 (and Frank and a lot of his fans were gone), the response definitely wasn’t as overwhelmingly enthusiastic, but I still sang for small groups here and there; made everyone cry with my new song at the welcome party (thanks to Marnie for the invitation); started a pool singalong and two Frank Turner singalongs (complete with Flat Frank) on Kit White’s balcony (one of the best people on the boat – RIP); and this time instead of Frank, it was Beans on Toast who let me borrow his crowd for a song. (You can see all the footage from 2017 here.)

Anyway, this is all just to say how much this cruise has meant to me and how great it’s been for me. In 16 days I’ll be bringing my music to it for the third time and, just like before, I have no idea how it will go! I thought it would be nice to finally release my cruise songs for streaming and (free) download. Of course, I didn’t have a studio budget for this, but I did my best. You can download for free or donation on Bandcamp, or you can stream on YouTube (lyric videos) or Spotify below:

Lyrics

1. THIS AIN’T YOUR MAMA’S BAHAMAS CRUISE

Before you ask your mother what went on
On her cruise to the Bahamas
Just ask us instead
Because your mother will certainly be wrong
This ain’t your mama’s Bahamas cruise

There’s music that makes us want to dance
To be Irish, to take a chance
A cruise for the fucking punks
If you’re not fucking nuts about music then get the fuck out while you can
This ain’t your mama’s Bahamas cruise

Don’t forget to sign up as a marrow donor with Rob
All you have to do is swipe your cheek with a swab
And donations hurt less than tattoos
Real punks care what’s outside their tightknit mob
This ain’t your mama’s Bahamas cruise

Have you looked up everything you can do inside?
It’s more than drunken hot tub shows that made us cry
You’ll never, ever get bored
It’s good it makes a good last supper because I can’t promise you won’t die
This ain’t your mama’s Bahamas cruise

Someone’s probably getting lucky while I sing this but that’s all right
There ain’t no sea that’s ever shone, will ever shine this bright
This ain’t your mama’s Bahamas cruise

2. SWAG SONG

What keepsakes do you have from the very best time of your life?
I’ve got countless treasures I can hold to remember mine
Whatever you can think of I have…
T-shirts, buttons, rings and bracelets, magnets
Stickers, bottle openers and lanyards
Different kinds of wearable shamrocks and candy

I’m blinged out to the max with festive crap
Wearing it from head to toe to wrist to waist
Still I think my suitcase handle’s gonna snap
But I don’t care, I’m keeping all I can of this place
This is the swag song, yeah

I’m going home with drawstring bags and condoms and kazoos
Postcards, poker chips, temporary tattoos
Door hangers, shot glasses, picks for my guitar
Hand crocheted things, oh how time consuming they are
Dog tags and beer koozies, soap poured into molds by the very best
And if we’re really lucky, authentic leprechaun vests

3. ALL BECAUSE OF THE BOAT

Do you remember the second year?
I dragged this beat-up guitar everywhere I went for three days
And the results were so clear
What couldn’t I achieve now that I had found my place?
But everyone knows that the highlight
Was a broken string at a drunken Love Hope Strength show
I got to sing with my favorite singer that night
And I got support from people I didn’t even know
The greatest things that could have happened, happened on this cruise
And I’m bolder for the lesson that dreams really come true

And it’s all because of the boat, it’s all because of the boat

But would I even make the top 10
Of incredible ways that lives have changed on this boat?
Every time we meet I get reminded again
Of people boarding after losses, after losing all hope
The one love spirit heals many scars
And gives us courage to chase the adventures that we need
Whether you’ve found new love or found who you are
Don’t leave it behind, take it with you when you leave
Doesn’t matter if you call us friends or family or a tribe
It’s a bond that can’t be broken and it makes us feel alive

And some of you are close friends and some I may never meet
But I want the best for each of you and I know you want the same for me
So here’s to me, and here’s to you
Here’s to the weekend and here’s to the future
Here’s to another 20 years of love and adventures with you

#3: “A Song That’s Not in G” (Top Underrated Songs from “Secrets I Told to a Sound Hole”)

The #4 most underrated song was the last track of the album, “The Old Lady at the Open Mic,” and now here’s the first track coming in at #3! I used this as my opening track because I wanted the album to tell a story of my journey with music, and I thought this made the absolute best beginning for the story (and “The Old Lady at the Open Mic” the best ending).

Musically, I wasn’t sure if I wanted it to be first because it’s far from the strongest track. It’s fully acoustic and it doesn’t have a catchy hook like some of the others. You really want to put your strongest, catchiest tracks first to avoid people writing off the whole album because they didn’t like the first song. In the end, of course, I decided to take the risk because the story was more important to me. And indeed, judging by metrics, it does look like many people dropped off after hearing this song and not particularly enjoying the music. If that describes you, then I sincerely hope you’ll give the story and lyrics a chance to win you over (and then check out the rest of the album)!

A nervous-looking G chord during the warm-up to Frank Turner’s Lost Evenings Festival last year, at the Camden Monarch. Definitely one of the coolest gigs I’ve ever played. Photo by my English counterpart, Liz.

I think what I really hope this song does is paint a picture of a moment in time for me, of what it’s like to be a musician at my level, who goes out on adventures doing what I love, with no idea of the ultimate outcome, and just hopes it all works out. I’m not sure how it’s perceived by those who have never done it. Do you think these adventures are glamorous/all fun and games? Or perhaps at the other extreme, do you think it’s not that much fun at all and is merely a means to an end, since I’m not making money yet nor achieving the results, recognition, and success that I dream of? Well, it’s not really either one!

It’s certainly not glamorous or always pleasant, for all the reasons I just mentioned. But it also can’t simply be described as an unpleasant, painful, forward-looking existence. Yes. I hope that someday I’ll make more than $20 at a time and live off of this. Yes. I hope that someday my idols will be my peers and I’ll have a team behind me that I genuinely admire and I won’t have to beg a new person every week just to be given a shot. Yes. I hope that someday large swathes of people will love (not just like!) my music, be inspired by it, and constantly look forward to the next thing I do.

But failing all of this, this won’t have all been a waste of time. I don’t take it for granted how lucky I am that I was very, very young when I settled upon that one thing that sets me on fire with absolute certainty. Some people spend a lifetime trying to find that thing, and never do. And not only have I known mine for as long as I can remember, but at this moment in my life, I’m actually fortunate to have enough time, resources, energy, and freedom to give it a fair shot. And most importantly: I say I want to inspire people and build something that will draw people to it? Well, I already am.

It’s not a lot of people who really, truly care about it yet. It’s one, two, maybe three dozen and counting. But even if it stops growing there, and that’s the biggest number I ever reach, I still achieved the part of the goal that I wanted the most, hands down – much more than the income and the industry approval – and it was worth it. That’s why the last line works so perfectly for me, even if other people are going to find it cheesy: “I’m already rich because I have everything I’ve ever wanted.”

LYRICS

Someday I’m going to sing a song that’s not in G, and like it
Someday I’m going to do those fancy pickings at speed
Someday I’m going to look an audience in the eye, and not stumble
Maybe even tell them something I haven’t memorized

But I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’ll get there
The fun’s in the journey anyway
I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’ll get there
When I get there

Someday I’m going to earn more than I spent on the train just to get there
Someday they won’t just come to see me, they’ll be happy to play
Someday important people will answer my emails, because they want to
Or maybe important emails my important people sent their way

But I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’ll get there
The fun’s in the journey anyway
I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’ll get there, I’ll get there
When I get there

Because I’m just doing this because I have to know, or at least I have to try:
What does it feel like to be on the other side?
Because every one of my best days has been when people gathered round for a song
How does it feel to be the one who brought the whole thing on?

But then I’m already making those moments
For free and imperfectly, that is to say untarnished
And I’m already rich because I have everything I’ve ever wanted.