By Daniel Ford
I wrote large swaths of my novel listening to singer-songwriter Amos Lee, so I was thrilled I got to see him perform live this past weekend at the Boston Opera House. Never before in my concert-going experience has the venue and performer been such a perfect match. Lee’s soulful, distinctive voice boomed throughout the performance, adding even more weight to his deep lyrics and vocals.
He also gave a shout out to all the teacher’s in the crowd (and there were a considerable number). He said he started out as a teacher, playing live mic nights in town while trying to keep his dream of becoming a recording artist alive.
“Teachers should have an appreciation month,” Lee said, to wild applause. “Have the parents teach for a day and they'd say pay those teachers whatever they want.”
For my money, there is no better artist to write to, particularly if you are breaking your main character's heart repeatedly. Here are 10 songs you should add to your writing playlist ASAP.
“Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight”
Key lyrics: But the people on the street/Out on buses or on feet/We all got the same blood flow/Oh, in society/Every dollar got a deed/We all need a place so we can go/And feel over the rainbow.
The song that started it all. My brothers first saw Amos Lee open for Bob Dylan some time in the mid-2000s, and they got me hooked with this tune. Lee points out in the above video that he wrote the song about his hometown of Philadelphia, but I’ll always think of the first love of my life, New York City, when I hear it. “Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight “ was on repeat while I was writing many of the New York scenes in my novel, and I hope some of Lee’s brilliant songwriting and world building seeped into my prose and dialogue.
“Seen It All Before”
Key lyrics: I've seen your tricks/and seen your trade-offs/I've seen your evil ways/I've seen everything/your twisted smile conveys.
Thanks in large part to this song, my main character did see it all, and then some!
“Arms of A Woman”
Key lyrics: I am at ease in the arms of a woman/Although now, most of my days I spend alone/A thousand miles, place I was born/When she wakes me, she takes me back home.
Yes, I’m aware these first three songs are also the first three songs off of Lee’s self-titled 2005 debut album. That’s quite the “Hello!” from a new artist, huh?!
I’m also willing to bet that if my main character Sid Sanford was an actual person, he’d choose this song to define his life.
Key lyrics: And I'm living in the city/Where the noise, it never stops/Hammers pounding on the pavement/Whistles from traffic cops.
I once ran into a guy I knew in high school on a trip back to New York City via Metro North. He was happy to see me, less because we hadn’t talked to each other in years and more because he had someone to drink with. We took turns taking pulls from a bottle of Jack Daniels as the train lurched its way to the city.
Whenever I hear this song, I think about that night, and all the others I spent riding the rails between my actual home and my adopted one.
“Chill in the Air”
Key lyrics: Well, the morning came like a freight train.
I couldn’t get the above lyric out of my head for a long time. It definitely influenced my revamped prologue and some of the more harrowing moments of my novel. There’s also a hint of optimism in this tune that fights against the darkness.
Key lyrics: I can't even close my eyes now/Between the big fish and ambition, and the lovers/Using words as ammunition/Between the warped planks I've been pacing endless/Impossible dream that I've been chasing
Those lyrics kind of say it all, don’t they? Writing is a motherfucker, and “Violin” perfectly describes the worry, angst, heartache, and desperate hopefulness that fuel the creative process. We’re all just waiting for someone to pull us through.
“What’s Been Going On”
Key lyrics: Those are some of my favorite memories/All of those carefree melodies/While I'm out of here on this raging sea/About to capsize
Again, I thoroughly enjoyed torturing Sid. If we were to have an actual conversation, I’m sure that he’d ask me, “What’s going on?”
“Windows Rolled Down”
Key lyrics: Corn rows have companion feel /This rocky road and this steering wheel/Who do you call to ease your pain/I hope for you to get through this rain
I didn’t realize how many traveling songs Lee pumped out! There’s something about travel and writing that go together. No wonder Amtrak runs that promotion for free rides across the country for aspiring authors.
Anyway, this song reminds me of my brothers. I can imagine us with the windows rolled down headed to our next concert. I hope I did their spirits justice on the page (I also hope that one day they will get to read said pages!).
Key lyrics: Oh I've been waiting up so long/I've been sleeping out so long in the rain/Rain been pouring down/I've been stressing all the time/I can't seem to find/A little piece of mind
Like any good live show, Lee’s Boston Opera performance made me run out and download his new album "Spirit." I haven’t had much time to develop favorites yet, but this one is at the top of the list so far.
“The Man Who Wants You”
Key lyrics: Misty mouth lady, won’t you borrow me tonight/I ain’t having the same one/He did not treat you right/I don’t want you to be untrue/I don’t want you to be untrue/But the truth is, I’m the man who wants you
Always good to end on an upbeat, hoppin’, booty-shaking note on a Monday! Plus, how many music videos feature vinyl being pressed?!