STEVE DAWSON

Lyrics, Credits, and notes on the songs.
Click on the “Chords” link for a pdf lead sheet of the lyrics / chords

THIS IS ALL THERE IS  (Chords)
It’s not gonna be all right
So what are you gonna do about it?
Get back in bed and turn out the light
try not to think about it?

But this is all there is, my friend
A moment to feel the turning of the moon
The song stuck in your head
The secrets hidden in the hollow of your bones

Decades float by
Half-awake, half holding on
One outrage at a time
Look around another one’s gone

And this is all there is my friend
Tree to tree searching for food
Fingers caressing your head
The sound of laughter lighting up the room

The thrill of letting go
The thrill of letting go
The thrill of letting go

And this is all there is my friend
A lesson waiting underneath your heart
One more chance to understand
Here we are and here we are

All my life I’ve heard people say, ‘it’s going to be alright,’ when something terrible happens. It’s meant to be reassuring but it’s always made me question it. Is it really going to be all right? This past year I was one of the hundreds of thousands of people who lost family members to COVID and the loss will never be alright. Life will never be the same. Yet, life will continue. So, how to accept what has happened and continue? The song asks, “what are you going to do about it?” I’m probably talking to myself in this song. The drum intro is taken from one of my all-time favorite recordings, “Midnight Train To Georgia” by Gladys Knight and the Pips, and the intro chords are taken from Al Green’s “(Here I Am) Come and Take Me.” Actually as far as recording goes, I’m pretty much always trying to get that early 70’s Willie Mitchell / Hi Records sound. Of course, that’s impossible, but I’m always trying.

instruments: acoustic & electric guitar, electric bass, drums, wurlitzer electric piano, lap steel, organ

FORGIVENESS IS NOTHING LIKE I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE
As far back as I can remember
There were no answers in your eyes
Through somersaults of surrender
I only now recognize
That the sycamores and eagles from the tip of your pen
Were more real than house we were living in
The ghost in your bed that would never come clean
Your old man in the bleachers screaming

Oh, forgiveness is nothing like I thought it would be
There’s a strange peace in the valley
Where the rage used to feed
And I wish you well out on your island in the sea
And I release you, I release, I release you

God damn these reverberations
that shake loose the will
flipping through the radio stations
I see you now at the wheel
Watching the signs for a way to get through
As the fire raged I ran away with you
900 miles down a highway from the truth
Never realizing all the damage it would do

Oh, forgiveness is nothing like I thought it would be
There’s no choir of angels
no sunrise epiphany
But I can wish you well out on your island in the sea
And I release you, I release
I release you, I release
I release you, I release
I release you, I release
I release you

I’ve been told many times over the course of my life that forgiveness is really the only way to make peace with the past and move on. It never really made sense to me, though. If the person – in my case my father – has made no attempt to own up or take any responsibility and in fact denies that they ever did anything wrong – how can there be forgiveness? But as I’ve gotten older there’s been a very slow realization that that’s not how it works. Forgiveness is letting go and making peace within yourself regardless of the other person’s response. This is one of the many songs that showed up after attending a life-changing songwriting retreat with Patty Griffin and Richard Thompson. She encouraged us to go straight into the truth of things no matter how painful and, in fact, to write the songs that you are avoiding. The song came to me all at once after seeing Ry Cooder perform in Chicago with an incredible band and a gospel trio of singers. I wanted to capture the feeling of that concert as best as I could.

instruments: acoustic guitars, lap steel, bass, drums, piano

THE SPACES IN BETWEEN
Life’s too short and it takes too long
Years fly by and the days drag on
I made a wish, it did not come true
I found other things to do

I’m filled with hope I’m filled with dread
I get so tired and I don’t go to bed
I cannot stop the spinning in my brain
I drift away I come back again

I wanna remember I wish I could forget
a lifetime learning I haven’t even started yet
It’s all so easy it’s harder than it seems
the music comes from the spaces in between
(special thanks to Heidi Serwer for the line!)

This song came about because of a deadline. We have a monthly songwriting group of friends and it was the day of our meeting and I had nothing. So, I just started singing what was in my mind as I was walking around the house and by the time the group met that night I had the song. The woman who used to cut my hair would answer the question, “how’s life” with “taking too long,” and I always liked that. I wrote a song back in the middle 1980’s called “where there is hope there is dread,” that was not great, but I kept the line in the back of my mind, and I inadvertently borrowed a line from Chicago singer / songwriter Heidi Serwer’s song “years fly by,” too. It’s a very simple structure but it seems to work. Three chords and the truth, as they say. The recording is really enhanced by Michael Miles’ banjo playing.

instruments: acoustic guitar, bass, acoustic slide guitar, piano
with special guest star Michael Miles on banjo

22 RUBBER BANDS  (Chords)
22 tiny rubber bands in one day
Blue, green, orange, red
some of ‘em were yellow
in the late afternoon by the garden of Johnny Machine

22 rubber bands hiding in plain sight
Filling up your pockets
On your fingers like rings
On the walk from Wolf’s house
To store by the giant hole

I loved those days when nothing was happening

I loved you from the minute I met you
You were taking your first breath
Curled up, soaking wet
You spent your first night here on my chest

I never loved anything the way that I love you
Impossible and all the way deep through
I know that I made a lot of mistakes
22 tiny rubber bands in one day

I loved those days when nothing was happening

When my kid was 4 or so we’d walk home from daycare through the neighborhood. There was always a hunt for tiny colored rubber bands and by the end of the walk there was always handfuls of ‘em. Not sure where they came from but it was a fun, joyous memory of just being together without anything to do other than eventually make it home. Daycare was at a kid named Wolf’s house, and we did pass the Johnny Machine garden in Wicker Park, and would often stop for a snack at a little corner store where there was a giant hole in the sidewalk out front. This song went through a lot of musical changes. It started as a rock song but after a lot of experimenting it arrived where it is today. I love the Cure and I was trying to do that hypnotic, swirling thing they do and I’ve always wanted to have a song with a stuttered lyric, like “ch ch changes” or “ba ba ba Bennie and the Jets,” so I added a stutter to the backing vocals. 

SHE KNEW
We were doomed right from the start
From our very first breath of air
We looked into our mother’s eyes
And saw the sorrow waiting there
‘Cause she knew, she knew

All the pain and suffering
We would try to understand
And the moment we’d realize
Everyone dies in end

In my dreams I’m always running
But never arriving anywhere
My legs all thick and full of sand
Heartbeat pounding in my ears

And here she comes in seashell grey
Smoking a cigarette, arms crisscross
Laughing with her mouth shut tight
“honey, you always worry too much”

I am not old I am not young
I have a list of things to do
yes, the sun did rise today
I offer this song of gratitude

This one is for my mom. She was a troubled, distant person and I never really knew her. When I was 11 she tried to kill herself after years of depression and alcoholism and my sister and I had to go live with my father, who’d walked out on us 2 years before. I didn’t speak to her for years after that but was able to reconnect a bit before she died in 2003. She’d always say, “I’m fine,” even though she was clearly never fine. This song is a reoccurring dream built around a mediative guitar melody inspired by George Harrison’s, “Be Here Now.”

HARD TIME FRIEND
It’s no joke
It’s a fragile, fragile thing
One minute we’re sitting around laughing
The next minute everything’s changing
I need to know
That you’re gonna be okay
But the only thing I’ve ever really learned
Is that there are no guarantees

My hard time friend
When all the other good-time buddies
Have all run from the wind
My hard time friend

30 years ago
I started working on this song
Cross-legged trying to conjure up
Someone like you to come along
it wasn’t fate
It was a scratched up wooden floor
It was 24 hours through Ohio in the rain
Til I was soaking wet
Standing on your porch

My hard time friend
When all the other good-time buddies
Have all run from the wind
My hard time friend

Here we are tired and obscured
Pulling the weight of the centuries
My hand reaching for yours

My hard time friend

When I was living in Boston over 30 years ago I really did start a song called, “Looking Around For a Hard Time Friend.” I was lonely and wanting a friend I could count on. Well, I moved to Chicago and met Diane Christiansen and she’s become the best friend I’ve ever had. All the details in the song are true and have become truer in a year marked with loss and worry. The first lines came out around the time that both of Diane’s parents passed away in early 2018. A seismic shift in the lives of everyone connected with those incredible people. They loved me and supported me as their own son and gave me a sense of family that I’d never had. “One minute we’re sitting around laughing… the next minute everything’s changing.” This recording was aiming for Lowell George but probably ended up more Van Morrison / Jackson Browne.

SIDE 2
BEAUTIFUL MATHEMATICS
Drunk on the poison of incoming bulletins
I overreacted
Inside a bell jar with white noise all in my ears
Drifting away, distracted
I wanna know

Again I’ve been tricked
And my heart’s been made sick
By someone who shines on the surface
When will I learn
To trust my own skin
When it tells me I must keep my distance
I wanna know

I wanna know everything
I wanna feel so deeply I drown
I wanna fly everywhere
there is no time to waste
I wanna know love

When I strike the A string
The notes in a spiral ring
And in my heart I can feel it
The seeds of a flower
Grow in the same order
Of Beautiful mathematics
I wanna know

the bones of fingers
Are the trunks of the redwoods
Are the rings that hover ‘round Saturn
I vow to keep working
To always be seeking my place
In the unbroken pattern
I wanna know

I wanna know everything
I wanna feel so deeply I drown
I wanna fly everywhere
there is no time to waste
I wanna know love

I am in awe of nature’s ability to regenerate and the incredible connections that intertwine our existence with the tiniest particles and the vastness of the galaxies. After reading up on the way musical frequencies and overtones adhere to the same mathematical equations as planets, leaves, our bodies and pretty much everything, I started this song. The word “Love” in this song is really “God,” in some form or another.  On this one I really didn’t have a sonic plan, I just experimented with sounds and textures and let it go where it wanted to go.

I WILL NEVER STOP BEING SORRY
I will never stop being sorry
I will never stop being sorry
Sorry
Sorry

Who called the shot?
Who baked the bread?
Who put the ice on my fevered neck?
the streets were alive
The neighbors raging
The dogs in the basement
Locked up in cages
Our beautiful house, our beautiful tree
Burned to the ground
All because of me

I will never stop being sorry
Sorry
Sorry

Forgiveness is a holy place
But I am locked in time and in space
You lay beside me breathing slow
With love in your heart
I know, I know
But who are these ghosts
Who plot and who plan?
Who stomp ‘round the room
With their sacks full of sand?

Being sorry
Sorry
Sorry

This song was written to an assignment that Patty Griffin gave us at a songwriting workshop I attended. I hadn’t been writing much, if at all, and wasn’t sure I ever would again. I’d been spreading myself too thin and was exhausted and grieving the loss of Diane’s parents and the general loss of faith in humanity after the election of Trump. It was a dark time. The assignment was to write a song reacting to “I Put A Spell On You,” by Screaming Jay Hawkins, but she also said to write the song that you are afraid to write. The song showed up very quickly and took me by surprise and I was scared of it. But I played it for her and she was very encouraging. I didn’t burn down our family’s house. The ghosts from the past are always hovering and show up when they feel like it whether you’re ready or not.

 

TIME TO REMEMBER
I am water
And you are water
And we are oxygen
Bonded with hydrogen
And it’s time to remember again

Time to remember all over again
Love’s the only way that we’re gonna survive
I thought that by now we’d learn, my friend
But it’s time to remember all over again

I am not solid
You are not solid
Everything is changing
Constantly moving

Time to remember all over again
Love’s the only way that we’re gonna survive
I thought that by now we’d learn, my friend
But it’s time to remember all over again
All over again

I was out for a walk and this song popped into my head fully formed. I came home and figured out the chords and added the riff. Along the same lines as “Beautiful Mathematics” and the connections between nature and our existence. I was aiming for Curtis Mayfield on this one. The idea that love is the answer seems naïve but it’s actually deeply profound. I wish we could learn the lesson.

WE ARE WALKING IN A FOREST
We are walking a forest
We are counting the sounds
Darkness falls all around us
We are not scared

We are draining of color
Slivers of grey and of black
We move closer to each other
We are leaving the path

I don’t want to go
But the time has come, I know

I awoke from the dream
Unsure of time and of tide
A long rope bridge across a ravine
You were on the other side

I don’t want to go
But the time has come, I know

This is another song that came from a dream. Sometimes you pick up a guitar and the song seems to be waiting there for you. It just comes flowing out. This one was like that. I love the mystery of songwriting. How did that happen? Diane and I started singing this together on our livestream concerts during the pandemic and it worked so well that I asked her to sing it with me on the album. This is the only time a voice other than mine is on the record! I love singing with Diane. It is effortless and magical and it has been from the very first moment we sang together back in the late 80’s.

AT THE BOTTOM OF A CANYON IN THE BRANCHES OF A TREE
I am bound by the planets
I am bound by the sun
I am bound by the promise that burns in everyone
I am stunned by the cruelty
I am learning to be kind
To undo the damage left behind

At the bottom of a canyon in the branches of a tree
A picture was taken of my sister and me
Her face is glowing
Mine is undefined
Lost in the damage left behind

I am bound by the planets
I am bound by the sun
I am bound by a promise that pulls on everyone
I am stunned by the cruelty
I am trying to be kind
To undo the damage left behind

This song was written before most of the others on this album and had been performed by Dolly Varden at shows before the pandemic lockdown. It also has a dream-like quality and is based on a memory of a photo taken in San Clemente Canyon in San Diego. Childhood memories have such a mystery to them and I’m never sure if they are real or imagined or a combination of the two. But I have a clear image of my sister’s face and the feeling I had at the time of just trying to float along while keeping an eye out for impending danger. Obviously I went for a Neil Young and Crazy Horse approach here.